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Show Notes: Episode 84

October 19, 2021













OK, class, settle down. It's time to put our thinking caps on and get ready to learn a thing or two about a subject that needs a little clarification. Let's start out with a little pop quiz: True or false: Satanism and the Occult are synonymous terms. The answer is false. In fact, it would be difficult to be more false. I'm Spider...


And this week we're going to dispel a few myths about one of the most liberally misused terms in evangelicalism (and pop culture) and that is the term “occult.” And yes, there are Satanists who identify as occultists, but the overwhelming majority do not. And just like Satan, “occult” is more concept than concrete. But before we dig into our conversation this time around...


[Patreon/promo – next week: Demons and Demonology]


So we are talking about the real definitions and attributes of occultism and hopefully also setting the record straight about it in the minds of those of you who have only ever heard this term from evangelical sources or TV.


The first time I ever heard anyone refute the idea of Satanism and Occultism being synonymous was when I got involved with Wicca. Of course it didn't surprise me in the least to learn that Satan has literally nothing to do with Occultism as an entity.


The term “occult” derives from a Latin root that literally translates to “hidden” or “secret.” The term refers to perceived “supernatural” phenomena that exist beyond the realms of physics or material reality. Most things that fall under the cover of supernatural at least have a toe in occultism and most are far more immersed in it than that.


According to art curator and writer Pam Grossman, “The occult is about experiencing an immaterial realm, whether through a performed ritual, an altered state, a path of learning, or a work of art.”


The term also refers to magical practices, secret rituals, and the silence or anonymity that people who practice them often adopt. Secret societies are often referred to as occultist in practice for these reasons. You might know some freemasons but good luck finding one who will describe in detail what goes on inside their lodge, for example.


Of course, to the average evangelical, all things magick and supernatural are Satanic in origin, hence the synonymous handling of the terms “satanic” and “occultist.”


To this day I have yet to find an evangelical who knows how to deal with the fact that in the beginning of the NT, the story of Christ's nativity literally and inescapably revolves around astrology. The magi were not kings. They were astrologers. They were Occultists. They used magick and they consulted the stars to find the Christ child. No one wants to deal with that part of the story.


Foundational Details about Occultism


  • Occult practices have no traceable origin

  • Center on the practitioner's presumed ability to manipulate natural laws to the benefit of another (often a practitioner/client transaction)

  • Ethical practitioners do not operate outside of widely-held moral codes (they don't attempt to hurt anyone, kill anyone, or alter people's emotions or perceptions). As a Wiccan I was always encouraged not to attempt spells that circumvent a person's free will, and of course, not to do anything that brings or steers people into harm. No love potions, no death spells, that sort of thing...

  • Nearly all cultures have people who participate in some Occult practices – there are few, if any, societies that don't and this has been true throughout history (doesn't validate anything aside from the fact that we are all more alike than we are different). Case in point: https://www.hitc.com/en-gb/2021/10/13/no-bones-pug-tiktok/



The most common aspects of occultism are divination, magic, witchcraft, and alchemy but there are also others and we will have a look at a few of them shortly.


I remember having to take a class on cults and the Occult in college and even then I thought it was an exercise in the pentecostal pot calling the repurposed but largely similar to pentecostalism kettle black. And, of course, the Occult end of it was nothing but a litany of criticisms about Satanism. And by Satanism I mean the evangelical interpretation of it which is far more Martin Scorsese than Lucien Greaves. I assure you the professor had never even seen a copy of the Satanic Bible.


Occultism is a merging of philosophies and beliefs that are basely largely on Hellenistic magickal traditions and Jewish mysticism. We will get into both facets in a little bit but note, please, what is missing here: could it be... hmmm... SATAN? Not a single source I uncovered in my research even gives ol' scratch a nod. Even images like Baphomet, pentagrams, hexagrams, and more are not classically attributed to Satan. They just represent ideas, magickal practices and schools of thought. Even left-hand path ideologies aren't attributed to Satan, just the choices and practices of the practitioner.


