It had its own story, one perhaps less august than that of ancient scholars or Renaissance courts, but, to a young boy, no less fascinating: It was invented in 1934 by a clothing and securities salesman named Bruce King -- or, as he was better known by his nom de mystique, Zolar. trademark.") His initiation was not in the temples of Egypt, but on the boardwalks of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Professor Seward sold one-dollar horoscopes to countless vacationers -- so many, rumor went, that he retired to Florida a millionaire.("It comes from 'zodiac' and 'solar system'," he explained. (The rumor, as it happens, was true.) Bursting forth from the boardwalks, Bruce King knew he had what it took to sell mysticism to the masses.Similar stories played out in the lives of countless people, and in contemporary America the old mysteries were on the rise.Is the spiritual but not religious (SBNR) movement just a radical form of Protestantism?The Exorcist was the movie that no one on the block was allowed to see.On TV, Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas chatted with clairvoyants, astrologers, and robed gurus.In Ptolemy's pages stood concepts that had already stretched across millennia and followed a jagged path -- sometimes broken by adaptations and bastardizations -- from the philosophy of primeval Babylon to classical Egypt to Ptolemy's late Hellenic era to the Renaissance courts of Europe to popularizations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and, finally, down to the star scroll bought by a nine-year-old one morning in a local diner (a place aptly named "The Silver Moon").
My earliest brush with the occult began on a quiet Sunday morning in the mid-1970s at a diner in the Queens neighborhood where I grew up, a place of bungalow-sized houses and cracked sidewalks that straddles the invisible boundary between the farthest reaches of New York City and the suburbs of Long Island.In the Church's zeal to erase the old practices -- practices that endured throughout the late ancient world (even Rome's first Christian emperor, Constantine, personally combined Christianity with sun worship) -- bishops branded pantheists and nature-worshipers, astrologers and cosmologists, cultists and soothsayers, in ways that such believers had never conceived of themselves: as practitioners of Satanism and black magic.It was a new classification of villainy, entirely of the Church's invention.Unroll it and there appeared a brief analysis for each day of the month. I had just borrowed a book of American folklore from our local library. But the very next day one arrived -- from the library.