I’m often asked for lists of esoteric books from people seeking authentic, accessible, and useful texts. Finding those books isn’t always easy. One must be discerning in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. I know from my own experience that there are many mediocre books, but there are also more than a few gems that I have no reservations recommending. This list is an offer to share my own current favorites in hopes of saving you a bit of time, money, and effort. I’ve read all the books listed here cover to cover and loved each one.
As a work in progress, this list is by no means comprehensive. It reflects my own personal preferences and prejudices. I believe that one who has read and digested the contents of the books listed here will have a solid intellectual understanding of Western esotericism. In order to make the list a bit more cohesive, I’ve segmented it by subject and kept my commentary short and sweet.
Western Mystery Tradition
The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall –The classic, most comprehensive book on various aspects of the Western Mystery Tradition. This is a must-have for your collection if you don’t already own it. It’s useful as a reference that you’ll return to over and over. Please note that the large hardcover edition available from the Philosophical Research Society has all the original large format artwork that the paperback readers’ edition does not.
The True and Invisible Rosicrucian Order by Paul Foster Case – In this tome, Case breaks down the Qabalistic meanings in the foundational documents of Rosicrucianism and the Western Mystery Tradition, the Fama Fraternitatis and the Confessio. The second part of the book contains masterful descriptions of each grade of the Rosicrucian system. This book provides a depth of insight into the meaning of Rosicrucianism like no other.
Access To Western Esotericism by Antoine Faivre – A crucial work to studying the history of the Western Mystery Tradition by perhaps the leading academic in this field. This book not only has a serious analysis of Western esotericism and its importance, but Faivre also sets the methodological research standard for the study of its history.
The Philosophy of Magic by Arthur Versluis – An excellent readable scholarly study of the historical origins of magic and alchemy. Although practical aspects are downplayed in significance, this small text is a superb analysis of the tradition, providing an authentic and informed study of classical western esotericism. Versluis’ work is special and all of his books are highly recommended.
The Mystery Traditions: Secret Symbols and Sacred Art by James Wasserman – A wonderful collection of esoteric art, this book is a feast for the eyes. Wasserman has done a wonderful job putting these images together along with the commentary.
Gnosis and Hermeticism: From Antiquity to Modern Times, edited by Roelof van den Broek and Wouter J. Hanegraaff – An excellent scholarly collection of academic journal articles tracing the “historical development of those religious traditions which have rejected a worldview based on the primacy of pure rationality or doctrinal faith, emphasizing instead the importance of inner enlightenment or gnosis … from Renaissance hermeticists and practitioners of spiritual alchemy to the emergence of Rosicrucianism and Christian theosophy in the seventeenth century; and from post-enlightenment aspects of Romanticism and occultism to the present-day New Age movement.”
The Hermetica: Lost Wisdom of the Pharoahs by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy – I realize purists may cringe in shocked horror and dismay at this selection, but I found these selected quasi-translations from the Corpus Hermeticum to be pleasurable and inspiring in a way that reading an authentic, academically certified translation was not. Freke and Gandy deserve credit for making this material more accessible to the modern reader.
Trinity of Wisdom: Truth, Philosophy, & Hermetic Alchemical Qabalah by Mark Knight – Knight has written an updated and modern text that contains a wealth of information relevant for practitioners of the tradition. Notably, this book also contains information that other books don’t including unwritten Qabalah and Merkabah mysticism. Recommended as a surprisingly useful resource. Mystical Qabalah by Dion Fortune used to be the go to recommended text with regard to Hermetic Qabalah, however, it’s an admittedly dry read and I think Knight’s book serves modern spiritual aspirants in a similar capacity while addressing a myriad of related areas of knowledge.
Q.B.L., or the Bride’s Reception by Frater Achad – An excellent and accessible treatise written from a Thelemic perspective. Contains a wealth of insight and valuable contemplations. Highly recommended.
