Required Reading for an Apprentice

Although I’ve made light of people who have asked for suggested reading for an introduction to the occult, I’ve had the idea to compile a basic library and resource set for anyone interested in the stuff I do.  While your path is probably going to veer from or cross through mine any number of times, there are some resources I wouldn’t be caught dead without for reference, assistance, and general help, especially in the traditions of magic I practice.  Besides, if I one day take on an apprentice, I may as well have a list of books ready for them to have for themselves.  That is, if I don’t already have my own personal collection and reference ready for them, but more information will always be nice.

Books for reference:

  • Agrippa’s Three Books and Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy.  This is the mother of all reference books on magic, spirituality, religion, and the occult, and is pretty much the basis of all Western magic today, Hermetic or otherwise.  A lot of stuff is pulled or morphed from his collection of information, which itself is pulled from older sources.
  • Betz’s translation of the Greek Magical Papyri.  It’s helpful to see how magic was done in the source and origin of the Hermetic tradition, as well as to take a hint about how different traditions of magic can be syncretized and folded into each other.
  • Stephen Skinner’s Complete Magician’s Tables.  Correspondence tables are awesome and help link different aspects of the occult and open worlds together.  Agrippa covers some of this, but these books (I prefer Skinner’s book over Crowley’s 777) are invaluable.
  • Robert Hand’s Horoscope Symbols.  This is one of the best books on astrological symbolism I’ve found, and despite the modernity of it, Hand is an expert I trust and who I know knows his shit.
  • John Michael Greer’s Art and Practice of Geomancy.  I think geomancy is extraordinarily useful to the occult, despite its relative disappearance from occulture, and any apprentice of mine is going to learn the technique, art, and skill of geomancy and how to apply it in magic and spirituality.
  • Eileen Connolly’s Tarot: A New Handbook for the Apprentice.  I’m not big into tarot, but I do use it every so often, especially for scrying and meditation.  This is one of the better books I’d recommend for someone as a reference of the cards.
  • Wheelock’s Latin, because face it, a lot of this stuff is still in Latin and a working knowledge of it is going to help.  Greek and Hebrew will as well, but Latin especially so.  A good Latin dictionary helps loads, too.
  • Carl Liungman’s Symbols: Encyclopedia of Western Signs and Ideograms.  This is a massive and awesome reference for all kinds of written symbols, ideograms, and other characters that have been used across the Western world from prehistoric times to the modern era.  It’s a good reference for alchemical, planetary, and a variety of other magical signs as well.
  • Melody’s Love is In the Earth: A Kaleidoscope of Crystals.  Even though this is fluffy and light-hearted as hell, it’s also one of the best and most complete references on the different types of crystals, metals, and stones in magical use.
  • Picatrix.  This is the classical grimoire, the archetypal spellbook from old medieval European types and based on Arabic star magic.  The spells and works are still as powerful as ever, and it helps to know where a lot of modern magic is derived or based from.
  • Draja Mickaharic’s Spiritual Cleansing.  Even considering that Draja is one of the most underrated and undermentioned occult authors out there, the dude’s ancient and has the wisdom and experience to match.  His magic works, and this is one of the classic books on spiritual cleansing, protection, and safekeeping.
  • Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Vergil’s Aeneid, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Sophocles’ Oedipus Cycle.  A rock-solid knowledge of Greek and Roman mythology cannot be underestimated in its help for understanding and working with the gods and spirits and forces of the world.
  • The Bible (New American Version or similar modern critical edition, King James Version for art and style) and Jack Mile’s God: A Biography and Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God.  As above, but for Judaic and Christian mythos is wonderful for the Western magician.  Plus, this is one of the most well-used, well-known, and well-loved spellbooks of all time.
  • Brian Copenhaver’s version of the Hermetica.  As above, but for Hermetic and Gnostic mythos.
  • Benson Bobrick’s The Fated Sky: Astrology in History for a good overview of the path of astrology in science, mysticism, and human life from ancient times to modern.
  • Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos.  This is the foundational text on Western astrology, written by the man Ptolemy himself.  May as well get the most solid background we have.
  • Richard Garfinkle’s Celestial Matters.  A modern alt-reality fiction showing what the world might be like if it were ruled by Aristotelian geocentric physics, different geopolitical and socioreligious sets of problem than we have, and how one really has to start from scratch to learn new systems of thought.  The depiction of how gods actually interact with mortals in a world where people still work with them is priceless alone; this is a book for any Hermetic or Neoplatonist to read and enjoy.
  • Rex Bills’ The Rulership Book, containing a huge list of what planets and signs in astrology rule over which objects, places, professions, foods, people, and the like.  Uses a lot of modern associations with the outer planets, but still invaluable in figuring out what force goes with what thing.
  • The Clavicula Solomonis, or the Greater Key of Solomon the King.  I like the Mathers’ version due to the pretty and redrawn seals, but the text as a whole is a fantastic resource to prayer, ritual setup, and tool consecration.
  • Scott Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs.  Normally I’d stay away from Llewellyn and this author due to his fluff content, but credit where it’s due, he knows his stuff, and this is one of the best manuals on herbs and plants commonly available.  I may not agree with all the associations, but it’s certainly helpful.

