Occult Biography books
We review several occult biographies containing many occult truths
Book reviews are listed in order of addition, newest first.
The Life of Apollonius of Tyana—by Philostratus
Translated by F. C. Conybeare M.A. First published in 2 volumes by William Heinemann, London, 1912. See note at end.
AVAILABLE FROM Amazon.co.uk and other booksellers
Also available to read online at the Sacred Text Archive
As we explain in many of our articles nearly all ancient sacred or philosophical books were written symbolically. This biography of Apollonius of Tyana by the Greek author Philostratus (flourished ca. 200 A.D.) is no exception. Apollonius was a Greek philosopher and Adept in the occult sciences from the town of Tyana in the Roman province of Cappadocia (modern Turkey) who lived during the first century of the Christian era. The book reads like a fairy story, but, as in all inspired fairy-tales, sometimes facts and historical events are presented to the world under the colours of fiction. The journey to India related by Apollonius' disciple, Damis, is an allegory of the stages and trials in the life of a Neophyte, giving at the same time a geographical and topographical description of a certain country, which then as now, no one knows where to look for, because it is not to be found on earth, at least not in any literal sense, for this too is largely allegorical.
The long discourses of Apollonius with the Brahmans, their sage advice, and the dialogues with the Corinthian Menippus, if correctly interpreted, reveal many of the doctrines of the ancient Mystery Teachings. Similarly, the Sage's visit to the empire of the wise men, his interview with their king Iarchas, the oracle of Amphiaraus, explain symbolically many of the Hermetic Laws and Principles—and by extension—those of Occult Science. It is for these reasons, as well as many others, that Apollonius remains as much a riddle as the Sphinx of Egypt to scholars and theologians alike.
What we do know is that Apollonius was the enthusiastic founder of a new school of philosophy which inculcated the same quintessence of spirituality and high moral truths as Jesus and the Buddha. All three Teachers also exhibit striking similarities in their character and mission. Like Jesus and the Buddha, Apollonius was the uncompromising enemy of all outward show of piety, all display of useless religious ceremonies, bigotry and hypocrisy. It is related that when Apollonius desired to hear the "still, small voice" he used to wrap himself up entirely in a mantle of fine wool, on which he placed both his feet, after having performed certain magnetic passes, and pronounced an invocation well known to every Adept. Then he drew the mantle over his head and face, and his Higher Self was freed. Some of our readers will recognise the hidden meaning of these mysterious preparations.
Apollonius' 'miracles'—which were simply the result of the control and manipulation of Nature's hidden forces—were more wonderful, varied and far better attested than any of the thaumaturgical feats attributed to Moses or Jesus, as you may discover for yourself in this remarkable biography. You can read more about the life and teachings of Apollonius in the Collected Writings of H. P. Blavatsky, Vol. 14, p127-136, from which we have taken some of the material for this book review.
NOTE. Several print-on-demand reprints of Conybeare's translation and others are currently available from Amazon and other booksellers. We do not recommend them for the reasons given in our notes in the sidebar. The edition we have reviewed (illustrated above) was published by the Loeb Classical Library (an imprint of Harvard University, USA) in 2005 in 3 hardcover volumes, edited by Christopher P Jones. Volume 1 (432pp) comprises books 1-4, volume 2 (448pp) comprises books 5-8, and volume 3 (272pp), contains the letters of Apollonius, ancient testimonies and Eusebius's reply to Hierocles. This is the edition we recommend.
Loeb also published earlier editions, such as the 2 volume edition of 1989, which can still be obtained second-hand. There is also a translation made by J. S. Phillimore in 2 volumes, published by the Clarendon Press, Oxford in 1912, but this is both scarce and expensive. For those on a tight budget we recommend the html version of the book which can be read free of charge at the Sacred Text Archive (see link above).
Iamblichus' Life of Pythagoras
—Translated from the Greek by Thomas Taylor
First published by J. M. Watkins, London, 1818. 272pp. Reprinted 1986 by Inner Traditions International Ltd., Rochester, USA.
Softcover edition illustrated below, 272pp.
ISBN-10: 0892811528; ISBN-13: 978-0892811526. Price new £14.99.
