Since starting Magick.Me, I have consistently received requests from students asking for a master reading list of occult books and related material, for both new and advanced practitioners.
This is that list, at last—or at least the beginning of one, which I will continue to add to with additional posts if there is interest. Assembling a comprehensive guide to the most important occult books and information for learning magick, mysticism and meditation is a tough task, as humanity has been hard at work exploring the other realms and recording their experiences since the beginning of written history.
But it is vital to do so, I think, particularly as so much of the most important information is going out of print or vanishing down the memory hole.
In my lifetime alone, I have witnessed two concurrent trends: One, the incredible explosion of accessibility to occult material thanks to the Internet—allowing nearly anybody with a Web connection and good search skills to have access to almost anything ever written on the subject, which has never happened before in history. The second trend, however, has been the devaluing of that information, with most unable to sort what is important from that which is not. This is, perhaps, a case of information being "hidden in plain sight," openly available but lost in the never-ending data smog.
We are now presented with a kind of "tyranny of availability." When I was learning magick in the 90s, only a few books were available. Getting an actually functional workbook (most started with the late Donald Michael Kraig's Modern Magick) was like getting a cheap guitar as a teenager: It wasn't the greatest guitar in the world, the strings were cheap, and it looked gaudy, but by God, it was your guitar, so you actually practiced on it, day and night, and filled in any details you didn't have using your own imagination and ingenuity. Creative limitation forced you to practice, rather than spend days, weeks, years waffling over buying the "right" musical equipment. These days, musicians are lost in an endless field of software that nobody could ever use all of in their lifetime—all of which is unbelievably powerful, but which presents so many options that many budding musicians never make any music at all.
It is the same with magicians. Infinite information, infinitesimally finite practice. And although there is certainly incredible work being produced right now, often by sadly unknown (or truly occult, rather) writers and practitioners, there is also a lot of bad information out there.
For this reason, I must continually make the point that one cannot rely on the Internet alone to get a proper occult education. You couldn't in the 90s, in the days of crude Web sites and message boards, and you certainly can't get one now, in the hellscape of social media, image boards and YouTube. This fact is reflected in how poor the general lack of occult education is now. There is little, if any, critical thinking in many corners of the Web where such matters are discussed. The work of the 20th century Hermetic adepts is practically forgotten. Even old school, structured chaos magick is now a wisp of smoke, as if it never happened at all!
In the place of such actual occult training systems now stands a Choronzonic mish-mash of Instagram aphorisms, YouTube gibberish, blurry thinking that sees no boundary between occultism and conspiracy fetishism, the over-emphasizing of psychedelic drugs, the passing off of podcast shit-talking as initiated wisdom, ancient alien weirdness, and other such garbage that now makes even David Icke look like Kurt Gödel by comparison. And it often seems—as usual—as if those who shout the loudest know the least, and understand not at all.
The reading list below will more than rectify that situation. It is drawn from both the classics of world spirituality and mystic thought, and many gems of the modern era. It will give you a solid grounding in the highest spiritual thinking in human history, and put you head and shoulders above the vast majority of occult dabblers.
Combined with the structured training at Magick.Me, followed dutifully, it will turn you into an actual, practicing magician—and a great one at that, should you persevere in study and practice, and never cease to honestly and ruthlessly assess your own successes and failings.
Occult books for beginners
Caveat: If you are completely, 100% new to magick, then don't start with the list below. You'll only overwhelm yourself, and read too much without practicing.
Instead, I've already listed the basic handful of books and tools required to get started—the bare minimum—in the Tools section of Magick.Me; so if you're completely fresh, you might want to start there. The list below, however, is much more comprehensive and advanced. It is drawn from the best of over twenty years of constantly reading and testing occult material. Once one has got to grips with the basics of magick, and put in some practice, and gotten some results, it's time to get reading.
How to read occult books properly
Here's a few helpful pointers for reading this material before you dive in.
First—don't take it too seriously. Remember that for every "truth" you discover in a book, another book somewhere will have a "truth" that is just as convincing, and also the precise opposite of the first truth, and that both "truths" might be equally absurd and logically invalid on closer inspection anyway. Not this, not this.
Second—and we must thank Crowley for this important advice—you will discover as you wade in deeper and deeper that you will alight upon material from many different cultures that seems to overlap and say the same thing. You should pay attention not just to how these doctrines are similar, but also to how they differ. These seemingly small details matter a lot, both in theory and in terms of how these ideologies manifest in the real world. Otherwise, you are liable to fall into the trap of universalism, and of declaring that all religions are one, and will soon find yourself becoming the walking version of a "Coexist" bumper sticker, or becoming as feverishly messianic as Russell Brand in your incessant demands that everyone just be nice already. Mind the details.
I will add as well that when you get to the point that you find sources agreeing, and you feel you are reading the same message in multiple forms again and again, you are only halfway there. This is only a wake up call that you must now put into practice what you have learned. Otherwise, you will have gained nothing but lost time.
Third—particularly early on in your self-education, it is just as important to know what to steer clear of as what to seek out. The reading list I've assembled, which includes many primary sources, should afford you a very firm fundamental education and sense of discrimination. After that, read whatever you want. However, if you fill your head with cheap or trashy stuff first, you are liable to spend years in confusion. Material to avoid includes:
• Anything that is marketed as an "Introduction" or "For Beginners." Most of these are hastily thrown together to pump up a publisher's back catalog, on the (correct) assumption that people will buy them on the name alone.
