The Occult

Many people have heard of the occult.  Upon hearing the word, many people immediately think of mysterious rituals, secret societies, and dark secrets.  Those terms, in reality, are actually great examples of “the occult,” but it is true that the term “occult” refers to much more in the paranormal world.

Let’s start with the etymology of the word, “occult.”  The word comes from occultus, a Latin word meaning secret and hidden.  The word itself, “occult,” refers to the knowledge of the hidden.  In fact, occult even extends to meaning the “knowledge of the paranormal,” “hidden knowledge,” and more.

Many magical and spiritual orders and organizations have been labelled as occult.  These organizations’ practices include alchemy, ESP (extra-sensory perception), spiritualism, divination, astrology, philosophy, and more.  Additionally, concepts of the occult and occultism can be found throughout many religions and cultures of the world.  The religions and cultures most greatly based around occultism include Hermeticism, Wicca, Gnosticism, Thelema, and even Satanism.

The “occult” directly contrasts with science.  Science, which can be called “knowledge of the measurable,” directly contradicts with the occult, which could analogously be called “knowledge of the paranormal.”  The occult is the belief that things have an inner nature and characteristics, as opposed to the exterior appearance and characteristics explored by science.  Arthur Schopenhauer, the renowned German philosopher, illustrated a distinct boundary between the worlds of science and the occult: he suggested that there was no way for conventional science to penetrate and obtain information about the inner nature of things.

The occult is often viewed as something malevolent that is done by the supernatural or paranormal, against God, in many religions.  This is not entirely always the case, but this idea is extremely prominent in both Judaism as well as Christianity.  However, in certain other cultures of the world, such as Hinduism, occult concepts are actually a part of the elaborate rituals in the religion.

Bibliography

  1. The New Encyclopedia of the Occult
  2. Initiation of the Soul : Esoteric & Occult Philosophy, Consciousness and Realization of Truth
  3. Outline of Occult Science (Cambridge Library Collection – Spiritualism and Esoteric Knowledge)
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Demonic Possession

Demonic possession has been an integral part of almost all cultures from all around the world since the beginning of religion.  Nowadays, though a significant percent of the population no longer believes that demonic possession is possible, it is still extremely widespread in pop culture, whether in films, comics, games, or fantasy stories.

In oversimplification of the topic would be to say that demonic possession is simply the control, or possession, of one’s body, mind, or soul, by a supernatural entity, or being, usually evil and malevolent.  However, while this is extremely simplified, this short definition can be used to describe concepts of demonic possession from many cultures on the face of the earth.

Even in this day, many people report supernatural activity, including demonic possession.  Many times, these include both emotional as well as physical effects.  For example, some have reported that they have no memory of the possession; some have even reported that they have lost a personality.

Many people, throughout history, who claim that they have been possessed by demons have even reported that due to the experience, they have gained hidden or secret knowledge or even the ability to speak a new language, possibly that of the demon.  These two phenomena are known as gnosis and glossolalia, respectively.

Physical effects due to demonic possession have also been reported – these include the immediate or strange appearance of scratches, bite marks, and other injuries on the skin.  Some have reported even superhuman strength and extreme rage due to demonic possession.

The concept of demonic possession is extremely widespread throughout various cultures, but in today’s Western culture, we usually attribute the concept to Christianity.  Under Christianity, demonic possession is usually seen as something that is caused by Satan (The Devil), or possibly by a “lesser demon.”

This article is only a short introduction into the concept of demonic possession.  I will be writing more articles on the subject, going into some very specific and extensive concepts regarding supernatural entities and possession, as well as historical incidents involving demonic possession.  Stay tuned!

Further reading/Bibliography

  1. Interview With an Exorcist
  2. The Dark Sacrament: True Stories of Modern-Day Demon Possession and Exorcism 
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The Mesopotamian Demons

First of all, for those of you unfamiliar with Mesopotamia, Mesopotamia refers to the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and is basically what is now modern-day Iraq, along with parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iran.  The Mesopotamian civilization is considered one of the earliest civilizations, spanning the Bronze Age and the Iron Age.  The Mesopotamian civilization included numerous empires – perhaps you may have heard of the Babylonian Empire or the Sumerian Empire.

With its long history, it’s only to be expected that Mesopotamia developed its own distinct, unique, and rich culture.  This culture, however, did take influences from other civilizations and groups of people at the time.

When taking a look at Mesopotamian culture, it is important to note that Christianity had not yet been invented during this ancient time; in fact, the Mesopotamian civilization fell just a few hundred years before 0 A.D.

Chaldea was a territory of Mesopotamia, and is now modern-day southern Iraq.  You may know it as the ruler of the Babylonian empire.  This is where the Mesopotamian demons come in: these seven demons were considered the evil deities in Chaldean culture and mythology.

