Renaissance occult philosophers organized, semi-codified and expanded existing occult knowledge, and many of their works form the foundation of modern Western occult practices. Their cosmology was divided into three realms, and it was earth-centric rather than helio-centric (a concept that has been suggested by this time but not widely accepted), with the rest of the universe wrapped around it like layers of an onion.
Dichotomy of Spirit and MatterA primary belief driving the creation of this cosmology is the concept of a dichotomy between spirit and matter. All things are created for some mixture of spirit and matter. The physical world is primarily composed of matter, while the angels are primarily composed of spirit, for example. Items of vastly different compositions simply cannot directly connect. As such, intermediate layers are necessary to bridge the enormous gulf between physical existence and God.
Layers of RealityThe layers are divided into three realms, with outer layers being considered more spiritual and less physical than the realms below them. Within each layer are sub-hierarchies, again with outer layers being more spiritual than inner ones. The entire arrangement creates a graduated scale of spiritualness and materialness, with the central core being almost entirely material, and the outer ring being almost entirely spiritual.
This hierarchical system reinforced the Neoplatonic concept of spiritual development being necessary through steps. One must ascend by stages, slowly becoming more spiritual and less material. This is done through ritual but also through knowledge: truly understanding the nature of a level brings one more in tune with it as well. Attempting to expose oneself to knowledge too far out of reach was expected to provoke negative responses.
Read more about the individual realms:
Earth-Centric Systems in the Modern WorldModern day occultists accept scientific views of the universe. Certainly none of them think that Earth is at the physical center of the universe, with everything else centered on it (as Fludd believed). However, the earth-centric model can still be used metaphorically or metaphysically. Says Adam McLean, a modern occultist:
[W]e can hold simultaneously in our consciousness many different models of the same facts on the outer world without there being any contradiction, as these models are all used in different ways, for different purposes. Thus the Copernican [earth-centric] model is fine if we wish to calculate planetary movements. The Ptolemaic [helio-centric] model also has a value in picturing other kinds of relationships. Only when we insist upon an absolute theoretical model of reality, can there be any contradiction in using these two Cosmic pictures.Earth can still represent the physical side of the spectrum, with God representing the spiritual side of the spectrum, and all of the layers in-between representing intermediary steps.
These in-between layers can still keep their traditional associations. For example, surrounding yourself with items associated with the sun such as gold will help to attract solar influences, or else the item in question is a direct conduit of the desired influences, depending upon specific belief. On an even more abstract level, one may consider gold to be a subconscious reminder of the qualities one hopes to develop and attain. Regardless, these solarian influences are generally seen as spiritually superior to martian influences and far superior to any terrestrial influences, described below.
As Above, So BelowThe Hermetic maxim "as above, so below" is another cornerstone of Western occult belief. While vastly different realms cannot directly communicate and interact with each other, the entire system does move as one. Movements in the upper realms dictate movements in the lower realms, and movements in the lower realms are an indication of movements in the upper realms.
God, who exists beyond the Angelic realm, commands the angels who move the celestial bodies in accordance. The influence of these bodies in turn brings about changes within the physical realm. Thus, learned astrologers could understand the influences at work upon the world at any moment through understanding of the position of the celestial bodies at that particular time.