The occult (from the Latin word occultus "clandestine, hidden, secret") is "knowledge of the hidden".
Occultism or occult studies is the study of hidden knowledge. This in and of itself can be interpreted several ways, including:
- Knowledge kept from the wider population, offered only to initiates after proper preparation. Reasons for this commonly include the belief that such knowledge is dangerous to the unprepared, and that revealing sacred knowledge to the common populace profanes that knowledge.
- Knowledge disguised by God for only the select few to comprehend. Multiple Renaissance occultists, for example, wrote of the Book of Nature, that is to say, the physical universe. Within this book are clues and messages, left by God, which can be found and deciphered by those both educated and worthy.
- Knowledge of realms, energies, or abilities not recognized by the general populace. The most common use of the term occult in this way is in relation to the practice of magic, but in a wider sense anything supernatural or paranormal might be included.
There are countless practices around the world that might be labeled as occult including magic, alchemy, Kabbalah extra-sensory perception, astrology, numerology, spiritualism, religion, and divination.
Many occultists follow practices involving aspects of multiple paths, which makes generalizing about the occult extremely difficult. In addition, not all followers of these paths label themselves occultists, and outsiders should be sensitive to such differences in definition.
It also describes a number of magical organizations or orders, the teachings and practices taught by them, and to a large body of current and historical literature and spiritual philosophy related to this subject.
Occultism is often considered roughly synonymous with esoteric and mystical, two far less threatening terms often used in conjunction with branches of mainstream and alternative religions alike.
Occult qualities are properties that have no known rational explanation; in the Middle Ages, for example, magnetism was considered an occult quality. Newton's contemporaries severely criticized his theory that gravity was effected through "action at a distance", as occult.