Great books about spirituality and magick

I'm occasionally asked to recommend books for people who are interested in Tarot, spirituality or magick.  There are an awful lot of books out there on all of these subjects, but in my experience there really aren't all that many good ones.  Personal taste varies a good deal, but I've found each of the following to be considered, intelligent and written with integrity.  You could do worse than start with these. (If you follow the links you'll be taken to an Amazon page for the book – if you choose to buy the book via this link Amazon will give me a tiny amount of money through their affiliate program… but every little helps, so please click away!)

I've divided them into categories, so just click on whatever you are most interested in:

General Spirituality

Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha: An Unusally Hardcore Dharma Book – Daniel Ingram
This is one of the most significant books on spirituality I've found.  It has a great deal of clarity, a great deal of information and a down-to-earth, logical style that I immediately connected with.  Ingram has a huge amount of experience in meditation and exploring the Buddhist theories of spirituality and enlightenment – and in this book he pours out everything he knows.  I believe it's proved quite controversial to those who may be a little set in their way about what Buddhism is and isn't, but that's what I love about it.  He simply says 'These are the techniques, this is how you use them, and these are the results you get if you practice hard – now get to it'.  This is a brilliant piece of work and I can't recommend it enough to anyone who is serious about spiritual attainment.  What's even more wonderful is that if you're not sure whether this book is for you you can actually download a free pdf copy of it here.

Teach Yourself to Meditate: Over 20 Exercises for Peace, Health and Clarity of Mind – Eric Harrison
If you are a beginner when it comes to meditation this is a great place to start.  This book is extremely clear, well laid out and gives you plenty of things to 'try'.  Becoming good at meditation has a great deal to do with practice, but finding the technique or techniques that work best for you is a huge help.  In this book you'll find plenty of exercises to try that take you through many different approaches and techniques.

Coming Home: Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions: The Experience of Enlightenment in Sacred Traditions – Lex Hixon
This is a beautiful and complex book that compares the sacred wisdom of many traditions, both philosophical and spiritual.  It contains a series of self contained essays about many aspects of spirituality and each could be meditated upon and considered for hours.  Not always easy to access, but extremely rich.

General Weirdshit

My Life With The Spirits: The Adventures of a Modern Magician – Lon Milo DuQuette
If you are still wondering "So what exactly is it that Magickians do? And why? What happens?" this is a great book for you.  DuQuette is a wonderfully entertaining author and this book is as funny as it is interesting.  This is a biography of a magickian and manages to be full of strange events, curious coincidences and 'real' magick.  It's so well written you can get through it in a day or two, but the stories will remain with you for a long time to come.

The Illuminatus!: Trilogy – Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea
This really was a book that changed my life.  It's a novel and a pretty strange one at that.  I always say to people you have to give it at least 100 pages before you make up your mind whether it's for you or not – it's a peculiar reading experience, but it's full of humour, weirdness and a kind of delight at life and humanity that is utterly infectious.  This is a book that takes as it's premise what if every conspiracy theory was true? It's then full of philosophical, psychological and spiritual concepts, as well as delightfully strange and fascinating plot.  Steeped in a sixties sensibility, reading it when young really opened my mind to beautifully strange people, and the world, could be.

Tarot

It has to be said that when it comes to Tarot I know far more about good books covering my own deck than I do about books for general Tarot cards.  However, these are books I know well and would certainly recommend.

Tarot for Life – Prospero
This is my favourite 'general' Tarot book, in that it isn't concerned with any particular Tarot deck, but is a general introduction to the major and minor arcana.  It's nice and short, clear, has some lovely illustrations and is a great place to start if you want to get familiar with the basics of a Tarot deck.

The Thoth Companion: The Key to the True Symbolic Meaning of the Thoth Tarot – Michael Snuffin
This is a great book that helps break down the meaning of the Thoth Tarot deck – giving a good amount, but not too much, information about each cards meaning and how to think about it in a spread.  It's a great place to start learning to understand and read with the deck of Thoth.

Keywords for the Crowley Tarot – Hajo Banzhaf
The Thoth Tarot is jammed full of symbolism, every object on every card has something to say.  This book concentrates on unpacking the meaning of some of the individual images and symbols found on the cards, and is therefore a great reference book when one wants to deepen ones understanding of a particular card.

Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot: An Authoritative Examination of the World's Most Fascinating and Magical Tarot Cards – Lon Milo DuQuette
The Thoth Tarot is incredibly rich and complex – not simply with symbolism for divination but also with spiritual and magickal insight.  Crowley poured much of his spiritual and magickal understanding into the deck.  Unpacking that information and understanding it would be the work of many years – but DuQuette does a wonderful job of explaining some of the principles and pointing an interested reader towards much more.

The Book of Thoth: Egyptian Tarot – Aleister Crowley
Of course there's no source for details on a tarot deck like the original author – where better to find out about the Thoth Tarot deck than from Crowley himself?  This isn't always an easy book to read (as usual Crowley assumes that any reader will be familiar with the theory of Kabbalah, Astrology, Alchemy, Latin, Greek and most of the worlds mythologies and spiritual traditions) but it is incredibly rich in detail, ideas and spiritual insight.

