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While there is much overlap between religion and the occult, there are differences in emphasis. By definition, religion is concerned with “belief in a divine or superhuman power or powers to be obeyed and worshiped as the creator(s) and ruler(s) of the universe.” But the occult deals with a middle realm of the supernatural, that which is more than the physical but less than the divine. Therefore, the typical psychic is also the adherent of a religion such as Christianity, and very likely believes in God, sacred scriptures, salvation, and the authority of traditional doctrines. The occult or psychic realm typically does not deal with such matters. As a result, it usually has coexisted with religion rather than being a substitute for it. However, in recent years, some people, disillusioned with religion, have turned to the occult as religion. This is a leading characteristic of the New Age.

This brings us to definitions of the word “occult.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term “occult” was first used in1545 to mean that which is “not apprehended, or not apprehensible by the mind; beyond the range of understanding or ordinary knowledge.” Almost a century later, in 1633, the word was additionally defined to mean “those ancient and medieval reputed sciences, held to involve the knowledge or use of agencies of a secret and mysterious nature [as magic, alchemy, astrology, theosophy].”

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the “occult” as follows: “[L. occultus] as “concealed” p.p. of occulere, to cover over. 1. Hidden; concealed. 2. Secret; esoteric. 3. Beyond human understanding;mysterious. 4. Designating of certain mystic arts or studies, such as magic, alchemy, astrology, etc.” . “Esoteric” is an adjective of Greek origin [εσοέρικοσ, esotērikos < esotēros]. It is defined: “1. Intended for and understood by only a chosen few; of or for only an inner group of disciples or initiates; said of ideas, doctrines, literature etc.” Today the occult, refers to magic, astrology, numerology, alchemy, theurgy, and divination. All six are occult practices based on esoteric beliefs.

According to Antoine Faive, the terms “esotericism” (meaning secret doctrines) and “occultism” (meaning secret practises) were invented by Eliphas Lévi, the pseudonym of Alphonse Constans, a Catholic seminarian, who died in 1875. Through his reading of Gnostic, and Kabbalistic lore, Constans was obsessed with the belief that there is a hidden dimension of spiritual reality perceived only by initiates.

As mentioned, Esotericism refers to secret mystical doctrines and the occult to the practises based on them. While at first glance, they present a formless chaos, closer scrutiny plus comparisons among various cultures throughout the world disclose that esotericism and the occult are coherent, and that their various aspects can be classified under a few broad headings. These are theosophy or divine wisdom; spiritualism or communication with the departed; astrology, the supposed relationship between ourselves and heavenly bodies, alchemy; the alleged relationship between physical substances and the soul; divination, or the discernment of the future by means of techniques such as cheiromancy, reading one’s future from bumps and lines in a person’s hand, and cartomancy, or character analysis and fortune-telling by consulting playing cards.

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