The Occult #8

Why do you have a series of posts devoted to the occult, Gilligan? Are you a satan worshiper?

Nope. But if you study the psyche of the seventies - mainly the latter part of the sixties and early part of the seventies - you can't help but take note of the unusually high levels of occult interest among the public.  I've theorized before as to why this was true, but trying to track why certain things fall in and out of fashion is often an exercise in futility. Our collective consciousness is a complicated beast to pin down.

War may be to blame. There was a sharp rise in occult enthusiasm during WWI, and the seventies occultism coincides perfectly with Vietnam.  Perhaps it was a way for many to come to terms with mass casualties, often friends and family.  This theory sounds good on the surface, but it doesn't account for the times of war when there was no widespread interest in the occult.  For instance, WWII didn't bring about any such event. So what gives?

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A few theories... more than one may be true..
  • Perhaps it was a collective guilt manifesting itself in interests in the afterlife and the beyond
  • Perhaps it was just a passing fad that started inconspicuously, but grew and grew over the years. No concrete reason - a sort of cultural butterfly effect.
  • Perhaps the Boomers' inclination to rebel against social constructs also translated to religion, where both atheism and occultism constituted a rebellion against traditional organized religion.
  • Perhaps it was an offshoot of sexual liberation; traditional morality didn't condone the hippie/swinger lifestyle, but occultism did.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.  Who knows the real answer. Untill we get this figured out, let's take another look at some occult biblio -artifacts from the 1960s and 70s.

click images to enlarge

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  1. Gilligan, I might actually have an answer for you; recently I got the novel "Rosemarys Baby" (published 1967) and there's an interesting foreword by Ira Levin, who basically takes credit for the 'Supernatural Movement' (much to his dismay). He said he enjoyed the novels success, but lamented that the American public took the stuff about the occult and contemporary Satanism so seriously, and was further dismayed when the author of "The Exorcist" tipped his hat to him and said Rosemary was his inspiration.

    The thing is, Ira believed his book was the launchpad for it all. I'm not agreeing, just sayin'! :)

  2. I find the posts on the occult very interesting and yes, they were indeed an important part of 70's culture. In fact, one of the very first books I ever read in the mid 70's was entitled "A Natural History of Unnatural Things" which had chapters on ESP, vampires, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and other paranormal stuff.
    Let's also remember that Bigfoot was big in the 70's and was included in in The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, Bigfoot and Wildboy and several films.
    By the way, I love the selection of paperback covers on this post.

  3. Gil, have you ever read Generations by Strauss and Howe? They are of the opinion that generations cycle and every 4th generation shows more interest in the spiritual. You should check it out.

  4. Around 1970, I remember there were a number of witchcraft and satanism magazines one could actually buy at Woolworths, stuffed in between TRUE STORY and OFFICIAL DETECTIVE. Being into the monster mags, I tried a few but they really were more along the exploitative lines of "I Was Sold to a Coven of Satanic Priests!" so outside of the occasional nudity, they were pretty boring to an 11 year old kid.

  5. You could go back a bit earlier though; don't forget Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe series from the early 1960's. Also all those Dracula movies that Christopher Lee made at Hammer Studios in England.

    Another thing that may have contributed to the Occult Boom was the success of "Dark Shadows" from 1967-71. A lot of young people watched it religiously every day, even as a 7 year old I loved it.

    Towards the end of the '60's I remember hearing a lot about Astrology. Perhaps the 5th Dimension's big hit with "The Age of Aquarius" from "Hair" played a part as well.

  6. I'd say it was your reasons #3 and #4 - general rebellion against the mainstream and an offshoot of the "sexual revolution." Drug use was almost certainly another factor - I didn't know anyone who wasn't into the occult that wasn't also into drugs.

  7. Aww... Retro Hound beat me to the recommendation of "Generations" (and the same authors have another, similar book called the "Fouth Turning", which attempts to explain a lot of the current economic woes).

    Your blog post reminds me of something that happened when I was a teenager living in the Chicago suburbs in the early-mid 70's. A good friend of mine & I were very interested in the occult, the mystical, the supernatural, etc... We owned bunches of books on the subjects (we weren't into drugs at all, though).