AVAILABLE FROM Amazon.co.uk and other booksellers
Also available TO READ & DOWNLOAD HERE IN PDF FORMAT
The full title of this book is Iamblichus' Life of Pythagoras, or Pythagoric Life, accompanied by fragments of the Ethical Writings of certain Pythagoreans in the Doric Dialect, and a Collection of Pythagoric Sentences from Stobæus and Others. First published in 1818, it remains the most complete and authentic memoir of the life and teachings of the last of the truly great Greek Initiates. You can read more about the life of Pythagoras in our article about Initiates and Initiation, and his teachings about the sacred science of numbers in our article on numerology.
Iamblichus' account of the life of Pythagoras begins with the sublime philosopher's birth on the island of Samos, his youth, and his attainment of wide renown in his native Greece. It briefly covers his early travels and his studies with the philosophers Anaximander and Thales of Miletus, his training and initiation in the temples of Egypt, and his long captivity in Babylon at the hands of Cambyses. His later life and work is described in glowing colours, interspersed with humorous and profound anecdotes illustrating his philosophy and providing a unique view of the life of the Sage and his pupils in the famous college he founded in Crotona in Italy.
Thomas Taylor tells us in his introduction that the life of Pythagoras is "a specimen of the greatest perfection in virtue and wisdom, which can be obtained by man in the present state. Hence, it exhibits piety unadulterated with folly, moral virtue uncontaminated with vice, science unmingled with sophistry, dignity of mind and manners unaccompanied with pride, a sublime magnificence in theory, without any degradation in practice, and a vigour of intellect, which elevates its possessor to the vision of divinity, and thus deifies while it exalts."
Sage of Samos, initiate of the Sublime Occult Mysteries, and transmitter of the ancient wisdom, Pythagoras' influence on western philosophy and thought was profound and lasting. His life is an example to all who sincerely wish to find the Way, the Light and the Truth, whilst his teachings remain as relevant today as they were when he communicated them to his fortunate disciples 2,500 years ago. They had a saying: "autos epha", meaning 'he himself said it', such was the reverence and faith with which his utterances were regarded by those who knew and loved him.
The book includes many excerpts from Pythagoras' teachings on the science of numbers, reincarnation, medicine, friendship, temperance, justice, charity, morals, parenthood, the higher and lower selves, the Soul, and a host of other topics of interest to all seekers after truth. The book also contains substantial fragments from the ethical writings of his followers on such subjects as Felicity, Human Life, Tranquillity, the Virtues, Prudence and Prosperity. We cannot end this brief review without mentioning the Pythagoric Sentences from Stobæus which are included towards the end of the book. These contain practical advice all can benefit from, such as: "It is impossible that he can be free who is a slave to his passions", and "Despise all those things, which, when liberated from the body you will not want," and our personal favourite: "A wise intellect is the Mirror of God." You can read some of the wise teachings Pythagoras taught his pupils in the Golden Verses attributed to him in the sidebar at right.
Thomas Taylor (1758-1835), the translator of this biography, has been called 'Wisdom's Champion' by some, 'a genius of metaphysics' by others, and is widely regarded as the greatest English Neoplatonist scholar of the last three hundred years. We review his work on our links page.
NOTE. The PDF we have published is a photographic facsimile of the original edition of 1818 and identical with it. Readers who wish to own a printed copy are advised to buy the Inner Traditions International reprint, readily available from Amazon in the UK and USA, as well as other booksellers.
The Esoteric World of Madame Blavatsky—collected & edited by Daniel H. Caldwell
Quest Books, USA (Theosophical Publishing House), 2000. Hardcover, 360pp. Includes 35 photographs and drawings, index, source references, and further suggested reading. Price £24.00 / $28.95. ISBN 978-0835607940.
AVAILABLE FROM Quest Books in the USA price $28.95
ALSO AVAILABLE FROM Amazon and other booksellers.
Here for the first time is the story of H. P. Blavatsky told by those who actually knew her. Daniel Caldwell paints a vivid portrait of one of the greatest occultists of all time, who single-handedly did more to revive the Ancient Wisdom and Occult Truths of the Ages than anyone who has come out in public before or since.
The author is to be congratulated for gathering together the many reminiscences by her relatives, acquaintances, friends, enemies, and co-workers, giving readers a look at H. P. Blavatsky's life and work, together with a glimpse into her enigmatic personality. We say 'glimpse' advisedly, for her true stature is known to very few indeed, nor was the real purpose of her Herculean labours on behalf of humanity recognised by even her closest co-workers during her life, and it remains unrecognised today.
