Click here to support the Daily Grail for as little as $1/month on Patreon
Fortean Library Bookshelf

The Essential Fortean Booklist – Esoterica and the Occult

Late last year our good friend Matt Staggs posted a link to the “Nervous Breakdown Reading List: Occult and High Weirdness“. This got me to thinking that once the Christmas craziness had settled down, a fun project might be to compile a list of books that any Fortean should definitely have on their bookshelf. But how to approach the compilation?

My thought was that the process could be done in two-steps. Firstly, I’ll put out a general call (first one below) for NOMINATIONS of books to a certain Fortean category (to simplify things a bit). From that list of nominations, a short-list will be compiled based on the number of nominations, which will then be PUT TO A VOTE to determine the order of importance. I’m thinking some parts of the process may end up being a little organic, but this should provide us with a reasonably fair end result.

This week I’m looking for nominations for the topic of ‘Esoterica and the Occult’. This can range from histories and analysis through to working grimoires and the like:

The Essential Fortean Booklist


Please list a maximum of ten books that you think are required reading/reference material on this topic for a Fortean, in the comments section below. This may be for a number of reasons, from historical/sociological importance through to scientific importance. Note: this means it does not necessarily have to be the *best* or most *scientifically valid* book on a topic – the criteria is simply that it deserves to be on the bookshelf.

Note that the number of nominations may be crucial in making the short-list, so you shouldn’t decide to not post a certain book just because it has already been mentioned.

A one or two line blurb accompanying the nomination describing the reason for its importance is encouraged and appreciated (and may end up being used in the final presentation of books)!

(You will need to be registered as a Daily Grail user to nominate and vote, to avoid spammers/self-promotion/poll-crashing by external sites.)

I look forward to seeing your recommendations!

  1. A Quick List
    Eros and Magic in the Renaissance – Ioan Couliano: An important essay which discusses (among other things) what, exactly, the Renaissance magicians meant when they used the term “magic”. It is eye-opening.

    Three Books of Occult Philosophy – Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim: In many ways, the foundational text of modern occultism. Describes the underlying philosophy and many practical aspects of occult/esoteric mysticism and magic.

    Naturalistic Occultism – IAO131: A modern manifesto, laying out a vision of occultism that is purely naturalistic in metaphysical assumptions.

    Techno Mage – Dirk Bruere: An overview of the modern “state of the art” of practical magic. Not comprehensive, but wide-ranging. There are actually a number of books that cover this territory, but I think this is the most interesting of them.

    Modern Magick – Donald Michael Kraig: A fairly straightforward introduction to methods of Western occultism and magic. This could be replaced by any of several texts, though, such as Learning Ritual Magic by John Michael Greer, et al., Introduction to Magic by Julius Evola, or The Druid Magic Handbook by Greer, among other possibilities.

    The Magician’s Reflection – Bill Whitcomb: A discussion of how flexible the idea of “magic” really is, or at least can be.

    Daimonic Reality – Patrick Harpur: I can’t think of any aspect of Fortean studies that would not be improved by reading this book.

  2. My list

    Real Magic – PE Isaac Bonewits

    Kaostar! Modern Chaos and Cunning Craft – Francis Breakspear

    Book 4 – Aleister Crowley

    Sex Secrets of the Black Magicians Exposed! – Ramsey Dukes

    The Red Goddess – Peter Grey

    Daimonic Reality – Patrick Harpur

    Promethea – Alan Moore & JH Williams III

    The Invisibles – Grant Morrison et al

    Religion and Popular Culture – Adam Possamai

    Quantum Psychology – Robert Anton Wilson

    Like any Top 10 list, this is partial, subjective and liable to change on a whim. In each case I chose a book which could upgrade any neophyte to competence, or allow an adept to expand their range.

    And yes, two of them are comics. Welcome to the Now. I could do a comparable list entirely made of movies & TV episodes… maybe a future list of Consciousness Altering Movies & Telly?

    1. Oh! Why didn’t I remember
      Oh! Why didn’t I remember Quantum Psychology? The Invisibles is also an excellent choice, though I don’t know that I’d consider it essential. If I were to choose a Ramsey Dukes book, I think that I’d go with How to See Fairies.

  3. Beyond the Occult, Colin
    Beyond the Occult, Colin Wilson

    Lots of reviews and commentary available for this remarkable work.

