The occult (from the Latin word occultus "clandestine, hidden, secret") is "knowledge of the hidden."

Since the Enlightenment, it has often been seen as the 'other side of the coin' to scientific enquiry. Nonetheless, early science fiction and gothic literature, such as E.T.A. Hoffmann or Mary Shelley's writing, shows that - at least in the artistic imagination - the nineteenth-century scientist remained closely associated with the magician.

Universal or Contextual Definition?

Julia Mannherz is one scholar who writes that the 'occult' covers a huge range of influences and primary concerns, such as the hidden dimensions of reality or the limits of current knowledge. Similarly, the huge edited collection of reference essays on The Occult World edited by Christopher Partridge in 2014 emphasises that the occult can be traced through all of western history.

Yet occult phenomena are often very much contextualised by time and place and can take different forms dependent on existing religious or socio-cultural beliefs. This is related to Christopher Partridge's concept of 'occulture', which is 'less concerned with particular [Occult] groups [such as Spiritualists and Mesmerists] and much more concerned with the conditions within which plausibility structures are shaped.' Rather than calling an idea or a movement 'Occult', Partridge is arguing in favour of seeing entire cultural contexts as favouring the emergence of occultism.