As many of our regular readers will know, much of the content of our website is based on the teachings of this peer among occultists. We know of no other teacher who has given out more real Occult Truth in the last few centuries than this truly great keeper of the ancient secrets. If you have not read Blavatsky's books and know little about her apart from the calumnies that have been heaped upon her over the years, this excellent biography will help you to discover something of her greatness and the sublimity of the Truths she taught.
The Life of Paracelsus—by Dr. Franz Hartmann
First published by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., London 1887. Re-printed by Wizards Bookshelf in the USA, Hardcover, 250pps. Price $17.00.
AVAILABLE NEW FROM Wizards Bookshelf and other booksellers.
There are several reprinted editions of this book currently available. Regrettably, some are of rather poor quality, particularly the 'print-on-demand' editions to be found on Amazon. For this reason we recommend you obtain the Wizards Bookshelf edition. This is an exact facsimile of the original, printed to a high standard and costs a modest $17.00 excluding postage and packing.
Whilst there cannot be many seekers who have not heard of Paracelsus, few will know that he was the discoverer of hydrogen, and was thoroughly familiar with the properties of this remarkable gas long before Henry Cavendish, named it 'flammable air' in 1766. More than one scientist has quenched their thirst for knowledge in the writings of this 16th Century Swiss occultist and philosopher. Frederick Hufeland got his theoretical doctrines on infection from Paracelsus, whilst modern psychology owes many of its premises to this peer among occult scientists, who was the first to observe that many physical diseases are the result of preexisting psychological conditions.
There are many books on the life and work of Paracelsus, but few are more accessible and readable than Franz Hartmann's biography. Hartmann begins with an account of Paracelsus' singular character, colourful life, and a comprehensive bibliography of his writings. This is followed by an explanation of the more arcane terms invented by Paracelsus (or used during his times) to describe the various metaphysical, psychological and physical subjects he investigated. Even with Hartmann's explanations, many of these terms will remain an enigma to the average reader, and even the average occultist too. This is inevitable when dealing with the laws and principles of occult science, alchemy and magic, which were always cloaked in the greatest secrecy, for reasons we explain in our many articles, most notably in our Occult FAQ.
The following chapters treat of Paracelsus' teachings on Cosmology, Anthropology, Life and Death, Magic and Sorcery, Medicine, Health and Disease, Alchemy, Astrology, and Philosophy. Few men have investigated the mysteries of Nature more comprehensively than Paracelsus. He was the bold creator of medicines still in use today and the fount of ideas that have inspired many scientific discoveries. Scattered among the writings Hartmann has collected together we may read about the Philosopher's Stone, the Elixir of Life, the influence of the planetary spheres on ourselves and the earth we inhabit, and many other subjects which can not only enrich our understanding of the natural world, but reveal many of the hidden laws and properties of all things, both material and spiritual.
The Life of the Buddha—by L Adams Beck
William Collins Sons & Co., 1959. Hardcover, 253pp. Available second-hand from as little as £3.00.
AVAILABLE FROM Abe Books and other booksellers
Whatever their religious convictions or lack of any, no seeker after Truth can fail to be impressed by the grand figure of the Buddha. In this little-known biography, the Author has recreated the life of the Great Teacher of Buddhism with careful fidelity to truth and infinite feeling for her subject, enlivened with all the splendour, beauty and mystery of the India of 2,500 years ago. L Adams Beck was a notable Theosophist, but unlike her many contemporaries in the Society that Madame Blavatsky founded, she possessed a considerable depth of esoteric knowledge and the gift of true inspiration, which lift this book into a higher dimension than the many biographies that have since been published about the Buddha, which though big on scholarly details, lack the depth of spiritual insight the Author brings to her work.
Whilst Sir Edwin Arnold's Light of Asia ends very early in the Buddha's ministry, L Adams Beck has continued the story to his death, enriched with many scriptures and ancient traditions unknown or unavailable to Sir Edwin when he composed his poetic masterpiece.
