- For other uses of this term, see occult (disambiguation).
The word occult comes from Latin occultus (hidden), referring to the 'knowledge of the secret' or 'knowledge of the hidden' and often meaning 'knowledge of the supernatural', as opposed to 'knowledge of the visible' or 'knowledge of the measurable', usually referred to as science. The modern term's meaning is often imprecisely translated and used as a term for 'secret knowledge' or 'hidden knowledge', in the sense of meaning 'knowledge meant only for certain people' or 'knowledge that must be kept hidden'. Therefore in the context of this terms contemporary meaning in western societies anything referred to with the term occult is often regarded as superstitious.
The ancient Greek term for occult is esoteric.
Many people, especially Conservative Christians, use the term to refer to a number of practices which they disapprove of on religious grounds but which those who participate in for the most part do not consider occult. These include the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, heavy metal music, and sometimes even Catholicism.
Occultism is the study of supposed occult or hidden wisdom. It is a 'grey' area, perhaps larger than any other in the realm of religion. It can deal with subjects ranging from talismans, magic (alternatively spelt and defined as magick), sorcery, and voudou, to ESP, astrology, numerology, and lucid dreams. It is all encompassing in that most everything that isn't claimed by any of the major religions is included in the realm of the occult. Even qabalah has been considered an occult study, perhaps because of its popularity amongst magi and Wiccans.
Direct insight into or perception of the occult is said not to consist of access to physically measurable facts, but to be arrived at through the mind or the spirit. The term can refer to mental, psychological or spiritual training. An oft-cited means of gaining insight into the occult is the use of a focus. A focus may be a physical object, a ritualistic action (for example, meditation or chanting), or a medium in which one becomes wholly immersed.
The beliefs and practices of those who consider their activities "occult" or part of "the occult" in the more usual western interpretation 'hidden knowledge' (ceremonial magicians, Satanists, and so on) are generally far from being secret or hidden, being found very easily in print or on the Internet. This ready availability is historically recent and corresponds to a reduced interest in traditional religion and the promulgation by occultists of the perception of the occult as a broad term for a radical alternative to orthodoxy.
Occultism has seen countless resurgences throughout history, possibly because some people who investigate the occult seek for meaning in their lives.
Many occult practices remained within the circles of the subcultures until the nineteenth century when various academics and practitioners popularized occult studies. Occultists like Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, Eliphas Levi, Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Arthur Edward Waite who later influenced other occultists such as Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune.
In the nineteenth century there were various occult orders and schools of thought that were forged and some continue to flourish to this day. Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Ordo Templi Orientis are two examples of magical lodges that were formed by early nineteenth century occultist with rituals based on the Kabbalah, ceremonial magic, and Masonic ritual.
The fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, who did not himself believe in the occult, would have an important effect on the subculture as the pessimistic realism of Lovecraft's worldview ultimately predict and described the course of the coming century. In a word, Lovecraft has dated much better, arguably, than the ceremonialists of the nineteenth century.
Between World War I and World War II the centre of occult and mystical activity was shifted from France to Belgium. Belgium became the main centre for many brotherhoods and secret societies of which many branches still exist today.
One of the more recent branches of Occultism originated in the 1970s with the advent of chaos magic. Under the meta-belief that "Nothing Is True, Everything is Permitted", chaos magic encouarges the occultist to deliberately paradigm shift in order to achieve magical results and to believe everything and nothing.
The most recent resurgence is in a large way due to paperback editions of Simon's Necronomicon, movies like The Craft, and the never-out-of-print works of authors such as Lovecraft, Anton LaVey, Gerina Dunwich and Robert Anton Wilson have ensured occultism a permanent place in western popular culture.