The occult (from the Latin word occultus "clandestine, hidden, secret") is "knowledge of the hidden" or "knowledge of the paranormal", as opposed to facts and "knowledge of the measurable", 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 pure reason and the physical sciences. The terms esoteric and arcane can also be used to describe the occult, in addition to their meanings unrelated to the supernatural.
The term occult sciences was used in the 16th century to refer to astrology, alchemy, and natural magic. The term occultism emerged in 19th-century France, where it came to be associated with various French esoteric groups connected to Éliphas Lévi and Papus, and in 1875 was introduced into the English language by the esotericist Helena Blavatsky. Throughout the 20th century, the term was used idiosyncratically by a range of different authors, but by the 21st century was commonly employed – including by academic scholars of esotericism – to refer to a range of esoteric currents that developed in the mid-19th century and their descendants. Occultism is thus often used to categorise such esoteric traditions as Spiritualism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and New Age.
Particularly since the late twentieth century, various authors have used the occult as a substantivized adjective. In this usage, "the occult" is a category into which varied beliefs and practices are placed if they are considered to fit into neither religion nor science. "The occult" in this sense is very broad, encompassing such phenomenon as beliefs in vampires or fairies and movements like Ufology and parapsychology. In that same period, occult and culture were combined to form the neologism occulture. Initially used in the industrial music scene, it was later given scholarly applications.
The idea of "occult sciences" developed in the sixteenth century. The term usually encompassed three practices—astrology, alchemy, and natural magic—although sometimes various forms of divination were also included rather than being subsumed under natural magic. These were grouped together because, according to the historian of religion Wouter Hanegraaff, "each one of them engaged in systematic investigation of nature and natural processes, in the context of theoretical frameworks that relied heavily on a belief in occult qualities, virtues or forces." Although there are areas of overlap between these different occult sciences, they are separate and in some cases practitioners of one would reject the others as being illegitimate.
During the Enlightenment, the term "occult" increasingly came to be seen as intrinsically incompatible with the concept of "science". From that point on, use of the term "occult science(s)" implied a conscious polemic against mainstream science.
Occult qualities are properties that have no known rational explanation; in the Middle Ages, for example, magnetism was considered an occult quality. Aether (classical element) is another such element. Newton's contemporaries severely criticized his theory that gravity was effected through "action at a distance", as occult.
In the English-speaking world, prominent figures in the development of occultism included Helena Blavatsky and other figures associated with her Theosophical Society, senior figures in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn like William Wynn Westcott and Samuel Liddell Mathers, as well as other individuals such as Paschal Beverly Randolph, Emma Hardinge Britten, Arthur Edward Waite, and—in the early twentieth century—Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, and Israel Regardie. By the end of the nineteenth century, occultist ideas had also spread into other parts of Europe, such as Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy.
Unlike older forms of esotericism, occultism does not reject "scientific progress or modernity". Lévi had stressed the need to solve the conflict between science and religion, something that he believed could be achieved by turning to what he thought was the ancient wisdom found in magic. The scholar of esotericism Antoine Faivre noted that rather than outright accepting "the triumph of scientism", occultists sought "an alternative solution", trying to integrate "scientific progress or modernity" with "a global vision that will serve to make the vacuousness of materialism more apparent". Hanegraaff remarked that occultism was "essentially an attempt to adapt esotericism" to the "disenchanted world", a post-Enlightenment society in which growing scientific discovery had eradicated the "dimension of irreducible mystery" previously present. In doing so, he noted, occultism distanced itself from the "traditional esotericism" which accepted the premise of an "enchanted" world. According to historian of esotericism Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, occultist groups typically seek "proofs and demonstrations by recourse to scientific tests or terminology".