Although there are countless scholarly books about the Buddha, and whole libraries devoted to learned interpretations of his teaching, we know of no other book in which his life and work is presented so simply and clearly. L Adams Beck has not only succeeded in conveying the serenity and tenderness of the Buddha's character, but also the sublimity of his teaching with a simplicity and beauty that has rarely been equalled by any other biographer. It is our hope that this all too brief review may help to rescue if from the obscurity in which it has languished for far too long.
We would also recommend the aforementioned Light of Asia by Sir Edwin Arnold. First published in 1879, this magnificent narrative poem of the life, character and philosophy of the Buddha has never been equalled for the beauty of its language or the profundity of the eternal truths it unveils. It is readily available in various editions, both in print and online. You can also read about the Buddha's birth, life and teachings in our investigation of Tibetan Buddhism.
Life as Carola—by Joan Grant
First published by Methuen & Co., London 1939. Available in various editions and formats. Alliance Press, USA softcover edition illustrated below, 334pp, ISBN 978-0898041408. Price from £8.00.
AVAILABLE FROM Amazon.co.uk and other booksellers
While many occult books may expand one's knowledge, Joan Grant's 'Far Memory' novels inspire Wisdom and Truth. Spiritual truths sparkle like precious gems throughout all of them and Life as Carola is no exception. In this, the second of her books about her previous incarnations, she recalls a tempestuous life lived as a strolling player in Italy in the early 16th Century. This is a moving and powerful book which brings the past so vividly to life that the reader feels he is actually present within its pages, tasting, hearing and smelling the colourful atmosphere of those times.
The book paints a vivid and authentic portrait of life in 16th Century Italy at the birth of the Renaissance and provides incisive insights into the culture and life within and between the different social classes. We witness the drunkenness of the tavern, the ravages of the plague and smallpox, the dangers of war and the risks and vicissitudes of maritime life. The most moving and powerful incidents in the book are the harrowing descriptions of the oppressive and cruel practices of the Roman Church at a time when it held full sway over the minds and bodies of its followers. Joan Grant describes an institution utterly divorced from genuine religion, dogmatic, cruel and despotic, which will stop at nothing to maintain its power and influence over the masses it controls through fear, guilt, greed and shame, but does nothing to enlighten.
In her short lifetime Carola experiences great poverty, violence and bigotry, but also much kindness from Petruchio, a crippled jester and sage, as well as gaining wisdom from the many vicissitudes that bestrew her path to enlightenment and eventual liberation from the bonds of the flesh. There are too many characters and incidents to mention in this short review, but among them are Bernard, the gentle strongman, Lucia, the harlot who loves him, and the witch Sofia who might have been a great healer, but is seduced by the black arts and falls victim to her own pride and ambition.
In no other book does the author so clearly and compellingly reveal the heights and depths of human nature as they manifest through the Higher and lower self. She does this with great empathy and understanding through her vivid depictions of the thoughts, feelings and actions of a vast range of different characters ranging from the good, through the not-so-good to the irremediably evil. As in all her 'Far Memory' books, dramatic incidents and high adventure are seamlessly interwoven with deep metaphysical insights and spiritual truths which should appeal to all sincere seekers, regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack of any.
NOTE. You can read a moving extract from this book about the dangers of mediumship in the afterword to our Astral Conversations article on the dangers of channeling.
The Comte De Gabalis—by Abbé N. de Montfaucon de Villars
First published 1913. 352pp. Available new and second-hand in many different editions, formats and sizes. We recommend the new softcover edition published by Theophania Publishing, 2011. 346pp. ISBN 978-1770832626. Price £16.47, available from Amazon.co.uk (see link below).
AVAILABLE FROM Amazon.co.uk and other booksellers.
Also available to read online at the Sacred Text Archive
This unusual biographical novel is an anonymous English translation of a French 'novel of ideas' originally published in 1670. It begins with the following quotation from the early Church father Tertullian: "When a thing is hidden away with so much pains, merely to reveal it is to destroy it"—a truth which all sincere seekers after wisdom should ever bear in mind. This book is written in a very clever and enigmatical manner that at times mixes up many true teachings with the grossest superstitions and unbridled nonsense; no doubt the better to conceal the great occult truths it does contain from the merely curious and thrill-seekers who just adore "mysterious" books like this!