• Any conspiracy, alien or ancient civilization stuff. It leads to paranoia, and, worse, literalist interpretation of sacred metaphor.
• Cheesy New Age material, crystal hugging, channeled transmissions, love and light manifestos, Ascended Masters, etc. Most of this stuff is next to useless, although you can occasionally find insightful material hidden here and there among the weeds. You will know these works by their incessant proclamations of mass conscious awakening (*looks outside and at the news*... uh, ok), spirit guides, dolphins, Aliens From Planet Airbrush, etc. Much like the conspiracy world, a lot of (but not all of) this material reeks of literalism. It also leads one into the "polarity trap." Those who obsess on "the light" invoke its opposite by default, and are usually far too mired in dualistic thinking to properly handle such an unexpected result, instead finding themselves living lives of paranoia and misery as they combat "dark forces," real or otherwise, that they have largely manufactured themselves by dividing and walling off their own psyche.
(On a side note, being that New Agers love airbrushed art so much, why has this genre not merged with airbrushed van and low-rider art? I want to see a lowrider airbrushed with Ashtar's legion of UFO space dolphins, please and thank you.)
• Satanist and cheesy faux-Left Hand Path material. This is the flip side of the love and light stuff, and for the most part it's just pointless and silly. If you want to be an evil black magician, cut the crap and go work for a hedge fund.
• Over-obsession with psychedelics. Yes, Terence McKenna is fun and inspiring, but he's not really a reliable source on anything but his own trips. By all means read that stuff, but don't get stuck in the psychedelic swamp, and make the critical and common error of thinking that all of this stuff (including the visions and sacred structures of the ancients) were the result of drugs. If you get confused on this point, re-watch Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain.
• Finally, and this is the most important part, overly psychologized explanations of magick. For this reason I recommend that new students actually avoid Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell (let alone their popular mis-interpreter Jordan Peterson), although they are beloved gateways to the world of mysticism for many. Although the work of the Jungians was indeed brilliant, and was critically important to re-opening the world of the occult to the West (the "black tide of occultism," as Jung's mentor Freud disparagingly put it), Jung had to make several political concessions in doing so. Put simply, he psychologized it all away, reframing occult symbols and sacred experiences as "archetypes," "synchronicity," the "collective unconscious," etc.
This was important work to do at the time, particularly as even psychoanalysis itself was still regarded with great suspicion by the public. This also makes Jung an important bridge between Wizardsville and Normieland (you can often fall back on Jungian explanations to prevent people from getting tied up in hysterics about your interests, after all). However, this kind of psychologizing is very bad for actual occult students; it leads to incessant explaining away and labelling of the mysteries in psychological terms. To name and categorize is to kill, and to block off anything but the shallowest end of the pool, to boot.
Even worse is the tendency of some neo-Jungians, like the aforementioned Dr. Peterson, to take an essentialist reading of Jung's archetypes, and speak as if they are objectively real—rather than fluid, shifting and inherently empty projections of the void. This, for me, is Peterson's great slip, which even a cursory trip through Buddhism would cure him of, to the great benefit of both his own psyche and that of his followers, though the all-meat diet might make it rather impossible for him to follow the basic Buddhist precepts. Yet I digress; Jordan is doing some good work (along with some bad) in the way he knows how, and it is not for me, I have decided, to undermine somebody who is acting as a life preserver for a great number of people in a very real way, during a very confusing time for our culture. Rare is the normie that can truly face the essential non-essentialism of existence—non-existent, actually, as they would then not be a normie, and it is quite hard to clean your room when you realize that both the room and the arbitrary status of "cleanliness" are non-existent projections of a non-existent observer, and that without the observer, nothing can truly be said to exist at all, not even the inexplicable, ceaselessly performative delusion of mind, at which point one would simply sit and sink into this realization until both room and mind and all their blessed mess blipped out into the great zero-zero-zero along with the whole damned Manvantara itself, like a rabbit vanishing back into a magician's hat which then itself vanishes along with the magician, on the day Be With Us, Be With Us.
Now, all that aside, I recommend that you simply read this material with an open mind, take it as it is, try not to overly compartmentalize it or theorize about it, and believe nothing until you have tested it in your own practice—and not even then, really.
Where to buy occult books
But enough philosophy! Let's talk acquisitions, and get down to getting our greasy little paws on some spooky-looking tomes that will look imposing on a bookshelf and induce your in-laws to ask all the wrong questions.
Outside of the classics, you will be very hard pressed to find the best quality occult books in most bookstores, although in many small independent stores you will often find rare and unexpected gems (I'll never not support small booksellers). If you're looking for something exceedingly rare, I very much recommend contacting William Kiesel at Mortlake & Co. in Seattle. William works tirelessly for the occult scene in America, and will likely be able to find whatever you need, and then some.
Outside of bookstores, Amazon is your spot. They should have anything you need, new or used, including out of print material. It's also worth trying Abebooks for used or out of print books to comparison shop.
Some of the books listed below are now in the public domain, and can be found free online, in PDF or HTML form, at Hermetic.com—if you can bear the eyestrain of reading thousands upon thousands of pages on a screen (I at least recommend an iPad or other e-reader). This should make accessing the material easy even for sincere students who do not have the financial means to load up on books at Amazon.
