The Grand Mutation: An Astrological Interlude

Over the last year, and especially over the last month, I’ve fielded a flurry of questions about the astrological meaning of the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn that took place on Monday. I’ve been intrigued to note that quite a few of those questions have come from people who admit they don’t know much about…

Theosophy: The Golden Age

At the end of our last exploration of America’s magical history two months back, the fledgling Theosophical Society had apparently breathed its last.  Its original branch in New York City had stopped meeting, the handful of lodges elsewhere were struggling, and its two most important and knowledgeable members—Emma Hardinge Britten and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky—had both…

Theosophy: The Dog and the Wolf

In last month’s discussion of America’s magical history, we explored the nineteenth-century transformations of alchemy into a system (or more precisely several systems) of spiritual transformation that had little or nothing to do with furnaces, retorts, and chemicals. It’s a nice bit of synchronicity that the story we’ll be discussing this month is best framed…

The Secret of the Alchemists

Most of the figures we’ve discussed in our survey of America’s magical history came from very humble backgrounds, and there’s a reason for that.  While social mobility has been an American ideal for a very long time, it’s always been subject to sharp though unmentionable limits, mostly rooted in the desire of those already prosperous…

The Flame and the Crucible

Our journey through the hidden history of American occultism has focused so far entirely on traditions brought here from elsewhere—the German Rosicrucian and Pietist traditions studied by Johannes Kelpius, the classic tradition of English astrology practiced by Joseph Stafford, and the varying traditions of folk magic that crossed the Atlantic with captive Africans from the…

The Arts of the Cunning Folk

Two weeks ago we talked about the way that Bakongo spirituality made its way to the American colonies along with enslaved Africans from the Congo basin.  Once here, it adapted to the conditions of slavery and the radically different environment of temperate and subtropical North America to become the earliest form of hoodoo—one of the…

In the Footsteps of High John

Two weeks ago, while winding up the story of the colonial Rhode Island astrologer Joseph Stafford, I noted that the kind of occultism practiced by Stafford and Johannes Kelpius—the learned occult traditions of the Renaissance, which were experiencing their last golden autumn in Europe during the years when the American colonies were being founded—was by…