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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 (or magick), sorcery, and voudou, to ESP, astrology, numerology, and qabalah. Practices and beliefs that would be considered "religious" in a conventional context are typically regarded as "occult" when they are idiosyncratic, deviant, or fostered by secret societies. The traditional "occult sciences" are astrology, alchemy, and magic (particularly the evocation of spirits).
The beliefs and practices of those who consider their activities "occult" or part of "the occult" in the more ususal 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 a growing perception of the occult as a broad term for 'alternate confession.'
Interest in the occult has seen countless resurgences throughout history, possibly because some people who investigate the occult seek for meaning in their lives, while critics maintain other people interested in occult knowledge are perhaps seeking a means to power over others.
The term "occultism" as such does not appear until the middle of the 1800's, when it is associated with the magic of Eliphas Levi, esoteric antagonists of Spiritualism, and the early Theosophical Society. In the later 19th century, Gerard Encausse ("Papus") was a French advocate of occultism who was involved in various esoteric groups in addition to his own Martinist Order. In English-speaking countries, parallel developments tended to brand themselves as "Hermetic," such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor.
Historians sometimes use the term occultism in a loose sense to denote social trends that promote the study of the occult sciences. But it is also used more specifically to indicate the modern development of esotericism, in which an effort is made to reconcile traditional occult knowledge and supernatural beliefs with the perspectives of modern science and objective investigation. Notable instances of this latter sort of occultism include the 19th century groups mentioned above, as well as the "Scientific Illuminism" propounded by Aleister Crowley.
One of the more recent branches of occultism originated in the 1970s with the advent of Chaos Magic, which attempts to incorporate relatively new mathematical and scientific ideas regarding catastrophe theory and non-linear dynamics into its magical doctrines. The counter-culture of the 1960's and 70's was also a vehicle for older forms of occultism.
Various aspects of occultism are increasingly evident in popular culture, where magic is involved in a variety of fantasy books, movies and games.
- Eliade, Mircea. (1976). "The Occult in the Modern World," in Occultism, Witchcraft and Cultural Fashions. Chicago: University of Chicago.
- Faivre, Antoine. (1987). "What Is Occultism?" in Hidden Truths: Magic, Alchemy and the Occult. Edited by Lawrence Sullivan. New York: Macmillan.
- Papus (pseud. Gerard Encausse). (1913). What Is Occultism? Translated by Fred Rothwell. London: Rider & Son.
Portions of this text were originally taken from: Wikipedia. (2004). Occultism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occultism). Retrieved Sept. 23, 2004.