Boing Boing guestblogger Mitch Horowitz is author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation and editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin publishers.
When discussing the occult, a natural question arises: Just what is the occult? In short, the occult encompasses a wide range of mystical philosophies and mythical lore, particularly the belief in an "unseen world" whose forces act upon us and through us. Here is a piece of my introduction to Occult America that expands on that question....
Occultism describes a tradition--religious, literary, and intellectual--that has existed throughout Western history. The term comes from the Latin occultus, meaning "hidden" or "secret." The word occult entered modern use through the work of Renaissance scholar Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, who used it to describe magical practices and veiled spiritual philosophies in his three-volume study, De occulta philosophia, in 1533. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first instance of the word occult twelve years later.
Traditionally, occultism deals with the inner aspect of religions: the mystical doorways of realization and secret ways of knowing. Classical occultism regards itself as an initiatory spiritual tradition. Seen from that perspective, the occultist is not necessarily born with unusual abilities, like soothsaying or mind reading, but trains for them.
Such parameters, however, are loose: Spiritualism is impossible to separate from occultism, whether believers consider channeling the dead a learned skill or a passive gift. Its crypto-religious nature draws it into the occult framework. Indeed, occultism, at its heart, is religious: Renaissance occultists were particularly enamored of Jewish Kabala, Christian Gnosticism, Egypto-Hellenic astrology, Egyptian-Arab alchemy, and prophetic or divinatory rituals found deep within all the historic faiths, especially within the mystery religions of the Hellenic and Egyptian civilizations...
...The sturdiest definition of classical occult philosophy that I have personally found appears not in a Western or Egyptian context but in Sino scholar Richard Wilhelm's 1950 introduction to the Chinese oracle book The I Ching or Book of Changes:
. . . every event in the visible world is the effect of an
"image," that is, of an idea in the unseen world. Accordingly,
everything that happens on earth is only a reproduction,
as it were, of an event in a world beyond
our sense perception; as regards its occurrence in time, it
is later than the suprasensible event. The holy men and
sages, who are in contact with those higher spheres,
have access to these ideas through direct intuition and
are therefore able to intervene decisively in events in the
world. Thus man is linked with heaven, the suprasensible
world of ideas, and with earth, the material world of
visible things, to form with these a trinity of primal
Photographer Chris White takes readers behind the scenes of making his surf photography book Dark Light.
Eric Schlosser’s book and film Command and Control look at the terrifying prospects of nuclear friendly fire, where one of America’s nukes detonates on US soil. It also looks at what might happen if a false alarm gets relayed to a trigger-happy general or President. He starts this New Yorker piece with a terrifying story […]
Published by the fine fringe culture explorers at Daily Grail, the new essay anthology Spirits of Place features stories by the likes of Alan Moore, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Warren Ellis, Gazelle Amber Valentine, Iain Sinclair, Mark Pesce, and many other mutant thinkers riffing on how we connect with the locations we inhabit. You can […]
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Although there will never be a consensus about the best way to make coffee, any coffee connoisseur will agree that controlling the grind of your beans and balancing water temperature are the keys to a tasty cup. Since your plastic coffee pot doesn’t really allow for that kind of customization, going back to the French […]