This book has influenced countless authors, notably Alexander Pope, who copied the elemental spirits of water described in it to fashion the sylphs in his The Rape of the Lock. Among the occultists who have quoted copiously from this book may be numbered Eliphas Levi, H. P. Blavatsky, and Manly P. Hall. Bulwer-Lytton includes whole sections in his novel Zanoni (reviewed on our occult fiction page), as have many other occult writers, both past and present, without acknowledging their source!
The book begins with an encounter between the enigmatic Comte of the title and the Abbé who is both awed and frightened by his mysterious visitor. The Comte claims to be a 'master' of the occult sciences and attempts to initiate the reluctant and somewhat timid cleric into the secrets of the elemental beings: the Sylphs of the Air, the Undines of Water, the Gnomes of the Earth and the Salamanders of Fire.
The book is packed with genuine occult lore, complimented throughout by a parallel commentary and copious footnotes that discourse on such diverse topics as the Cabala, Initiation, Alchemy, Geomancy, the Biblical allegory of Eve and the Serpent, Sacred Fire, Nutrition, Force, Matter, Atoms, Evolution, and a host of other subjects of interest to Occultist and Mystic alike. For these reasons The Comte De Gabalis is well worth studying deeply, but critically and dispassionately, for as we say on our main books page:
"Let a Lover of truth suspect things that are quickly understood; for truth lies hid in obscurity; for Philosophers never write more deceitfully—than when plainly, nor ever more truly—than when obscurely."
This is true, and applies not only to this book, but to all genuine occult writings. We emphasise 'genuine' because there are now many so-called 'occult' books pouring off the presses that contain nothing but recycled New Age nonsense, garnered at second-hand from third-rate scribblers, which the authors of such garbage neatly package to make their fanciful speculations more appealing to the unthinking and uncritical reader: beware!
NOTE. This book goes in and out of print with great regularity. To avoid getting a badly-reproduced print-on-demand edition do check with the publisher or bookseller before buying.
The White Brother: An Occult Autobiography
—by Michael Juste
Hardcover 211pp. Rider & Co, London, UK, 1925.
Price from £30.00 second-hand.
AVAILABLE TO READ & DOWNLOAD HERE IN PDF FORMAT
SOMETIMES AVAILABLE FROM BOOKSELLERS—see note at right.
This very scarce occult autobiography describes one seeker's eventful journey through the Occult Jungle in search of Truth. "Michael Juste" was the pseudonym of Michael Houghton, a Hungarian Jew who founded the well-known "Atlantis" book shop in London in the 1920's. The shop still flourishes in Bloomsbury and may be familiar to some of you. Houghton was an odd character who mixed with many well-known and many more completely unknown occultists of the last century. He published several books in his own name as well as the works of other writers, and was the editor of the Occult Observer from 1949-51—a quarterly journal that contained contributions from many well-known occultists and mystics of the time.
Many mysteries have been woven around Houghton's chequered association with various occult personalities over the years, but these neither concern nor interest us. What is of interest is the absolutely true and frank account the author gives of his search for Truth and the True Teacher. A journey that takes him down several blind alleys, brings him into contact with many weird and wonderful characters and the eventual meeting with a Master who is surely the ideal of all sincere seekers. This master, who is identified only by the letter 'M' in the book, explains in just a few, simple lines how to find the true teacher which so many seekers waste years fruitlessly seeking in all the wrong places and in the wrong ways:
"Within the soul of each mortal dwells a watcher, one who waits patiently for the time when his charge will cry out for a consciousness of the divine realities, and when that occurs, the inner watcher guides the seeker into a series of experiences that will perfect and make him fit to enter the temples of Truth. Wherever the seeker dwells...directly he desires to become a helper for humanity and work in unity with the laws of the spirit, directly he listens to the compelling voice of intuition that bids him seek beyond the glamour of events, and he obeys it, then the watcher within takes him upon a voyage that can only end when the seeker has found his own."
That 'watcher', is of course, our own SOUL, which we discuss in the last of our occult studies course articles. This book is filled with similar sound advice and wisdom of the right sort, that reveals what Truth is and where NOT to look for it, as well as exposing the many pretenders to wisdom who prey on the inexperience and gullibility of seekers. Among the many topics discussed are Theosophy, False Teachers and teachings, Vegetarianism, Science, Elementals, Magic, Health, Meditation, Breathing, astral travelling and the Astral World.
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