There’s a pervasive conflation and confusion between occult and the esoteric matters. Are they actually two completely different and distinct things, which have no relationship to each other?
It has become fashionable to blur the lines rather than make distinctions between man and nature and between good and evil, thinking that doing so ends separation and division. But blurring lines between darkness and light just makes everything gray, and dead.
Occult things have to do with the power of darkness, in which a good human being does not traffic. Esoteric insights, on the other hand, reveal themselves as one grows in self-knowing. The esoteric dimension emanates from the intelligence of the universe, whereas the occult forces emanate from the mind of man.
The word esoteric has come to mean, “Knowledge designed for or understood by the specially initiated alone.” However the root meaning of the word is very different. ‘Esoteric’ comes from the Latin, esotericus, meaning “within” and “into”—literally to go within.
That isn’t a matter of accumulating knowledge at all, much less ‘knowledge only understood by the specially initiated.’ Therefore esoteric insights transcend knowledge, having to do with the deeper understanding of the heart.
Contrast this meaning of esoteric with both the commonplace and root meaning of the word ‘occult.’ The definition of the word is: “Not revealed, secret, concealed, hidden from view.” That conforms to its etymology, since the word occult comes from the Latin occulere, “to cover up, conceal,” and (I kid you not) “hell.”
In short, the occult realm has to do with power, manipulation and exploitation of human weaknesses, whereas the esoteric dimension has to do with insight, compassion and wisdom.
The scariest and most life-altering encounter with occult forces I’ve ever had came in the Soviet Union in January 1990, when I was the guest of high-level men in the ruling government/mafia class at that time. (I didn’t realize how powerful my host was until I was there for a few days, but then as now, it was impossible to know whom you were dealing with in Russia.)
Unlike now however, relations between America and Russia were warming, and for the first time Americans were allowed to stay with Russians in their homes. My hosts had a spacious apartment, and they actually gave up their bed for me.
I got to know their bright sons. The older boy turned 13 after I’d been in Moscow for nearly two weeks, and I was invited to dinner with the family. This was his entry into manhood, an important occasion in Russia. I felt completely at home and had a very enjoyable dinner.
Afterward, sitting in the front seat with the driver, feeling the warmth of the family (and a couple vodkas), I was caught off guard when my host’s wife, who had as little English as I had Russian, said something about evil.
“It can’t touch you if you remain with your fear,” I smugly said off the top of my inebriated head. A metallic voice, sounding like it came from half a mile behind the car, extruded from my host’s mouth. Dripping with malevolence, it said, “Is that so?”
Suddenly the bubble I’d been in burst, and everything around me became surreal. Flashes of countless tortures and executions during the Stalin era flickered before my eyes. I went from not feeling a moment’s homesickness to the backside of the moon. I couldn’t speak for half an hour. I was in hell and was sure I was never going home.
But without thinking I did what I said, and remained with the terror I felt. Instinctively I knew I’d encountered the devil, and that my only chance was to remain within and true to myself, as terrifying as the reality and my emotions were.
Obviously my vision of superpowers working together for the betterment of both our countries and humanity failed. Russians lost ten years average lifespan in a decade, America rode the wave of triumphalism under Clinton until we got George Junior, 9.11, the invasion of Iraq, the “global war on terror,” CIA torture, and now, Putin and Trump.
It took me months to process what happened, especially that night in Moscow. I had done advanced work in philosophy, but had no philosophy of evil. However no theological retreat was necessary to realize the truth of the saying, “The greatest triumph of the devil in the modern age is convincing people it doesn’t exist.”
Having come through the crucible of crumbling Soviet Russia, my eyes were opened to the evil in America. I saw that Auden was right, “Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our table.”
Occult forces are entirely man-made, not supernatural. Their power is derived from the fear of the supernatural, from false mystery, secrecy and hidden manipulations by and through conduits of the darkness in human consciousness.
I learned, and am still learning, that the right response to evil is to not react to it, but remain with one’s reactions of fear and hatred, and hold the intent to dispel evil from behind the person through whom it flows. “Love does not suffer.”