The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus (clandestine, hidden, secret), referring to "knowledge of the hidden".[1] In the medical sense it is used to refer to a structure or process that is hidden, e.g. an "occult bleed"[2] may be one detected indirectly by the presence of otherwise unexplained anaemia.

The word has many uses in the English language, popularly meaning "knowledge of the paranormal", as opposed to "knowledge of the measurable",[3][4] usually referred to as science. The term is sometimes popularly taken to mean "knowledge meant only for certain people" or "knowledge that must be kept hidden", but for most practicing occultists it is simply the study of a deeper spiritual reality that extends beyond pure reason and the physical sciences.[5] The terms esoteric and arcane can have a very similar meaning, and the three terms are often interchangeable.[6][7]

The term occult is also used as a label given to a number of magical organizations or orders, the teachings and practices taught by them, and to a large body of current and historical literature and spiritual philosophy related to this subject.



Occultism is the term used to describe the study of occult practices including (but not limited to) magic, alchemy, extra-sensory perception, astrology, spiritualism, and divination. Intepretation of occultism and its concepts can be found in the belief structures of religions such as Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Wicca, Satanism, Thelema, and Neopaganism[8]. A broad definition is offered by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke:

OCCULTISM has its basis in a religious way of thinking, the roots of which stretch back into antiquity and which may be described as the Western esoteric tradition. Its principal ingredients have been identified as Gnosticism, the Hermetic treatises on alchemy and magic, Neo-Platonism, and the Kabbalah, all originating in the eastern Mediterranean area during the first few centuries AD.[9]

From the 15th to 17th century, these ideas that are alternatively described as Western esotericism, which had a revival from about 1770 onwards, due to a renewed desire for mystery, an interest in the Middle Ages and a romantic "reaction to the rationalist Enlightenment."[10]. Alchemy was common among highly important seventeenth-century scientists, such as Isaac Newton,[11] and Gottfried Leibniz.[12] Newton was even accused of introducing occult agencies into natural science when he postulated gravity as a force capable of acting over vast distances.[13] "By the eighteenth century these unorthodox religious and philosophical concerns were well defined as 'occult', inasmuch as they lay on the outermost fringe of accepted forms of knowledge and discourse,"[10] They were, however, preserved by antiquarians and mystics.

Based on his research into the modern German occult revival (1890–1910), Goodrick-Clarke puts forward a thesis on the driving force behind occultism. Behind its many varied forms apparently lies a uniform function, "a strong desire to reconcile the findings of modern natural science with a religious view that could restore man to a position of centrality and dignity in the universe.[14] Since that time many authors have emphasized a syncretic approach by drawing parallels between different disciplines.[15]

Direct insight into our perception of the occult does not usually consist of access to physically measurable facts, but is arrived at through the mind or the spirit[verification needed]. The term can refer to mental, psychological or spiritual training[verification needed]. Many occultists have studied science (perceiving science as an adjunct to alchemy) to add validity to occult knowledge in a day and age where the mystical can easily be undermined as flights of fancy. An oft-cited means of gaining insight into the occult is the use of a focus; a physical object, a ritualistic action (for example, meditation or chanting), or a medium in which one becomes wholly immersed. These are just a few examples of the vast and numerous avenues that can be explored.

Science and the occultEdit

To the occultist, occultism is conceived of as the study of the inner nature of things, as opposed to the outer characteristics that are studied by science. The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer designates this "inner nature" with the term Will, and suggests that science and mathematics are unable to penetrate beyond the relationship between one thing and another in order to explain the "inner nature" of the thing itself, independent of any external causal relationships with other "things".[16][original research?] Schopenhauer also points towards this inherently relativistic nature of mathematics and conventional science in his formulation of the 'World as Will'. By defining a thing solely in terms of its external relationships or effects we only find its external, or explicit nature. Occultism, on the other hand, is concerned with the nature of the "thing-in-itself". This is often accomplished through direct perceptual awareness, known as mysticism. From the scientific perspective, occultism is regarded as unscientific as it does not make use of the scientific method (that is, observation and experimentation) to obtain facts.

Occult qualitiesEdit

In the Middle Ages, occult qualities were physical properties that had no rational explanation. At that time magnetism was sometimes called an occult quality.[17]

Religion and the occultEdit

Some religious denominations view the occult as being anything supernatural or paranormal which is not achieved by or through God (as defined by those religious denominations), and is therefore the work of an opposing and malevolent entity. The word has negative connotations for many people, and while certain practices considered by some to be "occult" are also found within mainstream religions, in this context the term "occult" is rarely used and is sometimes substituted with "esoteric".

Religious Jewish ViewsEdit

In Rabbinic Judaism, an entire body of literature, collectively known as Kabbalah has been dedicated to what some might call occult science. Major books dedicated Kabbalah include Sefer Yetzirah, The Zohar, Pardes Rimonim, and Eitz Chaim. For a more exhaustive look at these subjects, see Kabbalah.

