The continued segregation of the occult from the pagan community

Posted on January 29, 2013
Filed Under Culture, Magic, occult culture | 4 Comments

unconventional warfare

Over on the Wild Hunt, Jason wrote a post recently about the fact that the book industry Study Group has recently moved some of the books that are considered Paganism/Wicca from the Occult/New Age section over to the Religion section. He sees this as a good thing, and I would agree, if it wasn’t for the following:

Throughout those years I remember often voicing a common complaint: “Why are books about Pagan religions shelved next to crystal healing and channeled hidden masters instead of in the religion section where they belong.” I felt, as many others did, that it created a two-tiered hierarchy: “real” religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and those religions relegated to what was once known as the “occult” section.

I’d ask why is there an assumption that crystal healing and channeling hidden masters couldn’t be consider a form of religion in its own right, or at the least part of the religious practices? Or perhaps also why the occult is so stigmatized and seen as a bad thing that hurts paganism, especially given many of the religious and spiritual practices are occult oriented? Isn’t the occult a real “religion”?

Now I’ll admit that I don’t consider what I practice to really be a religion, but at the same time I wouldn’t mind seeing occult books given a bit more respect in general…and my concern is that while books that are considered overtly Pagan or Wicca will now be labeled as a religion, other books will continue to be relegated to a label that is less than flattering, and will also provide further fuel for what I think of as the segregation of magic from Paganism. It seems to me that occult/magic practices are considered the bastard child of Paganism, something to be dusted under the rug because it hurts the image of Paganism as more of a mainstream religion. Yet I’d argue that those very practices define the spiritual work and that the various books on Paganism and Wicca that reference magic and the occult shouldn’t suddenly be removed from a section, unless you are going to remove all the books found in that section, or at least categorize them more effectively.

My question is: Why is there such an emphasis on removing the occult from Paganism? I think its because Paganism is making some strides and getting some good recognition and the last thing the people, working on making Paganism more mainstream and acceptable, want is  to be associated with magic and the occult. But when we remove magic from the picture we are removing something essential and while Paganism may look more acceptable, denying its roots, and looking down on certain practices just creates a rift that does more to hurt the community than actually help it. We shouldn’t strive so hard for acceptance if we aren’t willing to ask that everything we do be accepted, as opposed to only the parts that are considered “safe”



The Craft is both a religion and a magickal practice. In my path, one necessitates the other, and are intrinsically intertwined.  I don't like this new distinction because it's going to further suggest that the Craft is ONLY a religion, and that magick is optional, or worse, unnecessary.  I don't care for how it's going to overall affect the greater cultural understanding of my path.


I have nothing against the "occult" section, though it's rarely called that anymore. Nowadays it's the "Body, Mind, Spirit" section, a fuzzy term for a fuzzy category that has functioned as a repository for everything from the Satanic Bible to A Course in Miracles over the years. I want Wicca and other Pagan religions to be in the Religion section because they are religions. Period. 

I have heard many magicians over the years emphasize how they do not practice a religion, or that they aren't Pagans and that they are certainly not Wiccans. That anyone can use the technologies they employ, regardless of their theological framework (within reason). If that's the case, then why would they care if books about explicitly religious systems, even if they do incorporate magic, get re-shelved to the religion section? 

The truth is that the New Age/spiritual technologies market has worked long to emphasize their non-religious-ness, their universalist stances. It only makes sense then to make a distinction, despite the practical overlaps.

As for my aside that you quote, it was a personal expression from my own history. One meant to illustrate a complaint I've heard many times from many different Pagans over the years. I'm sorry that it soured something that I feel truly is a step forward for Pagan religions, at least so long as bookstores are around. 

Magicexperiment moderator

@thesilverspiral I agree and at the same time I've seen that distinction that magical is optional popping up for a while now in Paganism, and that bothers me in and of itself because it seems to be a departure from the spiritual roots in favor of a more sanitized and acceptable image. I don't think all Pagans feel that way, but I've seen it show up for a few years now.

Magicexperiment moderator

@jasonpitzlwaters Your right...its not often called the occult section any more, but for all intents and purposes it is the occult section, and as you mention in your comment it's a rather fuzzy label, which can be misleading in and of itself. 

I don't know if other magicians care or don't care per se, although I've seen some reactions, which range from not caring to caring because of how it may cause occult books to look in contrast to pagan books. I care because I've noted in the past, and even in this post that there's this segment of Paganism that thinks magic is optional, and tries to distance Paganism from Magic, because the association of Magic with Paganism, makes Paganism less socially acceptable. Your quote demonstrates that distinction in its own way and I drew it on because it stood out to me as an example of wanting distance from certain practices that either seem hokey or cast a shadow of social stigma over related topics.

I do think you make a good point about the fact that many magicians, myself included, don't practice a religion (though I do practice a spirituality) and that magical practices can be applied across religious boundaries as a technology, I also think that when a distinction is made to the point where magic is seen as optional, it takes away an important spiritual root of Pagan practices...and when it is done for social acceptability, that troubles me because it emphasizes the stigmas associated with the practice of magic. And as someone who has dealt directly with people who've chosen to act ignorantly because someone chooses to practice magic, I can tell you that it is a not fun experience. Additionally, to my mind I group ceremonial magic, Hermeticism, and even chaos magic under the rather broad label of Paganism and I wouldn't mind seeing the practice of magic get some of the same social acceptability that Paganism is getting and so reading what you wrote and Elysia wrote...I had mixed feelings. A triumph on the one hands for Paganism...definitely...but in terms of including the practice of magic...that's at least partially left in that fuzzy label, and implies that yes magic is an optional activity, and maybe one that Pagans don't want to admit to down the line because of the social stigma attached to the word. 

Time will tell what will or won't happen and it may ultimately not matter that much any way, but as someone who is an advocate for more tolerance toward less mainstream religious and spiritual practices, I want all of it to go under religion or another label of spirituality, if need be.