State of the Occult 2013: Smoley and Horowitz

Richard Smoley has a new collection out entitled Supernatural, which I have ordered but not yet received. There are discussions of Hermeticism, Kabbalah, and 19th century interpretations thereof that make it relevant to Church of Light history, so I will post in future about the book. But while waiting for it I found this excellent joint interview with Smoley and Mitch Horowitz, author and editor of the collection respectively. The passages that struck me as immediately relevant to CofL readers are these:

To take a counterexample, there were H.P. Blavatsky’s Masters, whoever they were, and Blavatsky felt the need to disguise their identity; they may have disguised their own identities for their own purposes. But it got to the point where people just didn’t believe they existed at all, and that really hurt Blavatsky’s movement. She said at one point that she would rather be taken as a fraud than have the Masters’ identify revealed or compromised, so she was aware of this issue, and chose to deal with it in the way she did. But from my own point of view, I wanted to have it be intellectually honest, to say, “This is what I experienced; this is where I experienced it,” without a lot of magic-mirror stuff.

But I think that we risk allowing ourselves to be defined by our critics, or by people who are unable to take any measure of the values or the qualities that emerge from occult and New Age movements, if we don’t forthrightly speak to some of our own experiences and interests. I think it behooves serious writers today to do that, and it’s also ethically important that we pull back from the overreliance on disguised or changed identities, and especially composite characters, or altered events or things of that nature, because I think that while those devices may have their place in certain circumstances, and while privacy and discretion is sometimes important, I believe that any followers of new religious movements, or any followers of esoteric, or occult, or New Age philosophies — because charges of chicanery, fairly or not, have been so often directed at these cultures — have a special obligation to try to be as straightforward as possible.
Elbert Benjamine avoided any use of pseudonyms or personal names in reference to “the Brotherhood” and refrained from the kind of authoritarian claims made by Blavatsky and also to a lesser extent by Britten. (Concerning Theosophical Mahatmas and Spiritualist Adepts, respectively.) Hence The Church of Light does not have “a lot of magic mirror stuff” in terms of historical claims about its origins. (Even though magic mirrors were quite literally a strong interest of its HBofL predecessors.) This means that the researcher’s effort to “be as straightforward as possible” does not face the same obstacles as in movements more committed to authorities that are of dubious historical reality. Nor does it involve dealing with ideological gatekeepers guarding access to documents and archives, exerting message control, etc. as I experienced with larger organizations. Instead the main obstacle to overcome for exploring the CofL’s roots is scarcity of relevant information. However, in Albuquerque this summer I will be reporting on an amazing new development that changes the situation considerably. 2013 is looking to be a banner year for historical breakthroughs– stay tuned.