THE OCCULT: BRIEF EXPLANATIONS OF VARIOUS TERMS AND CONCEPTS

by Marcia Montenegro (page 1 of 4)

Definition of the occult:

The occult is an umbrella term which includes many practices and belief systems. These beliefs are usually based on the idea that everything is or contains energy (an unquantifiable energy), and one can access, change, channel and/or manipulate this energy (or force) for the purposes of gaining information, healing, or bringing a desired situation or thing into material reality. This energy may be described in different ways and have different names. Since this energy is considered a part of the natural world, it is not always considered to be supernatural by those who practice these techniques. Beliefs at the foundation of occultism may include pantheism, polytheism, monism, and variations on Gnosticism. The belief that the body or the material world is a denser or lower form of energy is common. There may also be a belief in spirits which one contacts for aid, healing, or advice. Nature and its forces, the spirit world, and/or paranormal powers of the mind are emphasized. The three major forms of the occult are spirit contact (spiritism), divination (often called fortunetelling, although that term does not fully describe the practice), and magick/sorcery. There is also the denial of absolute truth, and of absolute good or evil. Historically, occult practices are connected to the worship of false gods and to child sacrifice; however, it should be noted that occultists today deny belief in these practices and usually claim to use their abilities and powers for good. Occult practices, whether the intention is good or not, are condemned strongly by God in Deut. 18:9-12; 2 Kings 17:17; I Chron. 10:13; Is. 8:19, 47:12-15; Ezk. 13:20, 21; Acts 7:41-44; Gal. 5:20; Rev. 21:8; and many other passages.

Disclaimers

-The explanations are basic and general, and, for the most part, are not in-depth.
-This list is not exhaustive. Some topics are covered more thoroughly in separate documents on this website. It is acknowledged that the terms here are only a small portion of extensive terms used in occultism. More terms will be added in the future.
-These are not academic definitions and might vary from dictionary definitions.
-Not all of these terms relate directly to occult practices; some are included because they may have occult content or are used peripherally to occult or New Age practices.
-Since there is no consistent agreement even among occultists on these terms, there will always be those who disagree with these definitions/explanations.
-The writer's experiences and background in New Age and occult practices have contributed to her understanding and explanation of some of these terms.
-These terms are being defined/explained mainly in terms of their application to Western culture.

Sources

A list of selected sources is at the end of this document. The information here is based on these sources as well as on the personal experiences of the writer with many of these phenomena, and on the teachings the writer received while learning and participating for many years in New Age and occult practices. For more complete explanations of many of these terms, see Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience by Rosemary Guiley and The Complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies, and Magic by Migene Gonzalez-Wippler. These books are sympathetic to the mystical and paranormal. For a counter view, see Testing the Spirits by Elizabeth l. Hillstrom, which offers physiological explanations (while not denying the possibility of a spiritual source) for: near-death experiences, mystical healings, communication with spirits, altered states of consciousness, Eastern meditation, and UFO encounters. Both books are listed at the end under Selected Sources.

Foundational concepts often found in the occult

Animism - A spirit(s) or life force inhabits all creatures & nature, sometimes inanimate objects as well.

Chi (also ki, qi or ji) - A "life force" pervading the universe that sustains the body & the material world. These terms & concepts come from Eastern beliefs but are most prominently used in the martial arts and in alternative healing. Both ki & chi can be seen in the following terms: Aikido, Tai Chi, Reiki (energy healing). This force may also be known as the life force, vital force, the vital energy, bioenergy, universal life force, or universal energy. The belief in such a force is at the heart of occutlism, and is also found in New Age beliefs.

Dualism and Polarity - The belief in two equal, opposing forces; or a belief in two forces which appear opposite but are actually complementary. When these forces are seen as hostile to each other, as in matter and spirit, the belief is that matter must be transcended to attain a true spiritual understanding or state. This is related to Gnostic duality of matter vs. spirit and is found in many New Age beliefs. A common view is that matter is just the densest form of energy, and can be mastered and/or transcended (see James Redfield's best-seller, The Celestine Prophecy, which teaches this view as a central spiritual tenet). The belief that opposing forces are complementary and necessary to each other is sometimes termed polarity. These forces are not necessarily seen in terms of good vs. evil (See Farrar, chapter on "The Rationale of Witchcraft"). Balancing these forces is considered essential for harmony and wholeness. These forces are usually thought of as light & dark, male & female, or the yin & yang. The "Star Wars" movies express this idea as the light and dark sides of the Force. Good and evil are not absolute and are seen as necessary for balance. Good and evil, or other opposites, may also be seen as part of each other, or as mirrors of each other. There is also the belief that good and evil are transcended when one reaches the Source (defined differently in various beliefs) or Power beyond all. (An example of a best-selling book promoting this view is in Deepak Chopra's How To Know God, pp. 151, 170; also see another best-seller, Rabbi David Cooper's, God Is A Verb, p.156-157).

Monism - One force connects and pervades all life, both nature and humanity; this force is usually seen as impersonal.

