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What is Occultism: Study of the Occult

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)


Reviewed by: Tina Caro

In the sixteenth century, the idea of the “occult sciences” emerged. This term usually encompassed the practices of alchemy, astrology, and natural magic – the latter tended to include practices of divination, although these sometimes formed a fourth, distinct category.

It was thought, according to esoteric scholars, that each of these practices engaged in an investigation of nature and natural processes, using theoretical frameworks. Despite there being, often, overlap between the fields, it wasn’t unusual for a scholar working in one field to declare the other fields as illegitimate.

However, as the Age of Enlightenment dawned, occult science began to be seen as incompatible with “true” scientific pursuits and inquiries. The term itself denoted an area of study that was consciously opposed to mainstream studies, and by the nineteenth century “occult science” was often used as synonymous with magic.


Occultism is the pursuit of hidden or secret knowledge and practices that delve into spiritual and mystical realms beyond conventional understanding.

It encompasses a wide array of practices, including divination, astrology, alchemy, and ceremonial magic, all aimed at gaining insight into the unknown and exploring the supernatural.

Throughout history, notable figures have contributed to the development of occultism, and it continues to be of interest to modern practitioners, including witches and New Age spiritualists.

However, occultism has also encountered skepticism and controversy, with debates surrounding its validity and scientific basis, while others see it as a means of personal transformation and spiritual exploration.

Occultism Today

Today, occultism is on the rise; it’s predicted that there will be over six million practicing pagans in the US by 2050. The freedom of thought these practices typically offer, as well as their ability to encompass a multitude of beliefs, are fueling the increasing fascination with the occult.

Alternative, personal, deeply held spiritual practices and rituals are finding an affinity with those who are increasingly turning away from prescribed modes of thought and “outdated” tenets. The search for knowledge and personal truth has become paramount.

“The Wickedest Man in the World” – Aleister Crowley

Aleister Crowley was and remains one of the most influential figures in occultism. Born in 1875 he was a famous occultist, ceremonial magician, and philosopher, as well as a mountaineer, poet, and painter.

In the early twentieth century, he founded the religion Thelema, identifying himself as a prophet charged with providing guidance to humanity. He also founded the magical order Argenteum Astrum – the Order of the Silver Star.

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While Crowley was (and is) commonly referred to as a Satanist, this is erroneous. Although he rejected Christianity, he considered himself an extremely spiritual and religious person. Throughout his life, he pursued the Great Work, which encompasses working towards better self-knowledge and ultimately uniting with the Universe. 

Crowley had supposed connections with other highly influential religious figures, including the founder of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard but, in fact, there’s no evidence that the two men met. Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca, was influenced by Crowley’s writings and the pair did meet a couple of times, towards the end of the occultist’s life.

Occult Symbols

Symbols play an important role in the rituals and ceremonies of many occult practices. This makes sense: the occult and esoteric are, after all, about secret, hidden knowledge.

The Pentacle and the Pentagram

The pentacle and pentagram are, possibly, the most well-known of all occult symbols. The former is a five-pointed star that points upwards while the latter is the same symbol but set within a circle. The star represents several things: the five wounds of Christ, God and the four elements, and the five senses.


In magickal practices, the pentacle and pentagram are powerful, positive symbols with the capacity to provide strong protection. It may be used to ground the energy, enhance focus, and as part of spell-casting while wearing the symbol as an amulet is believed to protect the wearer from evil energies.

An inverted pentagram is where the star symbol is flipped upside down so that what was its uppermost point is now pointed downwards. This symbol is typically associated with black magick and is often associated with contempt for traditional spiritual and occult values.

The All-Seeing Eye

Also known as the Eye of Providence, this well-known symbol features a single eye within an upward-pointing triangle. It has many associations: for some, it is linked to the idea of God’s omniscience (ability to see everything), while others hold it to be the eye of Satan or Lucifer.

In some cultures, the All-Seeing Eye is believed to have the power to ward off evil, and it’s also been associated with psychic control and spell casting.

The Freemasons use the All-Seeing Eye as one of their symbols, and it can also be seen on the United States’ one-dollar bill. Tantalizingly, some believe that the person who controls the All-Seeing Eye can control the finances of the world.

all seing eye by magickal spot
Copyright: Tina Caro

Horned Hand

Everyone knows this occult gesture symbol: it’s the one where the hand is held up with the index and little fingers extended while the ring and middle fingers along with the thumb are held down.

When used with the right hand, with the thumb kept tucked under the middle and ring finger it’s traditionally associated with the horned god Baphomet.

However, when the gesture was made with the left hand, with the thumb kept over the middle and ring fingers, it was believed to have the power to curse enemies. And we just thought it was the symbol for “rock on!”

In some cultures, the horned hand gesture is believed to have protective properties. In Italy, the symbol (known as the Mano Cornuto) is inscribed on charms, to guard against the evil eye.

Seal of Solomon

This symbol, which is important in the Jewish tradition, has also become a significant one in occultism. It’s a six-pointed star, or hexagram, set within a circle; dots appear between the stars’ arms within the inner edge of the circle.

seal of solomon
Simplified Seal of Solomon

One of the oldest symbols used in occult practices, this symbol was believed to have been inscribed on a signet ring owned by King Solomon and had the power to bind or control supernatural beings.

It symbolizes many different things, including the four elements, and the union of male and female, and is sometimes used as part of spellcasting or as a talisman.

Final Thoughts

Occultism is a term that encompasses many beliefs, traditions, and practices – and one whose meaning has shifted over time, too.

In general, though, occultism refers to the pursuit of deeper, hidden, or secret knowledge, using a variety of tools or techniques to do so. If you’re interested in learning more about the occult, there are many rabbit holes to do down and explore: who knows where each could lead…

About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

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