I think it's important to understand first and foremost that “The Occult” wasn't even a widely-used term until 1971 with the publication of Colin Wilson's book, The Occult. And even in instances where the term had been used prior, it was never (or at least not by those in the know) used as a descriptor of a group or an organization, but rather one that identifies people with shared beliefs, characterizations, mannerisms, and practices. Well, what's the difference? The difference is that one has physical walls and the other is an abstract concept. Think of the term “The Occult” the same way you do terms like “The great unwashed” or “the general public.” There is no organized group with members that identify as such, but their attributes, behaviors, and other factors earn them the moniker.


Another important thing to understand is that Occultism is not a religion. To quote the Wikipedia entry:


The occult, in the broadest sense, is a category of supernatural beliefs and practices which generally fall outside the scope of religion and science, encompassing such phenomena involving otherworldly agency as mysticism, spirituality, and magic. It can also refer to supernatural ideas like extra-sensory perception and parapsychology. This term has been used as an "intellectual waste-basket" into which a wide array of beliefs and practices have been placed because they do not fit readily into the categories of religion or science.”


While I find the term “intellectual wastebasket” to have a singularly disrespectful and overstated quality to it, from the standpoint of how a lot of this stuff trains people to think, it isn't far off. I just think we could be a little more clinical and a little less Anton LaVey with our word choices. I would replace “intellectual wastebasket” with something like “metaphysical/pseudo-scientific thought collective.” Many Wiccans identify as occultist and, thankfully, by the time I found myself identifying with them I had stopped being afraid of the term. I also never thought of myself as being in The Occult but I knew that Wiccan often involved occult practices and it does. So that's a good segue into our next section...


Occult Beliefs and Practices


Fortune Telling / Divination

  • Scrying

  • Crystal gazing

  • Reading tea leaves

  • Tarot

  • Palmistry

  • Runes

  • Astrology

  • Numerology

  • Instant Writing

  • Remote Viewing


Magick – Occultism draws clear lines between magic with a C and Magick with a CK. The spellings are designed to clarify the difference between stage magic, illusionism, slight of hand, prestidigitation, and other forms of theatrics and trickery or the “legit” applications of supernatural forces toward various ends.


Practitioners of magick (with a CK) are seen “as channels through which supernatural power effects change in human events and conditions. Those who practice “white magick” seek to produce positive or favorable outcomes. “Black magick” practitioners intend harm and evil results.” At least that's the Lutheran interpretation. A better secular interpretation is that black magick simply lends less deference to the positive effects, especially when aimed at people and situations where negative outcomes are considered to be warranted, desired, or at least acceptable. I think they get the white magick part of it generally correct.


Witchcraft – There are so many interpretations of what this is but a lot of it falls under the cover or influence of occultism. Spell-casting, setting intentions, medicine-making... all of it at least dips a toe in the pool.


Alchemy – The literal definition of alchemy is turning any base metal into silver or gold, but the definition of alchemy as a practice (or more to the point a school of thought) has evolved quite a bit over the centuries to include a variety of spell-casting and transubstantive magick as well. Classic alchemy does have a distinct scientific approach, which I find interesting but beyond the scope of this conversation so I'm going to leave my comments on it there.


Alchemy also has a more woo-woo magic aspect as it is also closely related to astrology. Both astrology and alchemy seek to understand and exploit humanity's relationship with the cosmos. Not that we actually have one aside from the fact that we are able to live here as a result of various cosmological conditions. But these beliefs far predate what science tells us about the universe so, from an historical perspective, it's interesting to learn about and understand. The link to the Brittanica article is listed above if you want to know more about it.


