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
Modern civilization has all but disappeared. It falls to a fearless, dedicated and slap-stick bunch known as Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors to help humanity recover. With help like this, you might be better off on your own! Benjamin Wallace’s first installment in the Duck and Cover series is a quick and witty read. We find America […]
This beautiful collection of all twenty paintings, and eight drawings, assigned to Hieronymus Bosch, may be replacing the Codex Seraphinianus on my coffee table for a bit. These surreal masterpieces by Netherlandish artist Jheronimus van Aken, better known as Hieronymus Bosch, are reproduced beautifully, on lovely paper, and are thoughtfully arranged. Some pieces, such as […]
Is “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” actually about psychedelic drugs, British colonialism, or penis envy? Depends who you ask. At the BBC, Hephzibah Anderson surveys 150 years of weird readings of Lewis Carroll’s classic book. From Anderson’s essay: Re-examining the text, critics found plenty of gynaecological imagery, from the rabbit hole itself to the curtain that […]
Taking pictures can be challenging. There are a million factors that can influence each shot you take – and unless you’re a trained photographer, you often just focus, click…and cross your fingers.Of course, you can take some of the ambiguity out of your picture-taking with this Hollywood Art Institute Photography Course & Certification package, now […]
Experienced shutterbugs with DSLR cameras have boatloads of lens options for capturing the moment. Unfortunately, smartphone photographers often get stuck with their one crummy lens, which means limited zoom and focus for their final image.Step up your smartphone’s photographic power with the Acesori 5-Piece Smartphone Camera Lens Kit, now just $9.99 in the Boing Boing Store.Magnetic rings easily […]
Some truths are universal. For one, your phone will always run out of power when you most need it. For another, the charging cords that come packaged with your Apple device will fray, split, and rip faster than Usain Bolt in a game of tag.Instead, pick up a charging cord that anyone would have a tough […]