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Laurion Studio: Books of Magic

So You Want to Learn More about Magic?

If you enjoyed playing Parhedros: The Tunnels of Sethir, we would like to encourage you to do some more reading on magic. Of course, you will quickly find that a bewildering literature exists on these topics, and much of it is ridiculously poorly written and inane. So, we offer to help you get a solid start in your reading by listing some of the books that we found useful and enjoyable when researching the Parhedros game system, and also by briefly explaining why in many cases.


  1. Traditional Texts Touching on Magic
  2. Interesting or Widely Available Studies and Critiques of Magic
  3. Magic, Witchcraft and Esotericism in Modern Times
  4. Parapsychology, Science and Skepticism
  5. Some Especially Noteworthy Fictional Accounts of Magic

Traditional Texts Touching on Magic

Apollonios Rhodios. The Argonautika: The Story of Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece. Trans. Peter Green. Berkeley: U of California Press, 1997. Medeia is one of the great literary witches of classical tradition. Not only is Apollonios’ account of Medeia and Jason among the best treatments of the theme of ancient witchcraft, it is readily available in a modern translation that has probably made it to the shelves of a trade bookstore near you.

Dowman, Keith, trans. The Divine Madman: The Sublime Life and Songs of Drukpa Kunley. Varanasi and Kathmandu: Pilgrims Publishing, 2000. This astonishing little volume offers unprecedented insights into the secret teachings of Buddhist Tantricism, in the person of a wandering “crazy-wise” holy man who brought insight to people by his outrageous behavior and ribald humor. People coming from a purely western religious culture who may be confused over the role of sexuality in tantra spirituality will find this volume very enlightening, not so much for the way in which it answers their questions, but rather in that it teaches them the right questions to ask.

Faulkner, R.O., ed. and trans. The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. Austin: U of Texas Press, 2001. A nice, illustrated edition of the collection of spells that assured Egyptians a smooth passage into the afterlife.

Kieckhefer, Richard. Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State UP, 1998. This excellent volume leads off with a nice overview of Kieckheffer’s theory on medieval magicians as a sort of rebellious and frustrated clerical underclass, and then provides a nice edition of a very important collection of necromantic experiments from the late Middle Ages. That’s the good news … the bad news is that the text of the experiments is in Latin.

Kramer, Heinrich, and James Spengler. The Malleus Maleficarum. Trans. Montague Summers. London: John Rodker, 1928, 1948; repr. New York: Dover, 1971. According to some modern academicians, this work more or less invented from whole-cloth the scourge of witchcraft cum demonism in the late Middle Ages, and thus fueled the ideological fires of the great persecutions. Be that as it may, it remains a fascinating book to read, and is particularly clever in its tireless efforts to weave various misogynist tropes, superstitions and even psychological phenomena into an emerging late-Medieval theology of the Devil.

Lonnrot, Elias, ed. The Kalevala, or, Poems of the Kalevala District. Trans. Francis Peabody Magoun, Jr. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1963, 2002. Often hailed as the national epic of Finland, the Kalevala is also a fine collection of medieval Finnish and Laplander magical charms.

McNeill, John T., and Helena M. Gamer. Medieval Handbooks of Penance: A Translation of the Principal Libri Poenitentiales. New York: Columbia UP, 1938, 1990. This handy volume contains extensive excerpts from the Corrector of Burchard of Worms, which enumerates and describes a great many of the magical practices of the Northern German peasantry around the year 1000. But be sure not to overlook the other, less-famous penitentials in this volume, some of which also contain excellent source material on magic, superstitions and possible survivals of pagan practices and beliefs.

Interesting or Widely Available Studies and Critiques of Magic

Budge, E.A. Wallis. Egyptian Magic. London: Kegan Paul, Trench and Trubner; repr. New York: Dover, 1971. Although a bit dated, this classic survey of the precepts and outline of Egyptian magic is still widely and inexpensively available as a Dover reprint.

Burkert, Walter. Ancient Mystery Cults. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987. This little volume offers important insights into the attractiveness of the pagan mysteries, which certainly had much circulation as an alternative, ritual-based spirituality in competition to Christianity in the ancient world. Indeed, in some of the mysteries, it is hard to draw the line between magical rites and religious practices.

Flint, Valerie I.J. The Rise of Magic in Medieval Europe. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1991. Still easily available, this excellent but at times tedious and overly pedantic academic essay on magic attempts not only to categorize the expressions of a magical mentality in the Middle Ages, but also to account for the cultural and philosophical factors that gave rise to, and encouraged such a mentality.

Graf, Fritz. Magic in the Ancient World. Trans. Franklin Philip. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997, 2002. An excellent general academic survey of magical beliefs and practices in the ancient Mediterranean World.

Harrison, Jane Ellen. Epilegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, and Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion. New Hyde Park: University Books, 1962. A foundational anthropological study, very much in the school of Frazer, of the belief sets that can give rise to magic, as well as religion, in primitive societies. It is VERY dated, however!

