Reclaiming the Occult
🌱 Work in progress - I’m still working through some of the concepts in this article. Contents will likely change over time as I think about these ideas.
When you hear the word occult, what comes to mind?
Do your thoughts immediately go to things that are sinister or dark? Do you think it’s associated with evil practices? Satanism?
That’s because the word occult has been hijacked.
For hundreds of years, the word occult has gotten a bad rap, especially within the Christian context. The protestant reformation helped accelerate its move toward the idea that anything “occult” was considered evil.
Essentially, occult has become a loaded word. Most people automatically associate it with a negative meaning.
But what if I told you that the word itself really doesn’t mean that something is good or bad?
What is the Occult?
If we take a look at the word, occult is derived from the Latin word occultus, which means “clandestine, hidden, or secret.” Other meanings include: arcane, esoteric, obscure, concealed, mysterious, or hidden away.
Merriam-Webster defines occult as “not revealed, not easily apprehended, hidden from view, not manifest or detectable by clinical methods alone.”
In simpler terms, it is that which is hidden from the eye. In fact, occult has the same Latin root as the word oculus, which means “eye”. To occult something means to hide it from view.
Gravity is occult.
Radio waves are occult.
Electricity (to some extent) is occult.
Nuclear physics is occult.
That is to say that all of these natural forces are unseen. They aren’t assigned a value of good or evil. They simply exist in a way that cannot be seen with the eye.
Science, in many ways, is an attempt to de-occult things. In other words, the primary goal of science is to look at something that is unknown or unseen and attempt to measure it, see it, or understand how it works. Science is in direct relationship with things that are occult.
So when we turn our attention to spiritual practices, what we are talking about when we use the term occult is simply an interaction with that which is hidden.
The most obvious example of an occult practice is prayer.
An extension of this idea is rituals and practices that were reserved, known, or knowable only to a select few people. In most traditions, including Christianity, there has always been a separation between the sacred and the profane - those who know and understand the “mysteries” and those who don’t.
Many ancient wisdom traditions built Mystery Schools that taught these occult philosophies to initiates.
Christianity has occult elements
The Bible is full of esoteric and occult terminology, stories and ideas. Many times you will see the Greek word mysterion (μυστήριον) used throughout the New Testament (27 times!), especially in the writings of Paul. Mysterion is used to denote something hidden or secret. Something that is generally only revealed to those who are initiated.
In other words - mysterion is occult, or hidden from view.
Here are a few examples of its use:
“Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” (Ephesians 3:8-9 )
“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-7)
Additionally, there are numerous passages throughout Scripture that talk about secret teachings being reserved only for a select few. Even Jesus himself spoke about the two modes of understanding. Here are a few examples:
“When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables” (Mark 4:10-11 )
“The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (Matthew 13:10-11 )
“His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that “though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.” (Luke 8:9-10)
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)
That is occult terminology that indicates there is certain knowledge and interpretations that are reserved only for those who are ready to hear it. In many cases, Jesus’s disciples are the ones who have been told the deeper meanings.
In Ephesians 6:12, Paul speaks directly in occult language when he says:
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
“Against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” is a realm that is unseen. And the fact that Paul states that we “struggle” with these powers and forces seems to indicate that we can directly interact with this hidden realm.
To be very clear - this is occult language.
Prayer is occult.
Casting out demons and believing in demon possession is occult.
Healing is occult.
Certain charismatic practices are occult.
The idea of the Holy Spirit is occult.
Whether we like to admit it or not, Christianity is bathed in occult practices and beliefs.
Reclaiming the occult
So, maybe we need to reclaim the word. Or at the very least acknowledge that we’ve assigned an unfair meaning to the occult and those who choose to use the term.
But, what happens if we attempt to reclaim this ancient (and dare I say Biblical) practice of occult interpretations that seem to be at the foundation of our faith? I mean it seems as if Jesus himself indicated that some things require a deeper interpretation - one that is hidden from everyday view. Something that requires you to contemplate and dig a little deeper.
Could we gain a new level of understanding of Christianity’s teachings by allowing ourselves to explore the deeper edges of interpretation?
Could we reach higher levels of transformation that have been rendered impotent because we’ve wrongly labeled such things as evil?
Could we, as Paul exhorted, embrace the mysterion - that which is hidden?
References & Further Reading: