30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Colin Wilson brings an excellent conversational tone to "The Occult." Despite the fact that Wilson seems to have included virtually every pre-1970 seer, philosopher, adept, alchemist, prophet, soothsayer, necromancer and sorcerer, the book never seems poorly organized or disjointed. This is a testament to Wilson's writing style. Although by its very nature superficial, "The Occult" comes across as a conversation about the subject with a well-versed, highly-educated and rather witty enthusiast. As such, you will likely have as much fun reading it as I have. This is probably the most readable book on the topic, and a fine place to start if you're new to this.
Despite its' breadth, however, "The Occult" has one fatal flaw, and that is Wilson's inability to truly weigh competing points of view. For example, while Wilson provides rather lively portraits of Caligostro, Nostradamus, Mesmer, Pythagoras and the like, he uncritically reprints sensationalistic stories about them. Any historian of Greek philosophy can tell you that the stories Wilson shares regarding Pythagoras are most likely fiction, and any Freemason can correct Wilson's misconceptions about the Masons in his section on Caligostro. (Freemasonry is NOT a religion, despite Wilson's claims).
Still, this book deserves much praise. The Tarot is here, but so is the I Ching. Crowley is here, but so is Zen. The Kabbalah is here, but so are the Masons. And so on. While casting his net wide may open him up to charges of being a dillentant, it also saves this from being yet another collection of ghost stories and pseudo-myth. Don't buy this book because Halloween is coming. Buy it if you have ever cared about mystery, religion, philosophy, or spiritualism. You probably won't like everything about "The Occult" but I think you will be glad that you have read it and will probably want to read it again.
24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
I was drawn to this book after being impressed by Colin Wilson's ideas in "The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved." This book was written early in Colin Wilson's career after a publisher commissioned him to write it - he admits not having had much interest in the subject when he started. It was first published in 1971 but the copyright was renewed by Mr. Wilson in 2003 (apparently without bothering to update the text.)
The meat of this book is a "history" of occultism presented as condensed biographies of some of its most famous figures (John Dee, Paracelsus, Nostradamus, Cagliostro, Daniel Dunglas Home, Madame Blavatsky, Rasputin, Aliester Crowley, etc) The accounts are fascinating to read but I found myslef plagued by doubts as to the veracity of the "facts" as the author has presented them. I already regarded him as a potential hoaxer after his collaboration with L. Sprague de Camp on the Skoob _Necronomicon_ but I don't know enough about these historical figures to tell how much of the story is hogwash.
In the one field he discussed in which I HAVE done some prior research, Mr. Wilson showed himself to be without any knowledge whatsoever. His two chapters about the Evolution of Man and Primitive Magic are full of embarrassing mistakes and crude distortions. He also makes much of the notion that people during the Classical period of ancient Greece were colorblind, which is patently ridiculous since we know that painting was an art in Classical times. He also repeats a mistaken theory (which was accepted among academics at the time but has since been disproven) about the purpose of paleolithic cave art. Given the number of bald-faced errors in this section of the text, I remained skeptical of the entire rest of the book, although there are passages in which Wilson hits his stride and is quite fascinating.
He also expounds a vague theory about "Faculty X," a power supposedly latent in all humans, which we have forgotten how to use but can access by exertion of the will ... I think... It's unclear because Mr. Wilson's theories about Faculty X are not entirely well-thought-out. Every time it seemed he might be on to something, he would proceed to miss his own point and contradict himself a few pages later.
This book is immature and unformed, the author's first foray into the realm of the Occult. It's an interesting read, but if you want something of substance I'd recommend "The Mammoth Encyclopedia of the Unsolved" or the sequel to this volume, "Mysteries" (which I'm currently 1/3 of the way through reading and finding it to be MUCH more substantial.)
16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Before I became interested in Freemasonry & before studying Mystery School works, when I was a teenager....just-after being booted out of home for having an earring and hair below collar-length....a friend talked with me about my natural psychic abilities and loaned me "The Occult," by Colin Wilson. This book left a great impression on me and I have always remembered and appreciated this work. Also, this book introduced me to Numerology & opened my thinking in other areas. The various characters involved in The Occult are discussed, throughout the book and...if I remember correctly...I believe there are pictures of famous occultists in Black and White. I have never owned a copy of this book, but the copy I borrowed changed hands so many times that I can assure it's value as a good read.... I think Wilson did a great job with what he knew at the time.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2009
Let the title scare you off and you'll miss a fine volume on just about everything we have conjured up in our brief history. I particularly found the concept of 'Faculty X' (somewhat of a seventh sense) to be fascinating. Colin Wilson was a celebrated author in the sixties, with his popular work 'The Outsider'. Here, Wilson provides examples of everything from apparitions to physical transfer across continents of a person, to scientific study of unexplained phenomena. The book is quite long and must be digested over time. After all, the secrets of our time require plausible explanation. And even then, would you believe? Put yourself to the test...
