I read a lot. I was much more of a bookworm in grade school, but even from college and beyond I still enjoy a good literary dive with some frequency. Of course, that tendency transferred to my occult interests when I first became drawn to the subject. I devoured articles on Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism after watching Neon Genesis Evangelion. I’ve bought some physical books that I’d obtained digital copies of just so I could write notes in them because of the thought processes they generated. Some of my friends and I have joked that if “scholar witch” or “research witch” were a thing, that would be my label.
It would only make sense, then, that I’d have certain books that I go back to on occasion because of the material presented and what I learned and continue to learn from it, at different levels of understanding. So here is my list of general reading recommendations for all magical practitioners. Most of them are pretty agnostic in approach, so the information can be applied to a wide variety of practices, at least in part. As time goes on and I continue reading more, I’ll be developing reading lists for more specialized branches like Chaos magic or green witchery. For now, though, I offer up the following tomes for your consideration (in no particular order). DISCLAIMER: some of the authors listed have been variously accused of racism, antisemitism, appropriation, faulty research, and/or other such stigmas. I list them despite these views because I believe even the worst trash can teach us something, even if that thing is “I’m not good for you” (my experiences reading the notorious Kybalion and Jason Newcomb’s The New Hermetics are a stark example). Knowledge is power, after all, and knowing what things to avoid is just as valuable as knowing what things to pursue. Always evaluate your resources. Should you desire to read these and other books but don’t want to support the others for holding the above-mentioned viewpoints, consider your alternatives.
• Real Magic, by Dean Radin
This is the only book of this entire list that I feel actually deserves a “top spot.” At some point, I imagine every witch goes through a period of, “Is this stuff actually real or am I just deluding myself?” Part imposter syndrome, part skepticism. Real Magic is a fantastic counter to that. The research and results that Radin presents here are, frankly, quite astounding, and every time I’ve been a Doubting Thomas since, I go back and read various sections and passages as needed. This is truly a must-read for those stuck in aporia.
• Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
One of the best skills I think any witch should learn and develop is critical thinking. I stumbled on Thinking, Fast and Slow quite by accident, but it’s a mainstay on my shelf because of how it addresses the two fundamental ways most humans process and act on information. To paraphrase one reviewer, it’s easy to accept the book’s premise long before reaching the end, and it can be fairly repetitive, but I still believe it to be useful insight into the operations of the mind.
I’ve long believed that psychology is just a socially acceptable form of magic (specifically, theurgy), and given one of the most widely accepted models of magic, I don’t think that’s far off the mark. I picked up Introducing NLP shortly before beginning therapy, and it struck me how many similarities there were between techniques described in this book and techniques used in many circles of western esotericism and beyond, a subject for a future post.
• The Sorcerer’s Secrets, by Jason Miller
Inominandum’s 2009 classic was one of the first books, if not the first, that I purchased with full intent on learning about magic and the occult. (The first magic book I ever got in my naive, D&D-fueled youth was Ileana Abrev’s White Spells, another recommended read.) I appreciate that Miller approaches sorcery from both spiritual and practical perspectives: while we are inherently magical creatures we also have to remember that inhabit the mundane and must consider that in all of our operations. It is very much a strategy guide as self-described and excellent reference material.
• Drawing Down the Moon, by Margot Adler, 2006 revision
For a long time, I was pretty averse to Wicca, and I can’t even remember why at this point. Which made me hesitant to read anything related to the practice, let alone its history. But eventually I did pick this book up after seeing it recommended in various places, and realized how valuable it is. While not a magic book per se, it is an important examination of the growth of the Neopagan and Wiccan movements in the US. I specifically like this version because of Adler’s inclusion of heathenism (which she previously avoided because of its unfortunate appropriation by white perversionists) and her thoughts of the conflux of Neopaganism and the feminist movement. More academic than arcane, but still deserves a spot on the shelf for its part in teaching modern witches about their more recent history as a social group.
• The Witches’ Workbook series, by Ash
Another stumbled-upon gem, Ash’s no-nonsense guide is a great introductory text, very Magic 101. It’s one of the reasons I frequently suggest searching through Tumblr for resources on various aspects of the craft, and Ash’s page over at Theory of Magick has quite the compendium. Easy enough for the neophyte to comprehend and thorough enough for the veteran to appreciate, this series is fairly digestible due to its brevity and simplicity, but make no mistake—these workbooks earn every penny.
• Psychic Witch, by Mat Auryn
This book has seen stellar reviews and received heaps of praise, and for good reason. Similar to Real Magic, Auryn details the intersection of various esoteric and scientific concepts in an approachable yet throughly informed and researched manner. It’s a little heavier on exercise than history, but for some people the practical approach is more appealing. In either case, there is plenty of material here to inform practitioners of any level or experience.
These sister books read more biographically than others on this list. Naturally, since they are about Wachter’s particular methods of Working. But with his background in Chaos magic and animist flavor, he presents a trove of methods and perspectives that I’ve found immensely useful in my practice, and Six Ways is one book I immediately went back to when researching for my upcoming book on sigil magic. They are deeply personal, unassuming, and quite welcoming in a way that feels like visiting an old friend. I’ve also just ordered his third book, Changeling, and very much look forward to reading it.
Jung’s work has so informed and influenced the study of magic that it’s something of a wonder to me that more people don’t call him a witch or magician or whatever similar term that could be considered applicable. Pretty much all of his published work is useful in some form or another, but I find these two to be notably applicable to diviners whether you’re reading tarot, tea leaves, or dreams. I’ve found that The Archetypes plays well in conjunction with Real Magic, either before or after.
Bonus points if you decide to go down the rabbit hole of The Red Book/Liber Novus.
• Anything by Christopher Penczak, but especially Instant Magick
I found this one while browsing through my local library one day, and was pleasantly surprised by its contents. There are a number of useful techniques in here, magic adapted to the hustle, bustle, and limited time of life in the 21st century. As ideal as it would be to have as much time as one might desire for deep rituals and lengthy workings, a lot of times that just isn’t feasible, and Instant Magick fills that niche quite nicely.