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The Basics: What Is Occultism and the Source of Magical Knowledge?

The Six Points on “Magic”: Theosophy rejects Supernaturalism and Miracle explains the source of Magical Knowledge, according to Occultists themselves, rather than the explanation their opponents are solely able to offer, as in “God did it” or “Satan did it.” Read William Q. Judge on Theosophical Criticisms of Western Occultism to delve more into the Theosophical Position. Here we explain what is Occultism, by simple use of its etymology, and expanding on the meaning of that in relation to Theology.

Post Updated 9/2/2020


The term, occult dates to the 1530s from the Middle French, occulte (“secret, not divulged”), and the Latin occultus (“hidden, concealed, secret). The term occult, in the 1540s is used to mean, “not apprehended by the mind, beyond the range of ordinary understanding, or senses.” It is associated with astrology, magic, alchemy, etc., in the 1630s.

In the 17th c., Agrippa began The Occult Philosophy with this poem:

Pragmatick Schoolmen, men made up of pride, And rayling Arguments, who truth deride, And scorn all else but what your selves devise, And think these high-learned Tracts to be but lies, Do not presume, unless with hallowed hand, To touch these books who with the world shall stand; They are indeed mysterious, rare and rich, And far transcend the ordinary pitch.” (Io. Booker) — The Epigraph from the 1651 English Translation of Cornelius Agrippa’s De Occulta Philosophia

Academicians were as skeptical then, as now. Christianity regarded magic, except its own “miracles” as superstition or even satanic. The occultist and ancient theosophists maintain, that intelligence is a fundamental property in nature, and that the divine essence can be interacted with through metaphysical and alchemical processes. Revealing the theories underlying these processes corrects superstitions.

The OCCULT in Western Dictionaries refer to super-NATURALISM, and psychic manipulation of forces. Occultists argued that their knowledge proceeds from an understanding of the natural laws, and the correlation of forces in nature and man.

They describe the different types of practitioners who utilize variant methods in producing results.

“The thaumaturgists of all periods, schools, and countries, produced their wonders, because they were perfectly familiar with the imponderable — in their effects — but otherwise perfectly tangible waves of the astral light. They controlled the currents by guiding them with their will-power. The wonders were both of physical and psychological character; the former embracing effects produced upon material objects, the latter the mental phenomena of Mesmer and his successors. This class has been represented in our time by two illustrious men, Du Potet and Regazzoni, whose wonderful powers were well attested in France and other countries. Mesmerism is the most important branch of magic; and its phenomena are the effects of the universal agent which underlies all magic and has produced at all ages the so-called miracles. The ancients called it Chaos; Plato and the Pythagoreans named it the Soul of the World. According to the Hindus, the Deity in the shape of Æther pervades all things. It is the invisible, but, as we have said before, too tangible Fluid. Among other names this universal Proteus — or “the nebulous Almighty,” as de Mirville calls it in derision — was termed by the theurgists “the living fire,” the “Spirit of Light,” and Magnes.

This last appellation indicates its magnetic properties and shows its magical nature. For, as truly expressed by one of its enemies — [[magos]] and [[magnes]] are two branches growing from the same trunk, and shooting forth the same resultants.” (H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, Vol. 1, pg. 129)

Therefore, a real knowledge of forces stems from a thorough knowledge of the latent and potent powers in matter, and their correlations in nature. The highest science of Occultism, or GNOSIS is Divine Knowledge, SELF-Knowledge, and is most commonly expressed in the Delphic inscription: MAN KNOW THYSELF. This is real Occultism, not “Dark Arts.”

According to the OCCULT PHILOSOPHY of Theosophy, “spiritual” phenomena is rooted in MOTION, but the term, Occultism or Esotericism is too much equated in our day — far removed from the Medieval period — with “nefarious” action, or SORCERY.

Blavatsky stated in her Studies n Occultism, that the lack of language in the English to define the reality of the occult was a problem, so how would one be able to define and shade the difference between those abnormal powers, or sciences that lead to the acquisition of them.

“…a magical performance based on Knowledge of the forces of Nature and their correlation [is] simply “Knowledge of the Soul,” true Wisdom… but which means far more. This last is the only kind of Occultism that any theosophist (…) who would be wise and unselfish, ought to strive after.”


Occultism (Lat. occultus) is a term that is used synonymous with secret doctrine, or esoteric philosophy, though the former term is less used, because of the stigma of occult as signifying “evil” and heterodox “superstitions.” Occult Philosophy is a term, also used by theosophists as a synonym of the philosophy or system they promulgate, for occultism is “the science that deals with things hidden in nature.” The Mahatma Letters are subtitled, e.g., an “Exposition of Occult Philosophy.” So, even since Agrippa’s time in 1650, there still existed many minds who were against any subject under the title of Occult Philosophy, or Magic, regarding it as arts of the forbidden, of dark things and heresies, or a signifier of sorcery and superstition. R. Laurence Moore states on conspiratorial notions used as a tactic against esotericists, that:

“writers in the nineteenth century who were alarmed by the popularity of Eddy’s [Mary Baker] doctrines frequently summed up their feat using the word “occult”, the same word that had been used earlier to attack Mormons and spiritualists. It was meant to draw into question the allegiance of those movements to sound democratic and Christian principles. Opponents of Christian Science wanted to link Eddy’s church to an anti-Christian tradition that they said was trackable, despite the shrouded secrecy that had cloaked many of its activities, back to Mesmerism and the Illuminati Conspiracy, back to the renaissance of Paracelsus and the devoted students of Hermes Trismegistus, back to the Gnostic and Neo-Platonic cults of the early Christian era.” (R. Laurence Moore, Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans, New York/Oxford, 1986, pg. 106).

The same goes for theology. Theology is a term dating to the mid 14th c., “meaning the science of religion, study of God, and his relationship to humanity.” It comes from the old French, theologie, or “philosophical study of the Christian doctrine; scripture.”  Also from the Latin, theologia and the Greek theologia, meaning “an account of the gods.” A theologos is “one discoursing on the gods,” from theos a “god,” not just meaning God as in the Abrahamic conception. Theo-LOGIA therefore does not mean the study of the God of the Bible alone, but that is what it has come to mean. Today, theology merely operates as apologetics for Christianity. Theology is really in a larger sense, “the study of the gods, and the Divine Nous, or MONAS (God as the supreme monad), associated with Ethics, Sound, Language, and Numbers. We should not have to use the term Occultism, if Theology was understood in such a sense, that an occult view is how we think of the ultimate reality.

“Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of its foundations and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received.”


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