The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

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Hermès Trismégiste at Grand Central Station – photo by Mitch Waxman

The day after the Newtown Creek Cruise, your humble narrator was feeling a bit worse than usual. For one such as myself, cursed by fatigue and a surfeit of personal discipline, the rigors of organizing the trip and speaking before the crowd were nearly overwhelming. Despite this, I decided to attend a walking tour in Manhattan the next day- Occult America with Mitch Horowitz, presented by the Observatory room and Phantasmaphile.


OBSERVATORY is an art and events space in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Founded in February 2009 and run by a group of seven artists and bloggers, the space seeks to present programming inspired by the 18th century notion of “rational amusement” and is especially interested in topics residing at the interstices of art and science, history and curiosity, magic and nature. The space hosts screenings, lectures, classes, and exhibitions, and is part of the Proteus Gowanus art complex. It is located at 543 Union Street (at Nevins), and is accessed through Proteus Gowanus Gallery’s entrance. OBSERVATORY’s gallery hours are 3-6pm on Thursdays and Fridays; and 12-6pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Observatory is:
Joanna Ebenstein – multi-disciplinary artist, author of Morbid Anatomy, and keeper of The Morbid Anatomy Library, Michelle Enemark – author and photographer of Curious Expeditions, Pam Grossman – curator and author of Phantasmaphile, G.F. Newland – animator and illustrator, Wythe Marschall – writer and co-founder of the Hollow Earth Society, Dylan Thuras – video editor and author of Curious Expeditions, and James Walsh – video and book artist.

The Opal faced clock at the center of Grand Central Terminal– photo by Mitch Waxman

The day was gloomy, which fit the mood I was in. Misty reminisces of my buddy Bernie were unavoidable for me during the Creek Cruise, and the sleep deficit suffered during the week leading up to the trip had weighed heavily upon me physically. A double dose of those esoteric potions which my doctors require me to ingest were required to just leave the house, and a profound desire to not speak a single word beyond whatever was necessary to negotiate my way around the city was in my thoughts. Mr. Horowitz pulled a large and interested crowd, and your humble narrator walked amongst them, ever an outsider and alone even in company.


Mitch Horowitz is a writer and publisher of many years’ experience with a lifelong interest in man’s search for meaning. He is the editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin in New York and the author of Occult America (Bantam), which The Washington Post Book World called: “Fascinating…a serious, wide-ranging study of all the magical, mystical, and spiritual movements that have arisen and influenced American history in often-surprising ways.” The book received the 2010 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for literary excellence.

The Lamasery – photo by Mitch Waxman

The thematic narrative offered was well presented, and the presentation of the material was enhanced by a well provided and quite recognizable series of head, hand, and finger gestures which have been used by Mediums and Seers for centuries to enthrall. A core notion was hammered home, the suffusion of mainstream American culture by a thread of so called Occult lore and practice which though hidden, has helped to shape the mindset of modernity. He expounds and presents his theory in the book “Occult America” which is easily found and available from online book sellers in a variety of formats.

If you believe in the “power of positive thinking”, or practice “Yoga”, or attended “Kindergarden” or an “AA” meeting, or believe that “all religions worship the same god, just in different ways”, Mr. Horowitz is talking to you.


Long before the “Aquarian Age” hit California, America’s laboratories of spiritual experiment were in the tenements of Hell’s Kitchen, the metaphysical churches built in New York’s old cow pastures, and the lodges nestled among Manhattan office buildings. Join Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America, for a walking tour to explore New York City’s astonishing – and overlooked – role in igniting the occult revival and the revolutions in alternative spirituality that swept America (and the world) from the nineteenth century to the present day.

Mitch Horowitz – photo by Mitch Waxman

I’d recommend any and all interested parties to monitor Mr. Horowitz’s website for news of further tours. The walk was not rigorous, taking place entirely In midtown Manhattan and included one or two massive revelations which even your humble narrator was surprised by.



By the 1830s and 40s, a region of central New York State called “the Burned-Over District” (so-named for its religious passions) became the magnetic center for the religious radicalism sweeping the young nation. Stretching from Albany to Buffalo, it was the Mt. Sinai of American mysticism, giving birth to new religions such as Mormonism and Seventh-Day Adventism, and also to the spread of Spiritualism, Mesmerism, mediumship, table-rapping, séances, and other occult sensations – many of which mirrored, and aided, the rise of Suffragism and related progressive movements.

The nation’s occult culture gave women their first opportunity to openly serve as religious leaders – in this case as spirit mediums, seers, and channelers. America’s social and spiritual radicals were becoming joined, and the partnership would never fade.

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