What is the Occult?

Editor’s note: as the Occult continues to find greater influence and prominence in the Church and society, we present part one of this series, Christ Against the Occult, which will expose and oppose these forces at the root level. 

What is meant by the term occult? There’s a variety of definitions; we’ll add one of our own at the end.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary describes the adjective use of “occult” as having several meanings: 1. Not revealed, or secret. 2. Something not easily understood. 3. Hidden from view. 4. Related to the occult arts of soothsaying, such as fortune-telling by psychic mediums and the like; the noun usage also corresponds to this.[1]

Using adjective #1, the Old Testament is occult insofar as St. Augustine says, “In the Old Testament the New is concealed.” But the point is to reveal it to all, for “in the New [Testament] the Old is revealed.”[2] Esoteric traditions like Freemasonry tend toward the opposite: they seek to reveal secrets only to a select few. To Freemasons like Albert Pike, Christianity’s teachers are “the most ignorant” of the “true meaning” of which they teach; they must have the books of the Kabbalah to unlock the Bible’s mysteries.[3]

Using adjective #2, St. Paul’s theology is considered occult by none other than St. Peter himself, for Paul’s teachings are “hard to be understood.” Peter warns that many abuse Paul’s occult teachings, like they do the Scriptures (2 Pt. 3:16). Today is no different. Paul is revered by Occultists and Gnostics alike. For example, Madame Blavatsky (founder of Theosophy) praises Paul as an “initiate” or “adept” of the Neoplatonic “mysteries.”[4] To her, he was a “kabbalistic, theurgic and masonic” apostle, whose teachings must be understood in light of Simon Magus’ Gnosticism.[5]

Using adjective #3, there are many things hidden from view. Magnetism is an occult force; we only see its effects. The internet is an occult technology; we only see what pops up on the screen. Angels and demons are occult beings; we do not see them, but they do have visible effects. In most cases, the effects are ignored or assigned to some other cause. People might say they struggle with their ‘demons,’ but not in any literal sense. Usually, said ‘demons’ are chalked up to unconscious manifestations of the psyche. That doesn’t mean much if you think about it––a bit ambiguous to say the least.

With such broad applications for #1-3, definitions other than ‘secret’ or ‘hard to understand’ are necessary. We find more clarity in #4 (and its corresponding noun), but the context of soothsaying, crystal ball scrying, or matters regarding paranormal activity are not sufficient either. Yet, this is the most well known definition of the occult.

The ‘Big-O’ Occult

There are two sides to the coin that we’ll call ‘big-o’ Occultism. Jean Daniélou, SJ describes them here (unbeknownst to him it would seem) when appealing to Humani Generis (§. 26),

Many people today deny the personal character of the celestial spirits… there are two chief errors concerning this subject. The first comes from the rationalists who group angels and demons together as personifications of psychological realities… a mythical interpretation of data to which psychoanalysis would furnish the key. Others [in reaction] show a lively interest in the invisible world; but they seek to penetrate it by means of spiritism… [straying] from the one single way of access… Jesus Christ.[6]

Naturally, for Daniélou, the Catholic Church is the synthesis of this natural vs. supernatural dialectic. Another synthesis attempt came in the 19th century. It was put forth by H.P. Blavatsky in her system of Theosophy, describing it as: The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy. Her amalgam includes frequent diatribes against the Roman Catholic Church. It is here we shift to our ‘big-o’ usage of the Occult. Blavatsky makes this shift herself. In Isis Unveiled (1877) she refers to any occult material in only ‘small-o’ form. A decade later, in her Secret Doctrine (1888), she transitions to Occult, Occultists, and Occultism––all terms frequently used to describe her newly formed Theosophical movement, those within its circles, or those deemed as its predecessors in the annals of history. She defines an “Occultist” as thus,

One who studies the various branches of occult science… Occultism embraces the whole range of psychological, physiological, cosmical, physical, and spiritual phenomena. From the word occult, hidden or secret; applying therefore to the study of the Kabala, astrology, alchemy, and all arcane sciences.[7]

It might be surprising that most of these occult categories (in bold) are scientific ones; that a large portion of the most revered Occultists base their principles on naturalism, emphasizing an impersonal deity that is revealed through the laws of nature and cosmos. This is the least known type of Occultism (thus more true to its word). It is also the kind most deeply embedded into our society, albeit in subtle ways (thus more true to the nature of the Serpent).

