Skip to main content
Digital Exhibition

Occult Science and the Philosophy of the Renaissance

Erasmi Fancisci 0796a_Plate 796


Since the first book in the series was published in 1997, British author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels have captivated millions of readers young and old. Though a writer of fiction, Rowling explores many themes—alchemy and astrology, witchcraft and wizardry, magical creatures and the quest for eternal life—that are based on the activities of a colorful body of naturalists, physicians, and philosophers who lived in the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries.

The kind of knowledge these individuals pursued is referred to as “the occult,” a term derived from the Latin word occultus, meaning “hidden” or “obscure.” As opposed to modern empirical science, which requires that physical matter and natural phenomena be observed and measured, occult science holds that there is a hidden wisdom in the universe and a deeper, intangible truth that exists beneath the surface of our everyday lives.

Occult science has received a mixed reception over the years. The secrecy associated with it has frequently resulted in misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Even in its heyday, its followers were often dismissed as quacks and charlatans. Some, labeled witches or heretics, paid for their beliefs with their lives. Yet despite opposition and skepticism, occultist beliefs attracted the attention of scientific giants such as Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle. Their impact on history, literature, popular culture, the arts, and—as the Harry Potter series has shown—our collective imagination has been profound and long-lasting. For that reason, if no other, they are worthy of study.

“Grand Rosicrucian Alchemical Formula.” Emblem from Museum Hermeticum Reformatum et Amplificatum, 1678. Reproduced in Manly P. Hall. An Encyclopedic Outline of Masonic, Hermetic, Qabbalistic and Rosicrucian Symbolical Philosophy. San Francisco: H. S. Crocker Co., 1928.
LLMVC Acadia BF1411 .H3 1928 Oversize

Tile Cover
People troubleshooting on a computer
Ask Us
Tile Summary
Check our FAQs, submit a question using our form, or launch the chat widget to find help.