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Occultism is a word that derives from the Latin occultus meaning "hidden", "secret", and refers the study of a deeper psychic and spiritual reality that extends beyond the world of senses and thought.

General description

Although in the common parlance the word occultism is associated to hidden powers and psychic phenomena, the Theosophical literature does not see it in this way:

Occultism is not magic, though magic is one of its tools.

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.
. . .

Occultism is the science of life, the art of living.[1]

This term is frequently applied in reference to the 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.[2]

Although the knowledge of "paranormal" (though not "supernatural") forces is part of occultism, this is not its essence but only a means for the realization of the oneness. 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.[3]

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke provided this description:

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.[4]

Dangers of occultism

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.[5]
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.[6]
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.[7]

Because of the danger of developing powers before being morally fit to use them in the right way, the Masters of Wisdom do not openly divulge the methods of development. As Mahatma K.H. wrote:

I shall waste no condolences upon the poor "lay-chelas" because of the "delicate weapons they can alone work with." A sorry day it would be for mankind if any sharper or deadlier ones were put in their unaccustomed hands! Ah! you would concur with me, my faithful friend, if you could but see the plaint one of them has just made on account of the agonizing results of the poisoned weapons he got the wielding of, in an evil hour, through the help of a sorcerer. Crushed morally, by his own selfish impetuosity; rotting physically from diseases engendered by the animal gratifications he snatched with "demon" help; behind him a black memory of wasted chances and hellish successes; before him a pall of dark despair, — of avitchi, — this wretched man turns his impotent rage against our "starry science" and ourselves, and hurls his ineffectual curses at those he vainly besieged for more powers in chelaship, and whom he deserted for a necromantic "Guru" who now leaves the victim to his fate. Be satisfied, friend, with your "delicate weapons"; if not as lethal as the discus of Vishnu, they can break down many barriers if plied with power. The poor wretch in question confesses to a course of "lies, breaches of faith, hatreds, temptings or misleading of others, injustices, calumnies, perjuries, false pretences," etc. The "risk" he "voluntarily took," but he adds, "if they (we) had been good and kind as well as wise and powerful, they (we) would have certainly prevented me from undertaking a task to which they knew I was unequal." In a word, we, who have gained our knowledge, such as it is, by the only practicable method, and who have no right to hinder any fellow man from making the attempt (though we have the right to warn, and we do warn every candidate), we are expected to take upon our own heads the penalty of such interference, or try to save ourselves from the same by making incompetents into adepts in spite of themselves! Because we did not do this, he is "left to linger out a wretched existence as an animated poison bag, full of mental, moral, and physical corruption." . . . I have only given you a glimpse into the hell of this lost soul, to show you what disaster may come upon the "lay-chela" who snatches at forbidden power before his moral nature is developed to the point of fitness for its exercise.[8]

Annie Besant's view

No man whose life is not pure, whose thoughts are not noble, whose character is not unselfish, should venture to touch occultism at all; for every fault he has will assail him, every failing will dig pits for his feet; and until he has laid his foundation of virtue he must not try to build on it the Temple of Occultism. Nor must he try to build that Temple until his emotions and senses are thoroughly under his control.[9]

The needs for secrecy

Some teachings, even if they are not about methods of psychic development, are dangerous and kept in secret by the Masters. Mahatma K.H. wrote to A. O. Hume in letter 66:

These figures as I have already said are so interwoven with the profoundest psychological mysteries that to divulge the key to such figures, would be to put the rod of power within the reach of all the clever men who would read your book.[10]

Full commitment

Because the power of the forces and processes put in action by whoever begins to stimulate the latent faculties in humanity, the path of occultism requires a full commitment and a life consistent with the occult laws:

As a rule, Occultism is a dangerous, double-edged weapon for one to handle, who is unprepared to devote his whole life to it.[11]
Occultism is not to be trifled with. It demands all or nothing.[12]
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.[13]

Occultism versus the occult arts

Although 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.

Online resources



Additional resources


  1. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VIII (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1990), 14.
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XI (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1973), 105.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. VIII (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1960), 14.
  4. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism, New York: NYU Press, 1985.
  5. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 156-157.
  6. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 400-F.
  7. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. XIV (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1985), 59.
  8. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 111 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 373-374.
  9. Occultism and Occult Training by Annie Besant
  10. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 66 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 174.
  11. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. I (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1966), 101.
  12. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 59 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 155. See Mahatma Letter No. 59, Page 2.
  13. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. IX (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), 10.