Occult Horror: The 20 Best Books Like Ninth House

The occult is an extremely wide umbrella, encompassing almost anything supernatural, demonic, or even just secret societies with secret plans. It certainly doesn’t hurt that people have been using “occult” as a means of othering things they consider evil throughout history.

Best Books Like Ninth House

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo takes the idea of the occult as sorcerers and witches, secret societies just below the surface of our world. While Ninth House leans more to the fantasy side of things though, we’re going to explore some horror titles with ties to the same unknown occult themes of the novel.

The real occult is the thing that makes us question whether there are powers beyond our own. Is someone or something else in charge of our existence? Is that thing helping us or torturing us? The subgenres split anywhere from folk horror to cosmic, with everything possible in between. So, put on your robe and wizard hat while we take a look into some of the best books featuring the occult and strange beyond our comprehension.

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

Lovecraft Country: A Novel

The HBO Series gets a lot of love, and rightfully so, but it’s more of a loose adaptation of the book if not a companion piece to it. While Lovecraft Country follows the same characters, it presents itself more as a series of vignettes reinterpreting stories of Lovecraft and others while turning the prominent racism of its inspiration upside down.

There’s a surprisingly wholesome aspect to some of it too, with slice-of-life style renovations and daily routines in a haunted house, and a Jekyll and Hyde-inspired romance subplot is a phenomenal ride.

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Legion by William Peter Blatty

Legion (The Exorcist, 2)

Legion is “technically” a sequel to The Exorcist, but that’s putting it a bit loose as it follows Lieutenant Kinderman as he tracks a deadly ritualistic killer. While it’s not the same possession tale as the first novel, the occult and demons are still around every corner thanks to the demented killer.

Also, the movie adaptation is actually really well directed (by Blatty himself!) and has the best jumpscare in cinema history.

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Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt

HEX

Personal experience incoming: Hex haunted me for days after finishing it. The cold isolation of the town that can’t be left and the ever-present, ever-wandering witch with her eyes and mouth sewn shut kept me awake and still gives me chills. The book just keeps building until one of the most hellish climaxes is put to page.

Hex is a rare book that also humanizes and empathizes with the story’s villain, asking who the real monsters were in the situations that created her and establishing a seeming connection with some characters. There’s a ton of deep lore behind the town as well, with excellent worldbuilding by the author.

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Red Rain by RL Stine

Red Rain

RL Stine’s second go at adult horror fiction was divisive on release, but has aged pretty well since. The Goosebumps author, inspired by old movies like Village of the Damned, crafts a story about creepy kids and deadly rituals that makes Damian in The Omen look like an angel (looking for something like Goosebumps but for a more grownup audience? Check out R.L Stine’s YA series Fear Street).

The book does suffer from some of Stine’s Goosebumps tropes near the end, but it’s still a fun ride and makes for a quick but terrifying read.

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Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Rosemary's Baby

Can’t necessarily talk about the occult without mentioning Rosemary’s Baby. The book marked a sea-change in horror fiction and film about a pregnant woman at the center of a Satanic conspiracy. Rosemary’s Baby is chilling because of just how vulnerable Levin makes Rosemary, a woman who’s only ever wanted a child but ends up pregnant with the Antichrist. Not much silver lining to look at in that situation.

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Last Days by Adam Nevill

Last Days

A found footage film in the form of a book, Last Days follows a documentary filmmaker as he explores the history of a notorious death cult. Nevill’s descriptions are vivid and gruesome, and the cult’s 1975 massacre is described in vivid detail as the filmmaker becomes more and more obsessed with his subject.

By the end, there’s a palpable sense of paranoia as nothing feels safe, with a terrifying end creeping ever closer.

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The Croning by Laird Barron

The Croning

Laird Barron alone could fill this list. and be justified in every single entry. However, most of his occult fiction is in short story form and available in various collections, while The Croning is one of his essential works and ties together a load of his “Children of Old Leech” mythos in a novel format.

What this becomes is occult rituals, secret societies, and cosmic beings that can scramble brains faster than a Florida sidewalk in July. It’s a trippy, creepy ride from beginning to end.

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The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen

The Great God Pan and The Inmost Light: A House Of Pomegranates Esoteric Edition

There can’t be any overstating how much of an influence Arthur Machen had on horror, with The Great God Pan being cited as an influence by everyone from Lovecraft to King. The story was far ahead of its time in 1894.