    Mysteries, Colin Wilson

    (As above.)

    The Secret Behind Secret Societies: Liberation of the Planet in the 21st Century, Jon Rappoport

    (Already described in a previous entry.)

    An Experiment with Time, J W Dunne

    Dream precognition as time travel, and vice versa. A common sense layman’s approach.

    Alchemy and Mysticism: The Hermetic Museum, Alexander Roob

    The best collection of images in this vein and a useful commentary.

    Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton

    Social history of the attempted suppression and destruction and ultimate survival of paganism, witchcraft, etc. Unusual in that it’s a materialist (socially speaking) account of cultural and religious survivals.

    1. Good choices – Colin Wilson
      Good choices – Colin Wilson was huge for me as a kid & only just failed to make the cut. If it’d been a Top 20, Hutton would have been there too.

  4. My two cents
    “Grimoires – A History of Magic Books”, Owen Davies, Oxford University Press
    A good read for anyone interested in that particular area.

    “Urban Shaman”, Serge Kahili King, Simon & Schuster Inc.
    Because there is a little shaman in everyone of us. An interesting take on contemporary shamanism by a contemporary shaman.

    “All And Everything, Ten Books in Three Series”, G.I.Gurdjieff, (I prefer) Arkana – Penguin
    You might not agree with everything represented in those books about this very particular way of experiencing the world, however, they contain direct references to Mesopotamian wisdom literature largely translated by Samuel Noah Kramer from cuneiform into English in the mid-1960s. “All and Everything” was largely written in late 1940s – early 1950s.

    “The Reality of Being”, Jeanne de Salzmann, Shambhala Publications Inc.
    If the Gurdjieffian esoterica is your preferred cup of absinthe, after “All and Everything” this would be logical follow up.

    “The Dramatic Universe I-IV”, J.G. Bennet, J.G. Bennet Foundation
    A search for a unified vision of reality. Kinda falls into the Esoterica department here.

    Pretty much everything by Laurence Gardner, Element – HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
    I use these for their excellent Appendices, Bibliographies, Genealogical Charts (with reservation), and Color Plates. I am not a big fan of purpose-built thesis manufacturing represented in these books though. Entertaining they certainly are.

    “Labyrinth – A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science”, Peter Pesic, MIT Press
    I think the title says it all.

    “Beyond Good and Evil – a Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future”, Friedrich Nietzsche, translated by Helen Zimmern, Dover Publications Inc.
    In my opinion the best translation of BGE delivered to date. Interesting parallels to the esoteric wisdom works of the classic antiquity.

  5. My top 10 most influential books
    What a difficult idea, to limit myself down to 10 esoteric/occult books which have influenced me as an occultist and magician. I will follow the rules here and recommend books and limit myself to 1 book per author. However I generally recommend every book each author listed here has ever written. These are not in any particular order and all weighted as equally influential to me.

    Here is my list:

    1) “The Exorcist Handbook” by Josephine McCarthy. This book really goes into depth into the sort of entity which inhabits our world and how to deal with them. It does not (rightfully) encourage everyone to go out to become an exorcist, that takes years of dedication and training. However it does give lots of good advice on how to stay clean, remove parasites and understand what is going on from a grounded, common sense perspective.

    2) “Outer Gateways” by Kenneth Grant. This is a very sidereal and prophetic look into many occult mysteries. Like all of Grants writings you need to read between the lines to an extent and he gives no technique, but it is invaluable research which he gives. Do check out my essay on Grant in the latest Darklore

    3) “The Seventh Sword” by Andrew Collins. All of Andrew’s questing books are great. This one details his work (along with other influential questers) in the 80s pursuing the Meonia swords. This book turned me onto psychic questing which I feel is important since it gets the magicians out of their temples and into the real world serving the landscape and unravelling its mysteries.

    4) “Avalonian Aeon” by Paul Weston. Another questing book, but also a lot more. Paul is very much an English “Robert Anton Wilson” with regards to the feel of his books and how he entangles occult ideas which are moving through society flowering as profound events in history.

    5) “A true and Faithful Relation”. Dr John Dee (Meric Causabon Ed). This really is a core text for Enochian and whilst it does have bits missing (which are available in other manuscripts) it is Dee’s diary and Enochian notes. As someone who was worked a bit with this system and plans to do a lot more I think that this is invaluable read to get the feel of what they were doing. In the day it was really ground breaking stuff, and today it is still hot.

