The Nature of the Occult

Extracts from the writings of Hugh Shearman

The word occult comes from the Latin verb occultare, to hide, to conceal, to secrete. The occult is that which is hidden. There is another word which is often used to indicate much the same thing as 'occult'. It is the word esoteric. This comes from the Greek eso, meaning within; but our word esoteric comes from the comparative form of that adverb - esotero - meaning more within, more deeply within, further within.

p11 Shearman 1959
The two words occult and esoteric are thus used to refer to a hidden and underlying reality in life, something which is not overt and tangible and which yet alone gives true meaning to these outer existences of ours.

(Three propositions in Blavatsky 1888 vol I p14-17 somewhat indicate the nature of the occult.)
To summarise briefly, the three principles propose that there is One Unknowable Absolute Reality, that (existences, beings, universes, creatures) are perpetually passing into and out of manifestation, and that all selves are ultimately one Self, which is an aspect of Absolute Reality.
... a real knowledge of the occult must be based upon a movement towards unity... In such advice as has from time to time been given ... upon how best to attempt the development of anything in the nature of ... capacity for the purpose of knowing the occult, the recommended method has always been to move in some fashion towards unity.

Although it may be possible to find some degree of proof for a narrow range of phenomena which seem to take their rise from an occult principle - phenomena such as telepathy or clairvoyance - it is not possible to prove the reality of the occult. This is not to say that the reality of the occult cannot be experienced. ...(It) is known through the growth of individuals. ... Whether we are young or old, if we are to know the occult, we have to keep on growing up.

Growth in direct experience of the occult ... depends upon a progressive abandonment of those psychological and other defences of our separateness which are associated with our immersion in outer life's competitive manyness.

The laws and descriptions which make up the literature of occultism can never be a substitute for experience. They indicate directions in which experiment may be made, and in many cases their validity may be known quite promptly to those who will pursue their indications with resolution and energy. They are not intended as a field for ... speculation.

The teachings of various interpreters of the occult have ... ranged from highly descriptive objectivity to highly ontological or epistemological expositions. It is inevitable perhaps that the more popular interpretations of the occult are those which are highly descriptive, which describe the occult as something objective and seen, which give accounts of forms and colours and tell how the ordinary person may be considered to live after death, ...
Whatever the method of knowing the occult may be, its close inter-relationship of subject and object makes great demands upon the balance and integrity of the individual who would investigate it.

Interpretations of the occult, such as may be set forth in a book, ... are less descriptions of reality than symbolic working models devised to display and illustrate the impact of the real upon the human microcosm. They might be considered to be prefaced by the words: It is as if ...
The test of a true interpretation or model of the Universe is that it should respond to the demands of experience. It ought to be such a description that, if it were true, everything would be just as we find it.

It cannot be supposed that the (occult) transcendental order, though perhaps the source of many systems, can itself be merely a system, a sort of animated diagram. This tendency of the human mind to systematise has repeatedly covered over the occult reality with an obscuring and often very misrepresenting exoteric superstructure which indeed has nothing at all to do with the occult.

(he) regarded the occult as a field for disciplined experience (practice and dispassion) and not for actionless speculation, and this was disturbing to many.
The capacity of various writings and expositions on the occult to lead towards the Truth will depend to a large extent upon how deep inside the writer was the source of their inspiration. Many fluent and well-devised works spring only from a source that is quite close to the surface. And on the other hand, some of those which have a source far deeper inside are not necessarily well devised in a technical sense or readable as the world regards readability... This greater depth in a book or other work is not to be recognized by mere analysis of its intellectual or informative contents. The absence of an external criterion of merit with regard to an occult work is disconcerting to many people. They want an exoteric rule which they can safely follow and which will indicate clearly that a particular work may count as belonging to a reliable canon of literature. But, in connection with works on the occult, this external criterion cannot be had; for the recognition of the depth and quality of such a work will depend upon the depth and quality of the reader's response to it.

There is one teaching about the occult that has been repeated down the ages. It is that the occult is one and that all life is one when it is occultly understood. With respect to the unpleasant thing, the opponent, the destructive or erroneous opinion, true occultism always says, This also is part of life. This also must be accepted as part of the whole and found to fit in somewhere. It is a view which may involve intolerable burdens and exact a toll of infinite patience.
The source and cause of the agitated or fixated or unfree mind is explained in the interpretation offered by occultists of man's place in nature. Man differs from other creatures in possessing individuality and mind. Nature as distinct from man is not mindless, but the mind in nature is not individualised, not intensely appropriated to individual organisms or individual units of consciousness. Mind in nature operates through whole groups and large patternings and through what we call instinct.