Another feature of these occultists is that—unlike earlier esotericists—they often openly distanced themselves from Christianity, in some cases (like that of Crowley) even adopting explicitly anti-Christian stances. This reflected how pervasive the influence of secularisation had been on all areas of European society. In rejecting Christianity, these occultists sometimes turned towards pre-Christian belief systems and embraced forms of Modern Paganism, while others instead took influence from the religions of Asia, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. In various cases, certain occultists did both. Another characteristic of these occultists was the emphasis that they placed on "the spiritual realization of the individual", an idea that would strongly influence the twentieth-century New Age and Human Potential Movement. This spiritual realization was encouraged both through traditional Western 'occult sciences' like alchemy and ceremonial magic, but by the start of the twentieth century had also begun to include practices drawn from non-Western contexts, such as yoga.
Although occultism is distinguished from earlier forms of esotericism, many occultists have also been involved in older esoteric currents. For instance, occultists like François-Charles Barlet and Rudolf Steiner were also theosophers,[a] adhering to the ideas of the early modern Christian thinker Jakob Bohme, and seeking to integrate ideas from Bohmian theosophy and occultism.
The earliest known usage of the term "occultism" is in the French language, as l'occultisme. In this form it appears in A. de Lestrange's article on "Ésotérisme chrétien" that was published in Jean-Baptiste Richard de Randonvilliers' Dictionnaire des mots nouveaux ("Dictionary of new words") in 1842. The French esotericist Éliphas Lévi then used the term in his influential book on ritual magic, Dogme et rituel de la haute magie, first published in 1856. His use of the term deliberately acknowledged earlier practices that, since the Renaissance, had been termed "occult sciences" or "occult philosophy". It was from Lévi's usage of the term that it gained wider usage; according to Faivre, Lévi was "the principal exponent of esotericism in Europe and the United States" at that time.
The earliest use of the term "occultism" in the English language appears to be in "A Few Questions to 'Hiraf'", an 1875 article published in the American Spiritualist magazine, Spiritual Scientist. The article had been written by Helena Blavatsky, a Russian émigré living in the United States who founded the religion of Theosophy.
Various twentieth-century writers on the subject used the term "occultism" in different ways. Some writers, such as the German philosopher Theodor W. Adorno in his "Theses Against Occultism", employed the term as a broad synonym for irrationality. In his 1950 book L'occultisme, Robert Amadou used the term as a synonym for esotericism, an approach that the later scholar of esotericism Marco Pasi suggested left the term "superfluous". Unlike Amadou, other writers saw "occultism" and "esotericism" as different, albeit related, phenomena. In the 1970s, the sociologist Edward Tiryakian distinguished between occultism, which he used in reference to practices, techniques, and procedures, and esotericism, which he defined as the religious or philosophical belief systems on which such practices are based. This division was initially adopted by the early academic scholar of esotericism, Antoine Faivre, although he later abandoned it; it has been rejected by most scholars who study esotericism.
A different division was used by the Traditionalist author René Guénon, who used esotericism to describe what he believed was the Traditionalist, inner teaching at the heart of most religions, while occultism was used pejoratively to describe new religions and movements that he disapproved of, such as Spiritualism, Theosophy, and various secret societies. Guénon's use of this terminology was adopted by later writers like Serge Hutin and Luc Benoist. As noted by Hanegraaff, Guénon's use of these terms are rooted in his Traditionalist beliefs and "cannot be accepted as scholarly valid".
The term "occultism" derives from the older term "occult", much as the term "esotericism" derives from the older term "esoteric". However, the historian of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaff stated that it was important to distinguish between the meanings of the term "occult" and "occultism". Occultism is not a homogenous movement, and is widely diverse.
Over the course of its history, the term "occultism" has been used in various different ways. However, in contemporary uses, "occultism" commonly refers to forms of esotericism that developed in the nineteenth century and their twentieth-century derivations. In a descriptive sense, it has been used to describe forms of esotericism which developed in nineteenth-century France, especially in the Neo-Martinist environment. According to the historian of esotericism Antoine Faivre, it is with the esotericist Éliphas Lévi that "the occultist current properly so-called" first appears. Other prominent French esotericists involved in developing occultism included Papus, Stanislas de Guaita, Joséphin Péladan, Georges-Albert Puyou de Pouvourville, and Jean Bricaud.
