There are many forms of magic around the world: fairy and ghost tales, complex rituals and cosmogonies have served to explain the unexplained since the beginning of time. These books about magic provide a window to magical thinking around the world.
From Louisiana’s Voodoo to Spanish ancient rites, here’s a ‘Magic around the world’ reading list.
Books about magic around the world
1. ‘Gumbo Ya-Ya’ by
‘Gumbo Ya-Ya’ is a collection of oral histories from New Orleans and Louisiana. The book was commissioned to the Federal Writers’ Project – a New Deal project that provided jobs for unemployed writers during the Great Depression in the USA.
A rich folklore full of magical tales is thoroughly documented featuring the Zulu King and the headless horseman of Natchitoches. Voodoo rituals, charms and ghost stories of Louisiana’s popular heritage are made available through ‘Gumbo Ya-Ya’.
Access the book for free here
2. ‘Druids’ by Homer Sykes
Druids, the highest priests in Celtic civilization, still exist in the 21st century. Ruled by their ancient beliefs, they take part in magical thinking and celebrate cosmic events like solstices and equinoxes.
Photographer Homer Sykes documented one of their gatherings in London in 1996. His pictures are now published in ‘Druids’, yet another wonderful publication by Cafe Royal Books.
3. ‘Penitenciagite‘by Santiago Díez de Ure
Santiago Díez de Ure captured the magic and occult forces in several rites in the Iberian Peninsula. In ‘Penitenciagite’, he embarked on an almost 10 year journey to document Semana Santa (Easter week) in Spain.
During Semana Santa, wooden Gods are revered on the streets. Penitent souls flagelate themselves to the pace of processions. And thousands of worshippers ask for forgiveness to see the resurrection of their God.
Santiago Díez de Ure captured this and other magical festivities in his project Iberian Rites. You can now access original catalogues from his exhibitions.
4. ‘Black light: Secret Traditions in Art from the 1950s’ by CCCB Barcelona
A 200-page catalogue documenting the influence of magic, esoterism and secret societies in artists and artistic movements around the world.
The publication coincided with an eponymous exhibition at CCCB Barcelona, with highlights like Aleister Crowley’s watercolours or Genesis P-orridge’s work.
The book reads as a complete encyclopaedia of occult influences in art and includes very well-known artists and outsiders to the industry.
5. ‘Sonora Magic market Mexico city’ by Kurt Hollander
Ward off evil, conquer any man or woman you like, pass your exams with a magic candle or lead an opulent life.
Everything you may wish it’s on sale at Sonora’s magic Market in Mexico city.
Kurt Hollander travels to this market and documents, just like a sales catalogue, the magical potions and powders on sale.
6. ‘Ghost Stories of the British Museum’ by Noah Angell and Francis Gooding
The British Museum is full of ghosts, but it was only internal folklore known among the staff until Noah Angell and Francis Gooding documented it.
‘Ghost Stories of the British Museum’ tells the history of unexplainable occurrences and haunted places in this institution.
This 25 page publication adds a magical layer over the place.
7. ‘Elf Dalia’ by Maja Daniels
A narrative about the Swedish valley of Älvdalen, an isolated region linked with mystery for many reasons: from 17th century witch trials to the near-extinct ancient language of Elfdalian, still spoken here.
Daniels combines texts and her own photographs with curious pictures from an archive amassed by a man named Tenn Lars Persson (1878 –1938), a local inventor, mechanic and photographer.
Flicking through its pages, it feels like entering a strange region where nothing is what it seems and reality and dreams collide.
8. ‘Witches of America’ by Alex Mar
“Witches are gathering. Witches are gathering all across California, witches and their apprentices and little children and polyamorous collection of boyfriends and girlfriends”
This is how ‘Witches of America’ starts, marking the beginning of an skeptic’s trip to meet the neo-Pagans, Wiccans and self-proclaimed witches of the 20th Century.
Alex Mar aims to reveal why do we choose to believe – be it in religion or magic. By taking part in rituals and gatherings across America, she was able to provide different answers in ‘Witches of America’, as many as the people she meets.
9. ‘Drawing Down the Moon’ by Margot Adler
‘Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today’ is a sociological study of contemporary Paganism in the United States written by the American Wiccan and journalist Margot Adler.
First published in 1979, it both served to identify and describe the Neo-pagan community (relatively new at the time) and to propel the movement.
It is based on interviews with both community leaders and ordinary pagans or Wicca followers.
This is a non-fiction book that explores the movement’s motivations, beliefs and the people who follow it.
10. ‘Tell my Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica’ by Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance (in the 1920s), but her work has been obscured and only rediscovered in the latest years. Known for her fiction, she was also a notorious anthropologist.
As a traveller, she immersed herself in the Caribbean and the locals’ voodoo practices, documenting their beliefs and rituals.
For ‘‘Tell my horse Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica’, published in 1938, Neale Hurston not only made notes and fieldwork: she was initiated and participated in the rituals.
Thus, the book is a firsthand account of an outsider joining an extremely rich magical culture of superstitions and ceremonies.
11. ‘The Earth is Only a Little Dust Under our Feet’ by Bego Antón
Holding her newly acquired diploma at the Icelandic Elf School, photographer Bego Antón travelled to meet elves, trolls, fairies and the people who see them in the island.
The result is a magical photobook where invisible forces are photographed.
Click to see Begon Anton’s interview with Wayfarer Books about ‘The Earth is Only a Little Dust Under our Feet’
12. ‘Subterranean river’ by Łukasz Rusznica
Photographer Łukasz Rusznica travels to Japan to examine folk stories and their survival in the modern psique.
Japanese ghosts and other supernatural beings guide his journey.
13. ‘Charms and Charming: Studies on Magic in Everyday Life’ edited by Éva Pócs
A linguistic approach to charms, with contributors from around the world and mainly focused on Eastern Europe but also Mongolia or Iran.