Detail from “Collector’s Edition” by Archie Goodwin & Steve Ditko (Creepy #10, 1966)

The Most Revelatory Books I Read While Writing Modern Occultism

There were many greats — these ten stood out

Mitch Horowitz
8 min readSep 2, 2023

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In nearly twenty years as a historian of the occult, I have been touched by many great works. While writing my latest book, Modern Occultism (September 19, 2023)— a history of occult thought from late-antiquity to the present — these ten assumed a special place.

So much is missing from this short list; so many authors who touched me (and who appear in the narrative) are absent — not because I value their work any less than the titles noted here but because these books rank as personal “discoveries,” which I consider uniquely illuminative of the field. Still other writings, testimonies, and experiences emerged from primary sources or field study. (I call myself a “believing historian” so my skin is in the game.)

1. The Masonic Thread in Mozart by Katharine Thomson (Lawrence & Wishart, 1977)

This unjustly rare volume definitively explores esoteric themes in the life and work of composer and dedicated Freemason (following his father) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). The most arresting chapters explore Mozart’s proximity to the Illuminati, the short-lived Bavarian revolutionary sect that has been assigned a wildly oversized cartoon afterlife in conspiracist literature and thought. Historian Katharine Thomson is especially adept at placing a human face on the group’s handful of initiates who strove in vain to render monarchical Bavaria into a Jeffersonian democracy.

2. The Bavarian Illuminati by René Le Forestier (1914), translated by Jon E. Graham (Inner Traditions, 2022)

Yes, them again. Jon E. Graham’s 2022 translation of French historian René Le Forestier’s 1914 study corrects a centuries-long malady in which the Illuminati’s fantasy reputation has swelled absent nearly any work of scholarly historicism based in primary sources. It so happens that for a secret order the Illuminati were assiduous at record keeping. Forestier…

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Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China