Contrary to the popular equation of the terms occult and cult, they are not interchangeable.
Occultists use or have secret knowledge of actions and/or rituals connected to supernatural belief s and/ or supernatural powers.
Religion is the differentiating factor: occultists adopt supernatural beliefs which may or may not be religious in nature, while cultists adopt specific religious belief systems. Although the nature of occultist and cultist belief systems is different, most people do not distinguish between the two because both belief systems represent an unorthodox departure from conventional society. This report draws a clear distinction between cult and occult activity, concentrating entirely on the latter. For further information about cults, contact:
American Family Foundation
Cult Awareness Network (CAN) - National Office
Institute for the Study of American Religion
Spiritual Counterfeits Project
Dr. Richard Ofshe, Professor
Margaret Singer, Ph.D.
Legal occult activities, the subject of this chapter, are condemned largely because many, but not all, occultists practice magic. A controversial term in and of itself, magic involves the invocation of supernatural powers to control natural forces. The use of such power adds more fuel to the definitional controversy. Consider the following:
* Most occultists, some of whom call themselves magicians, symbolically invoke magic, or so-called white magic, for what they call positive means - applying a herbal cure for an ailment, invoking a spell to enhance one's ability to be a better lover or obtain a more satisfying job, or casting powers to protect the earth from harmful human intrusions. These practitioners don't actually summon supernatural powers or control natural forces, but rather use trickery to perform rites that are symbolic of wishes, concerns, or disappointments.
* A few occultists, often known as sorcerers, practice black magic or the dark arts. Such practitioners claim to actually invoke supernatural powers for primarily evil purposes.
* Other practitioners deplore any distinction between white and black magic. They believe that the magician "sets out to conquer the universe" thereby requiring entry into the "darkest levels of the mind." To succeed, he or she must become master of everything in the universe - evil as well as good, cruelty as well as mercy, pain as well as pleasure." (Cavendish, 1967:3.) Thus, these practitioners argue, all magic is black.
It appears that, to the practitioner, the type of magic practiced is largely perceptual; that is, practicing magic really involves what the practitioner believes is being invoked, be it black, white or both. To the law enforcer, however, the practitioners perceptions are moot; he or she is involved either in legally-protected spiritual activity which is beyond the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system, or in illegal criminal activity as defined by law and clearly within the system's jurisdiction.
This chapter seeks to sort out and clarify these distinctions for the law enforcer. In so doing, it defines occult activity and