The Kybalion by "Three Initiates"

Boing Boing guestblogger Mitch Horowitz is author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation and editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin publishers.

One of the oddest and most enduring occult books of modern times is called The Kybalion. Dan Brown mentions it twice in The Lost Symbol. The book exists in a multitude of editions and claims to be an ancient work of practical occult wisdom. Its pages brim with canny advice on how to get what you want from life. The "author" of The Kybalion is a hidden entity called Three Initiates. Speculation rages online that one of these Three Initiates was a twentieth-century magician, occultist, and writer named Paul Foster Case. Case, so the theory goes, co-conceived the popular book in early twentieth-century Chicago, a city bustling with occult impresarios. I consider the Case connection and The Kybalion in Occult America:
KybalionnnnnChicago was a great city for a budding occultist in the early twentieth century. It was home to the influential New Thought teacher Emma Curtis Hopkins and hosted bustling subcultures in "mental science" and metaphysical publishing. A Chicago lawyer named William Walker Atkinson produced an imaginative array of occult books from his Yogi Publication Society based in the twenty-two-story Masonic Temple Building, once a jewel of the city's skyline and later demolished. Atkinson himself wrote many books, under the pseudonyms Yogi Ramacharaka, Magus Incognito, and, most famously, Three Initiates. The Chicagoan used the last of these aliases in 1908 to publish his most successful book, one of the occult classics of the twentieth century: The Kybalion.
This compendium of "lost" Egyptian-Hermetic wisdom read a lot like New Thought principles recast in antique language but nonetheless enthralled readers, partly due to the secrecy of its authorship. A long-standing rumor, which now abounds online, named Paul Foster Case as one of the Three Initiates. But The Kybalion reads to the letter like Atkinson, and it was published before the two men would have been likely to meet. The Kybalion is often misdated to 1912. But the copyright and first edition were actually from 1908, when Case had barely arrived in the city. The error arose from a 1940 edition in which the publisher listed the initial registration as 1912, almost certainly in an attempt to reassert control over a copyright that had fallen into public domain after failing to be renewed at the required 28-year interval.
Whatever its authorship, The Kybalion is an enticing guide to wise-living. I publish a new, redesigned edition at Tarcher/Penguin, which is probably the first to specifically credit Atkinson on the about-the-author page. The Kybalion


  1. Okay,
    I’m all for BoingBoing pimping stuff as much as the next guy, heck, I’ll try my best to bend them to my will if I need be…

    but to mention a thing (The Kybalion), then drop a quote about it (from Occult America), and then another from it and have ALL THE LINKS GO TO AMAZON! is kinda crap.

    Either let us read the whole section from your book, or reference an online free version…or…um…well…

    I dunno..something to justify our reading this entry other than a complete tease to get us to buy your shit.


    I’m all for pimping…but at least give us the whole chapter from your book. Otherwise you’re not even a good pimp. You’re just a tease.

    1. smonkey,

      You’re on a free website, reading an article by a guest blogger, and you’re complaining that he might make five cents from an Amazon referral. And, since someone else managed to find the book online, you’re actually just complaining that he didn’t spoonfeed it to you.

  2. That the book is freely available would seem to make this post rather more concerning, not less, considering that the post doesn’t mention this.

  3. I’ve actually got a copy of this book, and I really liked it. There is a fair amount of esoteric wisdom packed into it’s pages. If you’re into the occult/esoteric stuff it’s definitely worth at least a browsing. It is available online for free. You guys gave me a pleasant surprise!! I didn’t really ever expect to see anyone post about it. I thought that I was the only one who knew about it, nobody I know has ever heard of it!

  4. FYI, Worldcat (a great big mother catalog that most libraries in the US drop their catalogs into) shows an edition of the Kybalion from 1905, held at Stanford, Penn State, and three other libraries. Certainly might be a cataloging error, but if not, further support for your it-wasn’t-Atkinson argument. Loving this series!

  5. Given the recent ruling that bloggers must specifically state whether they are being paid for a review, is that something that would apply to something a benign as the affiliate links BoingBoing has peppered throughout this post?

    Technically you are getting paid by Amazon from those links…

  6. Wow, I haven’t heard anyone else mention The Kybalion in ages and ages! I must have read it for the first time more than 15 years ago. I also got Dynamic Thought and The Science of Breath, also by the Yogi Publication Society. I regularly recommend The Science of Breath, which is available for free on-line, too, if you Google it. Well worth the read. Though, shilling for Amazon aside, I do prefer the physical books. The ones I have are all bound in the same lacquered blue book cloth and are bound almost the same way the Masonic books I got from the Grand Lodge were, which was one of the reasons I liked them.

    Hilarious to me that Dan Brown refers to The Kybalion in his latest. Funny!

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