By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
November 18 marks Occult Day for those interested in a bit of magic or mysticism. The obscure holiday celebrates the unknown all around us. What exactly constitutes the occult?
From National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day to Pretend to Be a Time Traveler Day, the calendar is full of strange and obscure holidays. November 18 is known to some as Occult Day, in which participants embrace and examine the unknown universe. Subjects as wide-ranging as witchcraft, UFOs, necromancy, and monsters are all subjects that can be related to the occult.
But what does the occult really mean? The original definition of the word means “hidden,” but it’s taken on a life of its own that involves much more. In his video series Secrets of the Occult, Dr. Richard B. Spence, Professor Emeritus at the University of Idaho, helps to explain what the contemporary meaning of the occult is.
Defining the Occult without Selling Your Soul
“In popular imagination, the occult is connected to all things supernatural, magical, or mystical, which is basically true, but the term occult itself simply means ‘concealed’ or ‘hidden’—specifically, hidden from sight,” Dr. Spence said. “The big question is: What’s hidden? The basic answer is that it’s not just beliefs or practices, but an entire world, a bigger world or greater reality that surrounds us and influences us, but of which we are—mostly—only dimly aware.”
Hence, occult beliefs and practices aim to make the world of the unknown accessible and even controllable. From that perspective, the hard sciences and the occult have much in common. However, the occult eschews studying one subject in favor of studying and understanding everything and how it all fits together.
Popular culture tends to paint the occult as something inherently evil. While many of the ideas of the occult are fringe or conspiratorial in nature, many other ideas involves common aspects of modern life.
“There’s the humble Christmas tree,” Dr. Spence said. “It’s the centerpiece of an annual ritual replete with occult symbolism and significance. The same goes for jolly old Saint Nick. But any way you cut it, the occult is more than tricks, robes, candles, and selling your soul to the devil. It’s a philosophy, a mindset, and even a lifestyle.”
One of the most influential figures in the occult is Aleister Crowley. Crowley was a British occultist born in 1875. He was also a poet, painter, and novelist who founded a religion called Thelema. He, of course, was its prophet.
Crowley claimed to specialize in “magick,” which he spelled with a “k” to differentiate it from the stage variety. Dr. Spence said that Crowley defined magick as an art and science that causes change to occur through the power of will. It’s the exact same idea that pops up in positive thinking and self-affirmation.
“Stripped down to basics, it’s all mind over matter,” Dr. Spence said. “Crowley’s magick isn’t just superstitious mumbo-jumbo followed blindly by the ignorant and credulous. Instead, it’s an organized system of thought and behavior that can, if used correctly and wisely, reveal a greater reality and the true self. Magick and the occult, Crowley believed, was where science and religion […] could be reconciled.”
Secrets of the Occult is now available to stream on Wondrium.