For these Occultists, there are no miracles. There is no supernatural world as such, only unknown scientific explanations for unseen causes. Theosophy espouses this in a kind of monistic pantheism. Though Blavatsky’s explanations of ‘spirits’ are rather convoluted and complex (and understandably so), they involve no paranormal activity nor supernatural phenomenon as typically understood. More importantly, there is no personal being of Satan. The Great Red Dragon was merely invented by the Catholic Church to control people (she makes this quite clear). Carl Jung suggests similar notions in his Occult psychological studies, telling us that “the gods are without doubt personification of psychic forces.”[8] Even Aleister Crowley, ‘The Beast’ himself, believed that his Goetia’s demons are only “portions of the human brain.”[9]

Yet, a number of Occultists do see spirits as real supernatural entities––angels or demons. Others are simply agnostic on the topic. Many hold what appear to be contradictory views. They seem to accept the paranormal at one moment, while shunning it in the next. They write about spirits as if they were real, only to say they don’t believe in them a few passages later.

To make matters more confusing, academia continuously produces thousands upon thousands of pages that analyze and classify all the various sects, offshoots, and oddities that encompass what’s generally referred to as ‘western esotericism.’ Hermetic scholar Wouter Hanegraaff put together a thousand-plus page dictionary detailing all of the aforementioned types of Occult movements.[10] Brill’s academic publishing has over 100 volumes on Nag Hammadi and Manichaean Studies. As for the Occultists themselves, if anyone reads the (arguably) four most revered Occult works––Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine, Albert Pike’s Morals and Dogma, and Manly P. Hall’s The Secret Teachings of All Ages––they will have consumed just over 4,000 pages.

Catholic Forest through Occult Trees

How do we make sense of the wildly varying branches that grow on this Occult tree of (false) knowledge? Despite the vast abyss of esoteric diversity, we’d argue that its differences are tertiary or secondary. We need to look at the trunk of which they all share; one that is shared (surprisingly) with Atheists and fans of Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson alike. Though there may be an occasional variance, these groups tend to adopt the same heroes and villains of history. Nevertheless, they all oppose the tree of Christendom, that is to say, the Tree of Life. They all promote the same anti-Catholic propaganda of the Enlightenment, using the same ‘buzz terms’ to attack the Church as ignorance, darkness, superstition, etc.

Exceptions aside, you’d be hard pressed to find an Occultist––naturalist or otherwise––that would not vigorously defend the Cathars, the Gnostics, or Giordano Bruno as one of their own. You’d have better luck finding a needle in a haystack than the Occultist who doesn’t promote Black Legend propaganda, or who does not harbor a high degree of enmity toward the Jesuits of old.[11] Where is the Occultist, past or present, who believes the God of the Old Testament––interpreted in light of Catholic tradition––is anything but a cruel, jealous demiurge? If anything, to them, the God of Israel is Satan (the ‘Adversary’ of mankind). He’s the one holding mankind in bondage via arrogance and ignorance. Jesus Christ may still be seen as a liberator, but the liberation is from that of the God of Israel as the grand archon, or tyrant––not God the Father whom Christ loves (Jn. 14:31).

Meanwhile, Jesus is subjectively defined to suit the needs of the individual: a Buddhist monk, a Hindu avatar, the teacher of ‘Christ Consciousness,’ an initiate of the ‘Secret Doctrine,’ an allegory for the active male principle, a Nazarene Gnostic, the Christos-Serpent as Logos, a social justice warrior, a free-loving hippy, the first Communist, an Aryan anti-Semite (the Nazi’s so-called ‘Positive’ Christianity), etc.[12]

Each of these alternative views of Jesus synthesize in their rejection of: (a) The God of Israel as God the Father. (b) Christ’s bodily death and resurrection. (c) The Ten Commandments as objective morality given by God. We’d thereby argue that defining ‘the Occult’ under this umbrella is much more clear: as a rejection of the aforementioned, along with pagan spirituality or magic (typically of the Eastern variety) sprinkled on top of Enlightenment principles––be they naturally or supernaturally oriented.

There are indeed concealed teachings given by Our Lord, but those regarding the Commandments (Mt 19:17), His death and resurrection (Lk 9:22), or divorce laws more stringent than the law of Moses (Mt 19:3-9) are quite plainly given. While they might be hard to accept, they are easy to understand. Perhaps, this is precisely what the Occult is designed to take its initiates away from.

