“The lights of Hyde Park Corner blaze like some monster, gilded constellation, shaming the dingy stars. And across the east, there flares a sky-sign, a gaudy crimson arabesque. And all the air hangs draped in the mysterious sumptuous splendour of a murky London night.”-Hubert Montague Crackanthorpe’s Vignettes
London is a city steeped in time, mystery, and the occult. She stands upon layers of Roman, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon remains, and her depths are honeycombed with catacombs, tunnels, lost rivers, and abandoned stations. The psychogeography of London seems to ripple, breathe, and sometimes break to reveal a strange twilight otherworld as envisioned by Londoner and acolyte of the liminal, Arthur Machen. London has seen its fair share of occultists, mystics, madmen, and cunning women throughout the ages.
In the modern era it was the birthplace of the Golden Dawn as well as Wicca. The stomping ground of Doreen Valentie, Austin Osman Spare, Moina Mathers, and Aleister Crowley. Magic is in the air and the soil and in the mortar of the city. As a longtime visitor and now resident, the city has long fascinated me and at every opportunity I have explored her many beautiful shops, seeking what treasures they might offer up. Here is a guide to three of the most remarkable occult bookshops in London.
Treadwell’s is, without a doubt, the jewel of the London occult community. Located just a short walk from the British museum on Store Street (the same street where Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her famous essay “Vindication of the Rights of Woman” in 1792). Treadwell’s was founded 13 years ago by Christina Oakley-Harrington to serve the pagan and occult community of London. It is a warm, inviting shop with a friendly and knowledgeable staff. On the shelves one may find all manner of pagan and esoteric books with subjects ranging from Thelema, traditional witchcraft, African diasporic religion, to Tantra and beyond. In addition to books Treadwell’s also stocks a variety of jewelry, altar goods, inks, incenses, spell papers, and wands. New as well as rare older items are often available from the display cases in the centre of the shop.
Treadwell’s is more than just a bookshop; the shop forms the center of the London occult world. Weekly lectures are often booked days or weeks in advance on topics as varied as Greco-Roman rituals, tarot classes, chaos magic, and goddess spirituality. Academics and practitioners converge on the shop to share their knowledge and experience. If you only visit one bookshop in London make it Treadwell’s. Have a biscuit and sit on the big inviting couch where customers are encouraged to just stay and browse. This is really much more than a bookshop, for many of us it’s a home away from home. If you have a chance, be sure to book in for a lecture. You will have a wonderful time and meet some lovely people.
If you are located overseas, Treadwell’s also has a wonderful online store which is restocked often with some of the most enticing items in the shop.
Opened at No.21 in Cecil Court in 1901, Watkins books is one of the two historical occult bookshops which remain in London. Among the past clientele who browsed those same shelves are luminaries such as WB Yeats, Dion Fortune, Florence Farr, and Aleister Crowley. Today, upon entering the shop at Cecil Court, you are immediately struck by the deep green carpet featuring a repeating gold motif of the Egyptian god Thoth, a fitting emblem to usher you into such a bookshop.
The store is two stories and well-stocked with a wide array of occult, witchcraft, and other alternative spirituality titles. The upstairs caters to more of the new age spirituality and in the far corner and up a short flight of stairs is a delightful array of tarot cards and other divination decks. In this area you will also find a wonderful selection of jewelry and objets d’art. I would not be surprised if this is not the largest selection of tarot decks for sale in a single retail location in the city.
Venturing down two flights of stairs you will find an equally large space that contains the sections dedicated to witchcraft, Magick, Fourth Way, Tantra, and others. There is even a respectable selection of weird and occult fiction from Arthur Machen, HP Lovecraft, Robert Chambers and related authors. At the foot of the staircase is a large glass display cabinet filled with everything from 1900s leather bound editions on Egyptian magic to contemporary limited edition titles by Kenneth Grant, Andrew Chumbley, Scarlet Imprint, and others.
Watkins is always well-stocked with the the classic staples of occult literature as well as all the newest releases from independent publishers such as Starfire, Three Hands Press, Theion Publishing, Von Zos, Scarlet Imprint, and more. It’s elating to be able to browse these books on site and make informed decisions rather than ordering blind off the internet when it seems there are so many new titles released monthly.
Rounding out the list is the oldest independently owned occult bookshop in London, Atlantis Books on Museum Street, a mere stone’s throw from the front door of the British museum. It is not hard to imagine former customers such as Gerald Gardner or Aleister Crowley stopping in for a book before making their way over to the legendary Reading Room at the museum for further research.
Atlantis is a cozy little shop that radiates history from its every nook and cranny. The founder of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, spent his formative years studying with The Order of the Hidden Masters which met in the shop basement. In the 1980s it was a hotspot for Temple of Psychic Youth, Chaos Magicians, and Spare enthusiasts to linger. Even today the shop is an epicentre for the London occult underground.
The most remarkable thing to see in Atlantis is undoubtedly the portrait painting of MacGregor Mathers, co-founder and head of the Golden Dawn, which hangs prominently in the back of the store. This beautiful and haunting portrait was painted by Moina Mathers, accomplished artist, Golden Dawn adept and wife to MacGregor.
Atlantis features a wide range of occult, esoteric, and witchcraft related titles. In addition to the occult selections, the shop is a supporter of the independent publisher Tartarus Press and their Wormwood Journal, so if you are an enthusiast for decadent and weird fiction you will find many of the sumptuous hardback editions of Machen, Lorrain, and Aickman lined up on the shelves at Atlantis. You may also find candles, crystals, and scrying mirrors, as well as pieces of art and altar goods. Atlantis will also carry secondhand and rare titles on the shelf. On more than one occasion I have been thrilled to uncover some elusive precious volume while perusing the shelves on a Saturday afternoon.
After shopping at Atlantis be sure to stop in for a drink just down the road at the Museum Tavern on Great Russell Street just opposite the main entrance of the British museum. The pub was named in 1760s when the museum was built and expanded in 1855. The interior is mostly unchanged from that year. The same handcarved fixtures, coloured, and leaded glass remain. This establishment has been a staple among London occultists for over a century and a half, even old Crowley himself used to drink here. To this day, if you know where to look, you are likely to spot a tanked Typhonian or tipsy Witch inside.
These are just a few of the remarkable shops to visit while in the city and there is always more to explore. If you have a taste for the sidereal there is The Astrology Shop at 78 Neal Street and Mysteries, who focus more on psychic readings and New Age spirituality can be found at 9 Monmouth Street. You can visit all these loctons easily in an an afternon so enjoy your expolorations along these strange tributaries of esoteric London.