However, be advised that many of the editions online are inaccurately typed, or are missing the superior editing, footnotes and general attention to detail of the printed editions. If one is truly financially strapped, you can always request books from your local public library—be advised however, that books on magick (particularly Crowley books) are, shamefully, among the most stolen books in the public library system, so your luck may vary. If you have access, university libraries are another good choice for finding scarce materials.
Full disclosure: All of the books below are linked to Amazon. These are affiliate links, and purchasing books through these links (or anything at Amazon during that session—hey, buy your whole cart while you're there!) will send Magick.Me a small affiliate commission, at no extra cost to you. This helps support the further growth and improvement of the school.
In addition, these links are also set up through Amazon Smile to send a percentage of the purchase price to Christian Appalachian Project, also at no extra cost to you. This highly-vetted charity helps to feed and serve the forgotten people of the Appalachian mountains, who are among the poorest and most desperate people in America, and who starve in plain sight without the slightest mention from the media. All of your purchases through these links will help do a good deed and support these people in need.
Why are occult books so expensive?
Many of the books listed below are now, unfortunately, out of print. This includes, inexplicably, many of Aleister Crowley's works, as well as those of Kenneth Grant, Jack Parsons and other key 20th century figures, whose books now command high prices on the second hand market.
Frankly, however, you get what you pay for. Many of these books are worth thousands of cheaper but comparatively useless mass market occult books, many of which are just watered-down rehashes of the rarer material anyway.
Investment in these books will not only pay off incalculably in terms of personal enlightenment (and saved money and time from reading poor quality mass market rehashes), but will also never let one down monetarily, as their value will likely only increase with heightened demand and less availability.
However, I must also put in a word about occult book speculation. Noticing how much rare occult books go up in value, many publishers have taken to creating artificially scarce "grimoires" with expensive binding and trim in the hope that they can then turn around and re-sell their own books in a year once they are now "scarce" and commanding high prices on eBay. This is purely a speculator game, and unfortunately diminishes the field. It reminds me of the 1990s comic book world, when publishers rushed to capitalize on a speculator market by making every comic book issue a #1, or printing them with foil covers, or including hologram cards, etc.
Any out of print or rare books listed below are expensive not because they were produced for a speculator market, but because they are among the greatest literary treasures of the 20th century, and their scarcity as well as informational content makes them immensely intrinsically valuable to those lucky enough to own copies.
Occult Books to Read: Start With the Sacred Texts
The following are undisputed classics of world spirituality, some of which have stood the test of thousands of years.
Wilhelm, Richard, trans. The I Ching. The classic manual of Confucian & Taoist divination and philosophy. The Wilhelm translation is the best. If you want to be super reductionist, you could probably begin and end with just this.
The Book of the Law. The primary "received" document of Thelema and a guide to the state of magick and the evolution of humanity for the next two thousand years. Purports to subsume all previous religious doctrines into a new, cosmic vision for humanity. These doctrines should nevertheless be studied at length on their own in the books below.
Le Guin, Ursula K., trans. Tao Te Ching. The primary text of Taoism. Read alongside the I Ching. I'm including the recent, much-lauded translation by the beloved SF author Le Guin; as with all traditional and sacred texts, you will likely want to read several translations.
Bryant, Edwin F., trans. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The concise manual on Vedic meditation; this is a recent and well-reviewed translation. Worth hundreds of millions of dollars of yoga classes and occult books, but you will probably want to read it alongside:
Muktibodhananda, Swami, ed.. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. A codification of a wide array of yogic technology compiled during the great push by the Gorakhnathi school to standardize yoga in the middle ages. Contains more technical material on asana, pranayama, mudras and related exercises; this edition of the medieval classic contains further commentary and pictures. For more yoga, see the full yoga section below.
Burtt, E. A, ed. The Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha: Early Discourses, the Dhammapada and Later Basic Writings. Contains the original teachings of the Buddha, including the Dhammapada. The entirety of the first turning of the Dharma is here, and crystal clear. Essential.
Budge, E. A. Wallis, trans. The Egyptian Book of the Dead. The Egyptian map of initiation. Budge, the translator, was a Golden Dawn member in addition to being the pre-eminent Egyptologist of Victorian England.
Coleman, Graham, ed. The Bardo Thödol, also known as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Tibetan guide to the intermediary realm between life and death. Avoid the Sogyal Rinpoche book The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, which is often confused with this one, and always seems to be in second hand shops, but which is not related.
Blavatsky, H. P. B. The Voice of the Silence. The quintessence of Theosophy, and far more useful than the bloated and ultra-mystified (although historically important) Isis Unveiled and Secret Doctrine. Crowley's commentary is quite good, and is available in the now out-of-print Commentary on the Holy Books, as well as Gems From the Equinox. Outlines the path of apocalyptic Buddhist absolutism. Crowley believed that it described the final knowable stages of the magical path.
Molinos, Michael de. The Spiritual Guide. A classic of the Western quietist tradition. Read alongside The Cloud of Unknowing (author unknown) and The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila for an introduction to the profound and all-too-easily overlooked tradition of Christian mysticism and contemplative prayer.
