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Paths of the Western Occult Tradition

Types of Occult Practices

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The following is a partial list of paths within the Western Occult Tradition. Many occultists follow practices involving aspects of multiple paths. This makes generalizing about the occult extremely difficult and is the reason I find it more helpful to describe individual occult paths. In addition, not all followers of these paths label themselves occultists, and outsiders should be sensitive to such differences in definition.

Hermeticism

A system of theological and mystical philosophy that developed around the second century in a collection of texts once attributed to Hermes Trismegistus but now understood to be the work of multiple anonymous authors.

Neoplatonism

A system of theological and mystical philosophy founded in the third century by Plotinus, and developed by a number of his contemporaries or near contemporaries. Neoplatonic works are based on the philosophical works of Plato, particularly those relating to his theory of forms and the difference between absolute and perceived reality.

Kabbalah

Jewish mysticism as discussed in a variety of sources, most notably the Zohar. Much of Kabbalah, particularly within Judaism, has to do with the discovery of deeper meanings within Jewish holy texts. New-Jewish forms of Kabbalah are the ones most commonly labeled as occult.

Gnosticism

A broad range of beliefs generally depicting reality as perfect souls created by a perfect god trapped within the material world created by an imperfect or evil spirit. Gnosticism also strongly emphasizes the search for hidden knowledge of humanity's condition as a means of escaping it, which is why Gnosticism is often categorized as occult.

Alchemy

The study of transmutation on both physical and spiritual levels. Based upon the Hermetic principle "as above, so below," alchemy holds that by learning of the properties of the physical world they may learn the secrets of the spiritual one as well. The most commonly known goal of alchemy is the transmutation of lead into gold, which is largely a metaphor for transforming something coarse and unrefined into something perfect, rare and whole. It is debated whether alchemists ever tried to actually transform physical lead, or whether it was entirely metaphorical.

Astrology

The determination of influences working on Earth that originate in the more perfect celestial bodies.

Numerology

The manipulation of numbers to reveal additional information and meaning. This can involve both the interpretation of numbers themselves as well as assigning numerical values to letters and/or words.

Thelema

Religion and philosophy based upon the writings of Aleister Crowley concerning the seeking and expression of one's True Will, or destiny.

Wicca

This neopagan religion has many roots in the beliefs and ceremonies of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and it stresses esoteric knowledge and personal spiritual experience, particularly in its more traditional forms.

Satanism

Not all Satanic practices can be labeled as occult. Members of the Church of Satan who simply embrace the life-affirming teachings, for example, are not occultists in any sense of the word. However, many Satanists incorporate occult magical practices into their rituals (including Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey), and some forms of Satanism are inherently occult, such as the Temple of Set.

Theosophy

Based on the writings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Theosophy probably bears the most Eastern influences of any path in the Western Occult Tradition. Theosophists seek knowledge of their higher, more spiritual selves, of which our common personality and consciousness are generally unaware.

Divination

A variety of methods of predicting potential outcomes or reading the influences surrounding a person, time or event.
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