The Other Side of the Hedge: Hidden Knowledge

The Other Side of the Hedge: Hidden Knowledge March 25, 2017

The occult isn’t inherently evil. It is powerful, and often opaque. That can be scary all on its own. So why do we let it remain a mystery? Do we even have a choice?


The term “occult” has become something of a slur in Western culture. It is the kind of word that irresponsible media use to grab headlines, especially during and after the “Satanic panic” of the 1980s and 1990s. It implies, correctly or incorrectly, a use of hidden powers to get one’s own way.

A Labyrinth, No Bull – Polly Peterson (2011) .  Used by permission of the author.
A Labyrinth, No Bull – Polly Peterson (2011) . Used by permission of the author.

Here is an imaginary meta-dialogue about the “Occult” in Western thought:

“Hi. We’re magicians and witches. Occultists, if you will.”
“Oh, hi. So you’re evil.”
“No. We aren’t evil.”
“But you kill babies.”
“No. We don’t kill babies.”
“Oh. So you’re evil and squeamish.”
“No, that is not the point of magic.”
“So you’re weak, evil, and squeamish. And making excuses.”

This conversation is obviously imaginary, but it illustrates an important point. The words that we use in the occult –witch, wizard, sorcerer— already have meanings attributed by heavy “power players” in Western culture. In attempting to redefine these words, we run the risk of metaphorically butting our heads against a very large brick wall.


Training in magic has strong parallels with training in martial arts. Just as the martial arts strengthen the body, magical training promotes spiritual strength and health, increases overall confidence, and deepens self-awareness. Just as with martial arts, these benefits are not primary goals. Rather, they accrue as a side effect of training.

Magic has often been referred to as the “occult.” At its root, the word means hidden, as in “hidden knowledge.”

And it is true that this knowledge has sometimes been hidden by people who either do not want to be labeled as odd or who wish to maintain a mysterious aura about themselves, and thus gain power.

More often, in my experience, this information is “occult” because the books disappear off library shelves and are “lost” or simply never returned or replaced. In the past, such topics remained “occult” for three pragmatic reasons, listed from least likely to most likely:

♣ Practitioners at times found it necessary to avoid persecution for heresy or witchcraft.
♣ The books were not written in the vernacular, and translations were often incomplete or incorrect.
♣ Publishers have generally preferred to publish books that will sell well to the general populace.

Beyond the pragmatics of accessibility, the vagaries of rebellious young men and women who do not respect libraries, and a certain unpopularity of the subject matter in some circles, the “occult” generally remains hidden for two excellent reasons: the nature of people and the nature of the subject matter.

Learning takes work, and most people do not want to, or do not have time to, put in the effort. In this sense, much knowledge is “occult.” Now that many classic works of occult literature have been translated, scanned, and placed in the public domain, we are not held back by a lack of opportunity.

New editions of the ancient musty tomes are available at the nearest bookstore or by online order. They can be downloaded onto computers and book readers and taken wherever we go.

Let’s assume, then, that the reasons the occult remains hidden are personal. Now that we can talk instantly with others the world over, the reasons for not pursuing such knowledge are often found within.


Image by Juppi66. From WikiMedia, CC License.
Image by Juppi66. From WikiMedia, Public Domain Image.

The other reason that the occult remains hidden is that spiritual knowledge is always occult in the old scientific meaning: the knowledge is hidden, but can be discovered through experience and experimentation. In modern terms, it is experiential knowledge, necessarily on-the-job training.

Understanding anything’s spirit requires understanding it with your own spirit. Until a practitioner’s mind and spirit begin to come together, the underlying connections will always remain opaque, or if you prefer, occult. We may memorize and recite the correct words, claim the correct truths, and even own the right books and wear the right clothes, but deeper spiritual understanding of the world comes with spiritual effort.

A final word of caution: without an instructor guiding training, and sometimes even with an instructor, there is always the danger of either pushing oneself too hard or not pushing hard enough. Over the course of training, it is likely that an unguided student will make both of these mistakes at various times.

ProTip: I cannot urge strongly enough that you, the reader, be careful and take responsibility for your own physical, mental, and spiritual health. No matter what I, or any other writer, teacher, guru, or sponsor suggests, it is you, the practitioner, who must take responsibility.

Just as with learning a sport, taking on a hobby, joining a group, or studying a discipline, a level of self-honesty is necessary in determining if you are properly prepared and capable of meeting the challenges.

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