    So one day we told our parent we were going take the train into Chicago (we were too young to drive) and go to the Art Museum, but the truth was we wanted to explore the nooks and crannies of the city and see all the odd little bookstores and shops that catered to our interests (or, more to the point, were cashing in on the growing interest in the occult). There we were - two wide-eyed, sheltered, suburban kids - wandering through a seedy part of town, when we came upon a shop with a "palm reader" sign in the window. Just the kind of thing we were looking for! Naturally we went in to get our fortunes told. There were several rather exotic looking women sitting around, mostly in their early 20's, that gave us a look of amusement but one took us into a parlor, we plunked down our $5 each and got the lamest "palm reading" ever.... "you will meet a handsome man, fall in love, blah blah blah" (afterwards we compared notes, and the only difference in our "readings" was my friend was going to meet a blonde man, and I was going to meet a brown-haired man). Years and years later that same friend and I were reminiscing and that trip into the city came up... it finally dawned on us that we had wandered into a "house of ill repute" and the looks of amusement we got from the "psychics" was no doubt due to the fact that 15 year old girls were not their typical customers.

  8. I have/had a bunch of these books, and I think one of the reasons they were popular was due to the sex (implied or explicit). That doesn't explain the general interest in the occult, but it could help explain its sustained popularity throughout part of the '70s.

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  10. Being the nitpicking Retrospacer that I am, I feel the need to point out that your examples of "occult" literature and grimoires are really just exploitation novels. Real examples of such books would be the theospohical tome "The Secret Doctrine, Thelema's "The Book of the Law," and the Wiccan "Charge of the Goddess." The "Satanist" angle of the books you're showcasing is pure bupkis aimed at an audience of paranoid Christians. Such "Satanism" doesn't really exist as LaVey's church, and the Luciferians don't attempt to "summon demons" or champion evil deeds.

    ...But it's all a giant pile of B.S. anyway.

  11. I'm as far from an expert as you can get, but while there may not have been much of an interest in the occult during WWII in America, there are plenty of those who think that Hitler's Germany was loaded with occult practices and interests. Ian Fleming, while working for British Intelligence during the war, suggested getting Aleister Crowley to interrogate a Nazi occultist, Rudolph Hess, who had been caught parachuting into Scotland. Maybe in the 60's, America was just picking up on trends that began overseas decades earlier.

  12. The Nazis were immersed in it. Frankly, I think of them as history's super villains.

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  14. I am convinced that Strauss and Howe's generational psychology explains much of the phenomenon. The baby boomer generation was interested in consciousness more than in public and political activism: though the boomers took credit and are credited for the latter, the latter was really started by previous Silent generation (i.e. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gloria Steinem). The transition from the Old Left to the New Left was as much inspired by older Silent Generation figures as it was by younger Boomers. Because the boomers were of the age to go to Vietnam it was inevitable that the inconvenience of the war would push them into public mindedness (plus some did have honest ethical values as well, lest I be accused of only reducing boomer anti-war protests to self interest). If you read classic late 60s and early 70s texts on the Movement ( like the Port Huron statement) there is a lyrical, Romantic and inward dimension that was absent from older Marxist influenced leftism. When I say consciousness, I mean a concern for the internal and the inward as opposed to external and extraverted behavior. The idea was that one must change oneself or save oneself FIRST before turning towards the outer world. This is why, in the end, boomers in old age tend to become more “new age” oriented, do motivational speaking and actually join and propogate alternative religious movements. Thus I am convinced that interest in the occult is one result, among others, of the boomer emphasis on working on one's own head, so to speak, whether through drugs, or through God or the Goddess. I mean how different is interest in the occult from, say, pop psychology of the 80s like John Bradshaw or EST and Werner Erhard, or the Landmark Forum, all of which are Baby boomer developments.

  15. To some extant i think a fear of science played a part.after WW2 the fear of nuclear holocaust was something that clouded the future of all babyboomers.After Sputnik there was guilt that we hadn't been 1st and a herding of students into technical careers.By the late 60's
    people might have been willing to give old superstitions a try as a reaction to too much modernity...

  16. When I was a kid my mother was into all this crap. I recall one time when she tried to involve me in some ritual bollox. My part was to sit cross legged and repeatedly chant 'om'??? I declined. Not thru fear of darker forces but because I didn't want to feel like a complete and utter twat.