College Of Arts And Sciences | The Occult in Western Civilization
E104 | 0109 | Newman, W.


The occult is a theme that is deeply ingrained in the history of
Western civilization.  From antiquity to the present, segments of our
society have laid claim to an esoteric wisdom that could only be
revealed to those who are worthy of its exercise.  Such "occult"
pursuits as alchemy, astrology, and magic played an important role in
the formation of modern science during the scientific revolution of
seventeenth century, and subsequently had a major impact on poetry,
music, and the pictorial arts.  And yet, if we consider the pursuits
that are usually deemed to make up "the occult," it is remarkable how
little these fields have to do with one another.  What does alchemy,
an artisanal pursuit related to metallurgy, have in common with
divinatory practices such as astrology, oneiromancy, or crystal-
gazing?  What does witchcraft have to do with extraterrestrial life?
The Occult in Western Civilization will answer these questions and
others.  It will also argue that the occult sciences - especially
alchemy, astrology, and natural magic-were originally predicated on
quite reasonable bases consistent with the best science and
philosophy of their time, however they may have been altered in late
twentieth-century culture.  By thinking carefully about the
relationships among science, philosophy, and those disciplines
traditionally classified as "occult" students will learn about the
nature of scientific knowledge more generally.

The basic goals of the course, then, will be to instill a historical
understanding of the occult while at the same time stimulating
philosophical reflection on the nature of scientific knowledge in
general. The student assignments will be based on material used for
the class, such as demonstrations, experiments, and discussions.  In
the weekly discussion sessions, the students will be responsible for
answering a set number of questions handed out in advance and based
closely on the readings and lectures.  Three major exams will be
given during the course relating to the questions discussed during
the sessions.  In addition, a set number of other assignments will be
handed out, such as the interpretation of astrological horoscopes.