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Occultism, spiritism, fetishism, paganism and decadent traditions

As for the first of these notions [occultism], it may be pointed out that the word "occult" has its origin in the vires occultae, the unseen forces of nature, and in the occulta, the secrets relating to the ancient mysteries; in fact, however, modern occultism is by and large more than the study of extrasensory phenomena, one of the most hazardous of pursuits by reason of its wholly empirical character and its lack of any doctrinal basis. Occultism ranges from pure and simple experiment to pseudoreligious speculations and practices; it is only one step further to describe all authentically esoteric doctrines and methods as "occultism", and this step has been taken either through ignorance, indifference, or carelessness, and without shame or scruple, by those who have an interest to serve by this kind of depreciation. It is as though one were to describe genuine mystics as occultists on the grounds that they too were concern with the unseen. (Logic and Transcendence, p.1).

There has been much speculation on the question of knowing how the sage -- the "gnostic" (1) or the "jnani" -- "sees" the world of phenomenon, and occultists of all sorts have not refrained from putting forward the most fantastic theories on "clairvoyance" and the "third eye"; but in reality the difference between ordinary vision and that enjoyed by the sage or the Gnostic is quite clearly not of the sensorial order. The sage see things in their total context, therefore in their relativity and at the same time in their metaphysical transparency; he does not see them as if they were physically diaphanous or endowed with a mystical sonority or a visible aura, even though his vision may sometimes be described by means of such images.... The "third eye" is the faculty of seeing phenomena sub specie aeternitatis and therefore in a sort of simultaneity; to it are often added, in the nature of things, intuitions concerning modalities that are in the ordinary way imperceptible.

(1) This word, here and elsewhere, is used in its etymological sense, and has nothing to do with anything that may historically be called "Gnosticism". It is gnosis itself that is in question and not its pseudoreligious deviations.

The sage sees the cause in effects, and effects in causes; he sees God in all things, and all things in God. (Light on the Ancient Worlds, p.116).


Empiricism operating blindly and endowed with a false doctrine, which does not prevent the phenomena to be real. (Images of the Spirit, p. 145, note 42 in the French version).

Fetishism, "paganism", decadent traditions

... why have Sufis declared that God can be present, not only in churches and synagogues, but also in the temples of idolaters? It is because in the 'classical' and 'traditional' cases of paganism the loss of the full truth and of efficacy for salvation essentially results from a profound modification in the mentality of the worshippers and not from an ultimate falsity of the symbols; in all the religions which surrounded each of the three Semitic forms of monotheism, as also in those form of 'fetishism' (1) still alive today, a mentality once contemplative and so in possession of a sense of the metaphysical transparency of forms had ended by becoming passional, worldly (2) and, in the strict sense, superstitious. (3) The symbol through which the reality symbolized was originally clearly perceived -- a reality of which it is moreover truly speaking an aspect -- became in fact an opaque and uncomprehended image or an idol, and this falling away of the general level of mentality could not fail in its turn to react on the tradition itself, enfeebling it and falsifying it in various way; most of the ancient paganisms were indeed characterized by intoxication with power and sensuality. (Understanding Islam, p.55).

(1) This word is here used only as a conventional sign to designate decadent traditions, and there is no intention of pronouncing on the value of any particular African or Melanesian tradition.

(2) According to the Quran the kâfir is in effect characterized by his 'worldliness', that is, by his preference for the good things of this world and his inadvertence (ghaflah) as regards those lying beyond this world.

(3) According to the Gospels the pagans imagine they will be answered 'for their much speaking'. At root 'superstition' consists in the illusion of taking the means for the end or of worshipping forms for their own sake and not for their transcendent content.

If paganism cannot be reduced to a cult of spirits, -- a cult which is in practice atheistic though it does not exclude the theoretical idea of God, (1) -- it may properly be called an 'angelotheism'; the fact that the worship is addressed to God 'in his diversity', so to speak, is not enough to prevent the reduction of the Divine -- in men's thoughts -- to the level of created powers. The Divine unity has precedence over the Divine character of this diversity, and it is more important to believe in God -- and so in the One -- than to believe in the divinity of some universal principle.

(1) There are fetishist Negroes who are not ignorant of God but are astonished that Monotheists should address Him, since he 'dwells on inaccessible heights'. . (Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts, p.71-72).

Paganism consists in the reducing of religion to a sort of utilitarianism, and this leads to syncretism and heresy. It leads to syncretism because the most heteroclite divinities and cults are added to the original cult without any assimilation or integration: it leads to heresy because the Divine qualities are confounded with the angelic powers which are in their turn brought down to the level of human passions. The very way in which the ancients represented the gods proves clearly that they no longer understood them. (Spiritual Perspectives and Human Facts, p.72).

... the rationalists and the fideists are not the only adversaries of the Sophia Perennis: another component -- somewhat unexpected -- is what we could term "realizationism" or "ecstatism": namely the mystical prejudice -- rather widespread in India -- which has it that only "realization" or "states" count in spirituality. The partisans of this opinion oppose "concrete realization" to "vain thought" and they too easily imagine that with ecstasy all is won; they forget that without the doctrines -- beginning with the Vedanta! -- they would not even exist; and it also happens that they forget that a subjective realization -- founded on the idea of the immanent "Self" -- greatly has need of the objective element that is the Grace of the personal God, without forgetting the concurrence of Tradition.

We must mention here the existence of false masters who, as inheritors of occultism and inspired by "realizationism" and psychoanalysis, contrive to invent implausible infirmities in order to invent extravagant remedies. What is surprising logically is that they always find dupes, even among the so-called "intellectuals"; the explanation for this is that these novelties come to fill a void that never should have been produced. In all these "methods", the point of departure is a false image of man; the goal of the training being the development -- patterned after the "clairvoyance" of certain occultists -- of "latent powers" or of an "expanded" or "liberated" personality. And since such an ideal does not exist -- more especially as the premise is imaginary -- the result of the adventure can only be a perversion; this is the price of a supersaturated rationalism -- blown up to its extreme limit -- namely an agnosticism devoid of all imagination. (The transfiguration of Man, p. 9)

  1. Gnosis and gnosticism, theosophy and theosophism
  2. Modern Vedantism
  3. Psychic powers, miracles, ecstasy, apparitions, visions
  4. Neo-yogism, "realizationism"
  5. Occultism, spiritism, fetishism, paganism and decadent traditions
  6. The psychological Imposture, psychoanalysis
  7. Modernist Zenism