Occultism: Western Occult Tradition

The study of hidden knowledge

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Rumor, conspiracy theories, and Hollywood have created a very warped image of occult studies. This leads many to use the word as though it were synonymous with black magic and demon worship.

In truth, the occult is something both much more general and much less inherently threatening. The word literally means "hidden," which is why multiple scientific fields use the term. When a medical test detects something existing in too small of an amount to be visible, for example, they describe it as the occult.

The Study of Hidden Knowledge

In religion, occultism (or occult studies) is the study of hidden knowledge. This in and of itself can be interpreted several ways, including:

  • Knowledge kept from the wider population, offered only to initiates after proper preparation. Reasons for this commonly include the belief that such knowledge is dangerous to the unprepared, and that revealing sacred knowledge to the common populace profanes that knowledge.
  • Knowledge disguised by God for only the select few to comprehend. Multiple Renaissance occultists, for example, wrote of the Book of Nature, that is to say, the physical universe. Within this book are clues and messages, left by God, which can be found and deciphered by those both educated and worthy.
  • Knowledge of realms, energies, or abilities not recognized by the general populace. The most common use of the term occult in this way is in relation to the practice of magic. In a wider sense, anything supernatural or paranormal might be included.

Occultism is often considered roughly synonymous with esoteric and mystical. These two far less threatening terms are often used in conjunction with branches of mainstream and alternative religions alike.

Paths of the Western Occult Tradition

There are countless practices around the world that might be labeled as the occult. Discussions of the occult here primarily focus on occultism in the Western world, commonly called the Western Occult Tradition or the Western Esoteric Tradition.

Some Eastern beliefs have been incorporated into various Western paths. The systems overall are still primarily Western and are generally rooted in older, Western beliefs.

There is no single, overreaching definition of the Western Occult Tradition. Rather, it is composed of a wide variety of different paths and practices such as Hermeticism, Kabbalah, astrology, and numerology.

Many occultists follow practices involving aspects of multiple paths, which makes generalizing about the occult extremely difficult. In addition, not all followers of these paths label themselves occultists. Outsiders should be sensitive to such differences in definition.

Occult Organizations

There are a wide variety of organizations which are acutely occult in their focus and commonly describe themselves as occult, esoteric, or both. Some of the more well-known organizations include:

  • Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
  • Rosicrucians (Order of the Rose Cross)
  • Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.)
  • Society of the Inner Light
  • Servants of the Light
  • Theosophical Society
  • Temple of Set
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Your Citation
Beyer, Catherine. "Occultism: Western Occult Tradition." Learn Religions, Dec. 28, 2020, learnreligions.com/occultism-western-occult-tradition-95693. Beyer, Catherine. (2020, December 28). Occultism: Western Occult Tradition. Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/occultism-western-occult-tradition-95693 Beyer, Catherine. "Occultism: Western Occult Tradition." Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/occultism-western-occult-tradition-95693 (accessed June 3, 2023).