Frazer, Sir James. The Golden Bough. The foundational text of comparative religion and magic, drawn from first-hand experiences of tribal cultures from around the globe, and blissfully free of the post-structuralist approach of later anthropological writing. This is an abridged edition; the full version runs to twelve volumes(!)
Kaplan, Aryeh, trans. Sepher Yetzirah. The central and most primary text of the Qabalah.
The Bible, King James Version. Have you actually read this? No? Then stop being a stuck up hipster and read it—how else can you claim to even begin to understand your culture? The New King James Version has more modernized text and is easier to comprehend, although it loses some of the poetic, incantatory quality.
The Qu'ran. The most unswerving, uncompromising and unflinchingly authoritarian version of desert monotheism—without an understanding of which you will utterly fail to understand world events.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Thelema
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which operated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—primarily in London, although there were many satellite temples—was of central importance to the crystallization of the Western esoteric tradition. The order synthesized all that had come before and prepared the way for all that was to come; in many ways, we are all simply laboring to clarify and refine magick in the aftermath of the Golden Dawn adepts' work. Aleister Crowley was a (controversial) member of the order, and continued its work in his own order (the A⁂A⁂) after the disintegration of the original Golden Dawn. Despite what some still argue, the Golden Dawn and Crowley's Thelema are really one tradition, expressing a continuum of philosophy and practice, with the Thelemic material superseding and building upon the work of the Golden Dawn adepts. Nevertheless, the Golden Dawn material should be studied and mastered before progressing on to Crowley's additions.
Lévi, Éliphas. Dogme et Ritual de la Haute Magie. An important pre-cursor work to the Golden Dawn. Lévi, a defrocked Catholic priest, was one of the first writers to openly describe ceremonial magick as a path of spiritual growth and transcendence. He is also noted for being the first writer to link the Tree of Life to the Tarot, which created the intellectual underpinnings for the entire Golden Dawn system. However, he also deliberately gave out the attributions in the wrong order, which was later corrected by the Golden Dawn. Lévi caused a remarkable scandal in France in the mid-19th century by publishing this book, although the French, being French, soon grew bored of occultism and seldom returned to this culturally embarrassing period after closing the door. Humorously enough, Lévi only ever actually attempted magick once, and it freaked him out so much that he never tried again. Many occult writers have been following this tried and true tradition of never actually practicing what they write about ever since.
Regardie, Israel. The Golden Dawn, 7th Edition. This is the complete grade papers of the New Zealand-based Stella Matutina branch of the Golden Dawn, which survived the fall of the original order and continued to operate well into the 20th century. Regardie broke his oaths in the 1930s to publish this material, which gives one the resources needed to work the grades oneself and self-initiate. Orders currently claiming to be the Golden Dawn are probably just running off this book anyway, as if it was the D&D Player's Handbook.
Regardie's other books, like The Tree of Life and Garden of Pomegranates, are (as with the superior work of Dion Fortune, below) re-hashes of Crowley's original work, though they may be of use to early students.
Crowley, Aleister. Magick: Liber ABA. Crowley's "big blue brick" was exhaustively and lovingly edited by Hymenaeus Beta, the current Outer Head of the OTO, and is a masterwork of scholarship and attention to detail. It picks up where Regardie's Golden Dawn leaves off, and contains everything one needs to get started on Crowley's material. However, without reading the rest of Crowley's output—which is no small task—you are liable to lose critical context.
Crowley's bibliography is vast, but to get started, the core texts are listed below.
—. The Equinox I:1-10 and the Blue Equinox. Crowley's masterful and unsurpassed encyclopedia of magick and mysticism. Many of his more well-known books were originally published as sections of this, so I won't double-list them here. For a comprehensive education in magick, in order and in proper context, you can do no better than reading these. Printed sets are expensive, but PDFs can easily be found online, and somebody recently began printing a cheap print-on-demand version entitled the "Keep Silence Edition," which should bring them within anybody's reach—a great idea. You can get a condensed book that contains only the practical ritual material in Gems From the Equinox, but you really owe it to yourself to read the whole thing. Yes, even the poetry.
—. 777. The textbook of Qabalah and gematria, assembled by Crowley and his mentor Allan Bennett from the grade papers of the Golden Dawn, as well as their own researches. Invaluable, once you understand its purpose.
—. Eight Lectures on Yoga. Crowley at his best, and most lucid. Describes the practice of raja yoga and meditation—worth infinitely more than any modern treatise on the subject, and in many cases that includes Indian sources, also.
—. Little Essays Toward Truth. More excellent, and extremely lucid, writing on the Path for a general audience, from Crowley's later years.
—. Aleister Crowley and the Practice of the Magical Diary, edited by James Wasserman. An invaluable book for beginning students. Outlines how to keep a magical record, and what the routine and exercises of a beginning student should be.
—. The Book of Thoth. Crowley's exposition of his new version of the Tarot created with Lady Freida Harris at the end of his life. Needs to be read with access to an actual Thoth deck. If you're new to Tarot, don't start here—learn the Rider-Waite first instead, and come back when you have a firm grasp not just of the structure of the Tarot, but of Crowley's Thelemic system in general.
—. The Heart of the Master. Crowley in his guise as Aeonic prophet, distilling the magical core of his philosophy.