An attempt at seeing a spiritual dimension leads to a series of murders much later as a man works with others in his town to solve the mystery before more occur. It’s all at once a paranoid thriller and a monster story, along with being one of the earliest examples of cosmic horror.

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Revival by Stephen King

Revival: A Novel

Speaking of The Great God Pan’s influence, King’s Revival is one of the said books that was highly impacted by Machen’s work. An addict musician retraces the life of a preacher he knew as a young boy that denounced god after his wife and son died. The same preacher is now leading spiritual revivals and healing people with seeming miracles at county fairs when the protagonist catches up.

What follows is one of King’s best works of the last decade, an occult thriller with hints of Frankenstein mixed in among the madness. The climax is something that completely turns the book around and makes it even more terrifying on a reread.

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The Devil In Silver by Victor Lavalle

The Devil in Silver: A Novel

Patients in a psychiatric hospital fight back against a demon haunting their halls at night. That’s just a brief overview of the plot but Lavalle shines with characters, and these are some of the most charming he’s created so far. 

The scares come at a quick pace and when least expected, leaving a surreal sense of danger around everything. The crumbling medical facility and occult nature of the beast are eerie and make the book feel like a fever dream. 

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Hell House by Richard Matheson

Hell House

Richard Matheson was prolific, writing multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone along with I Am Legend. Hell House is a terrifying monster on its own though, independent of his other stories. Four paranormal experts take the offer for metric tons of money to stay in what is supposedly the world’s most haunted house.

What follows is just a wild descent into horror and perversion between the house’s occult history and current haunting. Matheson describes everything vividly, but with a poetic detail that makes it still demand to be read.

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Ancient Images by Ramsey Campbell

Ancient Images

A cursed film, a hushed cast, crew, and a missing person are just the start of Ancient Images, Ramsey Campbell’s occult analog horror tale. There’s just an air of dread around everything after the main character Sandy begins to hunt down the missing film after her friend dies, and it steadily weighs heavier as each page passes, leading to an occult analog horror before it was cool.

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My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

My Best Friend's Exorcism: A Novel

Take The Exorcist, slap in some comedy and eighties nostalgia, then sprinkle a coming-of-age story while mixing and you’ll have My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Hendrix continues playing with tropes just like he established in his breakout Horrorstor, but this time while poking fun at occult and possession tropes while giving a heartwarming story about two friends growing up.

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Ritual by David Pinner

Ritual: La novela que inspiró The Wicker Man (Heroes Modernos) (Spanish Edition)

Ritual was the inspiration for The Wicker Man, which should be enough of a selling point except Ritual exceeds it in every way. Sure there’s the same plot of a police officer visiting a mysterious community to investigate a ritual murder, but the book is so, so much darker.

A devout Christian police officer begins looking into a ritualistic child murder, then discovers the entire town is in on the murders and conspiracies is just the tip of the iceberg, with the book going an entirely different direction than the burning pyre for an ending.

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A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Head Full of Ghosts, A

What could go wrong with having a television crew film a supposedly possessed teenager and her family during the exorcism process? Everything. Tremblay’s novel is all at once a tribute to The Exorcist and its occult themes while setting a new standard for psychological horror, giving a snapshot into what it would be like to transplant that story to the time of Tumblr and reality television.

The story is told from the perspective of the possessed girl’s sister, and the end will leave you questioning who exactly may have been the possessed one in the family as everything comes into question.

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Ringu by Koji Suzuki

Ring (Ring Series, Book 1)

The book that spawned the Japanese film Ringu and the American remake The Ring is on a whole other level than the films, with the cursed videotape and creepy child in a well just being the starting points. Suzuki goes all in, expanding on the story of Sadako and the occult beginnings of the tape beyond the first book into a series of novels.

Be warned that the novels go off the rails at speeds that would make a Nascar driver blush, but in a good way. The novels become surprisingly dense with lore as they go on, leading to a full, thriving world within the story.

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Negative Space by BR Yeager

Negative Space

Yeager came out of nowhere with Negative Space, almost too timely with its themes of disaffected youth and a need to belong leading to cult behavior and a body count. It’s a book that defies every expectation by setting up a world so weird but confident that it works, no questions asked except for “is there more?”.

