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Occultism is the study of occult or hidden wisdom. To the occultist it is the study of "Truth", a deeper truth that exists beneath the surface: 'The truth is always hidden in plain sight'. It can involve belief in such parapsychological phenomena as extra-sensory perception, astrology, spiritualism, numerology and lucid dreaming as well as magic (alternatively spelled and defined as magick), . There is often a strong religious element to these studies and beliefs, and many occultists profess adherence to various religion beliefs such as Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Luciferianism, Thelema, and Neopaganism. While Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism are generally not considered as occult, some of their modern interpretations can be, as the interpretation of Hinduism within Theosophy or the various occult interpretations of the Jewish Kabbalah. Orthodox members of such religions are likely to consider such interpretations as false; For example, the Kabbalah Centre has been criticised by Jewish scholars.
The word "occult" is somewhat generic, in that most everything that isn't claimed by any of the major religions is considered to be occult. Even religious scientists have difficulties in defining occultism. A broad definition is offered by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke:
"OCCULTISM has its basis in a religious way of thinking, the roots of which stretch back into antiquity and which may be described as the Western esoteric tradition. Its principal ingredients have been identified as Gnosticism, the Hermetic treatises on alchemy and magic, Neo-Platonism, and the Cabbalah, all originating in the eastern Mediterranean area during the first few centuries AD."
From the 15th to 17th century, these kinds of ideas had a brief revival, that was halted by the triumph of empirical sciences in the seventeenth-century. "By the eighteenth century these unorthodox religious and philosophical concerns were well defined as 'occult', inasmuch as they lay on the outermost fringe of accepted forms of knowledge and discurse," and were only preserved by a few antiquarians and mystics. However, from about 1770 onwards, a renewed desire for mystery, an interest in the Middle Ages and a romantic temper encouraged a revival of occultism in Europe, "a reaction to the rationalist Enlightenment."
Based on his research into the the modern German occult revival 1890-1910, Goodrick-Clarke puts forward a thesis on the driving force behind occultism. Behind its many varied forms apparently lies a uniform function, "a strong desire to reconcile the findings of modern natural science with a religious view that could restore man to a postition of centrality and dignity in the universe.
That the Kabbalah has been considered an occult study is also perhaps because of its popularity among magi (the biblical wise men who visited the Infant Jesus are said to have been magi of Zoroastrianism) and Thelemites. Kabbalah was later adopted by the Golden Dawn and brought out into the open by Aleister Crowley and his protégé Israel Regardie. Since that time many authors have emphasized a syncretic approach by drawing parallels between different disciplines.
Direct insight into or perception of the occult does not consist of access to physically measurable facts, but is arrived at through the mind or the spirit. The term can refer to mental, psychological or spiritual training. It is important to note, however, that many occultists will also study science (perceiving science as a branch of Alchemy) to add validity to occult knowledge in a day and age where the mystical can easily be undermined as flights-of-fancy. An oft-cited means of gaining insight into the occult is the use of a focus. A focus may be a physical object, a ritualistic action (for example, meditation or chanting), or a medium in which one becomes wholly immersed; these are just a few examples of the vast and numerous avenues that can be explored.
Science and the occult[edit | edit source]
Occultism is conceived of as the study of the inner nature of things, as opposed to the outer characteristics that are studied by science. The German Kantian philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer designates this 'inner nature' with the term 'Will', and suggests that science and mathematics are unable to penetrate beyond the relationship between one thing and another in order to explain the 'inner nature' of the thing itself, independent of any external causal relationships with other 'things'. Schopenhauer also points towards this inherently relativistic nature of mathematics and conventional science in his formulation of the 'World as Will'. By defining a thing solely in terms of its external relationships or effects we only find its external, or explicit nature. Occultism, on the other hand, is concerned with the nature of the 'thing-in-itself'. This is often accomplished through direct perceptual awareness, known as mysticism.