When we have fully attained to individuality, we become fully capable of choosing and acting. While individuality is not fully established and relied upon, we react, still following the instinctive procedures of wild nature from which we have as yet only partially emerged.

The mind thus compulsively mobilised to self-defence is an agitated mind, full of anxiety.

But it is not the mind itself which is the source of the agitation. It is the personalised and unfree mind which is the source of our troubles. Mind itself is a neutral power, capable of serving either agitation or tranquillity according to whether it is in thrall to competitive and self-defensive reactions or is illumined and ensouled by that higher tranquillity which is the essence of the occult.

That against which we have set up compulsive resistance is the unknown. And the unknown is the occult. The occult does not underlie only things outside us. It is within ourselves.


The unknown, or, as we call it, the occult, is the freshness and the flower of life. A child can often recognise it; but we approach it with minds compulsively bent on classifying it in accordance with our defensive arrangements, and in doing this we stick many labels on it. ... Yet it is possible to rediscover the flower of the unknown... If we can bring ourselves to consider that our individuality may not be something that has to be closed in and defended but that it may rather like a fresh fountain rising perpetually within us and overflowing in undemanding goodwill to others, we then have the basis for many experiments and adventures. But nobody else can make such experiments or endure such adventures for us, and nobody can compel us to become free-thinking adults.

The free thought of the occultist is ... more than toleration or suspended judgement. It is the thought of a mind that is free because it is deep, simple and undefended.

In examining our individual attitude to this discovery of nature, we might well ask ourselves which of two factors in nature demonstrates to us more convincingly the divinity of things - determinism or indeterminacy. Are we to regard the ubiquitous prevalence of law and of an unbroken continuity of cause and effect as evidence of a divine intelligence in nature? Or are we to see divinity in the anarchic but creative intrusions of the unpredictable, the indeterminate and the unknown? (Yet) the apparently indeterminate is in the end discovered to be only a new kind of determinism.

And what has been the experience of science in exploring the determinisms of the world about us seems also to be the experience of the occultist as he penetrates further and further into the hidden side of things. Repeatedly he finds explanations; repeatedly there is an unexplained factor. At each level of experience there is, from the point of view of the individual, a manifested system, with something unmanifested hovering beyond, underlying and necessary to what is manifesting, yet beyond the individual's grasp. Which, then, appeals to us more as carrying the mark of divinity - the wonder that we have understood or the wonder that eludes us still?

A step into the occult, since it is a step from extrinsic to intrinsic, from outer pattern to inner life, involves a disintegration of external values; and most personalities are almost wholly dependent upon patterns and values. A sudden discovery of inner life through a rending of the pattern of habitual values is, of course, a well-known temperamental approach to the occult, as in Zen; but, whatever may be the temperamental path of approach to the occult, even one step upon it gives rise to a more or less catastrophic destruction of values which had hitherto been relied upon. The individual comes to the threshold where fear and hope, despair and joy, seem at one moment absolute realities, at the next mere forms of fancy. Standards of value that have been long relied upon are suddenly no more. The result of the shock and stress which come to the personality through this new factor of occult experience is often disintegrative. There is at first a wide and elastic margin within which the personality can react. But even this margin is not enough for most, and an apparent break often occurs, the personality rebounding reactively to some way of life based upon the past, the known, the seemingly reliable.

(there is a) Brotherhood ... of those who have entered the direct and conscious experience of the occult. Since the occult is based upon the unity of all, that Brotherhood has a profound unity of consciousness ...'like a great calm shining ocean, so strangely one that the least thrill of consciousness flashes from end to end of it instantaneously, and yet to each member it seems to be absolutely his own individual consciousness, though with a weight and a power and a wisdom behind it that no single human consciousness could ever have... One is all the time in the presence of a tremendous, an almost awful serenity, a certainty which nothing can ever disturb ..., something which needs no evidence and no comparison, but asserts itself to be of a higher and unknown world.'