—. Magick Without Tears. This book has probably confused more hopeful students than any other, as it was marketed as a beginner's entry-level text. However, Crowley's idea of what a "beginner" should know is so far beyond the average education and capacity of most students that this should be saved for further down the road, after one has begun to at least get some grasp of the foundational theory and philosophy of Hermeticism and ceremonial magick, and especially Crowley's own take on it.
Some of Crowley's other books are really only suitable for very advanced students, and should be put aside until that time comes. These include:
—. The Book of Lies. A masterfully composed handbook to the Abyss, and the complete breakdown of reason and subjectivity that occurs at the outer reaches of mystic effort. This book will only unnecessarily confuse beginning students, although it can certainly be a comfort to very advanced ones.
—. Liber Aleph. An in-depth exposition of Crowley's system, with many subtle distortions. This was written as a test for Crowley's student Charles Stansfeld Jones, and for that reason is peppered with deliberate disinformation and clever ego traps to see how Jones would respond. Not for beginners.
Fortune, Dion. The Mystical Qabalah. Dion Fortune was the primary elucidator of the Golden Dawn tradition after Crowley, and her works are of immense value (and comfort) to beginning students. They are completely free of Crowley's practical joking and often malevolent wit, and are much easier to understand. On the other hand, in stark contrast to Crowley, they contain very little in the way of practical technique, and are instead filled with the kind of "this sacred wisdom is too dangerous for non-initiates" warnings that characterized so much of pre-1960s occult writing. For this reason, one should read Fortune's work alongside the original Golden Dawn grade papers (as reprinted in Regardie's book), which do contain the original techniques. Much of Fortune's writing is actually a kind of narrativization of Crowley's work. The Mystical Qabalah, for instance, is an explanation in prose of the tables found in 777. For this reason, her books are excellent for beginners just getting oriented, but less useful thereafter.
—. Psychic Self-Defense. One of the most beloved occult books of all time, and also (as I believe Phil Hine pointed out) responsible for untold thousands of people deciding that they must be under malevolent psychic attack. Useful, but take Fortune's trademark freaking-out-about-dark-forces with some ironic distance.
Fortune wrote over thirty non-fiction and fiction books, all of which are worth reading. In addition to being one of (if not the) first writers to put magick on a solid psychological basis (however, see my comments about Jung and psychologization above), this remarkable woman is also responsible for the beginning of the cultivation of soy beans as an edible crop, as well as leading the "Magical Battle of Britain" against the Third Reich, among many other achievements.
Knight, Gareth. A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism. Knight was Fortune's direct student and continued her style of writing, as well as her freaking-out-about-dark-forces approach. Many of his opinions (like rejection of homosexuality and a bizarre fixation on Scientology, the London branch of which was oddly enough run by Neil Gaiman's father at the time) are now passé. He comes from another time, when occultists wore white turtlenecks and flowing white hair, and spent their days gazing at the Stonehenge sunrise while sipping Earl Grey, longing to contact the psychic apparition of King Arthur. Knight's Practical Guide is, however, an excellent and useful (if hefty) book for beginners. While Dion Fortune's Mystical Qabalah is a guide to the ten Sephira of the Tree of Life, this is a guide to the twenty-two connecting paths, written in the same narrative style, and also drawn from Crowley's 777. Should be read in conjunction with the Mystical Qabalah.
Grant, Kenneth. The Magical Revival. Grant, like Israel Regardie before him, was Aleister Crowley's secretary as a young man. He later rediscovered and rescued Austin Osman Spare from obscurity, and is responsible for preserving Spare's memory for posterity, not to mention his sigil method. Grant later went on to write the most indisputably bizarre and regularly initiatory occult books of the twentieth century, his "Typhonian Teratomas," thereby bridging the literary gap between ceremonial magick and hentai, which is pretty much where his last books end up. His early works, however, are excellent for getting a good inner picture of the Western magical tradition. Grant is not an academically reputable source, and as long as you understand that he is mostly writing about his own internal and private world of dreams, synchronicity and sexual fantasies, and don't take what he is saying as actual doctrine, you should be able to get great mileage out of his books. They really are better than just about any others at putting you in a "sorceric" mindset. (As with Crowley, Grant's books are now mostly out of print, and though they are expensive, tend to only go up in value as time goes on.)
—. Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God. Grant's second book is a profoundly good look at the inner dimensions and overall meaning of Crowley's magick, rather than the literal details of the practices (for that, see DuQuette, below). After this point, Grant's books began to get increasingly eccentric and engaged with very tangential aspects of Grant's mostly-imaginary Typhonian or "backwards" version of Thelema; these will probably only unnecessarily confuse early students, and have sent more than a few off into swamps of tentacles, goo and alien orifices that none return from intact. For all the dour silliness he inspired, post-Crowley magick just wouldn't have been nearly as fun, or glamorous, without Our Ken (Grant, not Anger).
Parsons, John Whiteside. Freedom is a Two Edged Sword. Jack Parsons was indisputably Crowley's most brilliant student, and a truly American space age model of a wizard; Parsons founded NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs, and helped put us on the moon. His life was short, and so was his written output, most of which is collected in this small book. Another rare and valuable gem.
— and Marjorie Cameron. Songs for the Witch Woman. This recent coffee table art book publishes more of Parsons' writing, along with his partner Marjorie Cameron's artwork, and shows Cameron as the absolutely vital force that she was; Cameron is finally getting her due in the 21st century, although there is still too little written about her. Future addendums to this list will include more on her.
