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What Is The Occult? – Definition

Ask many people to define ‘occult’, and chances are they’ll start talking about black magic or vampires and the like. However, there’s more it than this kind of thing – let’s look at what the term actually means.

The term ‘occult’ is derived from the Latin word ‘occultus’, which means ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’. In general use, it’s used to refer to ‘hidden knowledge’ – or information that isn’t generally known or understood (and which may possibly be considered beyond the range of human understanding). More specifically, the word is often used in reference to esoteric subjects involving the perception and manipulation of phenomena and forces beyond those perceived by the five senses or understood by science; the supernatural, in other words, hence the popular association with magic etc.

shadowy woodThe term ‘the occult’, when used as a noun, can encompass the study of a wide variety of areas that aren’t generally understood (especially by science) or even known about. This study is referred to as ‘occultism’, and may take place within a ‘secret society’ type of environment, or be pursued by individuals. Those who study occultism may be interested in areas as diverse as:

  • Extra-sensory perception (psychic powers)

  • Tarot Cards
  • Out of Body Experience
  • Magic (of all types – black, white and ‘grey’)
  • Alchemy
  • Astrology
  • Energy work
  • Numerology

… and many other such topics. What these have in common is that they provide ways of understanding the world that fall outside the scope of science (or at least of mainstream science at its current level of development), and in most cases, outside the scope of religion too. Having said that, sometimes the meaning of ‘occult’ is extended to include religion, when the focus is placed on the more mystical aspects of a given religion, such as the Jewish Kabbalah, (the views of such religious mystics may disagree with those of more conventional religious thinkers, however).

It’s worth noting that occult phenomena aren’t by definition negative, or somehow ‘evil’, as some anti-occult propagandists might have people believe. Instead, they often involve the harnessing of powers and forces that can be used for helpful or harmful ends, depending on the intent of the practitioner.

Other Definitions of ‘Occult’

The word occult is most often used in the context we’ve discussed here. However, it’s also used in the medical profession, to refer to a hidden process or physical structure within the body. Some people also use the term to refer to any kind of knowledge that isn’t generally known or available, but which doesn’t necessarily have esoteric connections.


So, by definition occult means ‘hidden knowledge’, and is most often used to refer to knowledge of supernatural forces. But the word has other meanings too, so the context in which it’s used should always be considered.

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