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Why has the word "occult" come to mean something negative when referring to religion?

The word occult actually just means hidden… However, I have spoken with so many people, and read so many books/articles, that use it in a negative way to describe Wicca, as well as other religions. I am mainly just curious what people’s thoughts are on the subject.
For a little background on me. I do not practice Wicca, though I am learning about it. I don’t consider myself to be Christian, either. I am still trying to find my path.


  1. You’d be amazed at all the words that suddenly became “negative” when Christianity came about. Did you know the words Daemon and Daimon (the two words that became Demon) used to mean Divine Intelligence and Replete with Wisdom? Now, Demon means Devil. Interesting, eh? Even though the original root words meant nothing of the sort. It’s kind of like how “Liberal” has become a bad word in our modern day.

  2. I think it’s basically because Christianity preaches that everything that isn’t Christian is evil.
    Fireball gave the perfect example.

  3. “Occult” is an extremely vague term that refers to a number of different practices. Of course, to the ethnocentric evangelical Christian who wouldn’t know a pentacle from a Xmas tree ornament, anything from yoga to black candle burning is considered “occult” and thus by their own dogma “of the devil”.
    There’s certainly a negative stigmatism to the word “occult” though, even to the average person. I think a lot of it is still left over from the whole “Satanic Panic” hysteria of the 1980s, when preachers and sensationalist talk show hosts had people believing that there were roving bands of devil worshipers who were kidnapping babies, eating them, etc. It got to the point where everything seemed to be an “occult” symbol, whether it was the Blue Oyster Cult logo or owning a solid-colored bathrobe. It didn’t help that Hollywood was making money on some of these ideas too.
    The FBI looked into the whole mess, but found absolutely no evidence (a few isolated incidents of insane people decorating their work in devilish aesthetics, but that was it; no “movement”).
    I’m extremely skeptical about people who call themselves “occult experts”. A lot of these self-appointed “occult experts” are just Christian zealots who go along with whatever conspiracy theories they picked up in the 80s. Regardless of WHAT you believe, I think it’s beyond ridiculous for law enforcement to blindly accept the anecdotes and profiling from such twits.

  4. Sloppy journalism.
    It reminds me of how journalists a few years ago used to refer to any computer program that did something wrong as a ‘virus’; even the ones that were not. Reporters just did not bother themselves to obtain the proper meaning of the terms they used.
    I find it funny to go into a bookstore and see the “Occult” aisle. I think to myself, “I see those books siting right there. They did not hide them well at all.”

  5. Yes the word occult means hidden or secret. That’s the way Satan prefers to operate; in the dark, secretly and unnoticed. It is not only a negative thing and an abomination to God, the occult is also extremely dangerous and gives Satan a portal through which he can operate in the life of the one practising it. God has condemned these things for our own good. It’s the same reason He condemned anything.

  6. I am in almost the same situation, My Religious views are Wiccan, however I do not claim to be one, as I hardly practice the witchcraft. “Occult” Means Hidden, true, but the only times a religion needs to be hidden is when its socially unexceptable or banned or something. I, myself, do not consider Wicca as an occultish religion, although it often refers to remaining silent ((As it once was, and still is, practiced as an underground religion in some countries)).
    Also… because of their “Hidden” Nature, Occultish Religions are often regarded negativly, and articles about them tend to be one sided, and illogically against the religion.. People are afraid of what they dont understand… Biased Opinions

  7. There are many organizations these days that call themselves Christian. A careful study of their doctrines that they believe in always reveals that they deny the deity of Jesus Christ…being God in the flesh. To be a “Christian” Church they must believe in the trinity, God in three persons..God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
    These organizations are better known as religious “cults” which means “counterfeit Christianity” or sometimes called “pseudo Christianity”. Hidden and counterfeit are very similar in meanings in religion.