If we strip down ‘hard to understand’ concepts to the ‘weightier’ matters of the law––the Ten Commandments––with humility and humbleness of heart, the fruits of the Tree of Life become more obvious over time (Mt 7:19-20). In turn, the labor for additional knowledge becomes less burdensome (Mt 11:28-30); Paul’s teachings are left unmolested, as St. Peter would hope, and certainly not conflated with Simonian Gnosticism like many Occultists do.

Rethinking Rather than Redefining

In summation, the adjective use of occult may be applied to perfectly licit Catholic practices depending upon the context. In the scientific realm, exploring natural occult forces within the boundaries of Catholic dogma is just fine. There is also occult Catholic history: that which few people know. But this is mostly due to the Adversary’s so-called Enlightenment putting a veil of darkness over Christendom’s history––one we’ve collectively accepted.

As for ‘big-o’ Occultism, we’d offer a final layer: that it is Satan’s magisterium. This magisterium is a bit different than the Church’s. It constantly contradicts and changes what came before it; yet, a hidden song remains the same, to which Fr. Chad Ripperger sums up the tune: “Demons have a core principle which guides them: ‘Anything but God!’[13] Translated for our purposes: anything but the Roman Catholic Church and its superstitious, ignorant, ‘Dark Ages’ dogma.

Sadly, most members in this ‘body of the Serpent’ (as opposed to the body of Christ) do not see its head, let alone believe they’re in a church to begin with. In inverted fashion, Satan is this invisible head. He ‘infallibly’ interprets the Knowledge of Good & Evil; that is to say, subjectively determining what is ‘reality’ at any given moment: what’s good, what’s bad, what’s right, what’s wrong––all according to the ‘needs of man’ at the time. The contradictions matter not, so long as they always lead mankind toward rebellion, and into an adversarial relationship with God and His created order. The key is convincing as many humans as possible that this is a just cause; it must be darkness disguised as “light” (2 Cor. 14:13-15); and in that department, the Great Dragon, that Serpent of old, is an expert Occultist.

The goal of Christ against the Occult is to strike the head of this adversarial anti-Church. But first, the head must be exposed (Eph. 5:11-13). The Serpent sheds his skin only to regenerate a bodily exterior of all new colors, so it’s often concealed by many subtle layers. Therefore, we must look to Our Blessed Mother for some ‘good help.’ She, as St. Louis de Montfort puts it, “unveils the malice” of the Adversary “with so much ingenuity”; thus, in that department, Our Lady, the destroyer of all heresies, is an expert: not only at revealing the concealed head of that ancient Serpent, but in dealing him a crushing blow as well (Gen 3:15).[14] Sometimes that blow is as ‘simple’ as birthing a child.

Stay tuned for more in our next installment.

Photo: created by W. D. Flanders.

[1] Merriam-Webster, s. v. “occult.”

[2] St. Augustine, Quaest. in Hept. 2, 73: PL 34, 623.

[3] Pike, Morals and Dogma, pp. 105, 843 – “The books of the Kabbalah must be known to unlock Scripture.” The Zohar and Sepher Yetzirah: the books of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah).

[4] We’ll discuss the relevance of Theosophy in future articles.

[5] Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, Vol. II, pp. 89-91 – We find Blavatsky’s angst toward Peter, calling him “cowardly, cautious, insincere, and very ignorant.” Yet, high praise for Paul, allegedly an “initiate” of some form into the “theurgic mysteries.” She praises him for rebuking Peter (Gal. 2:11-21), even going so far as to claim Paul was on the side of Simon the Magician, founder of the Simonian Gnostic sect, or perhaps even the same person conflated by the sands of time.

[6] Daniélou, The Angels and Their Mission, Introduction, pp. vii-viii – I am aware that some consider Daniélou to be a ‘Modernist’ due to his associations with the Nouvelle Théologie school. However, I’ve only come across what I would consider to be excellent and inspiring literature from him. If there are more problematic writings out there I have not encountered them, though I don’t claim to be an expert on his work. This particular book was recommended by Dr. Brant Pitre in a lecture series; I highly recommend it myself.

[7] Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, vol. i, intro, p. xxxvii

[8] Jung, Collected Works, vol. x, v. 387, p. 185.

[9] DuQuette, The Key to Solomon’s Key, p. 145 – DuQuette provides the quote.

[10] Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism.

[11] I’d roughly consider the ‘Jesuits of old’––in an honorific sense––to be from 1540-1940. Sadly, the bulk of the Order today has fallen from grace.

[12] See Richard Steigmann-Gall’s The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919–1945.

[13] Fraune, Slaying Dragons, p. 109.

[14] De Montfort, True Devotion, v. 52, p. 23.

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