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Theories concerning the presence of the arcane and black arts inside the White House are old hat by this point, and are generally considered a load of hooey. A new piece for Salon, however, shows that the occult has long had an impact on the American political system, though probably not in the way you think.

Writer Mitch Horowitz, an award-winning author of occult-centric books, kicks things off with a weapons-grade lede:

When my book “Occult America,” a history of supernatural religions in the U.S., appeared in 2009, I was surprised to receive an admiring phone call from a conservative documentarian and financier. He professed deep interest in the book’s themes, and encouraged me in my next work, “One Simple Idea,” an exploration of positive-mind metaphysics in American life. His name was Stephen K. Bannon.


But Horowitz isn’t here to posit Bannon as a modern day Rasputin. Rather, Horowitz opts for a macro look at mysticism, one that spans multiple presidents and hundreds of years.

What’s perhaps the most striking example dates back to the 1800s, when a Rev. George Bush—yes, there’s a relation—advocated for a spirit medium named Andrew Jackson Davis. It gets weirder:

Called the “Poughkeepsie Seer” for his Hudson Valley, New York, hometown, Davis was naturally controversial—with one prominent defender, who attested that his channeled trances were an authentic telegraph to the spirit world. The medium’s advocate was a Rev. George Bush, a first cousin, four times removed, to the Bush presidential family. The Rev. Bush caused a stir in 1845 by leaving the Presbyterian Church to become a minister in the Church of the New Jerusalem, an ecclesiastical body based on the ideas of Swedish mystic-scientist Emanuel Swedenborg. Bush wrote admiringly of Davis, and attended his séances (a term Davis also coined in its occult sense) along with a dubious journalist named Edgar Allan Poe.

This isn’t to imply George H.W. Bush and his good ‘ol boy son were channeling the spirit of William Henry Harrison every night, nor does Horowitz attempt to exploit that time H.W. called for a “new world order” (though many, many others have). Rather, he shows how the Bush family, along with the Reagans and Clintons, have always been able to balance a healthy interest in mysticism with their own Christian faith. By his estimation, this is a uniquely American quality.

And if that doesn’t interest you, the piece also includes a story where a New Age guru offended Bill Clinton by calling him an “undeveloped shaman.” Talk about a sick burn.


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