Though there is a popular myth that one must be a 40 year old Jewish man, and learned in the Talmud before one is allowed to delve into Kabbalah, Chaim Vital says exactly the opposite in his introduction to Eitz Chaim. There he argues that it is incumbent on everyone to learn Kabbalah - even those who are unable to understand the Talmud. Further, the father of the Lurianic School of Kabalah, Isaac Luria (known as the Ari HaKadosh, or the Holy Lion) was not yet 40 years old when he passed away.

Christian ViewsEdit

Christian authorities have generally regarded occultism as heretical whenever they met this: from early Christian times, in the form of gnosticism, to late Renaissance times, in the form of various occult philosophies.[18] Though there is a Christian occult tradition that goes back at least to Renaissance times, when Marsilio Ficino developed a Christian Hermeticism and Pico della Mirandola developed a Christian form of Kabbalism,[19] mainstream institutional Christianity has always resisted occult influences, which are:[20]

  • monistic in contrast to Christian dualistic beliefs of a separation between body and spirit;
  • generally not monotheistic, frequently asserting a gradation of human souls between mortals and God; and
  • sometimes not even theistic in character.

Furthermore, there are heterodox branches of Esoteric Christianity that practice divination, blessings, or appealing to angels for certain intervention, which they view as perfectly righteous, often supportable by gospel (for instance, claiming that the old commandment against divination was superseded by Christ's birth, and noting that the Magi used astrology to locate Bethlehem). Rosicrucianism, one of the most celebrated of Christianity's mystical offshoots, has lent aspects of its philosophy to most Christian-based occultism since the 17th century.

Hindu ViewsEdit

Tantra, originating in India, includes amongst its various branches a variety of ritualistic practices ranging from visualisation exercises and the chanting of mantras to elaborate rituals involving sex or animal sacrifice, sometimes performed in forbidden places such as cremation grounds. Tantric texts were at one stage unavailable for mass public consumption due to the social stigma attached to the practices. In general, Tantra was predominantly associated with black magic and the Tantriks were held in great dishonor.

See alsoEdit


  1. Crabb, G. (1927). English synonyms explained, in alphabetical order, copious illustrations and examples drawn from the best writers. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co.
  2. Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide. Harvard Medical School 2005. 1272 pages ISBN 0684863731
  3. Underhill, E. (1974). Mysticism, Meridian, New York.
  5. Blavatsky, H. P. (1897). Occultism of the secret doctrine. [Whitefish, Mont.]: Kessinger Publishing, LLC.
  6. Houghton Mifflin Company. (2004). The American Heritage College Thesaurus. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Page 530.
  7. Wright, C. F. (1895). An outline of the principles of modern theosophy. Boston: New England Theosophical Corp.
  8. Nevill Drury., The Watkins Dictionary of Magic, ISBN-10 1842931520. p. 03
  9. Goodrick-Clarke, Nicholas (1985). The Occult Roots of Nazism. p. 17. ISBN 0850304024. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Goodrick-Clarke (1985): 18
  11. Newton's Dark Secrets.
  12. Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716)
  13. Edelglass et al., Matter and Mind, ISBN 0940262452. p. 54
  14. Goodrick-Clarke (1985): 29
  15. IAO131. Thelema & Buddhism in Journal of Thelemic Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, Autumn 2007, pp. 18-32
  16. Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation
  17. Religion, Science, and Worldview: Essays in Honor of Richard S. Westfall, Margaret J. Osler, Paul Lawrence Farber, Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0521524938
  18. Gibbons, B. J. (2001). Spirituality and the occult: from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. London: Routledge. pp. 2. 
  19. Yates, Frances Amelia (1979). The occult philosophy in the Elizabethan age. New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul. pp. 1-5. 
  20. Surette, Leon (1993). The birth of modernism: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, and the occult. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press. pp. 12-15. 


Further readingEdit

  • Bardon, Franz (1971). Initiation into Hermetics. Wuppertal: Ruggeberg.
  • Fortune, Dion (2000). The Mystical Qabala. Weiser Books. ISBN 1578631505
  • Gettings, Fred, Vision of the Occult, Century Hutchinson Ltd, 1987. ISBN 0712614389
  • Martin, W., Rische, J., Rische, K., & VanGordon, K. (2008). The Kingdom of the Occult. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing.
  • Regardie, I., Cicero, C., & Cicero, S. T. (2001). The Tree of Life: An Illustrated Study in Magic. St. Paul, Minn: Llewellyn Publications.
  • Rogers, L. W. (1909). Hints to Young Students of Occultism. Albany, N.Y.: The Theosophical Book Company.
  • Shepard, Leslie (editor), Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology, Detroit, Mich. : Gale Research Co., 1978
  • Spence, Lewis, Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 1920.
  • Davis, R., True to His Ways: Purity & Safety in Christian Spiritual Practice (ACW Press, Ozark AL, 2006), ISBN 1932124616.

External linksEdit


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