McCall’s (March, 1970): ‘The Occult Explosion’ (Part One)

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One of the first of many articles to appear in popular magazines and newspapers (see below for partial list) focusing on the “Occult Revival,” “Occult Explosion,” or “Occult Boom” of the late 1960s, cited in nearly every book-length occult overview of the following decade, including Nat Friedland’s The Occult Explosion and John Godwin’s Occult America, both published in 1972. The McCall’s issue is notable because the occult theme runs throughout, and major authors contribute, including Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. McCall’s was a very popular women’s magazine, and it’s telling that, scattered among the various articles on esoteric and somewhat rebellious ideas, you’ll find very bubbly, very gender-specific ads for Campbell’s soup recipes, Revlon shampoo, washable drapery, microwave dinners, Wonder bread, Tide, liquid douche, etc.

The lead article, “Occult,” is written by Nicholas Pileggi, best known today as the screenwriter for Goodfellas and Casino, which he adapted (with Martin Scorsese) from his own books. Pileggi was a crime reporter in New York City starting in the ’50s and became a contributing editor for New York Magazine in the late ’60s.*

Some interesting quotes from the article include Pileggi’s neat if demeaning description of “the current metaphysical mood” as a “mystical form of dropout primitivism,” a reference to Timothy Leary’s 1966 invitation to “Turn on, tune in, drop out” (see here for a video of Leary discussing his mantra). On page 140 there’s a long list of supposedly occult-related books on parade at university bookstores, including the “supernatural” Steppenwolf and “the Hobbit series.” (I’m guessing Pileggi hadn’t read either Hesse or Tolkien.)

Pileggi quotes Sally Kempton, a culture journalist at the time for Esquire, among other big publications, as saying that astrology allows the younger generation to “feed on interplanetary mysteries of the astronomic universe rather than be terrified of them.” I think that’s a pretty good summation of astrology’s (and the occult’s) power in general. (Kempton later had a prolonged mystical experience and became “a student and teacher of spiritual awareness.”)

But what of religion, the social institution charged with providing higher meaning and spiritual sustenance to those of us, regardless of age, struggling with the mysteries of the “astronomic universe”? Says an “advocate” of Reverend Arthur Ford:

Many organized religions have systematically avoided dealing with their own spiritual foundations… Many religions today have become much more the offices of social change than the cathedrals of spiritual awakening. This, I believe, is one of the reasons so many of today’s young have turned toward the occult in all its variety…

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Time, “Is God Dead?” (April, 1966); Harper’s Bazaar, “The Cult of Zodiac” (October, 1968); Time, “Astrology and the New Cult of the Occult” (March, 1969); Wall Street Journal, “Strange Doings: Americans Show Burst of Interest in Witches, Other Occult Matters” (October 23, 1969); Harper’s Bazaar, “The New Atlantis” (February, 1970); Esquire, “Evil Lurks in California” (March, 1970); Newsweek, “The Cult of the Occult” (April, 1970); Columbus Dispatch, “Occult Boom Runs Rampant in America” (May 21, 1970); Vogue (UK), “Clothes for New Druids” (October, 1970); Look, “Witchcraft is Rising” (August, 1971); Time, “The Occult Revival: Satan Returns” (June, 1972)

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