Tag Archives | Theosophical Society

How The Occult Brought Cremation To America

cremationVia the Huffington Post, Mitch Horowitz reveals how the practice of cremating the dead came to the United States – partially as an anti-vampire measure – and kindled anti-pagan riots and panic in New York City:

Cremation was introduced to America in the 1870s by a retired Civil War colonel, Henry Steel Olcott, with a deep interest in the esoteric and paranormal. Since leaving the military, he had become an investigator of ghostly phenomena and a globetrotting advocate for the rights of Hindus and Buddhists.

While cremation possessed ancient roots, it was little known among Americans. Indeed, to most late nineteenth-century Westerners, the concept of cremation seemed otherworldly and even un-Christian.

But Olcott saw cremation (mostly) as a social reform: more sanitary than burial, a deterrent to disease, and a help in freeing up land and labor from inefficient burials. And then there was the deterrence of vampirism, which Olcott took seriously: “…there are no vampires save countries where the dead are buried.”

To promote the practice, Olcott organized the nation’s first public cremation service — or “pagan funeral,” as the press called it — at New York’s Masonic Hall on the westside of Manhattan.

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William Butler Yeats: Poet and Practicing Magician

The Lapham Quarterly has published a rather excellent essay on W.B Yeats magical studies and his relationships with the Theosophical Society and the Golden Dawn. Of particular interest is the author’s take on why so many of the era’s most prominent thinkers and artists were  preoccupied with magic:

When Yeats arrived in London in 1887, the vogue for spiritualism was at its height, and the young poet was immediately sucked into the vortex. The implications of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution had sunk in and were undermining basic assumptions of the established social order. In 1867 Matthew Arnold had heard the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the Sea of Faith in retreat, and cults sprang up to fill the gap, to satisfy those who, like Yeats, were searching for something to believe in beyond the material world.

Read more at The Lapham Quarterly.

Hat tip: Revolt of the Apes

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