There’s so much about the 1960’s and 1970’s that fascinates me. The titanic shift in the psychology of the U.S. and other Western countries during this period will forever both confound and interest me. Somehow, in just a few short decades, this country went from Singing in the Rain to I Spit on Your Grave. This shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise considering everything that was going on in the world: a war in Vietnam, students protesting in the streets, a president assassinated, nuclear annihilation right around the corner, a march on Selma, etc., etc. Amid all this, one thing that has intrigued me for a long time is the so-called “Occult Explosion”.
Not familiar with it? Well, the new occult trend was on the pages of nearly magazine in circulation at the time. Time’s cover story of March 21, 1969, “Cult of the Occult,” gave an indication of the large number of people involved in the occult phenomenon. During 1969 and 1970, Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, and McCall’s all had special issues on the occult revival.
"Major publishers have issued dozens of hard-cover books on the occult and the related field of parapsychology in the past year. William Blatty's novel The Exorcist has been on the bestseller list for 52 weeks. The 1968 movie Rosemary's Baby—still the most terrifying of the lot—has spawned a series of occult successors, including, currently, The Possession of Joel Delaney and The Other. But the interest goes beyond books and movies: a growing number of colleges across the U.S. are offering courses on aspects of the occult."
... and LIFE magazine (12/31/1971) called 1971 "The Year of the Demon" in its book review section.
Think about all the movies that came out during this time period - there were so many that dealt with the occult: Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, The Omen, Race with the Devil (starring Peter Fonda), The Sentinel - and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Even Alan Alda, of all people, was in a satanic film - The Mephisto Waltz. The U.K. certainly had its fair share as well: The Wicker Man, The Devil Rides Out, The Satanic Rites of Dracula.... to mention all the occult themed foreign films released during this period would literally take all day.
The music industry also reflected the trend. Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, King Crimson, Alice Cooper, and, the grandaddy of them all, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. From 1968-71, The Rolling Stones were heavily involved in satanism - i.e. "Dancing With Mr. D", "Sympathy for the Devil" and their involvement with Kenneth Anger. Led Zeppelin also dabbled in the occult. In the early 1970s Page, a follower of Aleister Crowley, owned an occult bookshop and publishing house, "The Equinox Booksellers and Publishers" in Kensington High Street, London. Etc., etc., etc.,... we all know rock stars do crazy shit.
The big question is why this all came about. Was it the Baby Boomers searching for answeres any way they could get it? Was it a rebellion to the standard Christian orthodox most Boomers grew up with? Was it the natural result of widespread hallucinogen use? Was it the paranoia and growing mistrust resultant from a bloody war in Vietnam, the Manson murders, and Kennedy assassination?..... who knows? It may have been all of the above.
Turn Off Your Mind: The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius By Gary Lachman attempts to explain "how a decade of love and peace ended in Altamont and the Manson Family bloodbath".
Another question is where it all started. Of course, the occult itself is thousands of years old (depending on your definition) - but when did the trend take off? Some have narrowed it down to a small bookshop in Chelsea called The Magickal Childe.
In my opinion, the source is intangible. It was collective consciousness of the West at the time. And as quickly as it came, it burnt out in the early 80's. I remember a sensational piece-o-crap journalistic stunt by Geraldo Rivera around this time. It got huge ratings and made it seem as if there was a satanist around every corner. A national condemnation to this sort of thing was not far behind - soon, it wasn't even safe to play Dungeons & Dragons.
Oh, well. Perhaps someone can leave a comment and enlighten me as to how this all came about, and why it went bye bye. And be sure to check out some occult images I've included below from vintage books and magazines. Enjoy!