    6) “Journeys out of the Body” by Robert Monroe. Ground-breaking book with a nice scientific analysis as to what is going on. I also like Monroe’s technique for generating the experience which works for me occasionally and encourages people to experiment.

    7) “Strategic Sorcery” by Jason Miller- an excellent book of techniques to bring the supernatural into your life successfully. I wish that I had this book 10 years ago.

    8) “Magic and Mystery in Tibet” by Alexandra David-Neel because she was wonderful, fascinating and magical and combines the paranormal with the spiritual and occult perfectly. This is amazing for its description of the Tulpa alone.

    9) “Astral Doorways” by JH Brennan. Brennan doesn’t seem to write occult books any more which is a pity. This was the book which turned me on to magic and showed me just what is possible. I think that a lot of stuff has moved on from what is written here, but it was amazing when it came out and is still an important book

    10) “The Voodoo Hoodoo spellbook” by Denise Alvarado. I really like this and have just started dipping into the awesomeness which is Hoodoo. This book is a great guide to getting started and making changes in your life.

    I could go on, but these are probably my top ten. There have been some great books mentioned above though, so I shall be sure to check them out too.

    cheers Paolo

      1. Herbie Brennan

        Do you mean Brennan’s “The Astral Projection workbook”. I really liked that too, along with his “Experimental Magic” and “Ancient Spirit”. All good stuff and I think that it is a bit sad that he doesnt seem to be writing more occult books nowadays.

        I havent really spent much time looking at Astral Dynamics, which is my bad since it is on my shelf. The bits I have read show him to be quite insightful and certainly know what he is doing.

        I am quite looking forward to reading Techno-Mage based upon your comments above.

        Best Wishes Paolo

  6. Here is my essential top ten
    Here is my essential top ten at the moment.

    1. Transcendental Magic by Eliphas Levi
    2. Moonchild by Aleister Crowley
    3. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by A.E. Waite
    4. A History of Witchcraft and Demonology by Montague Summers
    5. The Secrets of Magical Seals by Anna Riva
    6. Voodoo and the Art of Haiti by S. Williams
    7. Ether, God or Devil by Wilhelm Reich
    8. Isles of the Many Gods by David Rankine
    9. Witchcraft Today by G.B. Gardner
    10. The Cosmic Doctrine by Dion Fortune

  7. Querido Carlos
    Carlos Castañeda was a huge influence in my life. As such, I recommend the first 4 books he wrote:

    • The Teachings of Don Juan,
    • A Separate Reality,
    • Journey to Ixtlán &
    • Tales of Power.

    Castañeda came before Leary & the rest, and with his books helped kickstart the counterculture and the psychedelic movement. Without him we wouldn’t be now talking about shamanic experiences or the use of entheogens to enter other dimensions of being.

    1. Carlos Casteneda
      Excellent choice RPJ. I didnt think to include him since I havent read his work for some time, so it was not fresh in my consciousness. Casteneda is another influence to me (although I have selected my 10) 🙂

      Have you read “The Art of Dreaming”? That one is my favourite I think.

      1. The Art of Dreaming
        Yes. It was one of the last books of his that crossed my path 🙂

        The fact of the matter is that I enjoyed all of his bibliography, yet I’m aware the most important aspects of his philosophy was laid out with the 1st 4 books.

      1. A Fraud
        I’m pretty sure George Lucas’ Star Wars is a work of fiction, yet that doesn’t mean it isn’t filled with potent archetypical imagery & powerful lessons.

        So basically, that’s the wrong question to ask.

    1. Castenada
      To be honest, I dont think it matters what Castenada’s “provenance” was with regards to whether Don Juan existed or whether he made it all up. Whatever his sources I feel that they still tapped a genuine esoteric source which contains real insight. I personally am happy to accept that Don Juan is a fictional-vehicle used in the narration of this insight, however I am perfectly happy to be proven wrong there, the world does contain stranger things then dreamt of in anyone’s philosophy!

      In terms of esoteric teaching, I feel that it is the work which is important not the academic provenance or “paper trail”. From an academic perspective therefore there may well be issues with his research, but this is a different question as to whether the work of Castenada is insightful or usable.

