The A-Z of Believing: O is for Occult

Is the occult just religion without rules? Ed Kessler, head of the Woolf Institute, presents the 15th part in a series on belief and scepticism

Tuesday 04 December 2018 11:47
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Practices such as magic, astrology and divination have a strong religious element
Practices such as magic, astrology and divination have a strong religious element

One should not believe in superstitions, but it is best to be heedful of them – Sefer Hasdim

Look round any bookshop and the section on the occult is likely to be next to, or close by, the section on religion. Counting the books alone (and I confess to have been an avid reader of the Denis Wheatley Black Magic thrillers) confirms the popularity of the occult. The word is derived from the Latin word occultus, which means “hidden”. Both religion and the occult seek to make clear what is hidden to those who are not practitioners or believers.

What makes the occult so popular? The answer is straightforward: human interest in the unseen, in the working of the universe, not to mention a quest for power and control over the future, and over other individuals. Where then lies the difference between the occult and religion? The former practises magic and divination, which is an anathema to religion; while the latter’s focus on prayer, and on a mythology, by which to understand the world is dismissed by the occult.

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