EXPLORING THE OUTER EDGES OF SOCIETY AND MIND

Through Mediums Never Before Considered – Psychotronics, Spiritual Services and the Analog Internet

Posted in > SUPERNATURAL LIVING IN THE AMERICAN MARKETPLACE by David on September 29, 2019

71PizkqBOXL.jpg“The field of study known formerly as parapsychology is undergoing a massive renovation, extending to all its ranks, its procedural methodology and its accumulated literature. The renewal of the discipline, now called psychotronics, overlays a new technical-physical dimension on an earlier philosophical-psychological conception. The field embraces the study of many of the psychophysical phenomena discussed throughout most of this issue of Impact of Science on Society.” – Zdenek Rejdak, Psychotronics: the state of the art in UNESCO Impact of Science on Society, Volume XXIV, No. 4 / October-December 1974 (1)

1974 was a banner year for psi research.

In 1974 Unesco issues Vol. 24, No. 4 of their periodical Impact of Science on Society – this particular issue focuses heavily on ‘the parasciences’ with special emphasis on psychotronics – “the science of mind-body-environment relationships, an interdisciplinary science concerned with the interactions of matter, energy, and consciousness.” (2,3)

In 1974 G. Putnam and Sons publish Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science, an anthology edited by Apollo astronaut Edgar Mitchell collecting papers from some of the time period’s key researchers in parapsychology and consciousness studies – defining an agenda for research that continues to hold relevance into the 21st century.

1974 is also the year that Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ publish an article in Nature titled Information Transfer Under Conditions of Sensory Shielding, outlining results from their early remote viewing research at the Stanford Research Institute. (4)

For our purposes here – 1974 is notable as the year that the Old Farmer’s Almanac releases their 182nd Anniversary Edition celebrating nearly two centuries of continuous publication. Awhile back I picked up a copy of the 1974 edition at a local thrift store hoping to take a look at the tenor of a time when so much was stirring in the collective psyche in relation to psychic functioning – and after a previous post exploring a copy of the 2020 edition I became curious as to how the two compare in terms of spiritual service ads. (5)

What I discovered was rather surprising.

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1974’s edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac offers ads for computer aided astrology, Telecult Powers, The Ancient and Mystical Order Rosæ Crucis, strange prophecies, superconscious powers, dowsing for buried treasure, and a full front page advertisement for the Universe Book Club Inner Circle – an organization that offers in other advertisements, “a deeper understanding of life through the psychic sciences. ESP. Prophecy. Astrology. Telepathy. The Supernatural…the best in occult books from all publishers at average savings of 50%.”(6) – each of these speak to the popularity of the occult sciences when the almanac was published – and that’s before we even get to the classified section!

 

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Once we hit the classifieds we find a number of ads for dreambooks, occult directories, occult books, fortune telling cards, herbs, lodestones, incense and more:

 

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What we don’t find- outside of perhaps the fortune telling cards, lodestones and herbs – are advertisements written from the specific perspective of American folk magic traditions such as conjure, rootwork or classic spiritual work.

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In fact many of the ads – especially the Astro-Profile ad featuring a one year horoscope ‘prepared with an IBM computer’ – seem to follow closer to the theme of the Impact journal,  “(overlaying) a new technical-physical dimension on an earlier philosophical-psychological conception.” One might argue that the dowsing rods are a traditional form – but we encounter them here advertised as a ‘directional locator,’ with the marketing copy overlaying a technical-physical interpretation on an older practice.

Prior to seeing the 2020 edition this wouldn’t have struck me as particularly odd – however, when we look at the 2020 Old Farmer’s Almanac we find that most of the advertisements aimed at the spiritual service market use language directly drawn from conjure and rootwork practices or language centered around psychic services as popularized by the late 20th century psychic hotlines:

 

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This is in stark contrast to the 1974 edition, which has full page ads for occult material throughout and includes occult services under a number of mundane categories in the Classified section – the 2020 edition has no additional spiritual service ads in the main sections and within the Classified section it has specific categories for Astrology, Spiritual Advice, Spiritual Healer, and Spiritualists. We find these sections included in the classifieds for nearly a decade or more if we look back at some of the editions from 2012, 2013 and 2014.

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This article from p. 7 of an 1850 edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac shows that even when black magic doesn’t make it into the ads – its outlines can easily appear elsewhere, hidden in plain sight. (7)

Advertisements in Questionable Taste

Think about that – in 1974 these services were normalized under regular categories – since at least 2012 they are given specific focus under categories like ‘Spiritual Healer’ and ‘Spiritualists’. These categories didn’t even have ads that would have fit under them in the 1974 edition!

