Ronnie Pontiac worked as Manly P. Hall's research assistant, screener, and designated substitute lecturer for seven years. He is deeply engaged with and knowledgeable about the contemporary New Age and metaphysical communities in the United States, at least with the older and more grounded facets of the movement. 

His book covers ground that will be broadly familiar to those who’ve been reading in the history for a while but with a significant and entertaining twist – Pontiac centres his discussion not so much on the ideas of the New Age communities but the personalities and the connections between prominent and not-so-prominent authors, leaders, lecturers and the surprising links between figures we ordinarily do not consider part of this stream of American history like the Marquis de Lafayette. 

His chatty and gossipy discussion centred on personality quirks and experiences brings these historical characters to life and his discussion of who knew whom, personal connections, shared and evolved teachings, lineage and links illuminates the development of American Metaphysical Religion from the 1500s in Elizabeth’s court to the present-day fascist and QAnon conspiracy theories and neo-Pagan movements. 
His discussion shows how deeply esoteric vernacular / folk religion and occultism has permeated American popular culture, with numerous examples. It is so pervasive that it isn’t even noticed or remarked upon much of the time.

He has a great deal of territory to cover, beginning with a brief survey of the influences and groups that he deals with in depth later on, and a mixture of thematic and biographical chapters – on American Metaphysical Christianity including Rosicrucianism, pre-contact Indigenous beliefs and practices, in-depth biographies of Thomas Harriot and his associates in Elizabeth’s court (Walter Raliegh and John Dee), Thomas Morton and the Puritan reaction against him, John Winthrop Jr. the alchemist and Puritan governor of Connecticut, Frances Wright the associate of Lafayette and founder of a utopian experimental community, Mary Baker Eddy the founder of Christian Science, an interesting chapter on the influence of nineteenth-century Platonism in the American Midwest, one on the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor (and key figures involved in it like Paschal Randolph, Thomas Burgoyne, Max Theon, Peter Davidson), Emma Hardinge Britten. 

In the modern day he deals with the evolution of the Silver Shirts American fascist movement of the 1930s through the I AM movement and the Church Universal and Triumphant of Elizabeth Clare Prophet. 

His final chapter is a quick but insightful look at twenty-first century trends in metaphysical religion: Apocalyptic Politics (with the QAnon ‘starseeds’), digital sigils, electronic mediumship (online spiritualism), psychedelic salvation (Robert Anton Wilson, Carlos Castenada, Terence McKenna), evoking queer power (Arthur Evans, Z. Budapest), evolving female power (co-Masonry, channelers Jane Roberts and Judy Zebra Knight – whose racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic channels dimmed her star), and the Sekhmet revival as ancient Egyptian deities return.

A lot of ground covered with a lot of personalities to keep in mind and directions to follow. This is an excellent popular history, opinionated but solidly based in research.  

~review by Samuel Wagar

Author: Ronnie Pontiac
Inner Traditions, 2023
598 pg. Paperback £27 / $45.30 Can / $40 US