DuQuette, Lon Milo. The Chicken Qabalah. The venerable Baba Lon is the world's best current teacher of Thelemic and Golden Dawn magick. (You can listen to my podcast interview with him here.) His books are a must; start with The Chicken Qabalah for the most painless introduction to Qabalah you're likely to get.
—. The Magick of Aleister Crowley. The practical handbook to Crowley's system that had to be written; Crowley's actual ritual output is comparatively small compared to his mountains of prose, and this book will walk you through nearly all of it in mercifully concise format.
Yoga, Vedanta and Tantra
More drivel has been written about yoga than even magick, if that's possible (and it is). For this reason, barring access to an actual guru (which is indeed necessary if following the traditional path), study of good foundational texts is essential.
Daniélou, Alain. Yoga: Mastering the Secrets of Matter and the Universe. An excellent, filler-free overview from the French traditionalist writer and Shaivite convert.
Maharaji, Sri Nisargadatta. I Am That. A primary text of non-dual enlightenment.
Yogananda, Paramahansa. Autobiography of a Yogi. The book that brought contemplative yoga to 1920s America. Draped in Christian and Theosophical language to appeal to the culture at the time; nonetheless, it remains a vital work from the true tradition.
Yukteswar, Swami Sri. The Holy Science. A clear overview of the Yuga system from Yogananda's fearsome guru.
Vivekananda, Swami. Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga. Although they do not contain techniques, these four books remain the best explications of the path of yoga ever written. Vivekananda bore the responsibility of presenting the spiritual path of yoga to the wider world for the first time in history, and his books stand as a testament to his great success in doing so.
Louv, Jason, ed. Ultraculture Journal. My own compilation of the best modern writing on the Indian yogic tradition, compiled during the middle of my own intensive training in the tradition, featuring writing by Ganesh Baba, Ira Cohen, and many other modern proponents of the Vedantic paths.
Cederberg, Aki. Journeys in the Kali Yuga. A recent account of one European's journey into yogic and tantric initiation in India, before returning to Finland to seek the sacred traditions of his own homeland instead. Shows the world of yoga as it is, rather than the Orientalist fantasies of Western hippies. You can also hear my interview with Aki here.
McAfee, John. Beyond the Siddhis: Supernatural Powers and the Sutras of Patanjali. Yes, that John McAfee. Apparently he was a Siddha Yoga teacher in between creating his anti-virus software and losing his mind on bath salts. Somehow it all makes sense, doesn't it? The book is quite good, also.
Buddhist studies should follow Vedic studies; they will not make full sense without understanding the Hindu context they emerged from.
Sucitto, Ajahn. Turning the Wheel of Truth: Commentary on the Buddha's First Teaching. Excellent companion to the original teachings of the Buddha listed at the top of this article, from a Theravada perspective.
Evola, Julius. The Doctrine of Awakening: The Attainment of Self-Mastery According to the Earliest Buddhist Texts. The controversial, fascist-aligned Italian magician Evola's guide to Buddhism as it originally was, and still is, for those ready for it: A bracing, unforgiving, ruthlessly difficult path of awakening that Evola rightly compares (as did Crowley) to scaling the highest frozen peaks of the Himalayas.
Wei Wu Wei. Ask the Awakened. The best English-language Buddhist writer of the 20th century was not Chögyam Trungpa or even a Tibetan monk at all; it was the British mathematician and theater producer Terence Gray, aka Wei Wu Wei. Other classics include All Else is Bondage, Open Secret and many more. This is strong stuff; you will either learn to laugh at yourself, or learn that you have lost your mind instead.
Shantarakshita. The Adornment of the Middle Way: Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalankara with Commentary by Jamgon Mipham. Phenomenal guide to the logical underpinnings of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. Hard going, but will leave you considering—as it did me—exactly how it is that Western logic and philosophy can be so far behind the clarity of Buddhist thought.
Sherab, Kenchen Palden. The Buddhist Path: A Practical Guide From the Nyingma Tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. A blissfully concise guidebook to Tibetan Buddhist practice, particularly compassion practice. Most books on Buddhism are either brutally convoluted or watered down for a mass audience. That makes this book even more valuable. However, Tibetan Buddhism should not be confused with the original teaching of the Buddha; it is a later elaboration, and to some extent a different path altogether.
Chang, Garma C. C. The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. Somewhat easier going, these are devotional songs from the great yogi Milarepa, who abandoned black magic to walk the razor path of Buddhism under the guru Marpa, and become one of the greatest saints in world history.
David Chapman's network of blogs, including Meaningness, Vividness and the Grand Guignol Buddhism for Vampires, is fascinating and sobering. Chapman is, to my mind, the best modern critic of what he calls "consensus Buddhism," the Hallmark card version of Buddhism that has been developed for the masses. His blog is not for the faint of heart; you will find deeply troubling and disturbing things there, about reality and about yourself. If you want to see what I mean, try this essay for starters.
Interest in Gnosticism, of which Gnostic Christianity is only one part, has grown to massive proportions since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls—no surprise during an era where many have become leery of organized Christianity. The success of pop culture phenomena like Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code has only accelerated the reawakening of interest in both Gnosticism and its deep connections to later blossomings of the Western esoteric tradition, including Hermeticism, Catharism and ceremonial magick itself.
