THE STORMING BOHEMIAN PUNKS THE MUSE: flirting with metaphysical flights of fancy

I spent some hours this week browsing Fields Book Store on Polk. Founded in 1932 by George Fields, a devotee of Gurdjieff, the store for many years now has specialized in the field of metaphysics and the occult. It has one of the widest (and weirdest) collections in this area you will ever find.

I love this stuff. Scientists report that when we think about religious and occult matters, it stimulates certain parts of our brain that can induce mystical experiences, perhaps something like getting high on marijuana. I suspect that this stimulation is a matter of different strokes for different folks. Some will get it from the bible, some from Pentecostal speaking in tongues, some from a Catholic Mass, some from a witchcraft ceremony, some from medieval grimoires and yet others from stargazing. All of that has worked for me, but nothing will get me downtown faster than some of the peculiar tomes on the occult that decorate the shelves at Fields.

I get a delicious chill just wandering through the labels on the shelves: Spiritual Teachers. Indian Saints. New Thought. Atlantis. Magic and Witchcraft.

The literature shelf prominently features a gorgeous addition of Burton’s classic of Renaissance psychology, The Anatomy of Melancholy.

An entire shelf includes nothing but the publications of the Yogi Publication Society, including such titles as Clairvoyance & Occult Powers.

You can find a paperback edition of The Illustrated Kama Sutra.

credit: Jason Pitl-Waters

It requires two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to hold the astrology collection. These are not your typical astrological titles. Sure, you will find titles like Love Signs and Sex And Astrology and all that sort of thing. But where else are you likely to find something like Liz Greene’s Neptune & The Quest For Redemption? What on earth (or elsewhere, I suppose) could that be about?

My favorite discovery this trip was an 800-page doorstopper of a book by Lida Keck Wiggins published in 1931. It’s modestly titled The Mysteries of Life and includes sections on Numerology, Astrology, Applied Psychoanalysis, Palmistry, Clairvoyance, Hypnotism and Telekinetic energy.

I find that an afternoon spent browsing among such obscure byways, side streams and backwaters of the literary ocean stimulates obscure byways of my own thought and vocabulary: good, inspirational, muse-punking material indeed.

There is much at Fields that you won’t find elsewhere. The current owner, David Wiegleb (who describes himself as an “eclectic pagan” and former Unitarian) makes a point of stocking books from small presses, many of them in editions of only two to four hundred and specializing in such areas as traditional witchcraft.

credit: Ellen Francik

Physically, Fields is a delight to visit. It is a single room, long and narrow, with hardwood floors and quality wooden bookcases that soar from the floor to the high (18 feet, perhaps?) ceiling which is decorated mural-style in mysterious symbols. The look of Fields was not inspired by the Harry Potter novels; if anything, it is places like this that inspired Ms. Rowling, and not the other way around. But you won’t find a more Potteresque environment anywhere that I know of, and there is nothing fake about it. Wiegleb, who runs the store himself with the help of a single assistant, will remind you, too, of John Hurt’s memorable wand salesman from Diagon Alley. He really will.

So, my muse-punking suggestion for this week: visit a specialty bookstore that fits your fancy. Fields’ romance with the occult does wonders for me. You might prefer a store that specializes in books on games, or comics, or travel, or science fiction or bicycles or whatever… The point is: go someplace where you can be overwhelmed by something, anything, that will get you downtown and away from your usual mental neighborhood for an afternoon. And bring back a mental souvenir.

— Charles Kruger
The Storming Bohemian