Advanced warning: This book deals with a lot of heavy themes like self-harm, addiction, and suicide. Just be careful if those may be triggers for you.

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The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley

Devil Rides Out (Duke de Richleau)

The Devil Rides Out is an occult thriller, horror, and siege book all in one. Centering around two men on a mission to save their friend from an occult society, they end up with another rescue and have to hide out for a night while defending against dark magic attacks and the Angel of Death itself.

Wheatley has an understated influence on the occult, with Devil Rides Out released in the 1930s before such stories were widely accepted by popular culture, though it did catch on with newer generations as the benchmark it is.

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Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimmscribe by Thomas Ligotti

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe

A short story collection is nice to break up the novels now and then. Give some more bite-sized horror to slow down, you know? Unless the collection is by Thomas Ligotti, in which case you’ll be left paranoid and thinking there’s something just over your shoulder and out of sight.

These are two of Ligotti’s collections combined, and about the only way to find them these days. Every story is a winner but the price is worth it for the final story in Grimscribe alone, The Shadow at the Bottom of the World. Ligotti fuses the best elements of Lovecraft and Machen for a terrifying read that will stay with you once the lights go out.

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The Rising by Brian Keene

The Rising: Author's Preferred Edition

The Rising got criminally underlooked during the zombie boom of the late 2000s, which is a shame because the zombies in The Rising and its sequel City of the Dead are such unique takes on the genre. Instead of an infection that spreads through a bite, these undead are demons possessing bodies. There’s no limit either, as some of these possessions are downright gruesome.

The intelligence of the demons in control sets The Rising apart, giving a more cunning and dangerous villain that can think and act, unlike standard zombies. The cast of protagonists is likable, with the main character going on a cross-country mission to save his son along with a disgraced priest and recovering addict. There’s plenty of bite with horror and humor sprayed in gratuitously, just like the blood.

Buy it on Amazon

There are so many more books that could be included on this list, with even more being short story collections. Occult horror is everywhere, you just have to be willing to see past the thin veil covering it.

FAQ

What makes something an occult horror?

There’s almost no limit to what can become occult horror. Even the smallest of additions or hints at something supernatural controlling things, some ritual for power or revenge, or some sort of secret societies or dealings can make anything into an occult horror. All it needs is some sense of unknowing and unease about the world surrounding the characters and supernatural elements, whether real or implied.

Does occult horror have any popular subgenres?

Countless. The occult is one of the oldest themes in horror, leading to the creation of sub genres that have quickly grown. Whether it be the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft, the gothic romance of Anne Rice, or the folk horror of Stephen Graham Jones. The occult is everywhere.

Who are some of the best occult horror writers?

The earliest and most influential of occult horror are Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood, both having an extreme impact with their writings. The occult horror genre these days is kept sturdy by a few select authors like Laird Barron, John Langan, and Stephen Graham Jones.

Does a story have to be supernatural to be occult?

Not necessarily. While supernatural stories fit into the occult qualifications, it’s not a requirement for the occult genres. There’s a very large subgenre of occult detective stories that don’t involve the supernatural at all, but investigate secret societies and ritualistic killings that are occult in nature. While not always horror, they can make for a fun, pulpy read to lighten the mood after any of the books on this list.

Since it’s such a large genre, where do I start?

There are easy entry points to the genre not discussed in detail here, though quite a few on the list above are also easily accessible. For being over a hundred years old, The Great God Pan still reads extremely modern and is public domain, so can be found easily. Stephen King’s novella N is also a fantastic introduction to the genre.

Public domain? Does that mean some stories are free?

Yes! Public domain means that the copyright or trademark has expired and the work is free to the public for viewing and use. A lot of books can be found online in any E-reader format, with many being available from The Gutenberg Project and the Library of Congress.

Also, get a library card! Your local library likely has a lot of these available, and if not, speak to the librarian and they may be able to order it for you. It’s always great to support local libraries and bookstores.

Best Public Domain Horror Books

1. Casting the Runes by M.R. James
2. Dreams in the Witch House by HP Lovecraft
3. The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers
4. The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
5. The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs
6. The House on the Borderlands by William Hope Hodgson
7. The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce
8. Green Tea by Sheridan Le Fanu
9. The Dead Smile by Francis Marion Crawford
10. Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

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