Bibliography on the Applicability of “Occultism” As a Description of Anthroposophy

By Peter Staudenmaier

On the waldorf-critics list, July 20, 2006 “Re: the meaning of occultism”

[Baandje wrote:]

The only time I hear the word “occult” used today, is in conjunction
with some fundamentalist group and whatever it is they happen to take
exception to. […]
In all my years of involvement with various spiritual groups and
individual seekers of the spirit, I honestly cannot recall a single
instance of someone referring to spiritual development as “occult”
development. Words such as “esoteric” and “mysticism” are used today,
yes. But not “occult.”

[Peter Staudenmaier replied]

Maybe you should broaden your horizons a bit. Here are a few reading tips:

Corinna Treitel, A Science for the Soul: Occultism and the Genesis of the German Modern (Baltimore 2004)

Alex Owen, The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (Chicago 2004)

David Allen Harvey, Beyond Enlightenment: Occultism and Politics in Modern France (DeKalb 2005)

B. J. Gibbons, Spirituality and the Occult from the Renaissance to the Modern Age (New York 2000)

Bernice Rosenthal, ed., The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Ithaca 1997)

(all five are superb books, by the way, despite many criticisms I have of each)

Then there’s Dan Burton and David Grandy, Magic, Mystery, and Science: The Occult in Western Civilization (Bloomington 2004), by two academics sympathetic to the neo-occultist scene. And many works go further back, for instance P. G. Maxwell-Stuart, ed., The Occult in Early Modern Europe: A Documentary History (New York 1999). For more specifically American materials there’s Susan Gillman, Blood Talk: American Race Melodrama and the Culture of the Occult (Chicago 2003), or Joshua Gunn, Modern Occult Rhetoric (Tuscaloosa 2005).

If you want something shorter than a book, check out Antoine Faivre, “What is Occultism?‚” in Lawrence Sullivan, ed., Hidden Truths: Magic, Alchemy, and the Occult (New York 1989). Or this article notably sympathetic to its subject:

Robert Sumser, “Rational Occultism in Fin de Siecle Germany: Rudolf Steiner‚s Modernism” History of European Ideas vol. 18 no. 4 (1994), 497-511.

For examples of some of the prior literature, see Marcello Truzzi, “Definition and Dimensions of the Occult: Towards a Sociological Perspective,” Journal of Popular Culture 5 (1971) , 635-646. Or this one:

Robert Galbreath, “The History of Modern Occultism: A Bibliographical Survey,” Journal of Popular Culture vol. 5 no. 3 (1971), 726-754.

Galbreath also has an influential interpretive essay: Robert Galbreath, “Explaining Modern Occultism‚” in Howard Kerr and Charles Crow, editors, The Occult in America: New Historical Perspectives (Chicago 1983). His dissertation, quite sympathetic toward Steiner, is titled Spiritual Science in an Age of Materialism: Rudolf Steiner and Occultism‚ (University of Michigan, 1970).

On the relation among the terms ‘mystic’, ‘esoteric’, and ‘occult’, there’s a fine essay in German:

Bettina Gruber, “Mystik, Esoterik, Okkultismus: Überlegungen zu einer Begriffsdiskussion‚” in Moritz Baßler and Hildegard Chatellier, eds., Mystik, Mystizismus und Moderne in Deutschland um 1900 (Strasbourg 1998).

For two excellent works in English that cover the same territory see:

Wouter Hanegraaff, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought (Leiden 1996)

Olav Hammer, Claiming Knowledge: Strategies of Epistemology from Theosophy to the New Age (Leiden 2001).

You could also take a look at the new journal Aries: Journal for the Study of Western Esotericism.

As you can see, lots and lots of people still use the term “occult” in perfectly reasonable, non-manipulative and non-inflammatory ways.

I think you would do well to re-think your claim in light of this fact. Cheers,

Peter S.