- The word occult comes from the Latin word occultus (clandestine, hidden, secret), referring to "knowledge of the hidden".
The word has many uses in the English language, popularly meaning "knowledge of the paranormal", as opposed to "knowledge of the measurable", usually referred to as science. The term is sometimes taken to mean "knowledge meant only for certain people" or "knowledge that must be kept hidden", but for most practicing occultists it is simply the study of a deeper spiritual reality that extends beyond pure reason and the physical sciences. The terms esoteric and arcane can have a very similar meaning, and the three terms are often interchangeable.
The term occult is also used as a label given to a number of magical organizations or orders, and the teachings and practices as taught by them. The name also extends to a large body of literature and spiritual philosophy. Baphomet, a common depiction of what it means to be "occult".
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 such subjects as magic (alternatively spelled and defined as magick), Alchemy, Extra-Sensory perception, Astrology, Spiritualism and Numerology. There is often a strong religious element to these studies and beliefs, and many occultists profess adherence to religions such as Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Luciferianism, Neopaganism, and Christianity. While Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam are generally not considered occult, some of their modern interpretations can be, as the interpretation of Hinduism within Kabbalah or the various occult interpretations of the Jewish Kabbalah. Orthodox members of such religions are likely to consider such interpretations false; For example, the Kabbalah Centre has been criticized by Jewish scholars.
The word "occult" is somewhat generic, in that almost everything that isn't claimed by any of the major religions can be considered the 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 Kabbalah, all originating in the eastern Mediterranean area during the first few centuries AD."