      I am sure that opinions differ however, so each to their own.

      Cheers Paolo

  8. > I dont think it matters
    > I dont think it matters what Castenada’s “provenance” was with regards to whether Don Juan existed or whether he made it all up.

    Holy crap…

    You know people can see your comments, right?

  9. Re: Castenada
    RPJ –

    Given Castenada’s effects on both of you, I hope you are both able to find copies of “Cut Stones and Crossroads”, as it will clear up many, many things for you.

  10. Favorite Esoterica & Occult Books
    I first consciously plunged into this area through Colin Wilson’s “The Occult” and then his “Mysteries.” Those still rank pretty highly on my list. They’re both readable and accessible, even if lengthy. Wonderful fall and winter reading! So, I’m basically echoing some other comments on Wilson.

    As strange as they may be as serious recommendations for this list, I have to also throw in Alvin Schwartz’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” – the originals, illustrated by Stephen Gammell. Reading some of the stories contained in these books as a child had an effect on me that left me aware of the fearful reality of the numinous – as well as it’s reality, period.

    Jeff Kripal’s “Authors of the Impossible” is another book I’d recommend, as well as “The Trickster and the Paranormal” by George P. Hansen.

    I’ve found Israel Regardie’s “Tree of Life” insightful, as well as Evelyn Underhill’s “Mysticism.” Additionally, W.E. Butler’s “Magic, Its Ritual, Power and Purpose” as well as “The Magician: His Training and Work” are worthy reads.

    To round it out, I found most of what I found in William G. Gray to be profoundly accessible. To name only one of his works, I’d suggest “Qabalistic Concepts: Living the Tree.”

  11. Micah Hanks
    I guess I should also nominate my bud’s book Magic, Mysticism & The Molecule, since in it he explores the many avenues that has been exploited in antiquity, in order to elicit altered states of consciousness and communication with non-human entities.

  12. Books: Esoterica & the Occult
    For your consideration:

    Manifestoes of Surrealism
    BRETON, André Breton

    The Third Mind
    BURROUGHS, William S. with GYSIN, Brion

    Liber Null and Psychonaut: An Introduction to Chaos Magic
    CARROLL, Peter J.

    The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
    DICK, Philip K.

    The Lost Keys of Freemasonry
    HALL, Manly P.

    Anacalypsis: An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil of the Saitic Isis or an Inquiry into the Origin of Languages, Nations and Religions
    HIGGINS, Godfrey

    Condensed Chaos: An Introduction to Chaos Magic
    HINE, Phil

    The Gnostics
    LACARRIERE, Jacques

    The Filth
    MORRISON, Grant

    Freedom is a Two Edged Sword
    PARSONS, Jack Whiteside


  13. Choices, choices
    I couldn’t limit myself to ten only in this category. Just.couldn’ It felt like I was having to choose between my limbs, sorry 🙂 Also, my little nerd bias is again to nominate from the full array of wayback heavy influencers (for better or worse!) – i.e. “important,” consequential books through the ages.

    * The Malleus Maleficarum of Friars Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger (1484)

    Yep, that one. Various modern English editions available of the 1928 translation by the Rev. Montague Summers.

    * Francis Barrett (compiler)
    The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer (1801)

    For its time, a really influential collection from the works of the most famous early magicians, including Zoroaster, Hermes, Apollonius, Simon of the Temple, Trithemius, Agrippa, Porta the Neapolitan, Paracelsus, and Roger Bacon.

    * William James
    The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature. Being the Clifford Lectures on Natural Religion delivered at Edinburgh in 1901–1902

    ” … a frolic welcome to the eccentricities and extravagances of the religious life.” – NYT review of its 1st edition, 1902.

    * Evelyn Underhill
    Mysticism: A Study in Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (1911)

    A century on, for me this is still the quintessential work of scholarship on the psychology, philosophy, and theology of western – mostly but not solely Christian – mysticism, all things transcendental, and the quest for the Absolute.

    * Arthur Edward Waite
    The Book of Black Magic and Pacts (1887)

    Mostly a pointer to other notable grimoires, but it was the little publication that got the young Alistair Crowley started – that’s where its principle historical importance lies. In 1898 Waite updated and corrected BBM&P under the title The Book of Ceremonial Magic.