In the mid-1990s, a new definition of "occultism" was put forth by Hanegraaff. According to Hanegraaff, the term "occultism" can be used not only for the nineteenth-century groups which openly self-described using that term, but can also be used in reference to "the type of esotericism that they represent". Seeking to define "occultism" so that the term would be suitable "as an etic category" for scholars, Hanegraaff devised the following definition: "a category in the study of religions, which comprises all attempts by esotericists to come to terms with a disenchanted world or, alternatively, by people in general to make sense of esotericism from the perspective of a disenchanted secular world". Hanegraaff noted that this etic usage of the term would be independent of emic usages of the term employed by occultists and other esotericists themselves.
In this definition, "occultism" covers many esoteric currents that have developed from the mid-nineteenth century onward, including Spiritualism, Theosophy, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the New Age. Employing this etic understanding of "occultism", Hanegraaff argued that its development could begin to be seen in the work of the Swedish esotericist Emanuel Swedenborg and in the Mesmerist movement of the eighteenth century, although added that occultism only emerged in "fully-developed form" as Spiritualism, a movement that developed in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century.
Pasi suggested that the use of Hanegraaff's definition might cause confusion by presenting a group of nineteenth-century esotericists who called themselves "occultists" as just one part of a broader category of esotericists whom scholars would call "occultists".
The term "occult" has also been used as a substantivized adjective as "the occult", a term that has been particularly widely used among journalists and sociologists. This term was popularised by the publication of Colin Wilson's 1971 book The Occult. This term has been used as an "intellectual waste-basket" into which a wide array of beliefs and practices have been placed because they do not fit readily into the categories of religion or science. According to Hanegraaff, "the occult" is a category into which gets placed a range of beliefs from "spirits or fairies to parapsychological experiments, from UFO-abductions to Oriental mysticism, from vampire legends to channeling, and so on".
The neologism "occulture" was used within the industrial music scene of the late twentieth century, and was probably coined by one of its central figures, the musician and occultist Genesis P-Orridge. It was in this scene that the scholar of religion Christopher Partridge encountered the term. Partridge used the term in an academic sense. He stated that occulture was "the new spiritual environment in the West; the reservoir feeding new spiritual springs; the soil in which new spiritualities are growing".
In contemporary history, the third millennium is a period of time that started on January 1, 2001, and will end on December 31, 3000 of the Gregorian calendar. It is distinct from the millennium known as the 2000s which began on January 1, 2000 and will end on December 31, 2999.Doctor Occult
Doctor Occult is a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. Created by Superman's creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Doctor Occult, referred to by the epithet the "Ghost Detective", is a private investigator and user of magic who specializes in cases involving the supernatural. Doctor Occult is the earliest character created by DC Comics still currently used in the DC Universe.Esoteric Tarot
Esoteric Tarot is the art of reading Tarot cards, which is the practice of using cards to gain insight into the past, present or future by formulating a question, then drawing and interpreting cards. Reading Tarot cards is a type of cartomancy.Fecal occult blood
Fecal occult blood (FOB) refers to blood in the feces that is not visibly apparent (unlike other types of blood in stool such as melena or hematochezia). A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) checks for hidden (occult) blood in the stool (feces).Other tests look for globin, DNA, or other blood factors including transferrin, while conventional stool guaiac tests look for heme.Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (; German: [aˈgʀɪpa]; 14 September 1486 – 18 February 1535) was a German polymath, physician, legal scholar, soldier, theologian, and occult writer.Isaac Newton's occult studies
English physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton produced many works that would now be classified as occult studies. These works explored chronology, alchemy, and Biblical interpretation (especially of the Apocalypse). Newton's scientific work may have been of lesser personal importance to him, as he placed emphasis on rediscovering the occult wisdom of the ancients. In this sense, some historians, including economist John Maynard Keynes, believe that any reference to a "Newtonian Worldview" as being purely mechanical in nature is somewhat inaccurate. Historical research on Newton's occult studies in relation to his science have also been used to challenge the disenchantment narrative within critical theory.After purchasing and studying Newton's alchemical works, Keynes, for example, opined in 1942 at the tercentenary of his birth that "Newton was not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians." In the Early Modern Period of Newton's lifetime, the educated embraced a world view different from that of later centuries. Distinctions between science, superstition, and pseudoscience were still being formulated, and a devoutly Christian biblical perspective permeated Western culture.Major Arcana
The Major Arcana is the name given by occultists to the picture cards of a 78-card tarot deck. These cards which, in those decks also used for Tarot card games serve as a permanent trumps, are distinguished from the remaining cards, which are known by occultists as the Minor Arcana. The terms "Major" and "Minor Arcana" are used in the occult and divinatory applications of the deck (not by card players) and originate with Jean-Baptiste Pitois, writing under the name Paul Christian.Michael Dummett writes that the Major Arcana originally had simple allegorical or exoteric meaning, mostly originating in elite ideology in the Italian courts of the 15th century when it was invented. The occult significance only began to emerge in the 18th century when Antoine Court de Gébelin (a Swiss clergyman and Freemason) published Le Monde Primitif. The construction of the occult and divinatory significance of the tarot, and the Major and Minor Arcana, continued on from there. For example, Court de Gébelin argued for the Egyptian, kabbalistic, and divine significance of the tarot trumps: Etteilla created a method of divination using tarot: Eliphas Lévi worked hard to break away from the Egyptian nature of the divinatory tarot, bringing it back to the tarot de Marsailles, creating a "tortuous" kabbalastic correspondence, and even suggested that the Major Arcana represent stages of life. The Marquis Stanislas de Guaita established the Major Arcana as an initiatory sequence to be used to establish a path of spiritual ascension and evolution. Finally Sallie Nichols, a Jungian psychologist, wrote up the tarot as having deep psychological and archetypal significance, even encoding the entire process of Jungian individuation into the tarot trumps. These various interpretations of the Major Arcana developed in stages, all of which continue to exert significant influence on practitioners' explanations of the Major Arcana to this day.Masonic conspiracy theories
Masonic conspiracy theories are conspiracy theories involving Freemasonry; hundreds of such conspiracy theories have been described since the late 18th century. Generally, these theories fall into three distinct categories: political (usually involving allegations of control of government, particularly in the United States and the United Kingdom), religious (usually involving allegations of anti-Christian or Satanic beliefs or practices), and cultural (usually involving popular entertainment). Many conspiracy theory writers have connected Freemasons (and the Knights Templar) with worship of the devil; these ideas are based on different interpretations of the doctrines of those organizations.Of the claims that Freemasonry exerts control over politics, perhaps the best-known example is the New World Order theory, but there are others. These mainly involve aspects and agencies of the United States government, but actual events outside the US (such as the Propaganda Due scandal in Italy) are often used to lend credence to claims.
In 1833, John Quincy Adams wrote to Edward Livingston, explaining his anti-Masonic stance in the wake of the Morgan Affair: “I do conscientiously and sincerely believe that the Order of Freemasonry, if not the greatest, is one of the greatest moral and political evils under which the Union is now laboring.”Another set of theories has to do with Freemasonry and religion, particularly that Freemasonry deals with "the occult". These theories have their beginnings in the Taxil hoax. In addition to these, there are various theories that focus on the embedding of symbols in otherwise ordinary items, such as street patterns, national seals, corporate logos, etc.
