The nature of a culture and civilization is always tied to its religion. This is religion in the broadest sense: general cosmology, fundamental ethics, means of interior investigation – the social paradigm for existence in general.
Occult literally means hidden, and Western occult is just that: the hidden network of philosophies and ideas that forms the underlying framework of Western spirituality. There is not one particular “occult,” no single doctrine, and no set canon of books associated with it. It is an umbrella term. It often freely moves between pagan and Christian worldviews, and encompasses the alchemy, astrology, mysticism, magic, theology, and philosophy of many great men across time and space, many unaware of each other.
To speak less symbolically, the study of Western occult is the merger of theology, science, philosophy, and art that has constantly resurfaced in Western culture in varying forms. Any idea or philosophy which marries one or more of these fields with the study of man’s place in the universe could be termed Western occult. The hallmark of Western occult is either an integrated understanding of nature, man, and God; the study of actual magic (how man can participate in the creation of the universe); or an atypical merger of theology with one or more fields.
I should say at this outset that you do not need to believe in anything to get something out of this. In this introduction we will discuss everyone from pagans in antiquity to Catholic saints to modern scientific atheists: there is no common worldview among them other than the idea that man, by virtue of his intellect, can grow his understanding of the world to more meaningfully and effectively play his role in it.
Part of Western occult begins with the ancient Greek philosophers. Part of it begins with the mapping of the stars, as each set of lights in the night sky was given a symbolic character. It begins with the first scientists, whose craft at the time was indistinguishable from magic. It begins with sorcerers who believed that they could alter the world using their minds and interact with the invisible forces that seem to govern man’s life.
Hermes Trismegistus: classic Western occult bro.
Western occult is the name given to the constantly flourishing “underground” elements of Western spirituality. It also encompasses ideas which are mainstream, yet lay the groundwork for more symbolic and esoteric understandings of the universe. An example of this would be the four elements, which have openly been discussed by philosophers for centuries.
The most important aspect of Western occult is that it is a window into a worldview where all arts are completely integrated. In the minds of great esoteric practitioners, the practices of religion, philosophy, psychology, art, and science are all united in Western occult.
This makes it an extremely powerful tool for our purposes, as it unites the most fundamental tendencies of the Western mind and infuses them with an empowering form of spirituality and purpose. It is my belief that a resurgence of Western occult will be a large part of the emergence of a positive Western identity. Western occult is basically our indigenous form of shamanism and magic. It is naturally more intellectual than other manifestations of shamanism because we as a people are highly intellectual. When we contemplate the zodiac or the four elements; when we participate in the dialogue between pagan and Christian holidays; when we view the metals, planets, and hours of the day as an integrated system of symbols; we participate in our own history, and link our minds directly with our ancestors centuries or millennia in the past.
There is also the reality that we are, by seeking to change the world around us, participating in what may loosely be described as a magical action (magic is often defined as effectively creating change in the physical world). This means that it would be wise to study the ways of those who came before us who were successful at this. Many of the great men and women involved in Western occult were extremely successful in stewarding the flow of their culture and in raising themselves up via the intellect to their highest possible state of virtue and efficacy.
Western occult then, in a sense, has something for everyone. If you are a mystical person, you will find manuals on how to converse with angels and demons (we will discuss these here). If you are a scientific person, you will find the beginning of rationality in the first mechanistic views of the universe – you will also find the grandfather of modern science, alchemy. If you are a poet you will see the brilliant tapestry of interlocking symbolic matrices that your ancestors wove with the stars, planets, deities, sounds, and colors of life. If you are a philosopher, you will have your capacity for symbolic thinking expanded by studying the integrated system of understanding the universe that naturally crystallized from the minds of your predecessors over several dozen centuries.
This introduction to Western occult will be an ongoing feature of this website. I will start from the extreme basics, and we can progress from there. The nature of the system is that it is made up of constantly overlapping and stacking symbol sets that all relate to each other. So, for example, your understanding of the four elements will fit into your understanding of the zodiac, which will fit into your understanding of the celestial hierarchies; all of this will fit into your understanding of alchemical processes, which in turn lays the foundation for the understanding of many other things. This is just one possible logical route through this labyrinth.
This introduction will hopefully serve as a foot in the door for you. It will not necessarily equip you to actually do any occult practices but I will “paint the whole picture” for you, and once you have a tentative understanding of how a particular aspect of the system works, you will be able to set off on your own. Mircea Eliade once observed that it is the prospect of self-initiation that drives people to the occult – this is true. It is a path of discovery that you must walk alone; in my opinion this is one reason why it appeals naturally to the high Western mind which tends to distrust authority when it is based on things that aren’t verifiable empirically. Here, I will simply be showing you the door and perhaps giving you a pair of sturdy shoes – you will decide what to do with this information.
We’ll be very loosely following the layout (not necessarily the content) of Agrippa’s ‘Three Books of Occult Philosophy’. This book was first published in France in 1531. It is essentially a summation of the entirety of Western occult up to that time. I’ll basically be following his chapter layout and diverging when I think it’s necessary to include some extra information. I’ll also be including information that may have been unavailable to Agrippa in the early sixteenth century.
The last note I should include before I begin is that, as stated before, you do not need to believe in anything to get something out of this. That being said, for me to really paint the whole picture for you, I have to speak with you as someone who is a practitioner of Western occult. In order to fairly explain certain ideas, in my opinion, I have to give them to you as someone who buys into them. A skeptical pitch of Christianity would convince no one. If you wanted to get an idea of what Buddhism is really about, a casual conversation with a well selected Buddhist would probably do more for you than an extremely dry and academic summary of Buddhism in its entirety. I’d like you to think of this as a casual conversation, wherein if we discuss certain theological ideas as though they are true you may assume that I am just giving you the story fairly.
Let’s do it.