If we were talking trends in technological progress this might be less surprising – we can imagine that earlier editions wouldn’t have ads related to smart phones – but here we have an instance when the Old Farmer’s Almanac puts MORE focus in the 21st century on folk magic and psychic services than it did in 1974 when UNESCO was publishing an issue of Impact specifically focused on ‘parascience’ and an Apollo astronaut was publishing an anthology of research papers focused on Psychic Exploration.

This becomes even more anomalous when we consider the perspective offered in this Seattle Times piece on the Old Farmer’s Almanac from 1992:

“In 1990 the periodical began courting advertising from mainstream advertisers, and now contains full-page, four-color ads for Sorel boots, Florida orange juice, Chevrolet trucks, Total cereal, and Agway stores amidst smaller black-and-white inserts for choir robes, miracle magnifying eyeglasses, hair thickener, copper bracelets, apple juicers, weathervanes, racks for holding multiple caps, bag balm for curing animal sores, toenail-fungus ointment, trusses, and insurance to help pay burial expenses. The almanac still refuses all ads for alcohol or tobacco.

Hale takes a sanguine view of the more bizarre products hawked in his pages. “Jimmy Carter was an advertiser, long before he became president; he used the almanac to sell worms for bait.” Nowadays, he says, ads fall into one of three categories: “Advertisements in good taste, advertisements in questionable taste – like the miracle cures or anti-aging products – and advertisements in bad taste, like voodoo dolls, which some people could attempt to use for malicious purposes.

“Each year, after heated debate, we happily accept ads in the first two categories.” (8)

A careful reading of former editor Jud Hale’s statement shows that spiritual services centered on what is popularly known as black magic – hexing, cursing, revenge, etc. – are out, but as long as the legal bases are covered most everything else has a chance of making it in. This draws attention to the fact that what is currently making it in doesn’t necessarily track with the emergence of the contemporary ‘consciousness culture’ market or the trends we see in the digital space related to human potentials like transcranial electric stimulation, binaural and isochronic soundscapes, sound healing, meditation and mindfulness, or anything like that.

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The Analog Internet

“In many homes almanacs were the newspaper, the magazine, and the mail-order catalog rolled into one. In other words, almanacs were the first internet.” – Lisa Chen, The Old Farmer’s Almanac: An Investigation – Seneca Review (9)

Running a Google search for the phone numbers associated with the contemporary classified ads shows that many of them come up in the Google Books preview of the 2020 edition and nowhere else. For many service providers these ads appear to be the only angle being used to attract clients.

Looking at some of the spiritual service providers that do show up in a wider search provides  us insight into the market we’re looking at.

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We’ll start with Mrs. Jewel of Rock Hill, South Carolina, whose ad in the Astrology section includes a business address:

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Mrs. Jewel, Psychic Reader – Rock Hill, South Carolina

We can also find her in a Facebook post from a local pawn shop, World Record Holder Pawn (10), which mentions Mrs. Jewel and includes some nice shots of a pamphlet advertising her services:

 

If you’ve been seduced by the mediated image of mystery surrounding traditional spiritual services it may come as a surprise to find what looks to be a standard psychic reader sitting next to someone like Dr. Sal who offers lucky bags and help against evil spells and witchcraft:

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These blurred lines peaked my attention when I first started looking at spiritual service advertisements while researching for Craigslist Conjurations – Preliminary notes on Spiritual Services, Folk Magic and Digital Advertising in 2014 (Click here for the full 53 pg. PDF version). That early research introduced me to how spiritual service providers frequently cross artificial boundaries developed by observers outside of their targeted clientele.

This boundary crossing exists between the online and offline worlds as well. These ads form a sort of analog hypertext linking a broad range of individuals and networks – mixing services offered solely through word of mouth advertising and classifieds and service providers that expand their business profile into the digital space. All connecting individuals, cultures and economies across a shared relationship with a belief in the supernatural or the super natural.

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Ann, God’s Messenger from Fayette, North Carolina is another service provider whose address is available via a quick search. She can be found on Google as Sister Ann, Reader and Advisor. Sister Ann is another boundary crossing provider who seems to make no differentiation between folk magic and psychic services, this time quite directly offering to stop rootwork.