Pantheism - The One (force) is transcendent, external (as a divine force or God/Goddess) & internal, giving man a divine Self (also called Higher Self).

Polytheism - There are many gods/goddesses, or there is one divine being manifested in many deities. This belief is found in some (not all) Neo-pagan practices such as Wicca, Asatru, and Odinism. See Wicca.

Terms/Beliefs/Practices/Groups/Merchandise

[Note: The term 'magick' is often spelled by occultists with a 'k' to distinguish it from stage magic and will be spelled as 'magick' in this document]. Akashic Record - A sort of psychic file collection of everything said or done in the universe. It is believed that one can access this record through psychic means or alternate states of consciousness. Many psychics and occult teachers, such as Rudolf Steiner, have claimed this is how they accessed information on a client. Edgar Cayce, the "sleeping prophet," who went into trances and did readings on people (first medical, later spiritual), claimed to access the Akashic Records, which he described as a room with books on people's lives (Guiley, Paranormal, 4). Some believe that the Akashic Records are kept on the astral plane. See Astral Projection.

Altered State of Consciousness - A trance or light hypnosis brought about through one of the following: certain forms of meditation; repetitive chanting; mind-altering drugs; ecstatic dancing or movement (such as practiced by the followers of Sufism, a mystical spin-off of Islam); breathing techniques; sensory deprivation; concentrating on a repetitive movement (like a swinging pendulum); focusing on one point (like a candle flame); suggestion; guided visualization and other practices usually associated with Eastern meditation and the occult. In this state, the mind is highly suggestible to both outer and inner influences; critical judgment and thinking are suspended; and the person often feels a 'high' or a sense of oneness with the world. In deep experiences of this state, the person may hallucinate or hear voices. The experience of altered states of consciousness has been compared to taking certain hallucinogens such as LSD. Such states are sought after by those who practice psychic techniques, forms of divination, and past life recall in order to facilitate their practices. Past life regression, the technique for recalling past lives, is preceded by exercises to bring about an altered state of consciousness. When the possibility of a past life is either believed by the querent or strongly suggested by the hypnotist or person guiding the querent, the chances are high that a person in an altered state will seem to recall a past life. This state is often described in other ways, such as centering or getting centered, and is commonly used in alternative/complementary healing. Some scientists and psychologists claim that the experiences of these "altered states" have a basis in physiology, and may not be at all what they appear to be (see chapter 4 in Hillstrom's book listed in Selected Sources). See Hypnosis.

Amulet - A charm (object, drawing, word, or symbol) believed to contain special powers or magick which is worn or carried as protection against misfortune. May also be used in sorcery to protect the magician from harmful spirits "summoned in ritual" (Guiley, Paranormal, 17; for extensive explanation, see Guiley, Witches, 8-9). Popular amulets today include the rabbit's foot, the horseshoe, and the four-leaf clover, all believed to bring 'luck' to the owner by protecting against misfortune. See Pentagram, Sigil.

Angels -  "Angel" means "messenger." Angels are creatures; that is, they are created by God. The Bible mentions categories of angels such as archangels ( 1 Thess. 4.16; Jude 9), seraphim (Isaiah Chapter 6), and cherubim (Genesis 3.24; Exodus Chapter 25 and related passages on the cherubim in the Ark of the Covenant;  and Ezekiel Chapter 10), but we are given limited information on these creatures and should be careful not to speculate too much nor take extra-biblical information on angels as valid. Angels are spirit beings (Heb. 1.14) and humans do not become angels after death. The Bible names only 3 angels: Michael, Gabriel, and Satan ("Satan" means "the adversary"). Gabriel and Michael both appear in the book of Daniel where Daniel is given revelatory visions from God. Daniel is a prophet chosen by God to receive these visions; he does not summon angels. In Luke chapter one, Gabriel gives Mary the news that she will give birth to the Messiah. The archangel Michael is in Jude 9 and Revelation 12.7. Satan appears or is referred to in 1 Chronicles 1.21; in the first two chapters of Job; in Zechariah 3.1,2; in the Gospels, where he tempts Jesus; in numerous places where Jesus refers to Satan as a real being (for example, see Luke 10.18); in Acts 5.3 and 23:18; in Romans 16:20 and other New Testament books; and in several places in Revelation. We know there are bad or evil angels, because some angels went with Satan when he was cast down to earth: "And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him" (Revelation 12.2). Satan can also appear good, disguising himself as an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11.14). The bad or fallen angels, called evil or unclean spirits, or demons, are referred to in the four Gospels as possessing people or causing illness, and are warned against in the New Testament, especially in regards to deception and false teaching: "[I]n later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons"(1 Timothy 4.1). Jesus demonstrated His authority over the realm of angels by commanding and casting out demons. God's angels are sometimes called "holy angels" (Matthew 25.31; Mark 8.38; Luke 9.26; Acts 10:22; Revelation 14.10). The Bible reveals how God uses His angels: as messengers, to protect and to minister to those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1.14), to free apostles from prison, to battle against Satan, as "reapers" at the end of the age (Matthew 13.39-41, 49; Revelation 14.9), and for other endtime activities. These angels serve only God and go at His command. The messages brought by God's angels were specific and related to Israel, the coming Messiah, the last days; and were announcements or warnings to those in the Christ story (Zacharias, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the Magi, the women at Christ's resurrection). Angels from God are never personal guides or teachers. Since Christ is the only Mediator between man and God (1 Timothy 2.5), and since spirit contact is forbidden (Deuteronomy 18.11, Isaiah 8.19, and other passages), no one should pray to angels, summon them, or contact them in any way. Such efforts will only bring responses from fallen evil angels, who are only too happy to disguise themselves as good angels (or as the dead, as aliens, as guardian angels, as helpful spirit guides, as benevolent beings from other dimensions, etc.). Practitioners of occult arts summon angels as part of their practices, and those in the occult and New Age have guides that they believe are benevolent. However, these guides are deceptive fallen angels. See Angel Oracle Cards, Satan, Spirit Guides, Spiritism. Also see, "What Does the Bible Teach About Angels?" http://www.christiananswers.net/q-acb/acb-t005.html

