The word occult comes from the Latin occultus (clandestine, hidden, secret), referring to the 'knowledge of the secret' or 'knowledge of the hidden' and often popularly meaning 'knowledge of the supernatural', as opposed to 'knowledge of the visible' or 'knowledge of the measurable', usually referred to as science. The modern term's meaning is often imprecisely translated and used as a term for 'secret knowledge' or 'hidden knowledge', in the sense of meaning 'knowledge meant only for certain people' or 'knowledge that must be kept hidden'. For most practicing occultists, however, it is simply the study of a deeper spiritual "reality" that cannot be understood using pure reason or physical sciences.
Occultism is the study of supposed occult or hidden wisdom. To the Occultist it is the study of Truth, or rather the deeper truth that exists beyond the surface: 'The Truth Is Always Hidden In Plain Sight'. It may be considered by some to be a 'grey' area, perhaps larger than any other in the realm of religion. It can deal with subjects ranging from talismans, magic(alternatively spelled and defined as magick), sorcery, and voodoo, to ESP (Extra-sensory perception), astrology, numerology, lucid dreams, or even religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.
The word "occult" is somewhat generic, in that most everything that isn't claimed by any of the major religions (and many things that are) is considered to be occult. Even Kabbalah has been considered an occult study, perhaps because of its popularity amongst magi and Thelemites. The 'Wise Men' in the bible who visited the Infant Jesus are said to have been Magi of the Kabbalah. It was later adopted by the Golden Dawn and brought out into the open by Aleister Crowley and his protégé Israel Regardie. Since that time many authors have added insight to the study of the Occult by drawing parallels between different disciplines.
Direct insight into or perception of the occult is said not to consist of access to physically measurable facts, but is arrived at through the mind or the spirit. The term can refer to mind|mental, psychological or spiritual training. It is important to note, however, that many occultists will also study science (perceiving science as a branch of Alchemy) to add validity to occult knowledge in a day and age where the mystical can easily be undermined as flights-of-fancy. An oft-cited means of gaining insight into the occult is the use of a focus. A focus may be a physical object, a ritualistic action (for example, meditation or chanting), or a medium in which one becomes wholly immersed. The previous examples are just a few examples of the vast and numerous avenues that can be explored.
The beliefs and practices of those who consider their activities "occult" or part of "the occult" in the more usual Western interpretation 'hidden knowledge' (ceremonial magicians, and so on) are generally far from being secret or hidden, being found very easily in print or on the Internet. This ready availability is historically recent and corresponds to a reduced interest in traditional religion and the promulgation by occultists of the perception of the occult as a broad term for a radical alternative to Christianity. As there are huge amounts of authors of the occult in the modern age, it is important for the student to question the validity of all books and to cross reference numerous times with other authors on the same subject. 'Beware False Prophets'. Most mass printed Occult knowledge is however, only for beginners. The sourcing of the more in-depth and advanced work can be a 'trial-of-spirit' in itself.
The occult and religious approach
Some religious denominations view the occult as being anything supernatural which is not done by the power of their faith, but by the power of an opposing and therefore malevolent entity. The religions that dictate a malevolent entity exists often view that rituals outside their standard worship may be potentially harmful or blasphemous, although much depends on the outlook of the faith.
For example, in Judaism, special spiritual studies such as Kabbalah were allowed for certain individuals (such as rabbis and their chosen students). These studies do not conform to mainstream Jewish ritual; charms and protections were often crafted as wards against evil, but it is questionable if talismans are still crafted in any branch of Judaism. Also, some forms of Islam allow spirits to be commanded in the name of Allah to do righteous works and assist steadfast Muslims. Furthermore, there are mystical branches of Christianity that practice divination, blessings, or appealing to angels for certain intervention, which they view as perfectly righteous, often supportable by gospel (for instance, claiming that the old commandment against diviniation was superseded by Christ's birth, and noting that the Magi used astrology to locate Bethlehem). Rosicrucianism, one of the most celebrated of Christianity's mystical offshoots, has lent aspects of its philosophy to most Christian-based occultism since the 17th century.