Hermeticism – Based on the Hermetic writings (or Hermetica). These were, “works of revelation on occult, theological, and philosophical subjects ascribed to the Egyptian god Thoth (Greek Hermes Trismegistos [Hermes the Thrice-Greatest]), who was believed to be the inventor of writing and the patron of all the arts dependent on writing. The collection, written in Greek and Latin, probably dates from the middle of the 1st to the end of the 3rd century AD. It was written in the form of Platonic dialogues and falls into two main classes: “popular” Hermetism, which deals with astrology and the other occult sciences; and “learned” Hermetism, which is concerned with theology and philosophy. Both seem to have arisen in the complex Greco-Egyptian culture of the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.”


Hermeticism is a popular path in Witchcraft. In Salem, MA, Lori Cabot's coven is a hermetic order and it is one of the largest and most widely-recognized covens in the U.S. Hermeticism was also an influential element to much of Aleister Crowley's work, the Thoth tarot among notable examples – a deck I never dared try to work with because I thought at the time that its intricacies were too deep for a novice witch like me to even try to interpret.


Kabbalah – AKA Jewish mysticism. Yes, even Judaism has its occult elements (although not all Jews practice Kabbala). And don't think that people like Joseph Smith have cornered the market on contemporary sacred texts. The Jews started writing their own supplements to the TaNaKh as early as the third century CE, beginning with the Sefir Yetzira (The Book of Creation) which explained creation as a process involving the 10 divine numbers of God the creator and the 22 letters that comprise the Hebrew alphabet. Together they make the “32 paths of secret wisdom.” There's that word again: “secret.” The application of the 32 paths comes in the mastery of Gematria wherein every letter in the Hebrew alphabet has a numerical value. The numerical values in the letters are then added together to get the numerical values of words. The practice of Gematria therefore closely follows the structure of Numerology but, of course, has its own rules and applications.


Spiritism - Spiritism is the belief that it is possible to communicate two-ways with the dead. This usually involves a medium – someone “practiced” in communicating with the dead. Spiritists can percepibly communicate directly with no helps or props (think Jonathan Edward) while many more employ elements of divination like tarot cards and ouija boards to aid in “tuning in” a bit better.


Seances, channeling, pendulums, and much, much more are used to enhance the experience and “authenticity” of spiritism.


Yes, there's a lot of fakery out there, but there are, to this day, many who take the practice seriously and believe whole-heartedly that they can do this and that they can help people through it. I did... [ad-lib]


Hekate and me – The priest and the Psychopomp [ad lib]


Incidentally, we are in a time of year when it is supposedly easiest to communicate with the dead. The days leading up to Samhain (Oct. 31) are said to be those where the “veil between worlds is the thinnest.” I'm not sure who decided this or how they deal with the differences between hemispheres. These were always a question in my mind... [ad lib]


Occultism and Technology


  • Spirit photography

  • Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP)

  • Lasers and light manipulation

  • Ghost boxes and recorders

  • Thermal cameras and thermometers

  • Motion sensors

  • Movies like Poltergeist and Ghostbusters and more recently Paranormal Activity and Unfriended have themes that center on occult technology. There are actually a couple movies out there now that center on malcontent spirits attacking people using social media. It's all part of the evolution of occult beliefs tied to technology.


Occult Art


Occult Symbols - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_occult_symbols




And whether they ever care to admit it or not, most practices in pentecostalism fall snuggly under the cover of occultism or, at a minimum, have their roots in occultism. And no, they will never admit it. But think about it...


  • Glossolalia (speaking in tongues)

  • Energy healing

  • Raising energy

  • Sending energy (outstretched hands)

  • Words of knowledge

  • Prophecy

  • Random Bible verses and passages vs. your “card of the day”

  • Five out of seven of the gifts of the spirit have supernatural elements

  • Pentecostalism shares many of its attributes with Theosophy – a cross between Western occultism and Eastern Mysticism. We could do a whole episode on this and probably should because, oh the similarities...


