A comprehensive history of the occult from earliest times to the present. Is the universe alive? Are there hidden connections within it, revealed in history and in sacred texts? Can we understand or even learn to control these secrets? Have we neglected an entirely separate science that works according to a different set of principles? Certainly by the time of the Renaissance in Europe, there were many thinkers who answered in the affirmative to all of these questions. Despite the growth of modern science and a general disenchantment of the world, the 'occult' or 'esoteric' tradition has evolved in the West, manifesting itself in such diverse groups as the Freemasons, the Mormons, Christian Scientists, the Theosophists, New Age, and American Fundamentalism. Paradoxically, the turn to science and the triumph of evolution in the nineteenth century produced an explosion of occultism, increasing its power as a kind of super-science. Gothic, fantastic, and supernatural fiction flourished, while Spiritualism emerged as a serious inquiry into the possibility of contacting the dead.
After all, if you could communicate with the living at great distances, why should a similar teletechnology not be possible to the other world? Disciplines had not yet hardened, and the borders were as yet undefined between parapsychology and psychology, between mythology and anthropology. Mesmerism became hypnotism, and the subconscious came to be recognized as more than a medium's stomping ground. This book describes the growth and meandering path of the occult tradition over the past five hundred years, and shows how the esoteric world view fits together.
David S. Katz holds the Abraham Horodisch Chair for the History of Books at Tel Aviv University, Israel, where he is also Chair of the Department of History. He took his doctorate at Oxford University, and is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. His recent books include The Jews in the History of England, 1485-1850 (1994); Messianic Revolution (with Richard H. Popkin, Penguin, 1999); and God's Last Words- Reading the English Bible from the Reformation to Fundamentalism (2004).