Kieckhefer, Richard. Magic in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989. This widely available and inexpensive little volume represents a well-considered and yet fairly easy-to-read academic survey of medieval magic.

Leland, Charles G. Etruscan Roman Remains. Blaine, WA: Phoenix, n.d. Originally published in 1892 and recently reprinted on the basis of Leland’s import in the intellectual history of Wicca, this volume comprises a veritable wealth of collected traditions about magic and fairies in Northern Italy. Although Leland’s hypothesis that these traditions represent a direct survival of Etruscan religious beliefs and customs must be treated with a large grain of salt, his book is an absolute joy to read for anyone interested in European folklore. In addition, the volume contains a goodly number of traditional Italian charms and incantations.

Lowell, James Russell. “Witchcraft”. In Among My Books. Boston: Fields, Osgood, & Co., 1870. Pp. 81-150. An excellent and deeply thoughtful essay on the witchcraft trials, but be sure to break out your Latin and French dictionaries if you want to follow along in the numerous source documents that he quotes at length!

Markale, Jean. The Epics of Celtic Ireland: Ancient Tales of Mystery and Magic. Trans. Jody Gladding. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2000. While this little volume is of scant academic merit, it does include an intriguing and somewhat mystical interpretation of magical and fairy themes in the great Irish epics.

Michelet, Jules. Satanism and Witchcraft. Trans. A.R. Allinson. New York: Citadel Press, 1939, 1967. This is the classical expression of the Romantic view of Witchcraft as an unfortunate admixture of the feudal propensity for superstition, and the willingness of the elite classes to persecute people based on religious dogma.

Peters, Edward. The Magician, the Witch and the Law. U of Pennsylvania Press, 1978. An excellent essay that suggests that learned, or bookish magic was accepted, to some extent at least, as a branch of the sciences in the early Middle Ages, but eventually fell into disrepute as it first was condemned by scholastic theologians, and thence became associated with heresy and sorcery.

White, David Gordon, ed. Tantra in Practice. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2000. A wide-ranging collection of essays and various primary sources concerning the practice of Tantra among the major Asian religions. While a bit unfocused, and definitely academic in approach, this volume is sure to have something for everyone.

Magic, Witchcraft and Esotericism in Modern Times

Borges, Jorge Luis. Ficciones. New York: Grove Press, 1962. I highly recommend this masterful collection of short stories touching on deeply esoteric themes. While he does not write much at all about the actual practice of magic, Borges neatly captures, in a series of impressive vignettes, the underlying mentality of modern magic.

Burroughs, William S. Naked Lunch. New York: Grove Press, 1959, 1990. A masterpiece of the literary subculture, this book is a good starting point for those who may be curious about how, if at all, entheogenic substances can provide a channel, albeit a terrifying and dangerous one, for gaining insight and illumination. Of course the book is about much more than just that, and should be read by all for its brutal and cutting style, and its satirical account of the perilous propensity of the human psyche to be come addicted to pleasures and power.

Chardin, Teilhard de. The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper and Row, 1965. Wow … mysticism meets science, in the posthumously published writings of this Jesuit priest who was also an academic archaeologist. I dare say this thought-provoking book could be the basis of an esoteric Qabalah for the twenty-first century.

Cowan, Tom. Fire in the Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit. San Francisco: Harper, 1993. A brave, if not entirely satisfactory effort to develop the foundations of a neo-Celtic shamanistic spirituality, this book contains a good deal more creative and often thoughtful interpretation of tradition and literature than it does feel-good platitudes for fluff-bunnies.

Dali, Salvador. 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship. Trans. Haakon M. Chevalier. New York: Dover, 1992. This very eccentric, surrealistic and at times humorous volume gives us some insights into the way that esotericism can intersect neatly with the creation of art.

Fortune, Dion. The Mystical Qabalah. Boston: Weiser, 1984, 2000. A classic of modern esotericism, this book seeks to harmonize the occult teachings of the traditional Judaic Qabalah with both Christianity and the various Eastern religions that captivated Western mystics in the early-twentieth century. This book is essential to a working understanding of why many modern magicians think and act as they do.

Gonzalez-Wippler, Migene. The Complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies and Magic. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1988, 2003. This book is a wonderful, rich and broad-ranging survey of the themes and techniques of magicians from around the world and throughout history. An excellent starting point for someone of a, shall we say, credulous bent who is curious about the history of magic.

Kraig, Donald Michael. Tarot and Magic. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2003. A fairly good and typical introduction to what some “professional” occultists currently think of the utility of Tarot to magical workings.

Leland, Charles G. Aradia: Gospel of the Witches. London: David Nutt, 1899; repr. Blaine, WA: Phoenix, 1999. This rather cranky, pseudo-scholarly book on traditional Italian witchcraft has had an enormous impact of the beliefs and rituals of modern Wicca; nonetheless, the book remains important in its own right, even ignoring this Gardnerian shadow which tends to engulf it. Leland, often writing with his tongue-in-cheek, was somewhat ahead of his time in looking at Witchcraft as not only an alternate spirituality for women chafing under a patriarchal faith, but also in further exploring the idea that Witchcraft may have served the poor and oppressed of both sexes among the peasantry as a covert means of resisting the dominant religious and social discourses of the day.

