The practice of “occultism” has taken on a number of meanings, in some cases, confused meanings. In its essence, occultism means to look beyond the surface appearances of things to the underlying motive powers and forces and to observe the intelligence active in creating the surface appearances upon which we tend to fixate with our physical senses. The field of Science began as a search for the deeper meanings and connections in life, and eventually, as we explore the atomic world, quantum phenomena, the electro-magnetic spectrum, and the movements of the sun, the stars and the galaxy, we begin to realize that the understanding we gain from a purely surface view is far from accurate. We speak of the sun rising and setting, but in reality, this surface view is the rotation of the earth around its axis and the arc of the planet around the sun.
At a detailed level we can see the incredible interconnections between all elements of existence to bring about the field of life and its balance. The study of the powers hidden from our surface awareness is occultism in its truest sense. There are many different methods humanity has employed to try to go beyond the surface appearances. In essence they involve tapping into the deeper sources of our awareness and finding ways to understand what pure sense perceptions, and our extrapolations from those sense perceptions, do not tell us. The practices of Raja Yoga, for example, are based on the idea of stilling the surface mind and the senses so that we can truly experience the deeper reality that creates, sustains and guides what we experience in the daily life we lead, including the source of thoughts, emotions and perceptions that act upon us and which we ordinarily believe are under our own control. The notion of our freedom of thought and free will takes on a totally different significance when we leave our surface reactions and find larger, universal forces at work moving us, shaping us and guiding us forward in our lives.
Sri Aurobindo observes in The Life Divine: “There are four necessities of man’s self-expansion if he is not to remain this being of the surface ignorance seeking obscurely after the truth of things and collecting and systematising fragments and sections of knowledge, the small limited and half-competent creature of the cosmic Force which he now is in his phenomenal nature. He must know himself and discover and utilise all his potentialities: but to know himself and the world completely he must go behind his own and its exterior, he must dive deep below his own mental surface and the physical surface of Nature. This he can only do by knowing his inner mental, vital, physical and psychic being and its powers and movements and the universal laws and processes of the occult Mind and Life which stand behind the material front of the universe: that is the field of occultism, if we take the word in its widest significance.”