Andy Sharp – The Astral Geographic: The Watkins Guide to the Occult World
A Book Review by Tony Jones
A fascinating non-fictional travel guide into the world of the occult
Most lifelong horror readers or viewer of films will undoubtedly have a passing interest of the occult or witchcraft, if only from the screen or literature. However, upon reading The Astral Geographic, the majority of us will quickly realise how little we genuinely know (and I am not too proud to lump myself into that group of novices). Whilst I found this a fascinating read, particularly in regard to places I had happened to visit, much went straight over my befuddled head. I am not implying author Andy Sharp does a shoddy job here, far from it, there is an incredible amount of detailed information to unpack and the author comes across as a genuine authority on the interconnected subjects of the occult, witchcraft, magic, astral projection and others.
It is worth being absolutely clear on what this book is not: you will not find the Amityville Horror house, Count Dracula connections with the town of Whitby, other famous haunted locations, the iconic stairwell from The Exorcist film or stuff related to the pop culture of 20th Century horror. It is much more focussed in locations which have strong connections to the history of the occult and places which have a deeper meaning to some of the personalities featured. Although the book includes some very whacky subjects, a few bordering on parapsychology or pseudoscience, it is presented in a very readable, informative and non-sensationalist manner. Andy Sharp brings a lot of authority to subjects which some might have a good laugh about, sex magic for example, but if you are interested in broadening your knowledge of occult history this is an outstanding place to start.
Astral Geographic is partially presented in the same way as a genuine travel guidebook, I found this rather funny as if you were to make a genuine attempt to follow some of the ten magical tours (brought together as geographically as possible) through the history of the occult it might cost you an absolute fortune! For example, I was particularly interested in the numerous references to Fulcanelli (one of many occasions I found myself reaching for Wikipedia) and if you were to follow the path of this shadowy French alchemist you would be travelling to several locations in France, then both Scotland and England. However, the book does not need to be read cover-to-cover and you can dip in and out at any point which was a major plus-point. I loved how the author gives his unique perspective on often very well-known locations, such as Holyrood Palace Gardens (Edinburgh, Scotland) and I would be intrigued to know whether what is in Astral Geographic features in official tourist blurbs!
Here and there a few hotel recommendations, bars, restaurants and other locations to check out are provided. These came across as slightly half-hearted as there were just not enough of them to genuinely nudge the book into official guidebook territory. However, if I ever find myself in Biskra (Algeria) I will be sure to look up the Hotel Royal which is close to the location where Aleister Crowley travelled in the Algerian desert and performed magick and if folklore from the time is to believed was inhabited by a demon. This was a fascinating chapter as Crowley is a unique titan when it comes to 20th Century magic and Andy Sharp skilfully recreates, in a very non-sensationalist manner, what Crowley was trying to achieve in the desert all those years ago.
It is no surprise that ‘The Great Beast’ as Crowley was sometimes known pops up in numerous other places and I first came across him well over thirty years ago via Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, who collected Crowley memorabilia. At one stage Page owned Boleskine House (near Loch Ness in the north of Scotland) which was much earlier owned by Crowley, where he supposedly performed a ritual called the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, where he raised a demon which he was later unable to banish. According to myth this was the cause of weird and unexplained goings on in the house down the years and in the early nineties me and a group of friends drove past the house for a closer look. We briefly spoke to a guy who might have been the owner, who said; “yes, we do get a fair few wallies passing by….” Although not mentioned in this book, the myth of Crowley most certainly lives on at Boleskine!
The majority of the locations featured are in Europe, parts of north Africa, Asia and a section on India, with relatively few references in the USA, although I did enjoy the brief appearances of both Charles Manson and Kenneth Anger at William Westerfeld House, San Francisco. The current owner of this house has preserved this building’s strange history, however, with many locations at first (or second) glance you would have no obvious way of connecting them to the occult. Chiswick House and Gardens is such an example, situated in central London and with strong connections to Freemasonry and masonic practices and rituals.
Along the way, Astral Geographic also has other standalone essays not related to specific travel and are labelled ‘Journey Deeper’ with these articles being the most complex. Stone Henge is amongst the best-known location covered, along with other stone circles connected to the ancient druids and a deeper dive into the rise and fall of witchcraft. I also enjoyed the Sinister Stones section, which took in the cult film The Wicker Man, as it was filmed around Castle Kennedy Gardens Stranraer and the nearby town of Kirkcubright in the south of Scotland, a place I lived as a small boy, so had considerable personal interest in.
The book would have benefited from having more photographs, otherwise the ground it covered was remarkably thorough and meticulously researched, encompassing witch trials, paintings with occult connections, novelists such as Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, the Vikings, the Gnostics and grimores. Astral Geographic closes with a section on rituals and how to achieve mastery of astral travel (don’t think I’ll be giving it a go!) and has both an excellent further reading list and index.
The Astral Geographic: The Watkins Guide to the Occult World
The only travel guide to the occult world, featuring 10 itineraries of magical tours across the globe and illustrated with Shell guide-style collage artworks, retro-looking postcard imagery and route maps. How to tell the story of magic through geography.
This terrific book is a guide to the occult world, featuring 10 itineraries and maps of magical tours across the globe. Spanning countries and continents in pursuit of occult themes, it is meant to be pursued by the astral or armchair traveller rather than on the ground, although we expect readers to be inspired to plan epic trips of their own. It takes a fantastically fresh approach to the occult, with a nod to the retro Shell Guides in the use of collage artwork and humorous, on-point suggestions of places to stay and eat. Expand your occult horizons by trying these tours – and many more!
– Necromancy through the Ages Tour: Travel from Ancient Nineveh to northern England, tracing sites of necromantic practice.
– Crowley & Choronzon Desert Tour: Hike across the Algerian desert in the footsteps of the magicians Aleister Crowley and Victor Neuburg, invoking angels and meeting the terrifying demon Choronzon.
– The Descent & Rise of Witchcraft Tour: Visit the temples of Hekate and Circe in Turkey and Italy, the Spanish sites of the Inquisition’s Witch-hunts, and the haunts of the Norse sorceresses.
– Curse, Protect and Divine Tour: Travel across Europe to the United States and Kenya unearthing buried curses and counter-magic, from tiny frog coffins in Finnish churches to sinister village hexes.
After completing the journeys, the book offers the unique Geonomicon – a simple divinatory and meditational tool that invites the reader to develop their own creative approach to magical practice.