Occultism is a word that derives from the Latin occultus meaning "hidden", "secret", and refers to a "knowledge of the hidden", referring the study of a deeper psychic and spiritual reality that extends beyond the word of senses and thought.
Although in the common parlance the term occultism is associated to hidden powers and psychic phenomena, the Theosophical literature frequently applies the term with no reference to this, but as a spiritual path that leads to the realization of the unity of all existence:
True Occultism is the destruction of the false idea of Self, and therefore true spiritual perfection and knowledge are nothing else but the complete identification of our finite “selves” with the Great All. It follows, therefore, that no spiritual progress at all is possible except by and through the bulk of Humanity. It is only when the whole of Humanity has attained happiness that the individual can hope to become permanently happy—for the individual is an inseparable part of the Whole.
Although the knowledge of "paranormal" (though not "supernatural) forces are part of occultism, they are not its essence, but only means. As H. P. Blavatsky said:
Occultism is not the acquirement of powers, whether psychic or intellectual, though both are its servants. Neither is occultism the pursuit of happiness; as men understand the word; for the first step is sacrifice, the second, renunciation.
Since the occult path stimulates latent powers in the practitioner, the Theosophical view puts the development of a strict morality as a condition sine qua non if the occult path is not going to degenerate in what is known as black magic:
Occultism is not magic. It is comparatively easy to learn the trick of spells and the methods of using the subtler, but still material, forces of physical nature; the powers of the animal soul in man are soon awakened; the forces which his love, his hate, his passion, can call into operation, are readily developed. But this is Black Magic— Sorcery. For it is the motive, and the motive alone, which makes any exercise of power become black, malignant, or white, beneficent Magic. It is impossible to employ spiritual forces if there is the slightest tinge of selfishness remaining in the operator. For, unless the intention is entirely unalloyed, the spiritual will transform itself into the psychic, act on the astral plane, and dire results may be produced by it. The powers and forces of animal nature can equally be used by the selfish and revengeful, as by the unselfish and the all-forgiving; the powers and forces of spirit lend themselves only to the perfectly pure in heart—and this is DIVINE MAGIC.
Occultism is colorless, and only when used by man for the one side or the other is it good or bad. Bad Occultism, or that which is used for selfish ends, is not false, for it is the same as that which is for good ends. Nature is two-sided, negative and positive, good and bad, light and dark, hot and cold, spirit and matter. The Black magician is as powerful in the matter of phenomena as the White, but in the end all the trend of Nature will go to destroy the black and save the white. But what you should understand is that the false man and the true can both be occultists. The words of the Christian teacher Jesus will give the rule for judgment: “By their fruits ye shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?” Occultism is the general, all-inclusive term, the differentiating terms are White and Black; the same forces are used by both, and similar laws, for there are no special laws in this universe for any special set of workers in Nature’s secrets. But the path of the untruthful and the wicked, while seemingly easy at first, is hard at last, for the black workers are the friends of no one, they are each against the other as soon as interest demands, and that may be any time. It is said that final annihilation of the personal soul awaits those who deal in the destructive side of Nature’s hall of experience.
Dangers of occultism
MAGIC is a dual power: nothing is easier than to turn it into Sorcery; an evil thought suffices for it. Therefore while theoretical Occultism is harmless, and may do good, practical Magic, or the fruits of the Tree of Life and Knowledge,* or otherwise the “Science of Good and Evil,” is fraught with dangers and perils.
As a rule, Occultism is a dangerous, double-edged weapon for one to handle, who is unprepared to devote his whole life to it.
Occultism is not to be trifled with. It demands all or nothing.
Occultism is a jealous mistress, and, once launched on that path, it is necessary to resolutely refuse to recognize any attempt to draw one back from it.
Occultism versus the occult artsAlthough the term occultism is commonly used to describe the study of occult practices including magic, alchemy, astrology, etc., in the Theosophical view there is a distinction between real occultism and the "occult arts" described.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XI (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, ???), 105.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VIII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, ???), 14.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, ???), 156.
- Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, ???), 400-F.