Recently I clicked into a podcast with the author Mitch Horowitz that forced me to put away my painting (I usually multitask) and sit down to catch each illuminating insight from Horowitz’s encyclopedic memory.
I was fascinated to learn of the various magical, mystical, and spiritual movements that have influenced American history, from Plymouth Rock to the Twin Towers. A complete chronology of which Mitch details in his award-winning book Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation.
Mitch currently works as the vice-president and editor-in-chief at Tarcher/Penguin. And he is completing his second book, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life, a history and defense of the positive-thinking movement, which will be available at the top of 2014 from Crown. You can find Mitch online at mitchhorowitz.com.
We spoke yesterday about astrology, conspiracy theories, the post-election political landscape, his own horoscope and of course tomorrow’s Mayan-inspired End Days prophecy.
Frederick Woodruff: How do you see astrology’s connection to the political history of the United States? We all know about Nancy Reagan’s astrologer, Joan Quigley, but what else can you share about the cosmic art and its influence on US politics and policy?
Mitch Horowitz: I actually write about this in my new book One Simple Idea. Seen from one perspective, Ronald Reagan’s personal interest in astrology was fairly casual, and limited to reading the daily horoscope page. But in actuality both Ronald and Nancy Reagan were deeply attached to the social and spiritual mores of Southern California, where they spent almost three decades of their adult lives. They were proud of those ties, and I think rightly so.
In my new work, I go into the deeper aspects of Reagan’s connections to that world. In a sense, he was indirectly a product of the positive-thinking movement, whose phraseology runs throughout his speeches. His first employer was a mind-power mystic and one of the shapers of chiropractic in America, B.J. Palmer, who gave Reagan his break into broadcasting.
One of Reagan’s Hollywood friends was an author named Eden Gray, who Tarot fans will recognize as a seminal, early author of Tarot guidebooks. Reagan spoke openly of his friendship with psychic Jeane Dixon, his belief in UFOs, his longtime interest in astrology and other mystical thought systems, and, most significantly, of the work of LA-based occult scholar Manly P. Hall, whose influence can be detected in Reagan’s earliest speeches. Read more
New Moons are the best time to learn astrology. Not by reading or studying the subject but by taking advantage of the opportunity that a New Moon affords us to feel our way forward in our quest.
Today’s New Moon is in Sagittarius. If you’ve ever wanted to grasp the fundamental principle embodied by this symbol now is the time to do it. You don’t need a fancy approach, just your eyes and your heart.
Look at the symbol of the centaur archer, everything you need to know about what the sign typifies is there, in its picture. Make the associations: Half-human, half-animal, a bow and an arrow. And more importantly an arrowhead and an aim.
What does this amalgam evoke? What is conveyed on the essential level? Meaning, if we strip things down to their pure being-ness, what is there as a movement within the soul, the essence of which is captured in the symbol? The answer imparts direct knowledge of what the Sagittarian ‘instinct’ is about. And that information will stay with you long after any passage from a book.
So, this is how you learn astrology. Books are good, teachers are important but you need a ritual that is beyond the sphere of acquired knowledge. A ritual that involves each of your centers, the intellectual, the emotional (your heart) and your moving center (your body). Applied this way, astrology becomes a kind of spiritual discipline or practice. An active way of receiving.
Forget all the stuff about archetypes or Linda Goodman or your Sagittarius mother-in-law. Those are each several steps removed (or worse, degraded by their immersion in carnival culture) from the simple is-ness of the symbol. Learn to identify the essential level of the instinct within your own experience as it’s made into an image, i.e., the picture of the centaur. Again, forget all the keywords or hackneyed associations. LOOK AT THE PICTURE. See.
We live within and are tethered to the wheel of Time; meaning we ‘move and have our being’ within the entire Zodiacal circle — a symbol of Time. As astrologers it’s good that we familiarize ourselves with the Zodiac’s truth, each unique component (sign) — not only because we are born ‘into’ the wheel, but because we also contribute to it via our process of expression (within Time) that is in and of itself a particular configuration of Time’s body, also known as the birth chart or horoscope. (Yes, reread that paragraph because you don’t want to miss the point.) Read more
I’ve always put up a Christmas tree. Despite the halfhearted participation (and groaning) of my boyfriends, I’ve faithfully, right after Thanksgiving, headed out and bought (or here on Vashon, cut down) a tree to lug home. It’s a ritual I rarely miss.
After visiting India some years ago I returned home in the winter and the notion of putting a bauble-laden tree on display felt absurd. This is a rite of passage for anyone who ventures to India: Your brain cells are rearranged and you never view your world, or its customs, the same. I know that was true for me as a Westerner. Christmas in America, after the dust and squalor of India, felt gluttonous. So I skipped the holidays that year — though I missed having a tree in the house.
I enjoy the act of arranging the colors, textures and lights on a tree. It’s similar to making a painting, the alchemy of conjuring art. Simpler, but no less magical. I especially love the ricochetting of light amidst the ornaments, as it envelops the tree at nighttime. As I’ve grown older I’ve come to understand that the ritual of displaying a tree is a sacred act — although I’ve never fully understood why.
Most of us are familiar with the historical origins of the Christmas tree. Its association with the pagan rite of celebrating the solstice. When the light of the Sun ‘returns’ in the Northern hemisphere and begins its increase and ascent, the radiance grows stronger and longer through the ensuing months. Trees would be displayed to honor the burgeoning of light and life. And the fruits and trinkets that would decorate the tree honored the bounty, the wish of a successful harvest in the year to come.
And yet the historical perspective never impressed me much. I mean, none of those facts would drift through my mind as I’d lounge on the couch in the evening — no matter my age — and stare at the tree until I fell asleep. Nope, another set of mysterious associations would encircle me and send me into a reverie. And it wasn’t until I came to the conclusion of one of my favorite books this year that I began to make sense of my devotion.
Martha Heyneman‘s book The Breathing Cathedral is a fantastic interweaving of the cosmologies of Gurdjieff, Dante, Aquinas, Stephen Hawking and others, into a new model, a new interpretation of the universe we inhabit. I was drawn to the book because, as a longtime student of Gurdjieff’s teachings, I was intrigued to see how Heyneman, a zoology student turned poet, was bringing Gurdjieff’s teachings forward and marrying them to the world of science.
The last chapter of her book is titled O Christmas Tree, and at first the subject — the family Christmas tree — seemed an odd way to summarize all that she’d explored in the previous chapters. But in the end I understood completely. Read more