Meyer, Marvin, ed. The Gnostic Bible. Massive, comprehensive collection of Gnostic texts, extending all the way into the Hermetic period and even as far as mainland China(!)
—. The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. The text of the Nag Hammadi scrolls uncovered in Egypt in 1945, including the Gospels of Thomas, Mary and Judas.
Vermes, Geza. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. Further Gnostic texts discovered in the Judean Desert in the 1940s and 50s.
The Book of Enoch. A long-known apocryphal text concerning fallen angels that exercised great influence on the European occult world throughout the second millennium. Contrary to its title, it is not connected to Enochian magick, nor was it of particular influence on John Dee.
Dick, Philip K. VALIS. The best transmission of Gnosticism, I will argue, is not contained within the original texts but in the science fiction author Philip K. Dick's 1970s VALIS trilogy. Dick claimed that he was being contacted (in real life) by an alien satellite that revealed to him that he lived in a virtual reality prison created by the Roman Empire, that the year was actually 70 AD (not 1974), and that this illusion had been built to convince the masses that Christ had not already been crucified, and that therefore salvation (and therefore freedom from the Empire) was not possible. VALIS is his semi-fictionalized recounting of this event. The influence on the Matrix films (as well as the later contact accounts of the 1980s horror writer Whitley Streiber) should be obvious. Dick was not only one of the best SF authors of the twentieth century, but also one of the greatest writers of the century period, as the French have long known and the rest of the world is now realizing. Essential reading to say the least. The other books in the trilogy are The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Dick's original thousand page document that he wrote during his "communications" with the satellite VALIS has now also been published as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.
Enochian and John Dee
Despite being the central core of the Golden Dawn and Thelemic systems, Enochian is given its own section here as it is really its own discipline. Much of the writing about Dee and Enochian is incomplete or hare-brained. I have done my best to clean this up by publishing my own book on the subject, and listing the absolute best sourcebooks below.
Dee, John. Monas Hieroglyphica. The quintessence of Dee's early occult and alchemical training, prior to the spirit sessions.
Louv, Jason. John Dee and the Empire of Angels. My own labor of love piecing together the life and work of Dee and the impact of his Enochian system, arguing that Enochian really is the central core of the entire Western magical tradition. I also created a full site for it here.
DuQuette, Lon Milo. Enochian Vision Magick. The best guide-book to the system. There is a new edition coming that I contributed an introduction to.
Peterson, Joseph, ed. John Dee's Five Books of Mystery. The first part of Dee's original magical diaries, which must be read for themselves rather than relying on second-hand summaries.
Skinner, Stephen, ed. Dr. John Dee's Spiritual Diaries. The second part of Dee's diaries.
The Grimoire Tradition
Much has been made of resurrecting the "grimoire tradition" in the occult world recently. I have never been a big fan of grimoires; they are akin, in my mind, to the siddhi-chasing warned against in the Eastern traditions. I am often reminded of browsing book stores in Kathmandu, Nepal in the early 2000s, surrounded by endless rows of books on enlightenment, Buddhism, Tantra and a million other cosmic subjects nearly impossible to find full information on in the West; and then, amid these palaces of glittering revelation, finding a few Nepali grimoires that promised the ability to do such pointless things as hex cows and make forged coins. They were composed in the same "Slayer logo spray-painted in a drainage ditch by fourteen-year-old glue-heads" style as the European grimoires, too. Even John Dee's angels agreed, it seems, telling Dee that the European grimoires were all forgeries created by people that could only make crude and vile parodies of the innate magic of the universe. But I digress; the grimoires are, of course, of at least historical interest, and will certainly get results, although probably not the ones you really want in the long run. The books below provide a good overview.
Leitch, Aaron. Secrets of the Magical Grimoires. This is a great working overview of the grimoires, an attempt to piece together a kind of "archaic shamanism" by weaving the various grimoires together into one system, certainly an interesting effort. Leitch doesn't gloss over the importance of chemognosis, either, and clearly states that most of the demons conjured up by medieval sorcerers were probably the result of people consuming datura, jimson weed, nightshade and other such poisons. I don't know why anybody in this day and age would try that stuff—it sounds unbearably hellacious—but kudos to Leitch for the efforts towards historical authenticity.
Agrippa, Cornelius. Three Books of Occult Philosophy. Not really a grimoire, but the primary text-book on European magic prior to John Dee, which nearly every magician trained off of prior to the Golden Dawn. Note that the so-called "Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy," published separately, is not by Agrippa, although it is interesting in its own right. Francis Barrett's The Magus, published much later, is a kind of Cliff's Notes of the Three Books, and contains more working material from the grimoires.
General Hermeticism and Traditionalism
Hall, Manly P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Although often verging into the not-particularly-academic "gee whiz, ancient mysteries, guys!" territory common to American occult and New Thought writers at the time, Hall's landmark book on the Western and Eastern occult traditions has probably influenced more people in high places than any other occult book of the time and likely since, making its way into the personal collection of not just Hollywood glitterati but even astronauts and US presidents. A good overview of Hermeticism that will most certainly get you amped up to learn more, although it lacks any practical technique.