The Mesopotamian demons were known as the shedu, which translates into “storm demons.”  They were symbolized by winged bulls, in what is known as “winged bull form.”

A winged bull with a human's head

A human-headed winged bull, known as a Šedu from Khorsaba. Photo credit: Trjames

The above image is of a Sheedu Lamassu.  They were considered a protective deity (name actually means “the repellent of evil”) of the Babylonian/Sumerian/Assyrian people and were commonly found at the cities entrance and in the kings throne room as well as in other important doorways. The people believed they warded off evil spirits. They symbolize the strength of a bull, which during this period were much larger than bulls today (or sometimes a lion was used). The freedom of an eagle (the most powerful bird in the sky) and the intelligence of a human. They wear a crown to symbolize of their divinity and the heads of these sculptures mimicked the king of Assyria at that time they were created.

In ancient Mesopotamian culture, these evil deities were believed to be very powerful, being able to cause disease in a victim.  The seven demons were also able to “seize,” or possess, people, and by doing so cause excruciating pain along with huge stress.  Only special Mesopotamian incantations, rituals, and herbal remedies were believed to cure the disease that the demons spread.

With further study, it is likely that the idea of these seven shedu spread into later cultures.  In fact, they seem to have had a huge impact on demons in Christianity.  And this is what study of demonology is all about.

Further reading and bibliography

  1. Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia: An Illustrated Dictionary
  2. Mesopotamian Demons, including: Lilith, Gallu, Asakku, Lamashtu, Pazuzu, Utukku, Asag 
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Spiritual Entities: Defining the Term

Often times we use the word “spirit” or “spiritual entities” to refer to something mystical, but what exactly do the words mean, and what are the origins of the term “spirit?” This is what I’m going to delve into in today’s post, the first I’ll be making on spirits.

Consciousness or being

The word, “spirit,” actually has its roots in Latin.  It comes from the Latin word, spiritus, which means “breath.” Originally in the Latin language, spirit did have both positive and negative connotations and was additionally used with different meanings.  Nowadays, the word spirit often symbolizes a person’s consciousness or being.  It’s also used along with the word “soul.” Usually, a spirit directly contrasts with one’s body which is often taken as physical as opposed to the spiritual nature of the spirit.

Ghosts

The word “spirit” does also refer to a ghost  in certain texts.  This does also tie over with its other meaning, possibly referring to a  manifestation of the spirit of someone who has died.  In many texts and beliefs, people see such spirits as the “lost” or wandering spirits of the deceased, which have survived the death of the body but still remain alive in consciousness.

Immaterial entities

Within many cultures across the world, the word “spirit” or its equivalent is commonly used to refer to non-physical entities, perhaps even demons or gods.  In fact, one very famous example is the reference to the Holy Spirit in Christianity.

With various and quite differing meanings, the study of the use of the terms, “spirits,” and “spiritual entities,” is very interesting.  Looking at spirits from such a lens also reveals inner workings of the various religions and cultures around the world, from ghosts, demons, deities, to inner “psyche.”

Further reading

  1. The phantom world, or, The philosophy of spirits, apparitions, &c.
  2. When Ghosts Speak: Understanding the World of Earthbound Spirits 
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Evocation: Summoning Demons, Spirits, and Other Supernatural Entities

Perhaps you have heard of calling, summoning, or conjuring a demon, spiritual entity, or some other supernatural entity from a religious text, heavy metal music, a film, or a video game. These types of acts are known as evocation. This practice of evocation is quite common in many cultures, religions, and magical traditions from all around the world. However, it goes by many names in each of these traditions, and often serves different purposes.

The act of evocation is quite widespread in Western mystery tradition. Usually, under Western mystery tradition, evocation was the summoning or calling forth of city’s god. Usually, this was performed by the military during a siege or after a surrender to cause the god to favor the winning side.

In Western mystery tradition, evoking and summoning spirits was also quite common.  For example, there have been several manuals and books written on the subject from ancient times. these include manuals such as the Greater Key of Solomon the King and the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage.

Conjuring, similarly, also refers to evoking spirits. In addition to that, however, is also refers to the using of magical spells, charms, or incantations. In fact, under Western mystery tradition, even exorcism is in the scope of conjuration.

Often, while reciting charms in order to conjure or summon a demon, or other spiritual entity, the person who is performing the conjuration often uses his own native language. In other cases, Latin is also used since many conjuring-related tasks were written in Latin.  The actual text of these charms and incantations did vary greatly in ancient times, from simple phrases packed with magical words to long and complex utterances.

What exactly was the goal of conjuration? This greatly varied among different cultures and conjurers, and I will into more detail on this concept in a later post.

Further reading and bibliography

  1. Greater Key of Solomon the King
  2. Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage
  3. Summoning Spirits: The Art of Magical Evocation (Llewellyn’s Practical Magick)
  4. Conjuring Spirits: A manual of Goetic and Enochian Sorcery
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