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Sister Ann, Reader and Advisor – Fayetteville, North Carolina

Based on her service reviews some folks love her and some folks hate her. (11) Sister Ann has a basic website – sisterannreaderadviser.com – utilizing stock images suited to a psychic service provider – who would expect that beneath this almost mundane facade sits a woman offering rootwork services?

“Are you having trouble? Have you lost your job? Does life seem like it is getting to be too much? Do you wonder where to turn? I urge you to call me, Sister Ann. I am a religious holy woman and have been able to help hundreds of lost souls who have had troubles in life. Through God’s grace and mercy I have the power to heal by prayer.”

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Some spiritual service providers have been running the same ads for years. We find Spiritualist Leza from Valdosta, Georgia going back to 2012 in the Google Book results with a simple ad promising the cure all evil spells, reunite lovers, potions and luck:

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Despite the persistence of her ad in the various editions of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, Spiritual Leza is not one of our providers that appear to have extended their marketing into the digital marketplace.

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Beyond the Pages of the Old Farmer’s Almanac

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Classified Section from the 2012 Old Farmer’s Almanac

There is an ebb and flow for spiritual service classified ads. For example, the 2012 and 2013 editions having significantly more offerings in the Astrology section than what we find in the 2020 edition.

These rhythms in the number of ads are regulated by shifts in the culture and in the economy. As Jud Hale says in the Seattle Times piece from 1992:

“I believe we’re a link to something. The almanac has always done well in times of recession. I think people hearken back to the traditional values in times of a crunch…The Old Farmer’s Almanac isn’t `quaint,’ It’s all about what’s happening in our world, now. It’s as up-to-date today as it was 200 years ago.”(8)

This observation on the recession is reflected in the psychic and spiritual service industries as well. Providers in these areas offer services to those who are looking for stability, direction and empowerment in uncertain times. Even so, economic factors shift the amount of income that clients can offer no matter how desperate their perceived need and the industry itself was negatively affected by the most recent recession. As disposable income has increased so has the market for and marketability of these services:

“The Psychic Services industry has grown steadily over the five years to 2018 as a result of recovering economic conditions and growing acceptance of industry services among consumers. Following a dip during the economic downturn, rising disposable income levels over the past five years have spurred demand for discretionary services like psychic readings.” (12)

Differences we see in the number of ads may have to do with certain service providers moving up market as the opportunities increase alongside increases in disposable income. It may also reflect service providers reacting to the increased potential for interest in their services within the wider market as the economy began to recover through 2012 and 2013. Moving their advertising to digital platforms could allow them to more easily capture the attention of a diverse audience. Or, it’s very possible that these service providers failed to achieve success and ceased offering service of any kind within this market.

One of the things that we begin to see as we dig in to these ads is that we are not just looking at a single market, economy or industry – we’re looking at a rather diverse and interconnected network of markets, economies and industries and services that fluidly shift and intermingle to meet the needs of their clientele.

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Rev. Jackson ad in the 2020 Old Farmer’s Almanac

This network has a global reach as we can see from a service provider named Rev. Jackson who bought ad space in both the Old Farmer’s Almanac and the Jamaican Gleaner.

Published out of Kingston, the Jamaican Gleaner or simply The Gleaner is a newspaper with international distribution in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.  Founding in 1834, it’s been in circulation ever since and continues to connect diaspora communities around the world.

Rev. Jackson’s ad in both the Old Farmer’s Almanac and the Jamaican Gleaner shows us that the networks of markets, economies and industries related to these psychic and spiritual services cover a much wider geography than we might expect – and target a community with ties not only to the U.S., but the Caribbean, U.K. and Canada as well.

Seeing the reach of a provider like Rev. Jackson it is possible that the increased focus on spiritual services associated with popular notions of hoodoo, conjure and rootwork in these 21st century Old Farmer’s Almanac ads is a reflection of an increase in the estimated worth of the African American market.

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Voodoo Healer with the same phone number in a series of classified ads for ‘Psychics, Spiritualists, Astrologers, Readers‘ in the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper – Thursday, August 24, 2006 (13)

According to a recent study from the University of Georgia Selig Center for Economic Growth, this market went from “$961 billion in 2010 to an estimated $1.3 trillion in 2018. Since 2000, the African American market has seen a 114 percent increase in buying power.” (14) Along with an increase in buying power comes an increase in service providers within the market, so it makes sense that we would see this mirrored in the psychic and spiritual service ads appearing in publications like the Old Farmer’s Almanac and Jamaican Gleaner which have such a wide and continuous distribution.