There are Masonic conspiracy theories dealing with every aspect of society. The majority of these theories are based on one or more of the following assumptions:
That Freemasonry is its own religion, requires belief in a unique Masonic "god", and that belief in this Masonic "god" is contrary to the teachings of various mainstream religions (although usually noted in terms of being specifically contrary to Christian belief)
That the 33rd degree of the Scottish Rite is more than an honorary degree, coupled with the belief that most Freemasons are unaware of hidden or secretive ruling bodies within their organization that govern them, conduct occult ritual, or control various positions of governmental power
That there is a centralized worldwide body that controls all Masonic Grand Lodges, and thus, all of Freemasonry worldwide acts in a unified manner.Noah23
Noah Raymond Brickley (born February 10, 1978), better known by his stage name Noah23, is a Canadian-American hip hop artist from Guelph, Ontario. He is co-founder of the Plague Language collective and record label, and has been described as "one of Canada's best, most underrated MCs".Numerology
Numerology is any belief in the divine or mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names, and ideas. It is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts.Despite the long history of numerological ideas, the word "numerology" is not recorded in English before c.1907.The term numerologist can be used for those who place faith in numerical patterns and draw pseudo-scientific inferences from them, even if those people do not practice traditional numerology. For example, in his 1997 book Numerology: Or What Pythagoras Wrought, mathematician Underwood Dudley uses the term to discuss practitioners of the Elliott wave principle of stock market analysis.Occult detective fiction
Occult detective fiction combines the tropes of detective fiction with those of supernatural horror fiction. Unlike the traditional detective, the occult detective is employed in cases involving ghosts, curses, and other supernatural elements. Some occult detectives are portrayed as being themselves psychic or in possession of other paranormal powers.Occultation
An occultation is an event that occurs when one object is hidden by another object that passes between it and the observer. The term is often used in astronomy, but can also refer to any situation in which an object in the foreground blocks from view (occults) an object in the background. In this general sense, occultation applies to the visual scene observed from low-flying aircraft (or computer-generated imagery) when foreground objects obscure distant objects dynamically, as the scene changes over time.Occultism in Nazism
Nazism and occultism describes a range of theories, speculation and research into the origins of Nazism and its possible relation to various occult traditions. Such ideas have been a part of popular culture since at least the early 1940s, and gained renewed popularity starting in the 1960s. There are documentaries and books on the topic, among the most significant are The Morning of the Magicians (1960) and The Spear of Destiny (1972). Nazism and occultism has also been featured in numerous films, novels, comic books and other fictional media. A prominent example is the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
Historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke analyzed the topic in The Occult Roots of Nazism in which he argued there were in fact links between some ideals of Ariosophy and Nazi ideology. He also analyzed the problems of the numerous popular occult historiography books written on the topic. He sought to separate empiricism and sociology from the modern mythology of Nazi occultism that exists in many books which "have represented the Nazi phenomenon as the product of arcane and demonic influence". He considered most of these to be "sensational and under-researched".Outline of parapsychology
Parapsychology is a field of research that studies a number of ostensible paranormal phenomena, including telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, and apparitional experiences.Tarot
The tarot (; first known as trionfi and later as tarocchi, tarock and tarot) is a pack of playing cards, used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play games such as Italian tarocchini, French tarot and Austrian Königrufen. Many of these tarot card games are still played today. In the late 18th century, some Tarot packs began to be used in parallel for divination in the form of tarotology and cartomancy and, later, specialist packs were developed for such occult purposes.
Like common playing cards, the tarot has four suits (which vary by region: French suits in Northern Europe, Latin suits in Southern Europe, and German suits in Central Europe). Each suit has 14 cards, ten pip cards numbering from one (or Ace) to ten and four face cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Jack/Knave). In addition, the tarot has a separate 21-card trump suit and a single card known as the Fool. Depending on the game, the Fool may act as the top trump or may be played to avoid following suit. These tarot cards, without occult symbology, are still used throughout much of Europe to play card games.
