The occult and occultism are not the same as religion and religious practices, though there certainly are some similarities. The best way to separate the two is to define them. Religion is defined as the belief and worship of a controlling power or a system of faith and worship. Occult is defined as supernatural beliefs, practices and phenomena beyond the range of ordinary knowledge or experience. To put it simply, religion is a set of rules to live by with a mythology to explain the world and terminology to define the spirituality of the self with. Conversely, the occult is tools with which to change ones life. It’s not a set of rules to explain the world, but the tools with which to find your own explanations. The two are not, however, mutually exclusive. One can certainly be a practitioner of the occult while belonging to a religion and belong to a religion while practicing the occult. The occult is merely a way of moving beyond the rules and restrictions of religion to find your own ‘line’ to the divine.
What is the Occult?
The word occult is defined as hidden. It is used even by the scientific world to describe something that is too small or occluded to see. It is not Satanism or black magic. It is the study of the hidden knowledge of the world. Many people will lump occultism with esotericism and mysticism because they are considered less threatening by the main stream.
Occultism tends to seek three different types of hidden knowledge: knowledge that is kept from the wider population and only available to those who are initiated into a group, knowledge hidden by the divine that only a few may comprehend, and knowledge of realms or energies and abilities that the main stream population will not recognize. This is often narrowly defined as the practice of magic, but actually can include anything supernatural or paranormal.
There are different types of symbols commonly used in occultism. Many have been in existence for almost as long as there have been people on the earth.
- All-Seeing Eye: A symbol that represents spiritual sight, inner vision, and higher knowledge
- Ankh: Recognized as the ancient Egyptian symbol for eternal life
- Circle: The ancient, universal symbol of unity and wholeness
- Circumpunct: Ancient symbol representing the sun and sun gods
- Quartered Circle: The symbol representing the elements and cardinal directions
- Infinity Sign: Represents perfection, dualism, and unity.
- Scarab: A symbol of protection from evil
- Swastika: An ancient Hindu symbol representing movement and change in harmony
Occultism had a definite hand in the creation of the esoteric societies that were popular during the Enlightenment period. Many secret societies cropped up that used occultic ideals, such as initiations in order to teach certain information, during the 17th and 18th centuries. Most have died out since that time, but a few have remained and continue to have strong memberships. A secret society must meet certain criteria to be considered secret: they must be exclusive, claim to have their own special secrets, and have a tendency to favor their own. They should also have carefully graded teachings that progress over degrees and rituals that non-members are not aware or a part of.
Secret Occult Organizations
The secret organizations that have survived the ravaging of the years are:
The Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World
This is an off-shoot of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World which did not allow African American members in 1899. The Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World allows any American citizen over 21 who believes in God to join their ranks. They sponsor educational scholarships, computer literacy camps and community service activities.
The Independent Order of Odd Fellows
The first written record of this society comes from 1812 and is believed to be founded by George IV who became frustrated with the Freemasons and their lengthy initiations. He wanted to have a relative added to that fraternity without having to go through the same steps as all other masons and was denied. In fury, he left the Freemasons and established the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. However, the official website for the order claims that their origins stretch back to 1066. They are still around and have their ideals grounded in friendship, love and truth.
The Knights of Pythias
This group was founded by Justus H. Rathbone who felt there was a moral need for a group that practiced brother love. All of its founding members worked in government and it was the first fraternal order to be chartered by act of Congress. They are still quite active and are a partner with the Boy Scouts of America.
Free and Accepted Masons
Freemasons are considered one of the oldest secret societies. It is a fraternal order still very active both in the United States and around the world. It members must be men, over the age of 18 or 21 depending on the bylaws of the state, who are born freemen and are of sound mind and body. Freemasons are active in their communities.
The occult and occultism are often misrepresented in the world. Understanding that the occult is not inherently evil, and doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a devil worshiper, would be considered by many who follow occultic ideals as the first step in your own enlightenment.