But…Where are the Psychotronics?

“We present results of experiments suggesting the existence of one or more perceptual modalities through which individuals obtain information about their environment…”- Harold Puthoff and Russel Targ, Information Transfer Under Conditions of Sensory Shielding (3)

Now that we’ve found some answers for the surprising presence of rootwork in the 2020 edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac – the question remains, where’s our new era of psychotronics as forecast in the 1974 edition of UNESCO’s Impact?

Just as the spiritual service ads appear to be following market trends, the fate of psychotronics exists within a wider cultural and economic milieu. The interest in developing “a new technical-physical dimension on an earlier philosophical-psychological conception”  was directly related to the further development of a cybernetic understanding of the mind/body complex being explored at the time. (15) If we want to see where psychotronics went all we have to do is look at the internet – which, as Dr. Diana Pasulka points out in her preface to American Cosmic – UFOs, Religion, Technology (Oxford University Press, 2019), developed in part from a program focused on ‘“Augmentation of the Human Intellect.” (16) 

In order to truly understand these areas it is important to de-mystify what we are talking about – the mediated image of psychic and spiritual services is a marketing ploy that is very much divorced from their everyday applications in the lives of practitioners and from the areas of study focused on by serious researchers. (17) This is also true in terms of how the underlying human potentials being tapped in these service offerings are distributed within the wider culture.

Look back at that Astro-Profile advertisement and take out the astrological language:

Prepared with an IBM computer – Your Character Analyzed – Programed by World Famous (Experts) – Individually Prepared – Based on 25 Million Pieces of Information – 12 Month Projections – Trends for the Year…

If we didn’t know this was a 1974 ad for an astrology service it could just as well be the description of forecasting and personality profile tools that have been developed using data sets drawn from social media usage. Today’s transcranial electric stimulation for performance enhancement in sports and the arts is yesterday’s “God Helmet” experiments searching for the source of apparitional encounters and ways to enhance or induce anomalous or spiritual experiences. (18, 19)

Corporate, commercial and military intelligence interest in psychic functioning frame UNESCO’s Impact journal issue focused on parascience. In the ensuing years research in these areas produced results that were able to be reframed (and monetized) within more acceptable contexts, as well as being reframed to avoid complications related to a portion of the research that occurred between 1974 and 1995 under classified programs.

Along with this is the proprietary nature of the corporate interest – and yes, there was indeed quite a bit of corporate interest, including companies such as Boeing, Xerox, Sony and others. As just one example, Gene Semel, a former senior sound design manager at Sony, went in search of Sony’s ESP research and discovered that “finding ways to measure anomalous energy transference – and to uncover a commercial application for it – was something to Sony took seriously. In the company’s labs, it was objectively and empirically researched for over a decade under the oversight of Sony Senior Researcher Yoichiro Sako.” (20) News reports from the time show that Sako’s research was met with controversy in the media despite the support of Sony’s executives. (21)

“There might be a new type of communication system out there, a system that transmits data through mediums we’ve never before considered. We don’t know, but we’re trying to find out.” – Sony executive Mika Ishida (22)

According to Sako,  “We found out experimentally that yes, ESP exists, but that any practical application of this knowledge is not likely in the foreseeable future.” (21)  Based on media reports this research initiative began in 1991, four years before the Pentagon began declassifying the Remote Viewing research that has become so well known. That’s 16 years after the parascience issue of Impact –  no matter what the skeptical sub-culture wants you to believe, psychic functioning has staying power in terms of research and commercial interest.

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PRECOG ECONOMIES

 

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Advertisement from FATE Magazine for The Mind and Time and Space by Dan Tassi, Dorrance Co., (1962) (23)

While Sako is sanguine about the possibilities of applied psi – the psychic services industry in the U.S. alone had an estimated worth of $2 Billion, with the prospect of a steady increase of 2% per year according to IBIS World. (12) The disconnect here is in the fact that Sony’s research was focused on developing technology from psychic functioning – any research into the existence of said functioning was a mere antecedent to creating products that could tap into it. Recent research into psychokinesis and mind/machine interfacing may prove him wrong – but in the meantime, outside of product development, we already see that there is a massive financial incentive to develop viable psychic services.