    * Sir James George Frazer
    The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (multiple volumes, 1890-1915; abridged by Robert Fraser for OUP, 1974)

    Long before Joseph Campbell came limping into the mythology arena etc. Quoth the deeply intriqued Wittgenstein: “Frazer is much more savage than most of these savages [of whom he writes].” Sweet.

    * Israel Regardie
    The Golden Dawn: The Original Account of the Teachings, Rites & Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order (1937)

    The encyclopedic bible behind the modern Golden Dawn movement, and one of the most widely used modern sources for occult writing and related practices. The original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which started in the late 1800s, borrowed from a wide variety of occult traditions in Qabalah, tarot, geomancy, Enochian Magic, Theosophy, Freemasonry, Paganism, astrology, etc.

    * E.A. Wallis Budge (translator/transliterator)
    The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Papyrus of Ani in the British Museum – Egyptian Text (1967)


    * Robert Thurman (translator) and Padma Sambhava (compiler) – my preferred translation
    The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Great Book of Natural Liberation Through Understanding in the Between (1994)

    I will enter these two again when the *Afterlife* category comes up for nominations – but I also want to offer them here under *Esoterica* for your consideration.

    * Robert Graves
    The White Goddess (1948)

    Goddess worship: love it (I don’t) or hate it, this influential book lives on to everlasting veneration by feminists, Pagans and Wiccans. Graves typified his book as “a historical grammar of the language of poetic myth.”

    * Robert Monroe
    Journeys out of the Body (1971)

    * Colin Wilson
    The Occult: A History (1971)

    * George P. Hansen
    The Trickster and the Paranormal (2001)

    et cetera

  14. Thanks for reminding me about
    Thanks for reminding me about Alexandra David-Neel

    And seeing his name mentioned, I forgot the obvious. Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, which is a great stepping-off point, and refresher, for all things unseen – the palpable and the metaphysical. This comic series is the equal of either of my two favourite Colin Wilson books mentioned above.

  15. The Fortean Booklist
    I have too many of these in my house! My late husband was one of the last of the scientist/mages – luckily, his alchemy studies never got to the lab stage.

    I might mention Don Fortune’s “Psychic Self-Defense”. It’s in there somewhere.

    1. “Lost Secrets Of The Sacred
      “Lost Secrets Of The Sacred Ark” + Laurence Gardner

      I spent some years developing magnetic traps to isolate and condense “ormes” and also developed a technique for fixing them in the high spin state in metal. Gardner’s book is admittedly a romanticisation of the history of ormes (aka “white powder gold”) but there is enough room yet for speculating about ancient uses of this amazing material that an author can rightfully take liberties with subject as long as everyone understands that a lot of it is speculation. Essentially, the science has been worked out and is no longer woo woo, but the history of its use is still not fully understood and may never be entirely, but it is quite clear that many old time alchemists were more or less arriving at the ormes knowingly or not.
      Gardner is intelligent enough to extrapolate and interpolate interestingly. The book is fun, and ormes are very fortean.

  16. Landmark books
    Daimonic Reality by Pactrick Harpur has to be on any list and although written as a novel Mercurius is an excelent guide to alchemy. The flying saucer vision and view over Atlantis by John Michell along with John Keel’s Operation Trojan Horse and Our haunted planet are worthy of mention. The philosophy of natural magic, Henry Cornelus Agrippa and finally my battered copy of Secret teachings of all ages by Manly P Hall is in constant use.

  17. > This may be for a number of
    > This may be for a number of reasons, from historical/sociological importance through to scientific importance. Note: this means it does not necessarily have to be the *best* or most *scientifically valid* book on a topic – the criteria is simply that it deserves to be on the bookshelf.

    Jung’s “Man and his symbols” passes the criteria for me.

    1. The Books of Charles Fort by Charles Fort
    2. The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly. P. Hall
    3. The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel
    4. Monstrum!: A Wizard’s Tale by Tony “Doc” Shiels
    5. Flying Saucers and the Three Men by Albert K. Bender
    6. The New Inquisition by Robert Anton Wilson
    7. The Goblin Universe by Ted Holiday
    8. Unified Physics by Reginald Irvan Gray
    9. The Morning of the Magicians by Jacques Bergier & Louis Pauwels
    10. A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.