Angel Oracle Cards - See Angels, above.  Angel card decks exist purportedly as a divinatory tool, or to offer inspiration and/or healing. The cards' instructions often urge the person to meditate on a particular angel and/or to contact an angel and are used this way in the New Age. Using these cards for divination or spirit contact violates commandments against such practices in Deuteronomy 18.10-12 and many other passages. Using the cards to contact angels will only elicit a response from fallen angels, also known as evil spirits or demons. See Divination, Spirit Guides, Spiritism.

Anime - Not an occult product in itself, but a cartoon form of storytelling imported from Japan. In many stories, the action is very violent; in some stories, the characters have occult powers.

Ankh - A cross topped by a loop, sometimes called a tau-cross, connected to the worship of the Egyptian goddess, Isis. The symbol, a combination of a cross (male) and loop (female), is said to represent a mystical life force and/or immortality, the reconciliation of opposites, and/or the dualistic creative life force of male & female energies. The Egyptian kings, gods and goddesses are often depicted holding an ankh to show their immortality and their power over life and death. Ankhs were used as Egyptian amulets. The closed loop may symbolize "...the life force identified with Isis, from whom life flows in all its forms," (Chevalier, The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, 28). Used in New Age, Wicca, and Vampire subculture. See Amulet.

Astral Projection, Astral Travel, Astral Plane - Also known as out-of-body experience (OBE), this is a practice in which a person believes their astral self separates from the body and travels to other physical locations or possibly to an astral realm. Sometimes the person merely hovers above his/her body, especially during medical operations or severe accidents. This experience may be a physiologically caused hallucination. Astral travel is referred to in ancient practices from Egypt and Tibet, and is also written about by some ancient writers such as Plato, Plotinus and others (Guiley, Encyclopedia of the Mystical & Paranormal, 420). The astral self is a major belief of Theosophy (a religion based on Hinduism founded in the late 19th century by occultist Madame Blavatsky) and of other religions that divide a person into various essences and parts. The astral self is part of the etheric body and separates from the body at death. However, many occult teachings hold that the astral self can leave the body during life. The astral self is non-material but can be visible to those in material form, though not always. In many New Age and occult belief systems, such as the cult of Eckankar, it is thought to be good, although potentially dangerous, to practice astral travel, and techniques to do this are taught. Some beliefs posit several planes of reality, such as the causal, spiritual, mental, astral and material, each being a realm through which the soul eventually passes. Teachings somewhat similar to this are in Tibetan Buddhism, as espoused in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, which gives advice on preparing for what will happen after death. Some believe the Akashic Records are part of the astral plane. Astral projection is also used by those calling themselves psychic vampires, who believe they can leave their body and in astral form secretly feed off the spirit or energy of another person. There is no clear evidence that astral projection is real, though there are stories from those who claim to practice it that make it seem as though it is real (including this writer, who experienced astral projection frequently). However, proponents of astral projection do not account for spiritual deception and would dismiss this as a possible explanation. Some claim that Paul in Second Corinthians 12:1-5 is speaking of an out-of-body or astral experience. However, first of all, Paul says that he does not know if he was in his body or not, so the value of this as an astral or out-of-body experience is totally diminished at the very beginning of the account. Secondly, this is a revelation and experience that God initiated and gave to Paul; Paul did not seek this out or initiate it. Thirdly, Paul did not reveal what he saw because he was not permitted (verse 4). Fourth, this experience or visionary revelation is not the point of the passage, but is used to make another point, that Paul cannot boast of anything because he is a weak man and God keeps Paul humble through his weakness (verses 6-10). There is no endorsement of astral travel in this passage and using it as such is a gross misuse and twisting of the passage. The advocates of astral travel teach that one can learn to initiate the experience and that it can be of spiritual benefit, but the benefits are measured according to the teachings and standards of those advocating it, and these teachings are rooted in occult philosophies.  

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