My interest in the occult goes back to when I was probably about 11. I had been interested in mythology from before then, but the occult started to really loom large once I got nearer to puberty.
My main sources of information were the local library on Shepherds Bush Road, which had an occult section on the ground floor north wall, which was what I used to head straight for. Library books had the advantage of not being destroyable by my mother. My own possessions did not have that protection, but library books crossed a line for her I guess.
Secondly though, there was WH Smith, the stationery chain, which reflected the popular occult explosion of the early 70s by stocking books by Kenneth Grant on Aleister Crowley, “The Great Beast” by John Symonds with lurid cover lettering (I always remember the quote on the back – “I’m a hell of a holy guru”), coffee table books on magic and witchcraft, the entire “Dennis Wheatley Library of the Occult”, and the “Rider-Waite” (Smith-Waite) tarot pack which became the first real mass distribution tarot pack. I got my first set of tarot cards there, and in 1974 got my first “how to” book on magic by David Conway.
I didn’t really know that there were occult bookshops though, till a friend of mine told me about The Equinox in Kensington, which was owned by Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.
It seems pretty typical that, being a couple of school kids in the mid 70s, we’d gravitate to a shop we knew of through its association with Led Zeppelin. My friend’s name was Astrid, and we shared an interest in the occult, tarot cards, and magic. We talked quite a bit about Alex and Maxine Sanders, Aleister Crowley, David Bowie and Hawkwind, in no particular order. She said a friend of her’s had got hold of human bones for a “science project” and was going to go into a cemetery to perform a necromantic ritual, but had chickened out. Ah well, who knows, we were 15.
I think the outside of the bookshop was painted black, but the inside walls were light, and it was nicely lit. The till was just near the door, and there was a frame next to the till that ran up to the ceiling, with a sheet of glass in it, etched with an image of Eliphas Levi’s Baphomet. It was rather stylish. The shop sign that hung outside had the Crowley “Equinox” design painted on it.
The guys who were behind the till (as I remember) weren’t very friendly, and reminded me of those aloof, grumpy hippies that didn’t really want to be around people. Once when I was looking for books in there I found one to peruse and, being a good aspiring teen hippie in 1975, I sat cross legged on the floor to have a look at the book in more detail. Over came padding the till man, really quickly, to tell me that people weren’t allowed to sit on the floor in the shop. So I didn’t. To be truthful, the impression you got was a little more paranoid than just concern for shop lifting.
I bought a few books from there: “Meditations on the Signs of the Zodiac” (lost by a friend of mine), “Mastering Witchcraft” by Paul Huson, which I bought with Astrid and which my mother took and destroyed, and “The Horoscope, The Road and its Travellers” by Alan Oken, which I still have. I also bought a tiny, pale blue covered, pamphlet like edition of The Book of the Law, which I think they kept on the counter. I remember reading the “comment”, where it says “It is wise to destroy this copy after the first reading” and freaking out lol. I didn’t keep it.
The Equinox was kinda beautiful, glamorous and a bit fucked up, and it was in a perfect, leafy place, between Biba’s and Kensington Gardens. And it has the place of being my first occult bookshop.