People often confuse the words occultism and the occult with the word cult. This confusion is rather unfortunate, considering the terms do indeed have different meanings and connotations.
What is a Cult?
A cult usually involves a small group of people with a specific leader or group of leaders that have a religious belief or practice that other people regard as strange, taboo, or sinister. Often, this leader is controlling and, in some manner, abusive, though, comes across as charming and charismatic. Most cult leaders refuse to admit they are wrong and use techniques of deception, conditioning, punishment, and guilt to control the cult members. While some cults may indeed be into occultism, certainly not all of them are. Likewise, not every person who practices or studies occultism is a cult leader or wants to have a cult of followers.
What is the Occult?
Speaking of occultism, this is the focus on the theory and practice of what most people consider to be supernatural powers or beings. Traditionally, occultism is broken into four main categories: divination, psychic ability, magick, and metaphysics.
Divination is the study of any system that is thought to be able to make predictions about life, a person’s personality, or the world. Examples include astrology, numerology, tarot, tea leaf reading, runes, palmistry, and so forth.
Psychic ability involves studying things such as telepathy, ESP, remote viewing, astral traveling, clairvoyance, clairaudience, empathy, clairsentience, and so forth.
Magick is a broad category covering the use of the mind and various rituals to enhance the use of the brain so that it can influence, control, or change the self or the world. Examples would include ceremonial magick, ritualistic magick, witchcraft, mind control, remote influencing, the law of attraction, and so forth.
Metaphysics is another broad category that involves the study of those things which exist beyond the physical world. This may include anything in the other three groups, along with ghosts, demons, angels, monsters, life after death, chakras, the kabala, and so forth.
This term occultism comes out of 19th century France and is most often associated with Helen Blavatsky, the founder of theosophy.
The term occult essentially means hidden knowledge. In essence, anything that most people do not have standard knowledge or understanding could be termed occult. For example, it’s not common knowledge of what the tarot cards mean – thus, reading tarot is an occult practice. It is also not common knowledge that astrology involves more than just your Sun sign or Horoscope sign, therefore, reading a natal astrology chart would be an occult practice. Likewise, most people know or have a rudimentary knowledge of how to read a book – so reading a book would not be considered part of occultism.
Is the Occult Bad?
Over the years, occultism has gained a somewhat taboo reputation in the world. This is partly to be blamed on Hollywood and partially due to the “bad apples” that have done horrible things in the name of the occult. Nazism, for example, did not help occultists – as Hitler was very much pursuing occult knowledge for less than stellar purposes.
This knee jerk reaction of hatred towards those who practiced occultism was not always typical in society. At one time, the term occult was often times associated with and went hand in hand with the term science. Thus, occultism was, at least at one time, a type of science that studied those things beyond the physical world.
During the “enlightenment” period of the 17th to 19th centuries, however, occultism became more polar opposite of science. Out of this came both feelings of hatred towards and disbelief in most all occult practices and studies. This was especially true for those who were very much aligned with the scientific method and the rational mind that often goes along with the study of science.
From a strictly fundamentalist Christian point of view, occultism is considered sinful because it deals with activities that one could use to attempt to surpass God’s knowledge and wisdom. A big no-no among the vast majority of Christian circles.
Additionally, the Bible directly condemns certain occult activities in both the Old and New Testament – especially those related to astrology, spirit mediumship, channeling, magick, and the majority of divination systems.
Of course, the more one is initiated into the deeper understandings of the Kabala or its counterpart of any Eastern philosophy (such as yoga or the chakras), the more one realizes that intention is an integral part of how everything works in our world.
Unfortunately, many will fail to grasp and understand the basics of these systems. Worse, they may not take the time to expand their consciousness and mind enough to learn some of the more profound philosophical viewpoints associated with them. As a result, they are much better off clinging to what they were taught through tradition and adhering strictly to it.
Consider this, metaphysics would say what one believes creates reality. In some cases, our reality is even produced by our unconscious hidden beliefs. Thus, it is essential to consider what we truly believe.
So, when a person considers the Bible and everything in it as the basis for life, they would be foolish to abandon that basis and stray from it. Doing so would result in inner guilt (conscious or unconscious) that could be destructive to the ego’s sense of self and lead to the creation of a miserable life.
However, if a person does not hold this belief, it would be equally as damaging to try to force the self to adhere to the ideas that others desire them to follow. Doing something that they really have no belief in is equivalent to lying to themselves, which results in inner guilt (conscious or unconscious). This could also be destructive to the ego’s sense of self and thus lead to the creation of a miserable life.
The point is – you must know who you are – not be what others want you to be. You must know what you believe, and you must freely choose those beliefs and adhere strictly to them if you are to live a life of joy and happiness.
Who are Some Famous Occultists?
Many brilliant minds have studied occultism. Though some will undoubtedly argue that the list that follows is made up of “quacks,” much of the groundwork of modern occult thought can be found based on their writings. This is especially true as it relates to New Age and Metaphysical philosophy. Do note that obviously not ever occultist has been included in this list.
- Hermes Trismegistus
- Roger Bacon
- Sir Walter Raleigh
- Sir Isaac Newton
- Albert Pike
- Evangeline Adams
- Helena Blavatsky
- Arthur Conan Doyle
- Marie Laveau
- Samuel L. MacGregor Mathers
- Pamela Colman Smith
- Arthur Edward Waite
- William Wynn Westcott
- William Butler Yeats
- Charles Webster Leadbeater
- Paul Twitchell
- Margot Adler
- Alice Bailey
- Christian Bernard
- David Bowie
- Ray Buckland
- Laurie Cabot
- D. J. Conway
- Carlos Castaneda
- Aleister Crowley
- Dion Fortune
- Gerald Gardner
- John Michael Greer,
- Timothy Leary
- Harvey Spencer Lewis
- Ralph Maxwell Lewis
- Jim Morrison
- Israel Regardie
- Jane Roberts
- Alex Sanders
- Eckhart Tolle
- Doreen Valiente
Occultism typically has nothing to do with cult activity. There is much misunderstanding about occultism due to Hollywood, some “bad apples,” and the opposition of some religious groups. Despite this, occultism can be a valuable tool for empowering the self and the development of the psyche. In other words, it’s just as helpful as psychology in working through and overcoming various real-world problems that life presents.