If you know little to nothing about the occult and its philosophy, start here.
Helpful tip: If you see anything underlined, hover your mouse over it to see a quick definition! (Tap on tablet or mobile devices to reveal tooltip, tap on it to make it disappear.)
What is “the occult”?
Translating roughly to “that which is hidden”, the exact definition of the occult and what constitutes occult practices can vary. The term only began to be applied in more recent centuries and has been retroactively applied to various practices and belief systems. In modern popular usage, the term “occult” generally applies to topics such as Satanism, dark magic, witchcraft and demonic summoning. In an academic sense, it applies more often to the topics of astrology, alchemy, kabbalah, divination, scrying, contacting or summoning angels and demons, ritual magic, certain historical secret societies or mystery cults, hermeticism, magic runes, talismans, some forms of mysticism, and esoteric religious practices. Obviously that covers quite a large subject matter.
A good way to characterize the occult is to return to its basic translation. Genuine occult topics that have been traditionally kept secret or available only to a select few. This is done through coded language and metaphor (see Alchemy), initiation (such as into a secret society), secret alphabets, special tutelage by a master practitioner, or keeping only an oral tradition that must be passed down through such a student-teacher dynamic (as Kabbalah was said to have been in its early iterations). The idea of keeping knowledge secret was done with the pretense that it was too dangerous and powerful in the hands of the uninitiated or unworthy. Much like requiring a license before being allowed to operate a vehicle, a person must be properly trained in order to safely practice the occult arts.
In modern times, most people aren’t concerned with accidentally summoning a demon. The propensity to keep information secret nowadays is relegated to tradition or wanting to seem “mysterious” or “dark”. While there are of course still people who believe in and sincerely practice the art, there is also a modern trend of commercialization an occult or mystical aesthetic that has more to do with looks than beliefs. There are also people who fall somewhere in between; they may not consider themselves a magus but they also charge crystals and meditate with genuine purpose. None of these positions are necessarily bad but proper education on the topic is part of the purpose of this site.
So what is the definition of “occult”? The answer depends on the context. The short answer, and how I would define the topic in regards to the content here, is that the occult are a disparate set of beliefs and practices from across all cultures and time periods in human existence that are characterized by their esoteric and spiritual nature as well as their propensity to be kept secret from the general population for fear of persecution, misuse, misunderstanding, or to retain power through secret knowledge. All the topics on this site I consider under the umbrella term of “occult” based on this definition. While information on many are now widely available through modern technology and culture, this was not always the case. Most knowledge was restricted to a select few. If a topic was considered magical, mystical, or obscure but not necessarily restricted or hidden, it is less likely to be considered “occult”. However, since the term has been retroactively applied to a number of ideas and disciplines from the past, there are no hard and fast rules to define what constitutes occult knowledge.
In an effort to not restrict content to European or Western culture, some practices from African and Eastern culture are mentioned even if they do not strictly fit the definition of occult. They oftentimes, like Vedic or Vodun belief systems, are the basis for later occult developments. As such, to provide a more substantial foundation on the philosophy and history of these later topics I’ve listed their originating practices. Keep in mind that it is impossible to truly summarize or generalize an entire cultural history or belief system. Since I am less familiar with non-Western traditions I speak with much less authority and hope that anyone interested in my general descriptions will seek out more detailed information (preferably from people who are from that particular culture).
So where should I start?
If you’re interested in exploring alternate religions, spirituality, or something occult related that sounds interesting to you, check out the Practitioner’s Guide to get the perspective of those involved in occult thought and systems to see if anything speaks to you.
If you’re more of a skeptic and just want to expand your general knowledge, you can look over the Glossary page then explore each topic in more depth.
If you’re a hardcore skeptic and don’t understand any of this “hocus pocus” stuff, head over to the page for Skeptics first. Don’t worry, its not there to try and get you to believe in anything, quite the contrary. The page is simply designed to offer a window into alternate perspectives. You don’t need to believe in or agree with something to learn about or understand it.
If your knowledge of the occult comes mostly from books and related media, the Occult Literature section should make you feel right at home.
If you’re still not sure, start with the Glossary page and explore whatever looks interesting.
Have fun and seek out that which is hidden.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions, concerns, etc.