Friday, December 13, 2013

A Taxonomy of Occult Groups

Someone asked about “western occult groups”. The question got my attention, so I produced this quick summary. There are some categories about which I know nothing – Martinists come to mind, and I have not attempted to categorize or list so-called ‘left-hand-path’ groups. Most of those would come under the ‘Modern Sorcery’ category, I suppose. Otherwise I think this is a fairly complete set of big categories, and I've done a lot of your searching for you, in the links. No mention of eastern systems here – I’m not quite ready to list Vajrayana groups as ‘occult’ training centers. Also, this list is focused on systems in which a student can learn practical occult arts or specialist spiritual skills. If the work is focused on devotional religion or therapy, it isn't in this category. Forgive me if this is boring – sometimes I’m storing stuff so that I’ll never have to type it again : ).
1: Classics
a: The Masons - not much real occultism left, but a ritual style that defines a whole school
b: Theosophical Society -not much ritual but the very origin of much modern occult and New Age thinking
c: Rosicrucians - there aren't any real ones, but much of the stuff written as Rosicrucian is valuable. Related to the Masons.
d: Traditional Sorcery - the grimoires are a provable inheritance of magic, but not to everyone's taste.
An early-modern Rose Cross
'Conjure' and 'hoodoo' are in funny positions, as they make some effort to systematize traditional spellcraft into 'systems'. 'Witchcraft' is pretty much whatever anyone says it is, but it contains a great deal of of folk-magic inheritance.

2: Magical Orders - these mainly use a post-Masonic model - lessons, degrees, hierarchy, solemn, verbal ritual. Some are more occult than others.
a: Golden Dawn - all current-day orders are restarts, imo, though there are some slim lineages from the

The Rose Cross of the occultists of
the Order of the Golden Dawn.
original order. Lots of good stuff if you want a university-class magical education.
b: Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) - specifically post-masonic occult order from Germany, that 'converted’ to Aleister Crowley's Thelema system in the early 20th c. Thelema is a modern Gnosticism that seeks personal wisdom and power in harmony with all things.

There are uncountable splinter, inheritor and imitator groups of these two major systems. Notable ones include the Servants of Light, and the Builders of the Adytum.
c: The A:.A:. : Crowley’s effort to send a distilled initiatory training down the line of students. Personal training inside a fairly classical hermetic/Qabalistic outline.

3: Pagan Witchcraft - these systems arose in the firt half of the 20th c as part of the occult revival.
a: Traditional Initiatory Wicca or Witchcraft - systems based on initiation into 'covens' which are small working magical orders. Each one has its own flavor even within traditions. Major traditions of this style include Gardnerians, Alexandrians, some Feri and lots of imitators and splinters. The Correllian Nativist Tradition is creating an initiatory Wiccan tradition connected through the internet, and may be of interest to students.

A Wiccan altar
b: Eclectic Religious Wicca - invented as a reaction to the exclusivity of Traditional Wicca this is a loosely defined Neopagan category. Local circles may exist anywhere. Circle Sanctuary may be the largest body associated with this sort of thing. It also crosses over into "women's religion" and the goddess movement. Much of this category remains interested in magical arts, though it merges with devotional Paganism.

4: Modern Sorcery & Chaos Magic late 20th c systems that tried to set aside traditional mythic and religious trappings to focus on results-based magic. These systems are mainly transmitted in books and articles, and practiced privately, with few teaching or practice groups visible to the public.
a: The Illuminates of Thanateroswas perhaps the original Chaos Magic order. Chaos Magic began as an effort by British occultists to step away from the doctrines of the ‘classics’, above, and approach magic from first principles. One interesting side-effect of the Chaos movement has been to direct western magicians toward ATR, and practical sorcery.
A Traditional Witchcraft altar

b: Practical Spellcraft - often defined, itself, as 'sorcery'. As with Hoodoo and Conjure the mass of western tradition practical occultism is being re-systematized by modern occultists. Traditional modes of spellcraft from candle-magic to poppets are being syncretized with African and European ancestor and spirit-work, eastern forms and modern occultism. While no major 'schools' have arisen as yet, notable teachers include Jason Miller, Brother Moloch and, for a lighter touch, the Grey School of Wizardry, which teaches both adults and younger students.
c: ‘Traditional’ Witchcraft – groups and practitioners seeking to work magic as an early-modern ‘witch’ might have done. These are usually a combination of folkloric elements with occult innovations, informed by the same stories as Pagan Witchcraft, but with the religious elements downplayed in favor of a sorcerous aesthetic. This category can include varieties of Luciferianism, and the so-called Left Hand Path. Solitary practice is common, and organizations are local and usually private or secret. There are a few publishing initiatory traditions of this sort of Witchcraft such as the as the Tubal Cain lineages, and Sabbatic Witchcraft  .
A Santerian Altar

5: African Traditional Religion – not part of ‘western magic’ but increasingly influential. These are often systems with unbroken inheritances back to polytheist times. ATR is organized into local ‘houses’ and Voudou, Santeria, the Palo lineages, and various Brazilian spiritisms. Admission to active membership in most ATR is by initiation and training, though some branches offer public worship and access to occult services to non-initiates.

6: Ethnic or Traditional Paganism – systems that attempt to restore worship of known ancient Gods through known ancient forms. These vary in the amount of occultism that may be taught and used – some are strictly religion.