Guenon, Rene. The Reign of Quantity & the Sign of the Times and Crisis of the Modern World. These truly challenging and necessary works by the French traditionalist Guenon cut cleanly through New Age silliness, Millenarianism, muddy spiritualism and wishful thinking, leaving the reader shaking and wondering if their entire life has been one concerted effort to sink to the bottom of a swamp. Good; the first step in curing yourself of a problem is admitting you have one. Seasoned occult students in particular, their souls exhausted by too many promises of Golden Ages and mass awakenings that never come, will find medicine here.
Evola, Julius. The Hermetic Tradition. Guenon's most famous student was the notorious arch-traditionalist Julius Evola, who chose an aggressive warrior stance rather than Guenon's passive contemplation of social disintegration. Evola became an occult advisor to Mussolini, and once denounced National Socialism as not right wing enough for his tastes. Evola's political writings have come back into vogue of late among the Alt Right, and were infamously mentioned in a New York Times profile of Steve Bannon; however, his politics do not negate the fact that he was indeed a very keen and practiced magician, and his occult writings maintain great worth for those who are able to responsibly handle them. This is Evola's overview of the Hermetic tradition—conducted from a Continental, rather than English/Golden Dawn perspective, making it even more valuable. Evola's stick-up-the-ass authoritarianism can at times make for a refreshing counterpoint to Crowley's relentless and tedious fixation on wallowing in slime and degradation.
(Lest you start taking "Baron" Evola's claims of occult aristocratic superiority too seriously, however, it's important to remember that he was basically a NEET for his entire life, and once decided to demonstrate what a badass wizard he was by walking around in the open during a bombing raid in Italy like he just dgaf about no samsara—immediately resulting in being blown up and then confined to a wheelchair until his death in 1974.)
Three Initiates. The Kybalion. The perennial "little blue book" of modern Hermeticism. Bears far more in common with turn-of-the-century New Thought than with classical Hermeticism, but makes an excellent introductory book or stocking stuffer for newbies nonetheless.
"One book opens another." – Sufi saying
This list is far from complete. I just had to force myself to stop after 9,000 words. It could go on infinitely.
If there's enough interest, I will soon supplement this list with further posts. I've barely touched on magick post-1960s, for instance, with no mention of chaos magick (or even Austin Spare), which will require its own lengthy section.
The above books, however, could well take you years to read, and mastering the material within could take lifetimes.
There are no shortcuts, as they say, but there IS the tremendously accelerating effect of actually getting good guidance, and having somebody show you how to get through the jungle to the treasure, step by step.
This is another reason that I created Magick.Me, my online school for magick and mysticism.
Without somebody to show you how this stuff works, it's just dead words. If somebody comes along and jumpstarts your car by showing you how to actually practice, suddenly it all becomes clear, and the road clears for you to go full speed ahead.
That's Magick.Me, where I teach the skills of yoga, magick and meditation. In a series of structured, step-by-step courses, I present the material as it is, without the superstition or obfuscation. Just the pure techniques—practically, clearly and safely taught, and structured into concise video units, so that you can learn and apply the material at your own pace.
As a subscriber to Magick.Me, you get access to all of the courses I've ever recorded. That includes everything from chaos magick to Raja Yoga to the Hermetic, ceremonial magick discussed above. It includes learning how to use magick to tap into incredible wells of artistic inspiration, on achieving peak mental and physical energy, banishing rituals, astral projection, learning the Tarot and I Ching, psychic protection, lucid dreaming and even a crash course in John Dee's Enochian magick.
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You'll also have access to our private Discord forums, where you can become part of a thriving community and discuss what you're learning with other students. Over the previous months, I've also added an additional sixty plus hours of bonus material drawn from live question and answer sessions with students, in which we cover magick as it is lived in an exquisite level of detail not available anywhere else in the world. Of course, as a subscriber, you will also have access to the bi-weekly live sessions, in which I will answer your personal questions about the path and your experiments one on one.
In all, there are over one hundred and twenty hours of recorded instruction at Magick.Me, on every conceivable aspect of practical magick and meditation. Of course, there's no need to watch all of it—you can get started in just a few minutes a day. We now live in a world in which every second of our time is demanded by something—and knowing that all too well myself, I've constructed Magick.Me so that you can take the classes in small, bite-sized segments on your desktop or phone. Even five minutes a day, on a break, will allow you to continue building your skills surely and steadily. Tuition is an investment of only 49 dollars a month, and covers everything I have mentioned. A yearly subscription is also available and offers significant savings if you're ready to take a deeper dive. You can cancel at any time.
If you're completely new to this, and curious, and just want to try it out to see if it's right for you, I allow you to do so without any risk. If you're curious, I encourage you to subscribe and see what you think. If you don't like it, and tell me so prior to watching your seventh unit, I'll refund 100% of your money, no questions asked, according to the terms listed on the site. I want the people who take my classes to be the right match for them, and I want to give you the opportunity to decide that for yourself, without any strings attached or personal risk. If you decide it's not right for you, you won't have spent a dime. If it is right for you, and you commit to blasting off into the far reaches of the known cosmos along with the rest of our steady crew, you'll be saving yourself tremendous amounts of money, time and frustration by taking the direct, guided route instead of trying to learn by trial and error.
Combined with the reading list of classics above, and a focused mind, there is literally nothing you won't be able to do.
Click the link below to get started—I'll see you in class!