Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Ten Magical Books Worth Remembering

From the Twentieth Century

Okay, thirteen books… plus… but…

I'm sure I'll have left out something obvious - feel free to comment. Also, this list applies to classical 'western magic', including Witchcraft and Wiccan forms, but doesn't apply to afro-carribean magic in the new world or other non-Euro cultural stuff. There may have been remarkable publishing going on there about which I know nothing...

First, three books from the beginning of the century, when post-Masonic, still-pretty-monotheist systems were still influential. While the ritual system understood by these writers has waned, the symbolic constructs have been quite persistent. These books contain the flower of esoteric Tarot as well.
1: Magick (Book IV) - Aleister Crowley (1912): the big one.
2: The Golden Dawn – Israel Regardie (1936)
3: The Mystical Qabalah – Dion Fortune (1935): reliable one-volume summary of post-Golden Dawn Hermetic Qabalah.

Four books from the middle of the century that reflect the swing away from the ‘lodge-work’ model of ritual and toward the circle-work’ model.
4: The Gardnerian Book of Shadows (c.1952) (by extension, I’d recommend the Farrar’s Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches Way as the best expansion of the original.)
5: Initiation Into Hermetics – Franz Bardon (1962): the most influential book on occult mental training and ‘energy work’ in the 20th century (I leave New Thought out of ‘occult’ here).
6: Magical Ritual Methods - William Gray (1969): Excellent mid-20th c. restatement of magical art, down-to-earth and unburdened by specific traditions.
7: Mastering Witchcraft – Paul Huson (1970): perhaps the best single grimoire of ‘operative witchcraft’ ever written.

The end of Masonic-style work and the rise of new systems are seen in the last three books, which represent three distinct schools of late twentieth century magic. Grant inherits from Crowley, but abandons western ritual style in favor of Indic forms. Starhawk cuts the circle-work style completely free of the Masonic tradition and redefines it on its own terms. Carroll goes back to first principles, while enjoying the mystique of ‘sorcery’ and ‘black magic’.
8: Aleister Crowley & the Hidden God – Kenneth Grant (1973): really the whole original Typhonian Trilogy, but it was this one that RAW quoted…
9: The Spiral Dance – Starhawk (1979): like her theology or not, SD taught a generation of witches how to raise power, invoke deity, and use the Wiccan spell-casting model.
10: Liber Null & Psychonaut – Peter J. Carroll (1987): Still core to the Chaos Magic models.

Limiting this list to ten is not really doable, of course. I just threw that number out as rhetoric. As runners-up, I’d mention:
11: Way of the Shaman – Michael Harner (1980) the book that taught magicians to do shamanic-style trance. Representing the Shamanic Magic movement.
12: Futhark; A Handbook of Rune Magic – Edred Thorsson (1984) The book that began introducing the Elder Futhark to western magic. Representing the Northern Reconstructionist movements.
13: The Underworld Initiation - R.J. Stewart (1990) British and Euro-folk symbolism applied with western magical technique. Representing the evolution of the Western Mysteries movement.

And just because I can’t stop, I’d runnerup-up the small list of practical grimoires published by ‘self-help’ publishers that have survived the century – such things as New Avatar Power and the Mystic Grimoire and Helping Yourself With White Witchcraft.

For a sense of history, Yronwode is 2002, Leitch on grimoires is 2005, Stratton-Kent is 2009. There’s been a whole lot o’ shakin’ in magic-land since the turn of the century…


Anonymous said...

I like your list and would agree with most of it (though i might be seen as a "lodge" magician in some regards).

I must however say that i do not see Thorson as part of recionstructivism but rather an extention of the occult movement(s) in general.

From a scientific view we know pretty much nothing about how the Runes where used for magic (only that they were).

New systems, speculation and contemplation is good but reconstructivism is based on academic knowledge.

Also, in a sense heathenry doesent (in many people eyes) belong in reconstructivism either (the argument here being that the Nordic countries has only been Christianized for a couple of hundred years and heathen customs have lived on in different forms through them).

Magic was never a big and accepted part of Norse society (if we define it as "spell casting")and even if large parts of the pre Christian culture lives on in folklore, customs, linguistics and so on here, very little is passed down when it comes to the esoteric part of the Runes (though it was used as a writing system in Sweden to the 1500´s, side by side with the Latin alphabet).

Great list though.
I´m probably biased though....i own most of them too. :)

Anonymous said...

Stewart Farrar seems to always have been a marginal figure, in comparison with many of the other writers you mention, which is really too bad.

His books are better than most on
the subjects he explored.

Quite a charming and friendly fellow as well: I had the good fortune to meet him in Salem on a book tour of the Farrars.

IanC said...

Stewart F was never a big-time occult theorist, but he was a fine researcher, journalist and observer, who happened to be in on some critical moments in the development of modern traditional Wicca. The work he and Janet did in creating the seasonal rituals in Eight Sabbats is enough occult output for anyone.