“It’s worth noting that those who do buy into the precog economy don’t like to publicise the fact.” – Amelia Tait, Psychic Future – What Next for the Precog Economy? (24)

51dWpiXb7hL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg$2 Billion is big, but Dr. Julia Mossbridge, a visiting scholar at Northwestern University and co-author of The Precognition Code – The Science of Precognition, How Sensing the Future Can Change Your Life (Watkins Media, 2019), says that “once precognition hits the higher-end markets – governments, investment banking – the estimates will go up by an order of magnitude,” as quoted by Amelia Tait in a Guardian article published as I was wrangling this post into coherence.

Mossbridge clarifies for Tait that the industry is mixed in terms of what clients can expect, with providers offering services that range from serious applications of psi research to frauds making money manipulating their clientele. The concept of a precog economy highlights the need for service providers that have followed the impetus of the 1974 Impact journal and are utilizing technical-physical methodologies in their work, such as Associate and Controlled Remote Viewing protocols or the protocols outlined by Mossbridge’s book, to increase accuracy and regularity in their results.

As the wider publication of  research modalities occurs we see adaptations in the public service offerings that reflect their adoption even within the sphere of popular psychic and spiritual services. In other areas of the culture there is the possibility to develop refined service offerings that take advantage of the research to integrate psychic functioning within corporate, government and medical environments as the scientific investigation of these potentials develops a better framework for understanding what has existed in our culture under the labels of the anomalous and occult. (25)

The lack of consistent regulation in the industry, the taboo on psychic functioning in professional cultures and the fear of psi (26) that occurs for many when they weigh the meaning of psi and all of its implications each contribute to fueling the shadow economies surrounding psychic and spiritual service industries. As we see with the parascience revolution forecasted in the 1974 issue of Impact, it may be that as these services become successful they blend seamlessly into the existing cultures and technologies around them. Perhaps the precog economy’s future exists within the world we already see every day expanded a bit with our understanding of human potential – a synthesis that leaves only a hazy outline of its prior taboo in back page Classifieds of tomorrow’s vintage edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Footnotes:
(1) https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000010749
(2) https://twitter.com/DrPatHistorian/status/1138551696391573504?s=20
(3) https://www.psychotronics.org/about/
(4) https://www.nature.com/articles/251602a0
(5) https://davidmetcalfe.wordpress.com/2019/09/15/for-our-readers-that-shop-by-mail-fast-cash-money-oil-and-the-old-farmers-almanac/
(6) https://altered-statuses.tumblr.com/post/184400802667/the-universe-book-club-invites-you-to-join-the
(7) https://archive.org/details/farmersalmanacfo00phil/page/n7
(8) http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19920614&slug=1497100
(9) Lisa Chen, The Old Farmer’s Almanac: An Investigation. Seneca Review, v. 47, n. 2, p. 38–43, (2017)
(10)https://www.facebook.com/WorldRecordHolderPawn/photos/a.590333837714882/2255544111193838/
(11) https://g.page/PsychicNC?share
(12) https://www.ibisworld.com/industry-trends/specialized-market-research-reports/consumer-goods-services/personal/psychic-services.html and https://finance.yahoo.com/news/psychic-industry-fortune-tellers-ibisworld-221118482.html
(13) https://newspaperarchive.com/kingston-gleaner-aug-24-2006-p-23/
(14)https://news.terry.uga.edu/articles/Rising_tide_lifts_all_boats_Americas_economic_growth_benefits_minority_markets/
(15) https://davidmetcalfe.wordpress.com/2019/02/03/cyborgs-psychics-and-intelligent-plasmas-speculative-approaches-to-human-space-travel-with-jose-canseco/
(16) https://www.americancosmic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Preface-A-Tour-of-Silicon-Valley-with-Jaques-Vallee.pdf
(17) https://davidmetcalfe.wordpress.com/2019/09/24/hidden-pathways-to-everyday-magic-supernatural-living-in-the-american-marketplace/
(18) https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-red-light-district/201710/enhancing-athletic-performance-brain-stimulation
(19) https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3287/d07f47a54f746aa2444465b2268fdeb11d1e.pdf
(20) http://www.mindpowernews.com/SonyESP.htm
(21) https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1995-11-12-mn-2130-story.html
(22) https://www.wired.com/1996/09/esp-extra-sony-perception/
(23) https://wearethemutants.com/2019/03/05/i-shall-teach-thee-terrible-things-the-ads-and-articles-of-fate-magazine-1963/dan-tassi/
(24) https://www.theguardian.com/global/2019/sep/29/psychic-future-what-next-for-the-precognition-economy
(25) https://youtu.be/8l2cmV8JvxE
(26) https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/ciencia/ciencia_psycho20.htm

