The Meaning and History of "Occult"

Posted by Devin McCrea on

Note: See the video version HERE///

When you think of the occult, what do you think of?

 Do you think of spooky imagery? Do you think about Witches and Satan? Maybe you think about the esoteric teachings of Helena Blavatsky or Aliester Crowley. Or… maybe you just think about your mother fainting if she knew you had interest in any of it.

 Today, in the first episode of my series, I'm going to shine some light on this widely misunderstood topic, and uncover why your mother really shouldn't be so scared of it.

 The first thing I should get out of the way is the definition of "Occult". The official definitions are as follows:

 Noun:

  1. supernatural, mystical, or magical beliefs, practices, or phenomena.
    adjective: occult


 ADJ:

of, involving, or relating to supernatural, mystical, or magical powers or phenomena.

  • beyond the range of ordinary knowledge or experience; mysterious.
    "a weird occult sensation of having experienced the identical situation before"
    2.
    Medicine
    (of a disease or process) not accompanied by readily discernible signs or symptoms.
  • (of blood) abnormally present, e.g., in feces, but detectable only chemically or microscopically.

Verb

cut off from view by interposing something.
"a wooden screen designed to occult the competitors"

  • Astronomy
    (of a celestial body) conceal (an apparently smaller body) from view by passing or being in front of it.

 

At its root, Occult simply means "Hidden". It derives from the Latin words for hiding, or concealment. I pulled this image  from Google to clarify - Forgive me, my Latin is a little rusty. Word up to all my friends that can speak dead languages!

 

So, if Occult simply means hidden, especially in general conversation or in medical terms, why does it get the bad rap it does today? Well, in order to understand that, you have to understand a little bit of religious and scientific  history.

 

Back in the 16th Century, the Occult sciences were used to refer to scientific practices that were not taken very seriously by the scientific community.

 

Who also, you know, thought the world was flat. And knew nothing of bacteria or germs, so credited someone  dying of disease as God's wrath. So, yeah. That's a thing.

 

Anywho, the three Occult Sciences that were in question were:

 

  1. Astrology, studying the stars
  2. Alchemy, transmuting physical items into other physical items. This is commonly associated with turning  lead into gold.
  3. Natural Magic, which is still practiced in Pagan circles today. We'll get to magic in a future episode.

 

These practices were  wholeheartedly rejected by the scientific communities of the time, and pretty much remain rejected today. Bummer. I could use some of that gold. I mean, it would be so simple… you just buy like 100 cases of #2 pencils and transmute them to gold. Or have someone do it. Do this enough times and you have money like Musk. It's the perfect crime…

 

Anyway, I digress.

 

I know what you're thinking. "But, Beetle, this doesn't explain why my Grandma crosses herself every time she walks into my room and sees a Slipknot poster!"

 

This subject I won't have time to go into with much complexity, but I will in a future episode.

 

The short version is that the Occult Sciences not only found themselves at odds with science, they found themselves at odds with the big dog in the room - Christianity. Don't forget that for the longest time, Christianity condemned science as being heretical, a charge that could get you killed back in the day. But Occultism also dealt with the spiritual, the supernatural.

 

When Christianity began its climb to the top of the religious heap, even overtaking Judaism, from which it was derived, one of the first orders of business was to walk up to the biggest guy on the playground and punch it in the mouth. This big guy was named Paganism, and Christians didn't just punch him - they put him to the sword. Convert or die. This campaign against polytheism resulted in uncounted deaths, and continues to this day.The Bible says on the subject:

 

Deuteronomy 18:9-14 ESV

“When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God."

There are many quotes like this in the Bible, but do you recognize any of the shade God was  throwing? This verse specifically called out those practicing the Occult Arts.

 The interesting thing is well known - that, in order to ease the transition from Paganism into Christianity for the unwilling converts, Christian authorities developed their holidays around Pagan times of celebration, with Christmas being the most well known. But we still use Pagan ideas for most of the Hallmark holidays.

 One only has to think of rabbits and eggs for Easter, which has Nothing to do with Christ, or the fact that we celebrate Samhain, which is a Pagan celebration. These celebrations, and more, were basically stolen from Pagans. Then they, you know, slapped a cross sticker on the packaging and that was that.

 In the Bible, however, paganism was demonized. Which, in a historical sense, is absolutely routine. We see it with a few religions even today. But what makes this so interesting is that not only were pagan beliefs used for Christianity, but Pagan and occult actions were as well.

 Don't believe  me? Let's look at that Bible Verse again.

"There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord"

 Let's take this one by one.

 

  1. Burning his son or daughter as an offering means a sacrifice. In the Bible, two examples of this come to mind easily. Abraham, who attempted to sacrifice his child, Isaac, on God's orders… and the biggest ritualistic sacrifice in the history of religion. Jesus Christ himself.
  2. Divination. Jesus was, in many ways, all knowing. He, for example, knew that Judas was going to betray him and he knew that he had to die to save the world from its sins. I'm counting it.
  3. Sorcerer, charmer, Necromancer, etc.- Jesus was an alchemist. He turned water into wine. He was a necromancer. He rose Lazarus from the dead, and eventually himself. He basically had superpowers, and all of them go back to the occult sciences.

 

You might not believe in Jesus, and that's fine. But the historical portrayal of him is 100% as an occultist. He even started a small cult, with 12 members, that went on to be one of the strongest forces in the modern world, all bearing his name and the symbol of his martyrdom. The cross.

 

Just some food for thought.

 

So, is the occult bad? No. Today it is a blanket term for basically any belief system of system of magic that is not contained under the umbrella of the Abrahamic religions. Most occult systems are not inherently morally bad, and many of them have strict rules that surpass the rules of Christians in sheer common sense. The evil interpretation of them was a concerted campaign, and it worked. Today, when you see any entity with a goat head or a pentacle, you have been conditioned to believe it is evil. This is not true.

 

Speaking of goat heads, I think next time I'll go into Satan and Baphomet.

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