A Heathen altar
a: Heathens are those working with the gods and ways of the ancient North Germans, the Scandinavians (often thought of as “the Vikings”). This includes Germanic-language groups across Europe into Great Britain, the Troth, the Asatru Folk Assembly and many others. Many Heathens call themselves “Asatru” – meaning “true to the Gods”. Northern Tradition Paganism takes a less scholastic, more vision-driven path toward those same Gods and spirits.

A Druidic 'altar' for Yuletide.
b: ‘Druids’ and Celtic PolytheistsCeltic Reconstructionists work to understand and rebuild Celtic religious practice, disregarding the revival Druidic traditions. Like other ethnic restoration movements Celtic Reconstructionism often provides little occult instruction.

‘Druids’ are either British post-masonic inheritors or American Neopagans, for the most part. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids is the largest British order, while Ár nDraíochtFéin (ADF) is the largest US group. Both include active interest in traditional magical practices.
c: Ancient Egyptian (Khemetic), Hellenes, Slavs, and Baltic peoples are also in this game, though often with a minimum of 'occult' content.

If I have forgotten or misrepresented your tradition or system, please feel free to let me know in comments. I'll update this article if I find myself truly in error.


Donald Michael Kraig said...

I would think that traditional Tantric groups should be included somewhere in there.

IanC said...

This question was more about who a student might look into for training. What would be the top two or three Tantra groups I could send a student to?

I felt the same way about Ngakpa training - how do I even point someone toward it?

Brenda said...

Not certain if it's actual boo-boos or just my computer display, but a couple of the sentences seem to be wonky in their placement. For example: "This includes Germanic-language groups across Europe into Great the Troth, the Asatru Free Assembly and many others." Again, it could just be my computer displaying it oddly.

As always, though, it's still an interesting read.

Panmankey said...

I'd separate Feri from other forms of initiatory Witchcraft/Wicca. It's just too unique and arose from different literary sources and traditions.

Lisa said...

Is this still a work in progress with more to be added? Looks to me like both 4b and 5 just end in the middle of sentences without even any punctuation.

Mister Lee said...

Where would you put traditional "kitchen" magic like Pennsylvania Dutch pow-pow or Southern conjure?

IanC said...

Hmmm... must be a formatting issue on those incomplete sentences... let's have a look...

Moloch's Sorcery said...

WtF? You lump Sorcery in with Chaos crap? Thanks a lot, mate.

Sorcery isn't just learned from books however for beginners in it, they are a good start but there's no advanced material on the subject out there. Maybe some Intermediate but for the most part it's geared for personal work.

Post Tribal Shaman said...

I'm not seeing anything about shamanism/animism. Did I miss it?

Anonymous said...

an interesting article, although i wonder about "'women's religion'" and the "goddess movement" somewhat marginalized. I can see that some paths might be difficult to categorize, but isn't that great? i certainly don't want to be categorized ;)

Joseph Max said...

There's always this:

"The Field Guide to Neo-Paganism":

Eric C said...

Doreen, et al: I'm not completely sure what Ian's direction on "goddess movement" was suggesting but I've recently been wondering myself about whatever happened to all the "Goddess Worshipers" (i.e. worshipers of "THE" Goddess) who were everywhere back in the early/mid 90's. My theory is that, launched primarily by Starhawk's "Spiral Dance", their penetration into the common/semi-public space of Neopaganism was a temporary effect that eventually gave way to their populations subsiding, functionally retreating into the separate camps of the Womens' Movement and the New Age subcultures. I'll have to note there that IMO, Neopaganism and the New Age communities have always sustained a remarkably smaller degree of overlap than most outsiders would ever suspect. So, to me, women worshiping goddesses nowadays are typically found under the umbrella term "Neopaganism", yet the post-Spiral Dance phenomenae of the early/mid 90's actually has faded away into different catagories. - Earrach

Lezlie Kinyon said...

Addendum: In the late 60s & early 70's there was both a loosely associated "outer court" group of small circles - and, a direct apostolic initiatory Wiccan tradition - that were scattered between Vancouver BC and Seattle who called themselves "American Eclectic" Wicca - long before the Internet. The initiates are scattered all over the US and western Canada all these years later. The BOS is still active.

Lezlie Kinyon said...

Eric C. The Annual Samain Spiral Dance is still alive and well and happens every year. To call it "Starhawk's", however, does a deep disservice to the ***entire San Francisco Bay Area Pagan community** and points north and south.

ALSO: There are plenty of tree huggin' Goddess Worshipers here, don't know what your talking about...!

MasterAmazon said...

Exactly. From Michfest to Elderflower to Womyn Gathering to countless Dianic circles in the Bay Area and beyond to the Reformed Congregation of the Goddess we are HERE and alive and well but dissed by the mainstream pagan groups as usual because we focus on Goddess only and womyns and Lesbian Mysteries and magic away from the prying eyes of men...

IanC said...

Just to discuss the Womyn's Religion angle, let me say first that the article is about *occult* groups, and was written, first, in response to a 'how can I learn magic?' question. Setting aside variant definitions of magic, the Goddess movement circles are unlikely to teach much of what the student was looking for, coming much more under the heading of 'devotional Paganism', I think.

I'm confident that Earrach's "Starhawk's Spiral Dance.'" reference was too the classic book of that name, and not the local event in SF. Certainly that book helped to move Wiccan thought in NE Ohio in a feminist direction.

Shamanism might come under the 'magic & the occult' heading, though the original question behind the post was about 'western magic'. I guess I think of shamanic tech as more of a method used by any of those schools, rather than a school in itself.

This is late, but I found myself reading through the comments... Thanks for reading, all.