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The occult (from the Latin word occultus "clandestine, hidden, secret") is "knowledge of the hidden".[1] In common English usage, occult refers to "knowledge of the paranormal", as opposed to "knowledge of the measurable",[2] usually referred to as science. The term is sometimes taken to mean knowledge that "is meant only for certain people" or 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,[3] the terms esoteric and arcane can also be used to describe the occult,[4][5] in addition to their meanings unrelated to the supernatural.

It also describes 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.


Reconstruction of the "Holy Table" as used by John Dee

Occultism is the study of occult practices, including (but not limited to) magic, alchemy, extra-sensory perception, astrology, spiritualism, religion, and divination. Interpretation of occultism and its concepts can be found in the belief structures of philosophies and religions such as Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, Theosophy, Ancient Egyptian religion, Obeah,[6] modern paganism, Eastern philosophy (including Indian philosophy),[7][8] Western esotericism[9][10] and Christian mysticism.

Goodrick-Clarke suggested that the varied forms of occultism share "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".[11] From the 15th to 17th century, these ideas 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".[12] Alchemy was common among important seventeenth-century scientists, such as Isaac Newton,[13] and Gottfried Leibniz.[14] Newton was even accused of introducing occult agencies into natural science when he postulated gravity as a force capable of acting over vast distances.[15] "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".[12] They were, however, preserved by antiquarians and mystics.

Occult science[edit]

Occult science[16] is the systematic research into or formulation of occult concepts in a manner that resembles the way natural science researches or describes phenomena.

The idea of Occult Science appears in late-19th and early 20th-century occultism, especially Theosophy, including:

  • Helena Blavatsky, who describes it as "The science of the secrets of nature — physical and psychic, mental and spiritual" [17]
  • Rudolf Steiner, whose Occult Science, a sequel to his earlier work Theosophy, deals with the evolution of the human being and the cosmos, as well as referring to the attainment of supersensible knowledge;
  • Alice Bailey, who brought the idea of occult science into association with esoteric astrology.

Kabbalah and Tarotology have also been described as occult sciences; Papus (Gerard Encausse)'s book originally published in French in 1889 as Le Tarot des Bohémiens: Le plus ancien Livre du monde, was translated into English in 1910 as The Tarot of the Bohemians: The Absolute Key to Occult Science.

In his 1871 book Primitive Culture, the anthropologist Edward Tylor used the term "occult science" as a synonym for "magic".[18]

Occult qualities[edit]

Occult qualities are properties that have no known rational explanation; in the Middle Ages, for example, magnetism was considered an occult quality.[19][20] Aether (classical element) is another such element.[21] Newton's contemporaries severely criticized his theory that gravity was effected through "action at a distance", as occult.[22]

Religion and the occult[edit]

Some religions and sects enthusiastically embrace occultism as an integral esoteric aspect of mystical religious experience, this attitude is common in Wicca and many other modern pagan religions. Some other religious denominations disapprove of occultism in most or all forms, they may 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".

Christian views[edit]

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.[23] Mainstream Christianity has always resisted occult influences, which are:[24]

  • Monistic in contrast to Christian dualistic beliefs of a separation between body and spirit;
  • Gnostic i.e. involving the acquisition of secret knowledge rather than based on scripture and open church tradition
  • Seen as involving practices such as divination and calling on spirits which are forbidden in the Bible
  • Not monotheistic, frequently asserting a gradation of human souls between mortals and God; and
  • Sometimes not even theistic in character.

Despite this, the churches as institutions 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.[25]

See also[edit]


  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. ^ Underhill, E. (1911). Mysticism, Meridian, New York.
  3. ^ Blavatsky, H. P. (1888). The Secret Doctrine. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing.
  4. ^ Houghton Mifflin Company. (2004). The American Heritage College Thesaurus. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Page 530.
  5. ^ Wright, C. F. (1895). An outline of the principles of modern theosophy. Boston: New England Theosophical Corp.
  6. ^ "Obeah: Afro-Caribbean Spiritual System". www.africaspeaks.com. Retrieved 2017-05-17. 
  7. ^ "Occult Science in India: Part I. The Doctrine of the Pitris: Chapter I, the Initiated at the Ancient Temples". www.sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2017-05-17. 
  8. ^ "Full text of "The mystic test book of "The Hindu occult chambers" : the magic and occultism of India : Hindu and Egyptian crystal gazing : the Hindu magic-mirror"". archive.org. Retrieved 2017-05-17. 
  9. ^ "A Beginner's Guide to the Western Occult Tradition". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2017-05-17. 
  10. ^ Nevill Drury, The Watkins Dictionary of Magic, ISBN 1-84293-152-0. p. 03
  11. ^ Goodrick-Clarke (1985): 29
  12. ^ a b Goodrick-Clarke (1985): 18
  13. ^ Newton's Dark Secrets.
  14. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 12 September 2014. 
  15. ^ Edelglass et al., Matter and Mind, ISBN 0-940262-45-2. p. 54
  16. ^ Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (2013). "The Notion of "Occult Sciences" in the Wake of the Enlightenment". Retrieved 6 March 2017. 
  17. ^ Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna (2007). The Key to Theosophy by H. P. Blavatsky. Theosophy Trust Books. ISBN 9780979320521. 
  18. ^ Hanegraaff, Wouter J. (2006). Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism. Leiden: Brill. p. 716. ISBN 9789004152311. 
  19. ^ Religion, Science, and Worldview: Essays in Honor of Richard S. Westfall, Margaret J. Osler, Paul Lawrence Farber, Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-521-52493-8
  20. ^ http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/007327538602400401?journalCode=hosa
  21. ^ Gibbons, B.J., Spirituality and the Occult: From the Renaissance to the Modern Age
  22. ^ Gerd Buchdahl, "History of Science and Criteria of Choice" p. 232. In Historical and Philosophical Perspectives of Science v. 5 (ed. Roger H. Stuewer)
  23. ^ Yates, Frances Amelia (1979). The occult philosophy in the Elizabethan age. New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul. pp. 1–5. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ Gibbons, B. J. (2001). Spirituality and the occult: from the Renaissance to the twentieth century. London: Routledge. p. 2. 


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