Links and resources on the Internet (many of these are on the sidebar to the right, but it’s not like you ever click on them):

I think the above would cover all the bases for me to start teaching someone, with plenty of other supplementary or secondary material, including other grimoires, modern texts on magic, blogs and essays, and various references and stories.  I like to use a lot of reference material from a Renaissance Solomonic or classical Hermetic background, but that’s not to discount the value of other styles, traditions, or sources of magic.  What books, texts, and sources might you suggest, if you were to take on an apprentice?  Do you think there’s anything else I should consider to tack onto the list?

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About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

11 Responses to Required Reading for an Apprentice

  1. DM says:

    I’d toss Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols in there, as well as the Lesser Key of Solomon.

    • polyphanes says:

      I own Cirlot’s book and a few other books on symbols like that, but I’ve never really found them helpful or useful. It might be nice as a cultural reference, but I’m highly skeptical of these sorts of things just as I am of dream dictionaries. To me, the meaning of symbols can change easily between different cultures, between different systems in the same culture, or even between different people in their own experiences, so having a fixed dictionary of symbols and symbolism has never been helpful to me outside of specific traditions or practices. Then again, if words in a language are symbols too, and we all typically understand what those mean, maybe I’m just being too reflexive with this.

      Lemegeton, on the other hand, might be more helpful. I find the Greater Key more helpful than the Lesser, personally, but the Lesser does have a good few books in it.

      • DM says:

        LOL, I think you just might be overanalyzing things a bit. ;) I find Cirlot’s helpful for a baseline–while meanings do change between cultures and between individuals, they’re pretty consistent within individual traditions, and it’s good to have at least some sort of grounding in them. If the user finds out later that a certain symbol means something else to them, that’s fine too–but at least they have some frame of reference to start.

        I’m surprised you didn’t mention the Leyden Papyrus, or is that included in the Greek Magical Papyri?

        This is one huge shopping list for me–I’ve got quite a few of the books here, but a few more I don’t have and really do need to acquire.

  2. Michael Sebastian Lùx says:

    A very solid suggested reading list, most of those are my favorite ‘vade mecums’ and very worthwhile for any occultist to read. Well played, sir.

  3. Andrew says:

    I think this is an excellent library, but I think of it more as a journeyman’s practical library rather than an apprenticeship program. The first would-be apprentice I ever had was driven off by the notion that he had to learn a divination system, even a relatively light one like Runes were, at the time. The second was doing a martial arts program at the time, and so introducing him to The Way Of Energy was a good place to start off — here’s the practice and the theory in one single book.

    My own first introductions to magic were through Regardie’s The Golden Dawn and John Michael Greer’s Learning Ritual Magic, as far as formal study goes… but by that point I’d read through The Iliad and the Odyssey a few times as both a teacher and a student, and I’d been to a Protestant seminary long enough to have a thorough grounding in Biblical literature, canon law, and the like, without actually being a priest or minister.

    It’s complicated. We’re definitely in an era when one is more likely to be trained in a master-apprentice model (more like a journeyman-apprentice model, really, given how far most of the people I know face-to-face are ‘advanced’), or a crowd-sourced model, and yet the traditional instructional methods are within coven, grove, temple or lodge, by collegia of priests and magicians and witches to neophytes, dedicants, and so on. The training you provide, and the training I provide, are going to be different in some ways (prior life experiences), similar in others (Hi Rufus Opus!), and yet they would benefit the generations that come after us if we knocked a little of the corners of our ego off the work, and focused on what the traditions and Landmarks of the work actually are, and what thoughtforms and egregores actually need to be handed onward. Part of this involves hard thinking on our parts, and part of it involves the innocent questions of the next generation coming to us with their curiosities about what we’ve learned.

  4. Andrew says:

    To lighten some of what I said, I think it’s worth mentioning that I just spent a considerable block of my book budget on some of the primary sources in the list you just posted. :-)

  5. Phergoph says:

    Have you read DMK’s “Modern Magick”? The end falls flat but the rest of it is sound. Also add “By Names and Images” – I thought it was great.

    Also I stopped linking to amazon over their numerous policy changes. The one the magical community needs to be aware of is grouping the kindle books in with the print books when the kindle books are actually different books. 3 Books of Occult Philosophy – not sure if they fixed it yet or not – is a different book on the kindle than in print. The print one is the Tyson one, and the Kindle one is pretty much what you’ve find on Sacred Texts. I’m fairly sure it’s Amazon just trying to get as much content into the kindle as they can, but it’s annoying as hell no-one has checked this.

  6. Pingback: Mysteria Misc. Maxima: March 1st, 2013 | Invocatio

  7. I like your list a lot, and I have most of it, but consider this instead of that awful Melody mess: http://freemanpresson.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/review-of-crystals-jewels-stones-magic-science/

  8. I think one probably has to read Eliphas Lévi sooner or later, too.

  9. Pingback: Best-Loved Books | Freeman's Reviews

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