The Encyclopedia of the Occult

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By Lewis Spence

Lewis Spence was a scholar and journalist, born in Scotland in 1874. As such he was of the same generation as Aleister Crowley and a contemporary of the likes of the members of the Golden Dawn generation. He was a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and Vice-president of the Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society. He published many books on folklore, mythology and other occult related subjects. He was also famous for his theories and books on Atlantis about which he wrote at least five books and he edited a journal called Atlantis Quarterly in the early Thirties.

An Encyclopedia of Occultism was published by Spence in 1920 and it seems that The Encyclopedia of the Occult that this reviewer owns is the same book under a different title. Certainly the Encyclopedia of Occultism has been described as the most famous compendium of information on the occult scene and the first comprehensive work of its kind.

As a magician who has used this book for reference the reviewer finds that the book is very detailed with references to historical characters in the occult such as John Dee but misses contemporaries of Spence such as Crowley. This is hardly surprising considering most of Crowley's writings will have been circulated widely only after his death. What this does serve to illustrate is that this work is of historical interest but has not been updated by the publishers when it has been reprinted. On the other hand this should not necessarily diminish it, as there are many obscure references, often continuing for pages, on subjects that may have fallen out of favour in the years that have intervened. For use in a modern magician's occult library it is of value but really needs to be complemented by more modern works of a similar nature.

The book contains very few illustrations (in mono) and where they are line drawings or engravings they reproduce relatively well, but any photos or half tones have suffered from the sort of degradation that often comes from being a copy of a copy. This leads to the speculation that this particular edition is a facsimile of an earlier version. This ought not be a problem as there are so few photos that it really makes no difference.

A check on Amazon shows both the Encyclopedia of Occultism and The Encyclopedia of the Occult as out of print. However, does list both titles against second hand suppliers. does not seem so comprehensive but a check at a later date might prove more successful. Use the links below to go to the Amazon sites to search for these or other encyclopedia or try the second hand book search services page. This window will stay open when you click these links to allow you to check back on the details here.


Spence, Lewis; The Encyclopedia of The Occult, Bracken Books, Studio Editions Ltd, London, 1994, 451 pages including index.

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