The Occult Bookstore
Long time no see, readers!
Apologies for not having anything up last week; I was out of state all Memorial Day weekend, and swung from that trip right into a move to a new apartment. Now that things are settled, we’re returning to our regularly scheduled broadcast.
This week, I took a trip to the Occult Bookstore.
Occult Bookstore is in West Town, at Milwaukee and Division, just a stone’s throw south of Wicker Park. There’s a Blue Line stop a few hundred feet away from the shop, and the Milwaukee, Division and Ashland buses all stop right there too.
Bear with me, as this post will be a little less multimedia than usual – Occult Bookstore did not allow me to take pictures. Now, I saw a sign or two, and assumed this was for the same reason it always is: bookstores don’t want people taking pictures of their books just for a $5 coupon of blood money from Amazon.
Of course, I don’t include pictures of barcodes on my blog, and the only pictures of individual books I have are ones I’ve taken off the shelves already, so no harm no foul, right?
Well, at Occult Books (as you may have guessed), things are a bit different.
See, the store’s layout is a very simple open floor with low-slung displays, and bookshelves lining the outer walls. This being a store of the occult, its clientele buy a number of things beside books, like paraphernalia for the practicing of witchcraft or divination, various positive-energy totems, ingredients for potions and foods with powers beyond simple nutrition. The books are an anchor from which more esoteric items unfurl their oddity.
The top of the shelves are the area of picture-refusal interest. See, the entire ring serves as a “live altar,” where the shopkeepers and customers place items and totems as offerings or wards or what-have-you. Some of the customers, I was informed, hold beliefs either of or similar to the Shinto faith (and various Native American faiths - these are all my examples, not anybody from the shop’s), which hold that everything, from people on down to rocks and pens, has a spirit. Shinto, of course, doesn’t really have a stance one way or the other on taking pictures, but some of the people who use the altar are of the belief that cameras disrupt the spirits.
Thus I was told that taking pictures was not allowed, though I suspect barcode scanning certainly isn’t either.
Anyway, the shop as I said is not large or labyrinthine, and has an ambiance designed according to what you might expect in a bookstore of the occult: the smell of incense, low lighting, soft instrumental music playing. It’s a very relaxing environment, and I could easily have spent double the time I did within the walls.
The book selections do not disappoint either. There are texts on religious or spiritual doctrines that are little-known, or contrary to mainstream thought, or invented midway through the 20th century, or whatever qualifying condition makes for an “alternative” form of religiosity. There are also books on psychology, that of course do not discriminate by only including recent thought – they go back to Freud, and present all the riotous theories of the mind from the century since all on one set of shelves. There are books about spirit creatures, and demons, and one or two on aliens (though that subject was not well-covered, as the idea of aliens visiting Earth is ludicrous). There is an expansive selection of Eastern religion, if we may still ethically generalized Asian cultures as such. The I Ching is in residence, there are tarot instruction manuals and self-actualization texts. There is also a selection of novels and pulp paperbacks, mostly dealing either with the occult directly or with religious subjects (mainly critically) in general.
I almost bought a novel detailing the “2,000 year old corrupt cult and multinational $3 trillion corporation” that is the Catholic Church in its last days, but opted for what appears to be a more central occult text – at least in the philosophical realm.
As it is whenever it can be, the website is linked above, and Occult Bookstore’s facebook is here. Visit both, visit the store, take in the atmosphere, maybe buy a talisman for good luck on your finals or performance review or something. Chicago’s better off with this historic treasure, and I’m sure they’d love to be reminded with some traffic.