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BOOK REVIEW: "Politics and the Occult" by Gary Lachman

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BOOK REVIEW: Politics and the Occult: The Left, The Right, and the Radically Unseen by Gary Lachman (Quest Books) 2008

While thoroughly enjoying Gary Lachman’s recent biographies and books on occult figures including Madame H.P. Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner and Carl Jung, upon reading his 2008 book Politics and the Occult, I came away from it somewhat unsatisfied.

Lachman (who once played bass for the rock group Blondie) is a well-read man and an amazing researcher and authority on the occult and well-known figures in occult circles and history and that is saying something when you have the work of Manly P. Hall (1928’s The Secret Teaching of All Ages), for instance, to live up to.

But I don’t think Lachman ever personally set the bar so high. His writing style is actually quite understandable to a layman previously unfamiliar with the occult and its history.

And for Lachman, it was that wild and influential decade – the 1970’s – when he first came across James Webb’s book The Occult Establishment, which argues that the rise of interest in the occult tends to be a reaction to the “rise of modernity.” This was evident by occult movements in the late 19th century included the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and its offshoot, the aforementioned Rudolf Steiner and his anthroposophy, which was embraced by people including architects and designers like my great-great uncle Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin.

And what Lachman also notes early in the book is how Webb’s book that showed an interest in the Nazis and their alleged interest in the occult, as we saw with the film Raiders of the Lost Ark.

But when Lachman says politics and the occult, he’s not just talking about right-wing fascists, as is often the case when the occult and politics mix, but that there was also a left-wing and progressive current within that mystical and political realm that should be acknowledged.

And overall Lachman does a fairly decent job in making this clear in Politics and the Occult. He explains how interest in occult and its merging with politics is “a weapon in the ongoing battle between scientism – the dogma that scientific materialism can explain everything in the universe – and the lingering sense of mankind’s spiritual nature …”

And while occult politics are “as old as politics itself,” and takes us on a fascinating and somewhat “hazy” journey through the occult worlds of the Knights Templar, the Rosicrucians, and into 18th century Freemasonry, which clearly had an impact on the founding of the United States.

But its really not until the mid-19th century that Eliphas Levi, had left seminary because he couldn’t keep his eyes off the ladies and found himself involved in cabala, Tarot and the history of the occult, while offering up strident revolutionary and socialist tracts to anyone who would listen. It was this mystical Frenchman, Lachman writes, who created occultism as we know it today.

But its not clear to me, the reader, why he makes that statement. At times I feel Lachman is stretching things a bit to make the connection between politics and the occult. 

Anyway, another figure on the left side of the occult spectrum in this era was Victoria Woodhull, an advocate of “free love” and a Marxist who would run as an ardent feminist for president in 1870 on the Equal Rights Party ticket. Woodhull was quite a firebrand in her day (her detractors called her “Mrs. Satan”) and one who early in her life displayed mediumistic and paranormal powers, known to have spirit guides. An interesting character who entered the publishing world when she “cured” notorious millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt of his “low spirits” after he lost his wife. He awarded her with a Wall Street brokerage firm and a magazine that advocated everything from spiritualism to birth control.

There’s an interesting chapter that addresses Russian artist and explorer Nicholas Roerich, a guy who had no use for Bolshevism but was obsessed with the idea of Shambhala, a mystical place, somewhere in the East, likely in the area around Tibet (read our review of Andrei Znamenski's Red Shambhala). And while not a Nazi, Roerich (who later befriended FDR’s vice-president, Henry Wallace, a progressive person with a mystical bent that we wrote about here) spoke of “cosmic fire” coming from this place and that this was symbolized by the ancient swastika symbol, later appropriated by Aryan supremacists.  

Lachman takes us through the rest of the 20th century and into  the early 21st. However, I was struck by the fact that little is said of the Bohemian Grove rituals in California, attended by a number of well-known political figures over the years or the occult dabblings of the Reagans, the weird “Family” meetings of some in the GOP, Al Gore’s alleged “Earth worship” and the accusations of an ushering in of a New Age by various "Luciferian" globalist organizations working behind the scenes. There was a lot Lachman could have mined in those areas but either overlooked or omitted.

Perhaps in a follow-up book he’ll address those issues. In the meantime, Politics and the Occult is a fascinating, broad and sometimes confusing read, but informative nevertheless.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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