Occult practices are also found all throughout the Bible – you know, the all-authoritative Word of God? The book that is in its entirety God-breathed and useful in teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16,17). Here are just a few examples:


  • The Urim and Thummin (Dt. 33) – used to get metaphysical answers to questions (the original Magic 8-Ball)


  • The Magi – Zorastrian astrologers

  • Miracle working (psychokenesis and energy healing)

  • The Witch of Endor – a medium who channels the spirit of prophet Samuel in order to receive advice about how to defeat the Philistines in 1 Samuel 28

  • Moses and Pharoah – turning Moses' staff into a snake, etc.

  • The bronze serpent that heals snake bites in Numbers 21

  • Elisha removes toxins from a stew by sprinkling flour on it in 2 Kings 4


All of the above are clear examples of magick and witchcraft that Yahweh seems just fine with.


Occult Terminologies


I also linked to a comprehensive list of terms associated with occultism and while I'm not about to list them all off here tonight, it really was an eye-opener to me just how closely related my beliefs as a neopagan were to occultism. Had I been given accurate or factual information about this growing up, it wouldn't have been anywhere near as surprising... or (let's be honest here) scary. I had a few “what have I gotten myself into” moments early on in Wicca, all of them based on what I learned as an evangelical.


This is why it is so important to adopt the right attitudes and perspectives about literally everything in life. Evangelical thought on this subject has very effectively permeated the culture even to the point where secular sources (like film and television media) have been perpetuating the non-existent relationship between Occultism and Satanism for decades. A quick google search for Occult movies yields links to movies like The Devil's Advocate, House of the Devil, the Omen, Angel Heart, and more on the first page. All of these movies deal directly with Satan or the media interpretation of Satanism. I mean, what the hell does The Amityville Horror have to do with alchemy, Kabbala, or Hermeticism? It doesn't even handle the concept of mediumship that well.


So with so many people out there just believing whatever they're told, maybe... just maybe, it's time for those of us who have a real interest in the truth to set the record straight. Occult is not a word that should scare anyone. It shouldn't evoke images of the Devil. It may not be the kind of thing anyone wants to become immersed in as a personal philosophy, but it is the kind of thing that far too few people ever take the time to understand. The truth is out there and readily searchable and the widespread acceptance of stereotypes about the Occult is proof positive that people would largely rather believe than be informed. This, in a nutshell is why religion in all its forms has managed to thrive for as long as it has.


Now you know the truth. What do you think about it? If you're an ex- or current evangelical what's going through your mind right now? When I discovered the truth about this I was far enough detached from it that it elicited more of an “oh brother...” response from me. If you are responding to this with things like anger, surprise, or denial, it shows that you're considering the truth and finding it uncomfortable.


That's the thing about the truth: it's usually uncomfortable and this is actually a very good thing. Being held in your comfort zone is also what has kept you in that pew. The world is bigger than your pastor wants you to believe. Satan is not lurking around the corner waiting to ensnare you and take your soul and not everything that they don't understand has Satan as its explanation. It's just more convenient for them to scare you into seeking shelter within the walls of your church than it ever would be to even suggest that you take a closer look at how big the world really is and how things actually function in it.


Stop waiting for your pastor to tell you the truth about anything. Whether intentionally or just as a result of being fed the same lies, he (or she) is simply not going to deal in truth. Ever. It's your job to seek it out, test what you've been told against available data and decide whether you're going to go on simply believing and trusting or if you're going to do the uncomfortable work of seeking the truth wherever it leads.


Sometimes that search leads us into uncomfortable places, but in cases like this, when we're presented with the truth, consider it, test it, and draw conclusions based on it, it also leads us into places that free our minds from fears and misconceptions that our spiritual leaders spend their entire lives trying to instill in us. If you let them, you'll never know what the truth is. If you don't, the truth will truly set you free. And it's at that point where you learn what it really means to live and think in a way that gets you and keeps you unbound.


