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, 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.