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2000
This book totally changed my outlook on life. Colin Wilson's penetrating look into the occult -- its history, causes and effects -- left me with a different worldview and a better understanding of the world beyond.
"The Occult" demystifies the world of magic, supernaturalism, and religion. And gives you a clearer, practical view of this strange and interesting world that exists all around us but is seldom seen.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2003
If you want a fairly objective view of the occult and its origins, this is the book. I found it really refreshing because it made an attempt to explain the psychology behind much of the ritual and religion that we, as human beings, cling to. It did not discount the development of the human soul or claim that it was non-existent, yet did not go too far in the direction of the effusively new-age either. A good read. I lent it to someone too, never got it back.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2014
In your review, you criticized Wilson for misinterpreting Freemasonry as a religion:
"Freemasonry is NOT a religion, despite Wilson's claims)."
With all due respect, Danno, you have misinterpreted Wilson. He nowhere claims that Freemasonry is a religion. On the contrary, he says what Masons themselves say: "The Freemasons are a 'secret society' of a religious nature, whose basic tenet is the brotherhood of man" (p.385 of the white paperback, Watkins Publishing edition, 2003). We can agree that the "religious nature" of Freemasonry has to do with theism and moral principles relating thereto. One of the requirements of being a Mason is belief in "a supreme being", for which reason it is possible for a Lodge to have a Christian, Muslim, or Jewish member. Nonetheless, it is not a religion. You are right in saying that Freemasonry is not a religion, and it has never claimed to be. When Wilson says (p.387) that "the Freemasons were virtually setting up an alternative church", I think you took this as meaning that for Wilson the Masons were, in fact, rivaling Catholicism on religious grounds and trying to be a religion. But this is not Wilson's meaning. He meant that the popularity of the Lodge, as well as it's distinctness, made it SEEM like a church unto itself, and that is why Wilson is careful to use the word "virtually". For hundreds of years people went to church. When freemasonry came on the scene, it felt like a fresh, distinctly different approach to spirituality. In other words, they looked like 'the next big thing," serious competition.
Is Wilson also implying that the Masons WANTED to be direct competition, to the point of recruiting Catholics, away from Catholicism? I don't believe so. If he is (and I believe he isn't), I doubt that that was the case, since Freemasonry makes a point of saying that 'Masonry doesn't seek men. Men seek Masonry". They also say, according to a website I saw, that if any Masonic members happen to be church members, such members should make church an even higher priority than the lodge. I don't know if this is true or not, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is true, because present-day freemasonry doesn't interfere with organized religion. And perhaps the freemasonry of old didn't either.
In any case, your review was a good one in all other respects, but I believe you misinterpreted Wilson on the Masons.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2013
I don't always agree with Wilson, but I always enjoy his books because they're full of ideas, little-known history and interesting speculation. I first discovered him about 25 years ago, and read everything I could get my hands on. Here's a sampling of his writing from The Occult:
"It is an idea that has occurred to many occultists: that life is basically some kind of game, whose pre-condition is that the players should suffer from amnesia, and then cope as best they can with the series of choices presented over three-quarters of a century. In that case, criminals could be regarded as the losers, those who have made the worst possible choices; the winners would be those who have come closest to overcoming the `forgetfulness' with which we begin the game. In The Mysterious Stranger, Mark Twain made the disturbing assertion that God got tired of being in a lonely, empty universe, and created the whole shadow-show of life, in which he is the only real person - the others being robots, made to seem alive."
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2006
I found this to be an extremely interesting and challenging book, the kind of work that has to be re-read several times. It contains an amazing amount of information but reads very well notwithstanding. The information appears fairly complex, but it is given in a clear style and with respect for the reader. I am very pleased to recommend it to any thoughtful reader who wishes his/her intellectual horizons expanded and who concerns himself/herself with fundamental questions of human identity and nature.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2008
A fascinating read into the occult in the Western world throughout the centuries. Well structured allowing you to see the inter-relationship between the different movements and schools of thought.