The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus, meaning “clandestine” or “hidden”, and refers to esoteric knowledge often kept by the priest class and secretive “Mystery” orders of the day.
The true origin of occultism traces back to ancient times and it was primarily the teachings of the death and resurrection mythology, symbolism, and astrotheology, not to be mistaken for mere astrology. These teachings were spiritual and philosophic and the initiate of these teachings often subscribed to an unseen or ineffable concept of divinity expressed through solar symbolism and allegory.
These beliefs were sacred to the ancients and therefore, safeguarded and hidden from the unconcerned just as they are today in traditional Freemasonry.
“Masonry, like all the religions, all the Mysteries, Hermeticism, and Alchemy, conceals its secrets from all except the Adepts and Sages, or the Elect, and uses false explanations and misinterpretations of its symbols to mislead those who deserve only to be misled; to conceal the Truth, which it calls Light, from them, and to draw them away from it.” — Alert Pike – Morales & Dogma., p. 105
Later forms of occultism shared the same fundamental concepts but emerged and remained prosperous mostly out of the necessity to avoid persecution. It’s of this latter type of occultism that fields of science branched out, such as chemistry forming out of alchemy or astronomy forming out of astrology or astrotheology. These changes began to occur during the 17th century when scientific concepts such as heliocentrism and Newtonian mechanics put astrology and other occult related studies into question. As a result, many aspects of occultism lost their academic and theoretical standing and became outright rejected by the modern scientific community.
The shift toward scientific thought changed the landscape of occultism since the scientific and unscientific aspects of occultism were formerly indistinguishable. Before this change, an “occultist” could have ranged from an individual with noble philosophic and scientific pursuits to a charlatan peddling the elixir of immortality. Nevertheless, occultism was essentially viewed as scientific by many preceding the Age of Reason.
The pivoting from superstition to scientific thought is where the mainstream misconception about occultism took root. Many people still categorize occultism under both extremities, whether scientific or unscientific but true occultism was always intended to be virtuous and scientific. It was about precisely as the epistemology of the word occult implies, the ‘hidden’ knowledge. It was not intended to be the gold mine for crackpots trying to summon demons or charlatans trying to make a quick buck peddling their “Magick.”
True occultism is the noble and scientific pursuit of new and ancient esoteric knowledge. It can’t be easily reduced to mere superstition as much of modern occultism. True occultism is for individuals seeking answers beyond the traditional means of society; for those willing to make sacrifices in the pursuit of knowledge and a sense of heightened spirituality. It wasn’t meant to be a safe haven for pseudoscience but for the truth seeker willing to take the path less traveled.
Unfortunately, even the meaning of the word “occult” has slowly morphed over time and become corrupted. The Latin “occultum” refers to the hidden and esoteric and yet, the modern “occult” is reducible to the supernatural, mystical, or “magical”. There’s a major difference between those definitions and that difference is what separates pseudo occultism ( mainstream occultism ) from true occultism.