Occult art has to do with magic, mysticism or supernatural beliefs, practices or phenomena. I look at it in one of two ways: there are the images made for ancient grimoires, tarot cards, and altar pieces. Those are esoteric images full of symbolism and mythological imagery, used for magical ritual, witchcraft or fortune telling. The Rider-Waite tarot deck, for example is full of masonic, biblical and astrological symbols.






Another sort of occult art is the sort where the meaning of the piece is not immediately obvious. Art of the Symbolist movement and the Surrealist movement are the sort of art that you, the viewer, has to find the meaning for. Visualist art also hints at a larger world of mysticism outside of reality. But the immediate meaning of the art piece takes thought and imagination.


There were few real articles on 'occult art' as a genre, however I did find several articles on art exhibits with this theme. This is from a 2016 Huffington Post article: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/delving-into-the-shadowy-world-of-occult-art_n_56a7c773e4b0172c65945898



"The word occult simply means hidden," curator and writer Pam Grossman explained to The Huffington Post.

Grossman is the curator of "Language of the Birds," an exhibition now on view at New York University's 80WSE Gallery. The exhibition's title alludes to the mystical belief in a perfect, divine language, devised entirely of symbols, through which the initiated can communicate to reveal secrets and ignite metamorphosis.

"We use [occult] to reference revealing things that were hitherto unrevealed," Grossman added. "More specifically, in the context of the show, it really is about magic, using ideas of symbolism and ritual and intention to create actual change in the material world."


This description could also be used for the first idea of occult art I mentioned. Occult art often uses universal tropes, common symbols and cross-cultural ideas to get the 'hidden' messages across. The symbols of Kabbalah, hermeticism, Tarot and alchemy are often used as inspiration for the artist, even if the art has nothing to do with reality.




Occult art has been with us as long as humans have imagined their myths and mysteries. Throughout art history, depictions of myths and magic have been popular, and of course within those pieces, the intention of the artist could be very at odds with the subject of their art. In an article about a new book about Occult images, historian Christopher Dell explains:


Many books on magic are very tough to get into, and are structured around traditions,” says Dell. “I wanted [my book] to be very international. Every single culture in the world has its own monsters, mythologies and magical traditions, and there are lots of similarities between them.” For example, while the star and Pentagram can be linked to Israel’s King Solomon, it also has roots in Germany as a ward against evil. “Japanese symbolism has the same imagery, but totally different meaning,” he says. “Ultimately, I try to tell the complete story.”


and again:


Dell devotes much of his book to ancient and medieval imagery, but the foundation is essential for understanding his later chapters on contemporary magic and Neo-Pagan religions such as Wicca, Thelema and the Church of Satan. He places a focused lens on figures like Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner, whose interpretations of earlier writings and art formed the basis of the new religions they went on to found.”


Also I have this book, and it is awesome.


We know that the visual arts can affect the viewer's emotions. Some pieces of art evoke certain feelings or spark the imagination. (birth pangs, Vincent Monaco)



Occultism and Technology


As technology gets more complicated, the occult finds its way into even the most advanced of tech. https://physicsworld.com/a/occult-arts-and-sceptical-sciences/


for instance, 'ghost photography' was very popular, and many people in the 19th century believed in it. The ideas in Spiritism and Theosophy were studied seriously by many of the same people who studied the real sciences.


while many 19th-century scientists were sceptical of the bangs, levitating tables and spirit manifestations of Victorian séances, the prevailing view was that of people like chemist and entrepreneur William Crookes, electrical engineer Cromwell Varley, and Lodge himself, who believed that the task of science was to weed out the fraudsters so that we might better understand genuine psychic influences.

It has been common to regard Lodge and Crookes as anomalies. They were certainly scientific eminences – both had knighthoods and strings of awards for their work – but were nonetheless credulous individuals...an interest in psychical phenomena was shared by many prominent physicists of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras.”

The young practice of photography was the first to gain a paranormal use.