Occultism and Astrology

Occultism and Astrology

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

In the same way the media seized upon the expression New Age in the late 1980s and transformed it into a term of derision, an earlier wave of media interest in the early 1970s seized upon the word “occult” and succeeded in connecting it with such negative phenomena as black magic. Ever since the media sensationalized the “occult explosion” of the 1970s, occult has come to be associated with images of robed figures conducting arcane rituals for less than socially desirable purposes.

Occult comes from a root word meaning “hidden,” and it was originally interpreted as denoting a body of esoteric beliefs and practices that were in some sense “hidden” from the average person (e.g., practices and knowledge that remain inaccessible until after an initiation). Alternately, it was sometimes said that practices were occult if they dealt with forces that operated by means that were hidden from ordinary perception (e.g., magic, tarot cards, and astrology). Modern astrology is not occult in the sense of secret initiations, but it is occult in the sense that it deals with “hidden” forces.

In earlier times, when there was a widespread knowledge of the science of the stars beyond sun signs, astrology was a universal symbolic code that contained widely recognized archetypes of general principles, types of humanity, and aspects of the personality. Given the completeness of this code, it was natural that astrological language and symbols would be adopted by the other occult sciences, such as tarot and palmistry. In palmistry, for example, the fingers were named after the planets—Mercury finger, Saturn finger, Jupiter finger, etc.


Cavendish, Richard. The Black Arts. New York: Capricorn Books, 1967.
Lewis, James R., and J. Gordon Melton. “The New Age.” Syzygy: Journal of Alternative Religion and Culture. Vol. 1, no. 3 (1992): 247–58.