In English-speaking countries, where these games are not played, tarot cards are used primarily for divinatory purposes, usually using specially designed packs. The cards are traced by some occult writers to ancient Egypt or the Kabbalah but there is no documented evidence of such origins or of the usage of tarot for divination before the 18th century.The Psychology of the Occult
The Psychology of the Occult is a 1952 skeptical book on the paranormal by psychologist D. H. Rawcliffe. It was later published as Illusions and Delusions of the Supernatural and the Occult (1959) and Occult and Supernatural Phenomena (1988) by Dover Publications. Biologist Julian Huxley wrote a foreword to the book.The Skeptic's Dictionary
The Skeptic's Dictionary is a collection of cross-referenced skeptical essays by Robert Todd Carroll, published on his website skepdic.com and in a printed book. The skepdic.com site was launched in 1994 and the book was published in 2003 with nearly 400 entries. As of January 2011 the website has over 700 entries. A comprehensive single-volume guides to skeptical information on pseudoscientific, paranormal, and occult topics, the bibliography contains some seven hundred references for more detailed information. According to the back cover of the book, the on-line version receives approximately 500,000 hits per month.
The Skeptic's Dictionary is, according to its foreword, intended to be a small counterbalance to the voluminous occult and paranormal literature; not to present a balanced view of occult subjects.Warlock
A warlock is a male practitioner of magic (compare wizard, sorcerer). The most commonly accepted etymology derives warlock from the Old English wǣrloga meaning "oathbreaker" or "deceiver". In early modern Scots, the word came to be used as the male equivalent of witch (which can be male or female, but is used predominantly for females). From this use, the word passed into Romantic literature and ultimately 20th-century popular culture. A derivation from the Old Norse varð-lokkur, "caller of spirits", has also been suggested, but the OED considers this implausible due to the extreme rarity of the Norse word and because forms without hard -k, which are consistent with the Old English etymology (“traitor”), are attested earlier than forms with a -k.Western esotericism
Western esotericism, also called esotericism, esoterism, and sometimes the Western mystery tradition, is a term under which scholars have categorised a wide range of loosely related ideas and movements which have developed within Western society. These ideas and currents are united by the fact that they are largely distinct both from orthodox Judeo-Christian religion and from Enlightenment rationalism. Esotericism has pervaded various forms of Western philosophy, religion, pseudoscience, art, literature, and music, continuing to affect intellectual ideas and popular culture.
The idea of grouping a wide range of Western traditions and philosophies together under the category that is now termed esotericism developed in Europe during the late seventeenth century. Various academics have debated how to define Western esotericism, with a number of different options proposed. One scholarly model adopts its definition of "esotericism" from certain esotericist schools of thought themselves, treating "esotericism" as a perennialist hidden, inner tradition. A second perspective sees esotericism as a category that encompasses movements which embrace an "enchanted" world-view in the face of increasing disenchantment. A third views Western esotericism as a category encompassing all of Western culture's "rejected knowledge" that is accepted neither by the scientific establishment nor by orthodox religious authorities.
The earliest traditions which later analysis would label as forms of Western esotericism emerged in the Eastern Mediterranean during Late Antiquity, where Hermetism, Gnosticism, and Neoplatonism developed as schools of thought distinct from what became mainstream Christianity. Renaissance Europe saw increasing interest in many of these older ideas, with various intellectuals combining "pagan" philosophies with the Kabbalah and Christian philosophy, resulting in the emergence of esoteric movements like Christian theosophy. The seventeenth century saw the development of initiatory societies professing esoteric knowledge such as Rosicrucianism and Freemasonry, while the Age of Enlightenment of the eighteenth century led to the development of new forms of esoteric thought. The nineteenth century saw the emergence of new trends of esoteric thought that have come to be known as occultism. Prominent groups in this century included the Theosophical Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Modern Paganism developed within occultism, and includes religious movements such as Wicca. Esoteric ideas permeated the counterculture of the 1960s and later cultural tendencies, from which emerged the New Age phenomenon in the 1970s.
Although the idea that these varying movements could be categorised together under the rubric of "Western esotericism" developed in the late eighteenth century, these esoteric currents were largely ignored as a subject of academic enquiry. The academic study of Western esotericism only emerged in the late twentieth-century, pioneered by scholars like Frances Yates and Antoine Faivre.
Esoteric ideas have meanwhile also exerted an influence in popular culture, appearing in art, literature, film, and music.