An Incomplete List of Must-Read Modern Esoterica

Annually on November 18th, we celebrate Occult Day. While hidden wisdom waits to be uncovered every day of the year, this day reminds us to dig just a little deeper.

Mitch Horowitz: Below is a rundown of books that were unique sources of inspiration to me as I was working on Occult America. Each work represents a carefully researched, keenly reasoned, and pioneering effort at comprehending occult topics and personas without lapsing into the kind of excessive credulity or a knee-jerk nay-saying that often clouds our ability to evaluate fringe movements. Each is a triumph of that rarest of traits: clear thought.


51sc5bhbpdl-_sx309_bo1204203200_Al-Kemi by Andre VandenBroeck

A window into the intellectual and spiritual world of esoteric Egyptologist RA Schwaller de Lubicz, with an appreciative foreword by Saul Bellow. Posits intriguing ideas about the connections between Ancient Egyptian philosophy and the modern West – and also exposes the ethical failings of this brilliant intellect.

51fhmjtx2glHidden Wisdom by Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney

A 360-degree survey of modern esoteric beliefs by the editors of the legendary Gnosis magazine (the most fondly missed journal on the planet). Their tone is unfailingly judicious, thoughtful, and shrewd.

415498The Tarot by Robert M. Place

Perhaps the sole guide to Tarot that synthesizes a scholarly exploration of Tarot’s roots in the Middle Ages with an understanding of the mystical allegory of its images.

51rxao464l-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Rosicrucian Enlightenment and The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age by Frances A. Yates

Probably the most authoritative works ever written on the occult mood of Europe in the late Renaissance period. Yates was a world-class historian, a tireless scholar, and a uniquely empathic observer of religious/philosophical movements.

manlyphall-org_secret-teaching-of-all-agesThe Secret Teachings of Ages by Manly P. Hall

The occult classic published in 1928 by the twenty-seven-year old auteur. This encyclopedia esoterica stands up remarkably well – its passages on Pythagorean mathematics, alchemical symbolism, and the competing histories of Rosicrucianism are especially sturdy.

41bqdyrdbylAlchemy by Titus Burckhardt

A uniquely sensitive, subtle, and compact survey of the misunderstood history and ideas behind this ancient spiritual art.

41bzo9mvgcl-_sx320_bo1204203200_Edgar Cayce in Context by K. Paul Johnson

A brilliant and engaging study of how the influential seer related to the spiritual trends around him. The author exhibits a rare combination of academic depth and spiritual understanding.

719gtay6xtlThe Dawning of the Theosophical Movement by Michael Gomes

A vivid, precise, and deeply intelligent history of this enormously influential occult organization at its inception in America.

51-9d9qnlyl-_sx330_bo1204203200_Each Mind a Kingdom by Beryl Satter

A beautifully written and highly original exploration of New Thought (or positive-thinking) as a progressive religious and political movement.

80140100146830lPioneer Prophetess by Herbert A. Wisbey. Jr.

A painstakingly researched biography of one of the least-known but widely influential occult figures in American history: the Publick Universal Friend, a spirit channeler who became the nation’s first female religious leader in 1776.

978-1-57233-110-5-frontcoverSpiritual Merchants by Carolyn Morrow Long

Wonderful insights into the growth of the African-American magical system called hoodoo. Likewise, see the comprehensive (and wondrous) work of hoodoo teacher-scholar-curator Catherine Yronwode at:

51teejtkpkl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The American Soul by Jacob Needleman

The most incisive understanding of the collective spiritual search in America.

51k8pnhcocl-_sx328_bo1204203200_Early Mormonism and the Magic World View by D. Michael Quinn

Quinn employs rigorous scholarship to reveal the occult and esoteric influences on the life of Joseph Smith. A brave, thoughtful, and irreplaceable work.

9780892816071Women of the Golden Dawn by Mary K. Greer

Fast-moving as a novel and filled with fascinating detail on the life and work of the women who shaped the 19th and 20th century occult culture in America and Europe.


picture1MITCH HOROWITZ was raised in a world of Bigfoot stories, UFO sightings, and Carlos Castaneda books. He grew determined to find the truth behind it all—and today Mitch is a PEN Award-winning historian and the author of Occult America and One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life. Mitch has written on everything from the war on witches to the secret life of Ronald Reagan for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Salon, and The Washington Post says Mitch “treats esoteric ideas and movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness that is too often lost in today’s raised-voice discussions.” He is the voice of audio books including Alcoholics Anonymous, and hosts the web series ORIGINS: SUPERSTITIONS. Mitch is vice president and executive editor at TarcherPerigee, where he publishes authors, living and dead, including David Lynch and Manly P. Hall. Visit him at and @MitchHorowitz.


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One Response
  1. November 18, 2016