Metzger, Richard, ed. Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult. New York: The Disinformation Co., 2003. This collection of essays comprises a must-read overview of some of the bleeding-edge and over-the-top approaches to Magic over the last century or so.

Tyson, Donald. Familiar Spirits: A Practical Guide for Witches and Magicians. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2004. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this book, other than that it attempts to commercialize the ancient idea of familiar spirits in a way that is palatable to the mainstream of modern neo-pagans.

Valiente, Doreen. Witchcraft for Tomorrow. Blaine, WA: Phoenix, 1988. This is an interesting insider's view by one of the founding luminaries of modern neo-paganism.

Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America. New York: Schocken Books, 1993, 1995. An absolutely entertaining history of the personalities behind Theosophy and Anthroposophy, with a look as well at the circle of seekers that formed around A.J. Gurdjieff.

Parapsychology, Science and Skepticism

Bender, David L., et al, eds. Paranormal Phenomena: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, Greenhaven Press, 1997. A fun albeit, rather fluffy little book on a variety of paranormal topics.

Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1970. Science does not have – indeed, cannot have – the final word on material truth. Everybody should read this classic in order to better understand that the edifice of knowledge is not only unfinished, but is occasionally to be demolished to clear room for a remodeling. Skeptics in particular should read this book, if they have not already, in order to remind themselves not to put the horse of good method behind the cart of accepted theory.

Rhine, J.B., and J.G. Pratt. Parapsychology, Frontier Science of the Mind: A Survey of the Field, the Methods, and the Facts of ESP and PK Research. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1957, 1967. This is perhaps the best and most accessible published work by the team of Duke University professors who more or less founded the modern field of parapsychology. While their methods and their somewhat disingenuous use of statistics have failed to convince skeptics, they do make a good case that the question of ESP is worth further examination.

Shermer, Michael. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1997, 2000. This fun-to-read pop-skeptic book has a couple of nice chapters that try to debunk paranormal phenomena and, especially, self-proclaimed psychics. Sadly, the author sometimes engages in nearly as much pseudo-scientific thinking and fuzzy-logic as the very foes he seeks to refute.

Wolberg, Lewis R., M.D. Hypnosis: Is It for You? New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1972. The are lots and lots of books – of which this is but a random example – that laud hypnotism as an advance in Psychological science, all of which inadvertently make the point in one way or another that some of the traditional claims of magicians to exert power over others by mind-control are not so outlandish as they once seemed. Of course, some scientists continue to insist that hypnosis is not really some alternate state of consciousness, but rather a superb and complex game of make-believe or role-playing, gamed out according to a hierarchy of interpersonal influence and established expectations. Sounds to me like the Chaos Magick dictum of “fake it until you make it.”

Some Especially Noteworthy Fictional Accounts of Magic

Crowley, Aleister. Moonchild. London: Mandrake Press, 1929; repr. Boston: Weiser Books, 1970, 2004. A tale of high magic and low misogyny marred by often mediocre writing, this novel is still worth reading for its deep insights into Crowley’s vision of magic as a house within a house. In addition, it is rife with many wonderful inside allusions and jokes, and deliciously devious character assassinations and libels. The last several chapters are nothing less than bizarre, and in their staggeringly arrogant elitism give a good indication as to why Crowley’s Thelemic spirituality was unable to catch on among the masses in the way that, say, Gerald Gardner’s vision of Wicca has been able to do.

Fortune, Dion. The Goat-Foot God. York Beach: Samuel Weiser, 1971, 1999.

MacDonald, George. Lilith. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000. First published in 1895, Lilith is no doubt one of the finest and most influential of modern adult fairy tales, and is a genuine joy to read. Be forewarned that this is a deeply Christian story, although it embraces such extremely unorthodox trappings as visions, fairies, a vampiric succubus, and an articulation of the inevitability of universal salvation, even of the ultimate evil. MacDonald’s fairy tales had a profound and very direct impact, of course, on both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

Travers, P.L. Mary Poppins. Orlando, FL: Odyssey Classics, 1997. First published in 1934, Mary Poppins may never quite achieve the status of a Great Book in the canon of modern fantasy writing, but it is nevertheless a very, very good book. Moreover, the author exhibits a great deal of often subtle knowledge and, more impressively still, insight regarding occult traditions. I found myself particularly impressed by the manner in which this book successfully and, I think, self-consciously located the font of esoteric belief in the superstitions of the lower-classes, and yet let the wisdom at the core of that body of belief speak quite well for itself. Also quite worth reading are the several sequels, and especially Mary Poppins Opens the Door (New York: Reynal and Hitchcock, 1943).