Occult Decoding the Visual Culture of Mysticism, Magic and Divination

Peter Forshaw

A clear, concise, and detailed historical exploration of the eclectic and arcane visual and material culture of the occult.

Focusing on a carefully curated selection of esoteric art and artifacts, Occult explores the meaning and mystic power of occult manuscripts, ritual objects, and symbols from around the world. The author identifies five central elements of occultism—alchemy, astrology, magic, mysticism, and divination. Key symbols are highlighted and examined, and important rituals and practices are explained to provide new insights into the philosophies and beliefs of occultists from antiquity to today.

The book begins with an introduction that clarifies what we mean by "occult." Occult is then organized into three broad sections, each containing three themed chapters—exploring the foundations of the occult, the philosophy of occult magic, and the modern occult revival. Readers are guided from ancient beliefs to the rebirth of the occult in the nineteenth century with spiritualism, theosophy, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and on to the twentieth century’s anthroposophy, New Age, and occulture movements.

Throughout, illustrated narrative text is interspersed with double- page presentations of the key practices, figures, and symbols relevant to that theme. Artworks and artifacts are examined in detail: the practices depicted are identified and explained, and the hidden symbolism decrypted. As the book progresses, readers will not only come to understand the mysterious practices and secret ciphers of the occult, but will also discover the beliefs, rituals, and philosophies of occultists around the world from their origins in the early esoteric traditions of the Ancient Egyptians to their reinterpretation in modern occultism.


Peter Forshaw


Peter Forshaw is a writer and researcher interested in the history of alchemy, magic, Kabbalah, astrology, ritual activity, and esotericism. He is an associate professor at the Centre for History of Hermetic Philosophy, University of Amsterdam, and a council member for the Society for the History of Alchemy and Chemistry.