The Occult Experience: Then and Now

The above documentary, “The Occult Experience”, is a 1985 feature examining occult practices across the world during the 1980s. Researched and produced by Australian occult scholar Nevill Drury, it features the likes of Anton LaVey, Michael Harner, Margot Adler, H.R. Giger and Michael Aquino, discussing Satanism, Wicca and other esoteric ‘traditions’. Watching it from our current vantage point 30 years on, there’s a certain cringe factor to a number of the segments, but it’s still a fascinating picture of the occult community at the time.

Fast forward to the current day, and Reality Sandwich is featuring a discussion between Mitch Horowitz and Richard Smoley on the ‘State of the Occult 2013‘. It’s interesting to see the opinions of those in the 1985 documentary, as well as surmise their underlying motivations, and compare to the commentary in the Reality Sandwich piece:

Horowitz: A topic that comes up every now and then is whether we are poised for some sort of an occult revival in the early 21st century. I’m of different minds about it, frankly. A couple of years ago when people would ask me if I saw a new occult revival on the horizon I would say no. I absolutely did not. In fact, I was very concerned that large precincts of the New Age were giving themselves over to conspiracy theories, to a certain degree of paranoia, and other outposts of the New Age just couldn’t run away fast enough from terms like New Age or occult or ESP, and they were desperate to try to appear serious, or to try one last ditch effort to make themselves appealing to the New York Times Book Review, which I’m afraid is never really going to work out.

And yet maybe, maybe I feel a little less grave about things today than I did a couple of years ago, if only because, by whatever labels people live under, I do see a lot of people in this country very freely adapting practices and ideas from different religious traditions and fashioning something very personal out of it all. Of course critics or cynics refer to this as “cafeteria religion,” and yet I find something very appealing about what people critically call cafeteria religion.

I think we are living in an age of dissemination right now. This is not an age of secrecy, I don’t think it’s an age of large organizations, and I don’t think it’s an age of great teachers, but it is an age in which ideas are dispersed to large numbers of people and ingathered in new ways. I find in my own life, for example, a deep interest in meditation, a deep interest in the writings of Transcendentalism, a deep interest in the ideas of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, an interest in the writings of a brilliant spiritual thinker, who was not widely known, who died in 1992, named Vernon Howard. I find some of these things permeate my own family life, too. So if there’s any part of me that feels there’s something fresh bubbling up, it’s in this determination with which people around the world, where they’re able to, are selecting among different spiritual traditions, and doing so with great vigor. I’m interested to see what comes out of that.

Is the occult scene moving forward, or is it a stagnant pond full of rotting ideas? Feel free to share your thoughts.