The Book of Lies by Aleister Crowley – A marvelous book of Qabalistic poetry that has the potential to teach, enlighten, and even make you smile. I feel like I’ve found gold every time I read it.
A Garden of Pomegranates: Skrying on the Tree of Life by Israel Regardie – The path workings (guided meditations for each path on the Tree) makes this a worthwhile addition to your collection.
The Work of the Kabbalist by Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi – An extremely valuable book that provides a wealth of insights into practical aspects of the tradition.
The Cube of Space: Container of Creation by Kevin Townley – An amazingly in-depth analysis of the concept and symbolism of the Cube of Space. Townley masterfully describes his revelations about the Qabalistic, astrological, and Tarot correspondences, bringing the cube to life in a way that no other writer has to date.
The Kabbalistic Mirror of Genesis by David Chaim Smith – A masterful mystical exegesis of the Book of Genesis; Smith goes beyond all mundane interpretations of Qabalistic philosophy and into the heart of consciousness and the nature of creation. Prepare to have your preconceptions challenged. Regardless of whether or not you appreciate his unconventional approach, Smith’s book will make you think. Highly recommended.
The Book of Thoth by Aleister Crowley – Crowley’s wonderful book on the amazing Thoth Tarot Deck. Although some may dispute or quibble with the particulars of the explanations or attributions, don’t listen. This tome is a worthy companion to the most visually stunning Tarot deck ever created.
Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot by Lon Milo DuQuette – DuQuette does a fabulous job of explaining the Thoth deck and many find his book essential for working with it.
The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages by Paul Foster Case – Hands down the absolute best book on the symbolism of the Major Arcana that I’ve ever read and maybe ever will. A classic and must-have for those who are serious about studying Tarot for conscious unfoldment.
The Book of Tokens by Paul Foster Case – A book of devotional poetry that is simply sublime. I consider it a holy book. It is available directly from Case’s organization, Builders of the Adytum.
The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination by Robert M. Place – The incomparable Robert Place is both an artist and scholar of the Tarot. His work displays a depth of historical scholarship and symbolic knowledge that is very impressive. Also be sure to check out his new book, The Fool’s Journey: The History, Art, & Symbolism of the Tarot.
Alchemy and Mysticism (Hermetic Cabinet) by Alexander Roob – I’m passionate about symbolic artwork and if I were only picking one book of Alchemical and mystical art, this would be it.
The Golden Game: Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century by Stanislas Klossowski de Rola – … And if I were picking two, this would be the second.
Esoteric Keys of Alchemy by Paul Foster Case – A fantastic foundational explanation of spiritual Alchemy drawing upon old texts and even Hinduism to explain the basic philosophies and symbolism.
The Tower of Alchemy: An Advanced Guide to the Great Work by David Goddard – Contains both theory and practice of spiritual Alchemy and, although not explicitly, the Art of Memory. Notable is the inclusion of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and symbolism which enhances the explanations, making it clear that Alchemy, in some form, is part of many traditions. Diligently reading and practicing the Tower of Alchemy has the potential to produce dramatic results.
The Emerald Tablet: Alchemy for Personal Transformation by Dennis William Hauck – The combination of historical analysis, practical advice, and personal anecdotes make Hauck’s book a worthy addition to your collection. I found this to be one of the most entertaining books on the subject.
The Builders: A Story and Study of Freemasonry by Joseph Fort Newton – One of the least speculative histories of Freemasonry I’ve found, Newton’s book is grounded in historical reality while still honoring Masonry’s mythical past. A level-headed analysis of the evidence that still conveys the mystery and majesty of the Craft.
Morals and Dogma by Albert Pike (Annotated Edition) – the classic book of Scottish Rite philosophy is now annotated to include references, explanations, cross-references, and more.
Freemasonry: A History by Angel Millar – Millar’s book is a bit of a hidden treasure. It provides a scholarly and serious approach to Masonic history without the speculation or exaggeration that is often prevalent in histories of this sort. In addition, the quality of the publication and included photographs make this a worthy addition to your collection.
More to come…