Magick

Magick comes in many forms and has much to offer.  These are the best books on magick I've read over the years – ranging from the discursive to the practical, from great books for beginners to those for more advanced studies.

Condensed Chaos: An Introduction to Chaos Magic (Occult Studies) – Phil Hine
This was the first book on magick that really made sense to me.  I remember picking it up in a bookshop, reading the first page, and immediately deciding to by it – for one simple reason: it made me laugh.  It wasn't po-faced, it didn't claim to know everything, it had humour, practical techniques and some rich theory presented in a really interesting, accessible, way.  This is just a great book about magick.

The Blood of the Saints – Alan Chapman and Duncan Barford
I'm a big fan of the Baptist Head project – Chapman and Barford are two practicing magickians who put an awful lot of material about their experiences, experiments and theories online over a few years.  This is the first of three books that compiles together their writings in a handy paper based medium.  Much more convenient for taking to bed with you.  They both have a clear, entertaining, writing style and there's a huge amount of material here to think about.  It's not always terribly well structured or ordered, but great fun to dip into.

Chaos Protocols: Magical Techniques for Navigating the New Economic Reality by Gordon White
How great to have a recent book that contributes something really worthwhile to Chaos magick, and magick generally. This is the first book in a while that made me want to get back to doing some practical magick – it's got a bunch of things to try and experiment with. It's a very practical book, with a good underlying philosophy – learn to take care of yourself, and use magick to help you. It's a smart, fun, read. (Gordon White also presents the excellent Rune Soup podcast, which I greatly recommend)

The Complete Guide To The Kabbalah: How to Apply the Ancient Mysteries of the Kabbalah to Your Everyday Life – Will Parfitt
The Kabbalah (Qabbalah? Cabala?) is an extremely rich system of spiritual and magickal progress.  It is also intimidatingly complex and often presented in obscure, difficult and abstract way.  This book offers a really solid introduction to the Kabbalah which emphasises practical exercises and personal experimentation.  Much of the complexity is mentioned, but the main emphasis is of getting a basic grounding in what it's all about and learning some of the key techniques and ideas (none of which involve complex equipment or doing anything embarrassing or difficult).  This makes it a great starting point for someone interested in the Kabbalah, or who wishes to get into a little bit of practical magick.

Enochian Vision Magick: An Introduction and Practical Guide to the Magick of Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelley – Lon Milo DuQuette
If you want an 'out of the box' complete magickal system to explore, then this is the book for you.  Given the complexity of the material it amazes me how accessable and interesting this book is.  DuQuette explores the magickal work of Dr Dee and explains the magickal world view he created (or discovered, depending on how you think of magick).  Enochian magick offers a very rich, powerful, magickal system for self insight and self initiation.  It's very safe, and surprisingly easy to 'get it to work' if you take the time to follow the instructions.  This book explains a system for accessing the Enochian Angels and Aethers beautifully – but gives enough material that you could continue to experiment for years.

What I Did in My Holidays: Essays on Black Magic, Satanism, Devil Worship and Other Niceties – Ramsey Dukes
If you're in the mood for some longer, deeper, reading about magick, spirituality and life this is a great book.  It is a collection of essays written by Dukes over a few years.  It is written with humour (hence the peculiar title – not to be taken too seriously), contains some wonderful stories and is very rich in terms of philosophical and spiritual content.  Some great ideas from a smart and experienced magickian.

Liber Kaos: The Psychonomicon & Liber Null and Psychonaut – Peter J. Carroll
I do like a nice, chunky, magickal book now and again, and these are two of the best.  These initiated the whole 'Chaos Magick' movement (of which I am very fond).  They aren't light books and it would be hard to say that Carroll didn't take himself too seriously, but there's some lovely material in here.  I love the atmosphere of these books, the seriousness, the implicit power, the sense of exploration.  Not really for beginners but they are still a treat to read.

Magick without Tears – Aleister Crowley
Crowley probably new more about magick than any person in the last hundred years – but he was cursed with a dreadful writing style that made huge, and unrealistic, assumptions about the pre-existing knowledge of his readers as well as seeming to revel in obscurity.  This, however, is probably the most reader-friendly of his books.  A collection of letters that he wrote towards the end of his life it offers a series of pleasingly 'bite sized' introductions to his philosophy, spirituality and magickal theory.  Anyone serious in their study of magick should read Crowley, but this is perhaps the most accessable place to start.

The Chaos Monkey – Jaq D. Hawkins
I often complain that magickians don't talk enough about what it's like to be a magickian – what it's like to actually do magick, what they tried what worked and what failed.  This book is a rare exception and entertaining for that.  Whilst I don't personally by into the whole 'Chaos Monkey' premise, I did really enjoy reading about Hawkins' experiences and adventures – and it contains some interesting exercises and techniques too.