Not that long ago, I was asked a simple question: if I were stranded on a desert island and could only have three occult books to keep with me, which ones would that be? Hoo boy. Asking this to most Western magicians, bookhoarders that we are, is a tough question. Asking this to one who wants to build up his own library? You’re just being cruel.
So, just to get it out of the way, there are two books I think every magician should have: a handbook and a recordbook. The former keeps all their notes, sigils, symbol information, rituals, prayers, and the like that they find useful in their practice. The latter acts as their journal, reading log, dream record, ritual notebook, liber spirituum, and so forth. While the two can be combined, I prefer to keep them separate (and I keep a separate divination book from my ritual book, but that’s just me). These two things are as vital as one can get for a magician, since it keeps a written, permanent record of their work and activities over time. That said, with enough practice, much of these things can be committed to memory; of the nearly-full moleskine journal I have for my ritual handbook, I need to look at it for only a handful of prayers at this point since I’ve done so much of it over time that I’ve gotten all my daily practice and regular ritual stuff memorized.
That said, those don’t count for this question; I can always write and keep records on many surfaces, and memorize enough aplenty, but those are for things I come across and invent and perform. If I had to pick three books, grimoires, reference books, or the like to take with me on a stranded, perhaps life-long exiled island, what would those three books be?
One of the easiest ways I like to think of things, given my earthy Virgoan tendencies, is to decide on negative criteria, or “what qualities am I not looking for?”. It’s a fascinating way to learn more about something or another person, and it’s a good way to get a conversation started on a first date. In terms of books I’d not want to bring, I know that I wouldn’t want anything on geomancy (at this point I’m left to innovating or starting over in another tradition), astrology (I can plot and figure out the stars on my own with a bit of trial and error), or…honestly, most magical topics. Books of prayers, spirits, saints, rituals, and the like are good things to have on hand and familiarize oneself with, and I’ll be the first to claim that I could always do this more, but even at the risk of reinventing the wheel, what I need to do I can learn to do on my own. After all, necessity is the best teacher, and on a stranded desert island, necessity would be the order of the day.
For me? I’d pick these three books:
- A good book of herbs and plants. Besides the obvious guide to what’s safe/medicinal/psychotropic and what’s not, the other benefit to this would help expand my knowledge and help me understand how to work with these things on both a material level as well as a spiritual one.
- A good book of stones, crystals, and soils. See #1. Add to it, knowing what minerals are present in an area can also suggest the safety of planting, water drinking, and building.
- A good book of animals, fauna, and insects. See #1. Add to it, knowing how an animal acts and where it lives can also help learn how to work with, tame, hunt, or avoid them, as well as what plants are likely in an area.
Why these? Because, honestly, I’m simply ignorant of these things. Angels, astrology, divination, mathematics, programming, designing, prayers, religion, these are all nice things to learn about, and I daresay I’ve learned a small smattering of each. That said, for my own self, I’d pick books on the natural world that can guide me and help me survive and, based on how I react to certain things, help me grow spiritually. In working with the things around me, I can work with the spirits around me and help them, and help myself be helped by them. Perhaps, if I weren’t so ignorant and underlearned on these things, I’d pick different books. For myself, these things as a survival guide would be paramount. I’d gladly go with pragmatism over spirituality; after all, I can’t be a very good magician if I’m dead (post-death magic excepted).
So, what about you? If you had to pick three books to keep with you on a deserted island, what would they be? Also, if you know of good examples of the above I chose that aren’t written by Scott Cunningham, what would you suggest?