Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

A general term which describes the study of those "sciences" – Alchemy, certain forms of Magic, Theosophy and the like – which may be defined as having a secret core of knowledge about matters themselves inherently esoteric. Students of occult sciences (like John Dee or, less convincingly, Aleister Crowley) might be better described as occultists. As the term describes a relationship between the exoteric mundane world and an esoteric body of knowledge by which that mundane world can secretly be understood or ruled, it is not often found in fantasy. It is, however, very common in Supernatural Fiction, where a similar relationship between the mundane and the Other tends to operate. It should be noted, however, that stories explicitly evoking the occult routinely fail as fiction in proportion to the extent of their authors' belief in the literal truth of the "science" being expounded. It might also be noted that occult knowledge and Ritual – an example is the Black Mass – may be presented by an author as either obscene or holy; rarely will an author be neutral. To write about O is to advocate O, or to denounce it. Stories featuring Occult Detectives are similarly didactic in tone.

Authors whose works invoke occultism themes include E F Benson, Charles Birkin, Algernon Blackwood, Madame Blavatsky, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Nictzin Dyalhis, Dion Fortune, Ronald Fraser, Robert Hichens, J K Huysmans, Margery Lawrence, Seabury Quinn, Sax Rohmer and Dennis Wheatley. There are many others. [JC]

see also: Occult Fantasy.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.