For Our Readers That Shop By Mail – Fast Cash Money Oil and the Old Farmer’s Almanac

Posted in > SUPERNATURAL LIVING IN THE AMERICAN MARKETPLACE by David on September 15, 2019

“Since 1792, The Old Farmer’s Almanac has spoken to all walks of life: planting charts for those who grow their own food; recipes for those who live in the kitchen; Moon and sunrise times for those who watch the skies; and forecasts for those who don’t like the question of weather left up in the air.” (1)

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Old Farmer’s Almanac display in the magazine aisle of a local Kroger supermarket (Athens, GA, 2019)

In most grocery stores across the United States you can pick up the latest copy of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, “North America’s most popular reference guide and oldest continuously published periodical“(2) – a staple of life in the U.S. for over two hundred years.

These nondescript little books discretely resonate with the luxurious possibilities of supernatural living in the American marketplace and they always catch my eye – so, when a good friend texted a photo from the 2020 edition with an advertisement for the Luck Shop, the next chance I had to take a look I did.

Your Master Spiritual Goods Supplier

Luck Shop advertisements are a familiar sight in the back pages of the Lottery Dream Books I pick up at local gas stations (3) – however it was a bit of a surprise to find “your master spiritual goods supplier…the largest and most comprehensive Mojo Store in the Midwest- Specializing in selling Spiritual Supplies and Cultural Heritage products through…retail store and mail order catalog, for over 90 years,”(4) in a booklet sold at Kroger.

It shouldn’t have been surprising – but I’d come to expect that such a direct connection to conjure culture had been pushed to the margins of the marketplace and was now only available in places like independently owned gas stations and other liminal haunts – not right in the magazine aisle of the local grocery store next to the greeting cards and Sudoku booklets.

Flip to Page 247, and there it is:

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LuckShop.com display ad in the 2020 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac

One of the things that captivates me when I find these portals into the world of supernatural living is the business dynamics that go into an advertisement or product like this making it into the mainstream grocery market.

Our Products are Your Platform

The Old Farmer’s Almanac Media Kit website advises that:

“Our products are your platform.

As one of the most trusted brands literally in the world, the OFA brings instant credibility to, and interest in, its partners. When you work with us, we connect you to our community using the tools that suit your company, your product, and your message best.” (5)

When you apply this corporate copy to a mojo supply shop advertisement magic happens.

How many people pass by these booklets everyday without realizing Fast Cash Money Oil is just a phone call away?

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“The Old Root Man’s Formula for Fast Money Drawing gets evil off of you or out of your body. Kills all jinx and bad luck around you. Uncrosses your home and everyone in it. Returns all evil back to the sender who put it on you, no matter the situation!” (6)

How many readers of The Old Farmer’s Almanac are looking for Rev. Moses Triple Strength  ‘Old Root Man’s Formula’ Liquid Evil and Jinx Killer?

The Media Kit states that the publication is aimed at “a cross-section of North America itself. From the small farmer in the Midwest to the suburban family focused on sustainability and connection to the environment, our community members have one thing in common: They seek to lead informed  lives honestly, valuing innovation, durability, reliability and trustworthiness.” It’s incredibly intriguing to figure out where The Old Root Man’s Formula fits into that mix. 

Has the LuckShop.com misjudged their ad spend?

Has the Old Farmer’s Almanac misjudged their market?

Or is the question of occult spirituality in the contemporary United States a bit more complex than the picture we see framed by the popular media and sub-cultures that have emerged around these topics?

A Trip to Miller’s Rexall in 2018 disabused me of any remaining assumptions I had over what place spiritual work has in contemporary culture.

Run Devil Run

lsDespite its well known status as one of the long standing landmarks of folk magic in the southern United States, stepping past the threshold of Miller’s Rexall Drugs new customers were greeted with  a standard pharmacy located in downtown Atlanta (7).  The store itself and its general set up was similar to any other urban pharmacy, it even had the same discount bin of random items at the front – the only difference is that the ills and maladies Miller’s provides curatives for don’t stop at indigestion and the common cold.