  8. Find your path to something rational and skip the bull along the way. Learn about it, of course; just don’t get drawn in. The word occult means:
    1.of or pertaining to magic, astrology, or any system claiming use or knowledge of secret or supernatural powers or agencies.
    2.beyond the range of ordinary knowledge or understanding; mysterious.
    3.secret; disclosed or communicated only to the initiated.
    4.hidden from view.
    5.(in early science)
    a.not apparent on mere inspection but discoverable by experimentation.
    b.of a nature not understood, as physical qualities.
    c.dealing with such qualities; experimental: occult science.
    6.Medicine/Medical. present in amounts too small to be visible: a chemical test to detect occult blood in the stool.
    7.the supernatural or supernatural agencies and affairs considered as a whole (usually prec. by the).
    8.occult studies or sciences (usually prec. by the).
    —verb (used with object)
    9.to block or shut off (an object) from view; hide.
    10.Astronomy. to hide (a celestial body) by occultation.
    First attested in 1533, it became associated with the supernatural in 1633. We’ve been using the word to mean exactly as above since then. It doesn’t *just* mean hidden or secret and it hasn’t meant that when referring to Wicca and such for a long time. Words evolve. It’s fallacious to go to the earliest use of a word and go, ‘Aha! That’s what that word means, how come everyone is using it incorrectly?’
    The negative connotation that the word has is largely due to the groups the word is associated with and that those groups are marginal and have been prosecuted throughout history because of conceptions about them. Of course, the word itself is not negative. I may cringe when I think about Wicca or the Occult, but it’s because I find superstitious nonsense of all sorts distasteful and not because I have a different set of superstitions and nonsense beliefs.

  9. Blame that on the Occultist.
    I think Alister Crowley did the most in bringing this term to define the various organizations he was actively involved in. He seems to have pushed it along, and brought it fairly forcefully to the public.
    Or maybe not.

  10. A lot of it came from Gnostics and its relationship with Christianity and to a lesser degree Judaism. Gnosticism had a habit of copying existing religions and injecting their beliefs in to them. There were various reasons for them to do it. Exploiting the popularity of the religion, providing an air of legitimacy and have a group of people already together that could be brought in to the belief system were just a few. Many of these beliefs were not compatible with the host religion. Many were considered evil by the host religion. Gnosticism was all about hidden or occult wisdom. The idea that occult or hidden was bad stuck and remains to this day.

  11. Well, because we always fear what we don’t understand. Everyone here thankfully knows the true meaning of the word. I have even come across people who think “cult” and “occult” are similar words, but anyone who has studied their etymology will tell you otherwise. “Cult” has an even worse connotation these days, in my opinion, and because of the linguistic misunderstanding this negative connotation bleeds over into “occult,” which doesn’t exactly have a great connotation in our culture to begin with.
    The development of our global culture has always been advanced by the unveiling, if you will, of occult subjects. Pythagorean mathematics, concepts which are used around the world on a daily basis in all areas of life, were at one point not only occult, but those who were initiates of the Pythagorean cult took oaths to not reveal certain teachings. The purpose of a cult in this example is to cultivate an idea or school of thought without outside influence.
    I’m a mathematician and long time student of occult subjects, so I’ve kind of tied the two into this response.

  12. You need to be careful when saying something like it “just means hidden.” Yes, that’s a definition, but its a certain type of hidden. No one, for example, would ever describe a child hiding in the closet as “occult.” It has a few pretty specific applications.
    When used in reference to Western religion, it is commonly describing non-orthodox beliefs. The idea that God had hidden information in the world to be found is a common occult belief, but that is not only not what religious authority figures were generally teaching, but often runs counter to it.
    From that association, people have now frequently come to think of the word as specifically describing ‘wrong” practices. And while that is technically incorrect, its not ungrounded.

  13. The word “occultism” took on a negative connotation during the middle ages, when the Catholic church was also a political power. The church held inquisitions toward anyone who may be involved as a means to keep their power. Since not many people knew how to read and there were not many copies of the Bible (as opposed to today), the common people would take the Church’s word as the final authority in spiritual development.
    I myself am a Christian Catholic, but consider myself to be more on the esoteric than exoteric side. The preconcieved and uneducated notions that were sown in the minds of the common folk toward occultism were not only to keep the Church as final authority, but also out of fear of others trying to gain power.
    The fact of the matter is that, sadly, Christianity was turned from a beautiful form of enlightenment to a coercive and fear based religion. People were killed in the name of God for heresy much the same as Christ was killed for teaching the same truth that may have overthrown the high priest.
    My suggestion to you is to remember that God is not a big angry king that lives in the sky, but the uncreated source of Divine love that flows out to all spiritual paths. Don’t be afraid of the occult, just educate others what the word really means- since many things can become lost in translation.
    Good luck in Finding your path, and remember that priests of magic visited Christ. The stuff can’t be all that bad!


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