Magic, magick, and occultism are terms used in conjunction with beliefs and practices that fall outside of mainstream or traditional religion. The terms may have different meanings depending on the context they are used, and this is a brief outline of traditional and secular takes on magic, magick and occultism.
Magic has a long history, and it's difficult to pinpoint a certain time for magic's origin. The specific practices and beliefs associated with magic vary across cultures, people and times.
In ancient civilizations, magic was related to religious beliefs and practices. In Egypt, magic was perceived as a way of invoking powers of the gods. In ancient Greece and Rome, magic was a way of worshipping specific deities and contacting them by means of divination, healing spells and protection magic.
Magic meant obtaining secret or hidden knowledge about the supernatural and acquiring special, divine abilities. Meditation, visualization, and other techniques were used with beliefs that they facilitate access to higher planes of consciousness and introduce the mundane to the supernatural.
For skeptics, magic isn't religious but rather the art of illusion. In Middle English between 1100-1500, magic became more popularly known as stage performance used to trick an audience into thinking something supernatural, spiritual or enchanting has occurred.
Magic is the design of illusions whether they be for entertainment or the natural illusions that occur in natural designs.
Performance magic includes various techniques such as sleight of hand, misdirection and stagecraft to create the impression that something impossible or miraculous is happening. Some magicians may use technology like video projections, drones or special effects to enhance their illusions.
The goal and idea of magic is to experience elements of surprise and wonder.
Natural magic is the way nature characterizes mirages that sometimes confuse brains. Here are some examples of natural illusions:
Optical illusions: These are illusions that are created by conflicting or misleading information from the senses, leading to the perception of something that is not actually present. Many people encounter optical illusions on a daily basis, such as when they see a puddle on the ground that appears to be deeper or wider than it actually is, or when they see an object that appears to be a different size or shape than it really is due to the presence of other objects or the angle from which it is viewed.
Illusory contours: These are the perception of lines or edges that are not actually present in the visual stimulus. People may experience illusory contours when looking at patterns or textures that create the impression of lines or shapes that are not really there.
Illusory motion: This is the perception of movement in a static image. People may experience illusory motion when looking at static images that contain elements that suggest movement, such as a spinning wheel or a waterfall.
The moon illusion: This is the perception that the moon appears larger when it is near the horizon than when it is high in the sky. People may experience this illusion when they look at the moon at different times during the night.
The cafe wall illusion: This is the perception that the lines in a patterned wall are bent or distorted, even though they are actually straight. People may encounter this illusion when looking at patterns or textures that contain repeating geometric shapes.
The Muller-Lyer illusion: This is the perception that lines of different lengths appear to be the same length due to the presence of arrowheads or other visual cues at the ends of the lines. People may encounter this illusion when looking at diagrams or drawings that contain lines with arrowheads or other visual cues at the ends.
Aleister Crowley reintroduced the spelling of "magick" with a "k" in his lifetime (1875 - 1947) to distinguish stage magic/illusions from the spiritual practices of magic. To Crowley, magick was of discovering one's "True Will" through rituals, meditation and other supernatural techniques.
Crowley believed the traditional spelling of the word "magic" had lost its essence to deception and trickery, so he wanted to re-emphasize the deeper, spiritual practices as magick. In Magick in Theory and Practice, Crowley defines magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”
Spookywood's definition of magick is clarified as "the design of function."
This is because True Will can be difficult or impossible to accurately determine. It can also be too reliant on predetermined fates that can't be changed. Additionally, True Will lacks empirical and scientific support.
Many philosophers, including religious magickians, have been interested in the philosophical problem of and relationship between existence and essence. In philosophy, existence is the ontological, fundamental property of "being." Essence is a phenomenon's process.
Example: a rose bush exists with a rootstock, union graft, trunk, canes, flowers, hips and other features. The parts of a rose bush is the design of its existence. What the rose bush does (how the cells interact, how it grows, the way it eats, the fragrance it blooms, etc.) is its process, functions or essence.
Crowley may himself have realized the importance of design and process [existence/essence] in most things which is why Art and Science are included in his definition of magick. However, the Thelemic church restricts magick to Will, and due to the reasons listed above, this is problematic.
What about phenomena that does not evidently have willpower? Will is indeed a type of magick, but there's no evidence to support that inanimate phenomena such as space dust has features of Will or is governed by a greater mind (such as god). However, space dust does have design and process!
Design is the blueprint of existence while functions are its processes.
Why would a secular person choose to use magick in this technical way?
Magick can be argued as the relationship between form and function. Crowley's idea of magick was to restore it as a spiritual practice, and religious magickians have a right to attempt this. However, secularists may also appreciate magick technically as a reminder that anything that exists will also have a formula or process.
It opens an opportunity to accommodate forms that lack Will and to model a life that isn't ruled by divine Will. Without Will, stuff still interacts with other stuff and implements chemical change. Magick as a term describes this coupling of existence and essence and is historic, philosophical and enchanting in its association to magic (illusions) and occultism.
Occultism is frequently used in context with magic and magick, but they aren't the same things.
Occultism comes from a Latin word "occultare" meaning hidden, secret or supernatural.
Occultism is an activity. It is philosophy. Put concretely, occultism is knowledge-seeking curiosity.
There are certainly religious branches of occultism where it is a compilation of areas where people interact with the supernatural or divine mysteries.
Secular occultism is the curious search for knowledge without the use of religion.
"Occult" may be used as a noun or adjective. When used as a noun, the occult is a wide field of many topics involving the exploration of and interaction with the unknown.
Used as an adjective, something being occult means is ambiguous, mysterious or has some uncertainty about it. An example are medical occult blood panel tests used to detect particles invisible to the naked eye.
People experience the occult and occultish things every day by being exposed to uncertainty. People may participate in occultism as philosophy and incorporate knowledge-seeking curiosity into their daily lives to mediate uncertainty, and this may be accomplished secularly.
Retaining a sense of curious adventure through occultism, an awareness of illusions through magic and an appreciation for the design of processes through magick is useful for any religious or secular person.