This surface normalcy is one of the things you don’t get a real sense for unless you visit a shop like this in person – and as Jack Montgomery, author of American Shamans: Journeys with Traditional Healer (Busca Inc., 2008), pointed out in a Facebook post when he and Memphis hoodoo scholar Tony Kail visited Atlanta a few years ago – Miller’s is one of the last of the original spiritual supply stores left in the U.S. – making opportunities to visit few and far between for most folks.

The mediated image of folk magic presents an exotic appeal and mystery that is almost entirely missing when you dig in to its actual practice – for many people magico-religious beliefs and spiritual work are integrated fully into their every day lives in a way that is foreign to those who come to these practices from Neo-paganism, popular occultism, and other spiritual sub-cultures that are tied strongly to marketing, commercialism and identity politics rather than a continuation of traditional forms through contemporary means.

Just a Few Blocks from the Courthouse

These practices are often not learned first from books, but from family members and neighbors – they are drawn from the needs of the community and a cosmological and metaphysical understanding that is woven into the very identity of the social structure itself.

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When I visited Atlanta, Miller’s Rexall and neighboring spiritual supply shop Rondo Distributing were both just a few blocks northeast from the imposing Fulton County Courthouse – and fitting the proximity to the county court house and Atlanta’s municipal buildings many of the products offered for sale focus on resolving court cases, getting out of jail and of course the much lauded items intended to make the law stay away. All of the items were on ready display along with innumerable other spiritual supplies – packed onto shelves organized for use rather than marketing.

Democratizing Access to the Numinous

Clients come in with a need and are directed towards products by a helpful sales staff, including, at the time, Doc Miller himself – just as they would be if they needed advice on how to cure a urinary tract infection from their local pharmacist. It just happens that their requests might also include jinx removal, protection from the evil eye, curse breaking, and so on. 

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These aren’t walk-in tourist kind of places – even today they are an active part of the community, serving a specific set of cultural needs that aren’t addressed anywhere else. Whether it’s fast-luck or keeping cops away, the needs addressed highlight the day to day concerns of the marginal communities served by the shop.

Places like Miller’s Rexall also provide a functional role in giving these communities the tools necessary to formulate their independence from the strong currents of control which issue from the dominant cultural institutions – a function similar to what Hugh R. Page, Jr. ascribes to the works of Henri Gamache, which just so happen to also be for sale in these stores:

“One of the distinguishing traits of these works is that they democratize access to the numinous through the abrogation of power typically vested in institutional hierocracies. By making readily available biblical texts, Judeo-Christian hermeneutical traditions, and selected data on indigenous religious rituals from around the world, these books provide non-specialists with the practical knowledge and expertise to create personal liturgies for healing and canons for appropriating the Bible that resist hegemony and promote individual and communal self-empowerment. Interestingly, all appear to be, in fact, pseudonymous works. “(8)

The stores act to centralize communities outside of the mainstream and official domains, as well as provide them with tools to shape and rewrite the narratives of disempowerment that are maintained by the dominant social institutions – and their waning status in the culture is a sign of transition. Miller’s and Rondo are in a city district set for rehabilitation, which will likely challenge the organic culture that keeps them alive, potentially leaving them little room outside of becoming museum shops or tourist attractions to survive.

Magic always lives on the margins – and as those margins shift, so do the occult outlets that serve them. Thankfully, for our readers that shop by mail in these trying times, seems that you can always pick up some Fast Luck Money Oil from the back pages of an Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Notes:

(1) https://www.almanac.com/content/about-us
(2) https://www.almanac.com/content/history-old-farmers-almanac
(3) https://medium.com/@DBMetcalfe/gambling-with-psi-lottery-dream-books-and-other-money-making-mind-tricks-96622bcec051
(4) https://www.luckshop.com
(5) https://www.almanac.com/sites/default/files/mediakit/20_21_almanac_media_kit.pdf
(6) https://www.luckshop.com/evil-and-jinx-killer
(7) Now under new ownership Miller’s Rexall has moved to a location in nearby Decatur.  See https://www.millersrexall.com
(8) Hugh R. Page Jr., Post-Imperial Appropriation of Text, Tradition, and Ritual in the Pseudonymous Writings of Henri Gamache –  from Esotericism in African American Religious Experience : “There Is a Mystery”, Eds. Stephen C. Finley, Margarita Guillory and Hugh Page Jr. (Brill, 2014)

For more insight into stores like Miller’s Rexall and the communities that they serve – the Shattered Reality podcast hosted an in depth conversation with Jason Mizrahi, manager of Original Products, a long running spiritual supply company located in the Bronx:

https://www.originalbotanica.com/