It is a very well-known fact ... that an intolerable sadness is the very first experience of the neophyte in occultism. A sense of blankness falls upon him which makes the world a waste and life a vain exertion. This follows his first serious contemplation of the abstract. In gazing, or even in attempting to gaze, on the ineffable mystery of his own higher nature, he himself causes the initial trial to fall upon him. The oscillation between pleasure and pain ceases for perhaps an instant of time; but that is enough to have cut him loose from his fast moorings in the world of sensation. He has experienced, however briefly, the greater life; and he goes on with ordinary existence weighted by a sense of unreality, of blank, of horrid negation.' ...what it is that is glimpsed in such a crisis ...that hidden reality is the occult. The truth is that it is something unthinkable to us. To look it in the face and accept its implications is indeed to invite that very crisis that brings us to the beginnings of the path of occultism. our evolution we emerge from nature and go through this human phase of self-consciousness and we learn all that it has to teach us, and we gradually exhaust its possibilities and come to a point of disillusionment when we are within sight of the path of occultism.
The path of occultism is the adjustment of the individual to that great hidden truth that life is one. ...such a change is an individual's point of view is so exacting, so utterly complete and revolutionary, so destructive of all previous assumptions, that it is made only in stages and over a period of time. Because nature is really one, nature brings the individual to the beginning of this period of intense discovery and adjustment and opens the way for him. ...This opening out of his mind and heart and whole being to this utterly different view of life is a natural functioning of nature in him. It is the true flowering of his humanity.

The distresses of the first step on the occult path, the first discovery of the hidden reality that is behind all things, are very great; for the individual is caught between two worlds.

True occultism means quietly and fearlessly co-operating with nature in the process of growth into a complete realisation of the one reality that lies hidden with and behind our complicated world. This growth is the spiritual life. A growing irresistible fullness of spirit gradually dominates the whole life of the pilgrim upon that path and breaks one after another the limiting attachments which he may have to this world of possessing and competing and separateness.
As in other operations of nature, there are in this operation also certain clear and discernible laws. There is one fundamental law which underlies them all. It is what is often called the law of sacrifice. It means that entry upon each new stage of growth is accompanied and made possible by a renunciation of the protection that was afforded to the individual during the preceding stage. Always the birth into a higher or deeper or more interior experience involves a death to something lower or more external. Without the breaking of attachments of a personal and separative nature, however refined, there cannot be that expansion from within; and that expansion makes itself known through the breaking of attachments.

"Let them know at once and remember always that true occultism or theosophy is the great renunciation of self, unconditionally and absolutely, in thought as in action. It is altruism, and it throws him who practises it out of calculation of the ranks of the living altogether." This passage shows why the face of occultism seems stern. It also shows how remote this real occultism is from the many trivialities sometimes given out to the world under that name. If we read or hear of those who have achieved great heights of attainment in the occult world, till they have become able to be saviours of mankind, they have not reached that position by surrounding themselves with powers and immunities. They have reached it by renouncing the defence of self and becoming vulnerable to the unknown. The occultist has duties but he has no rights. There is none against whom he could assert rights...
As in other operations of nature, there are in this operation also certain clear and discernible laws. There is one fundamental law which underlies them all. It is what is often called the law of sacrifice. It means that entry upon each new stage of growth is accompanied and made possible by a renunciation of the protection that was afforded to the individual during the preceding stage. Always the birth into a higher or deeper or more interior experience involves a death to something lower or more external. Without the breaking of attachments of a personal and separative nature, however refined, there cannot be that expansion from within; and that expansion makes itself known through the breaking of attachments.

There is, too, an essential simplicity in the nature of occultism. Any teaching or information for those who seek to tread the path tends to be brief and simple. It is true that complicated explanations and repetitions are sometimes needed to convey simple things to our complex personalities and compartmentalised minds. But the essential truths bearing upon the realities of the occult are very simple. They are therefore very portable and we can carry them about with us and bring them to the testing anywhere.

One of the tasks of the individual who has stepped upon the path of occultism is to complete all his relationships with others. He becomes in one sense or another a homeless wanderer. He must move about the world and give or suffer or do what has to be done in order to complete his karmic debts to others. By paying karmic debts is meant the completion of such of his relationships as have been reactive and have involved compulsive elements, relationships not based freely upon the unknown. "There is no danger that dauntless courage cannot conquer; there is no trial that spotless purity cannot pass through; there is no difficulty that strong intellect cannot surmount. For those who win onwards there is reward past telling - the power to bless and save humanity; for those who fail there are other lives in which success may come."

The occult, the hidden reality, the underlying unity, is that which alone makes all things coherent, meaningful and worth while. To seek out that reality, to give all to that reality and to become a mere beneficent force in nature is the aim and essence of occultism. To those who are caught in the small interests of this world, its possessive relationships and ambitions, its social patterns based upon exclusiveness and greed, the face of occultism is more than stern. It is unthinkable.

p130-131 Hugh Shearman 1959
An Approach to the Occult

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