This page is a “glossary” of occult terms and names. It is not intended to be absolutely comprehensive, but it’s intended to be a good capsule summary of the major concepts, schools of thought, and personalities in the field. Bold text in an entry means I have an entry in this glossary for the thing in bold.
This is purely to give you a very short summary of who or what the thing is so you have context. I’ve decided I’ll add Wikipedia links when I think the article is decent.
Disclaimer: Including a person, group, or concept on this page does not imply I agree with the person, am a member or supporter of the group, or have tried or advocate the use of the concept. It means it’s something that I encounter in a lot of conversations and the absolute beginner will benefit from a capsule summary. Here we go!
A∴ A∴ Abbreviation (in the abbreviations using three dots format) of a magical order founded by Aleister Crowley. The name of the Order is often said to be “Argenteum Astrum” or “Astron Argon”, which mean “Silver Star” in Latin and Greek respectively. The purpose of this order is to teach magical and spiritual attainment through a detailed curriculum of practices including raja yoga, ceremonial magic, and reaching a major milestone with the attainment of knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel. The structure of the Order is such that each student has a teacher of a higher degree, who in turn has another teacher. Each member (other than for purely administrative purposes such as address lists, etc.) is only supposed to work with their direct teacher and their direct students. The degrees of the Order are based upon the sephiroth. Not to be confused with the other order closely associated with Crowley, the Ordo Templi Orientis, which is more fraternal in nature and amenable to (indeed, focused on) group performance of ritual and social events.
Abbreviations using three dots. It is not uncommon practice in the occult to use three dots in a triangle (∴) rather than a single period to mark abbreviations. This practice originates in Freemasonry. Aleister Crowley used it for the name of his magical teaching order, the A∴ A∴.
Abramelin. Name of a magician who supposedly lived in Egypt, and the book named after him, written by a German Jewish author known as Abraham von Worms in the Middle Ages. The system of magic described in the book of Abramelin involves a lengthy (6 or 18 months depending on which of the medieval copies you read) process of prayer and retirement from the world in order to achieve clear communication with one’s Holy Guardian Angel. The book teaches that after one has achieved communication with one’s Angel, the magician is to summon the rulers of the demons and compel them to pledge themselves to serve the magician. Thus the Abramelin system is one in which one obtains divine empowerment and then uses it to command infernal forces, generally so that the demons can be made to do beneficial things they would not typically be willing to do. In the system of Thelema, communication with the Holy Guardian Angel is the surest means of discovering one’s True Will, and so the Abramelin system is studied by many Thelemites. (Wikipedia)
Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF). Irish for “Our own druidry.” A modern neopagan religious organization dedicated to the study and development of modern reconstruction and reinterpretation of the old Celtic religion. Founded by Isaac Bonewits. (Wikipedia)
Astrology. The process of examining the position of the planets in the sky at key moments in history, or in a person’s life, for the purpose of making predictions about events, or about the person’s character, or about their interpersonal relationships. Popular today as “daily horoscopes” for a person born with a certain zodiac sign, (that is to say, they have a certain sun sign) but astrology has existed since ancient times and is much more complicated than simply “if you were born in early September, today’s a good day to go job hunting.” (Wikipedia)
Bonewits, Isaac. (1949-2010) Founder of Ár nDraíocht Féin, and a leader in modern neopaganism. Controversial with some for his clear distinction between neopaganism and paleopaganism; some in the pagan community wanted to insist that their religious practices had been passed down unchanged for centuries. Author of the book Real Magic, about how ceremonial magic might relate to ESP and other phenomena which parapsychologists have studied. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 1970 with a degree in magic, being one of, if not the only, person to get such a degree from a modern university. (Wikipedia)
Book of the Law, The. Also known as Liber Legis (“book of the law”), Liber L, Liber AL, Liber CCXX, etc. A book written down on paper by Aleister Crowley in April 1904 during his stay in Cairo. Crowley claimed that the book was dictated to him by a being called Aiwass, which he later identified as his Holy Guardian Angel. The book contains the famous verse “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” and is the foundational text of the religious philosophy known as Thelema.
Bornless Ritual. Better translated Headless, this is a ritual originally found in one of the Greek Magical Papyri and first translated into English in the mid-1800s. It is an invocation of the “Headless One”, some form of higher being, and appeal for its assistance in exorcising an evil spirit or demon. The ritual was adapted by the Golden Dawn as a ritual for personal spiritual development, and thought by practitioners of Thelema to be a useful ritual for invoking one’s Holy Guardian Angel.
Carroll, Peter. English magician. Co-founder of the Illuminates of Thanateros and considered one of the leading practitioners of chaos magic. Author of several seminal works on the subject, notably Liber Null and Liber Kaos. (Wikipedia)
Ceremonial magic. (Sometimes spelled “magick”.) The use of ritual practices, which may include gestures, walking, speaking in various languages, incense, and such implements as swords, wands, chalices, etc. to summon non-corporeal entities or manipulate magical energy in order to cause changes in the universe or in the magician’s consciousness. (Wikipedia)
Chaos magic. A system of magic based on the notion that beliefs themselves are a tool, and you can use a wide variety of techniques for focusing (or emptying) the mind and unleashing magical power. Chaos magicians believe that one can use existing systems of magic or even make up your own. One frequently used technique in chaos magic is the creation of sigils. (Wikipedia)
Crowley, Aleister. (1875-1947) English occult writer on ceremonial magic, meditation, and (somewhat concealed) sex magic; founder of the religious philosophy known as Thelema; founder of the magical order known as the A∴ A∴; reformer and leader of Ordo Templi Orientis; author or channeler of The Book of the Law. Popularly known as the “Wickedest Man in the World”. Self-identified with The Beast 666 from the Biblical book of Revelation. (Wikipedia)
Degrees. Many mystical organizations initiate their members in a system of degrees, or ranks. A new member might be said to be a “first degree” member, and after some time and other requirements are met, will undergo another ritual to initiate them into the “second degree”, and so on. Examples of such groups are Freemasonry, Ordo Templi Orientis, and the Golden Dawn. The Illuminates of Thanateros turned the degree system upside down, with the Zeroth Degree being the leader of the organization, the First Degree being the members just below the leader, the Second Degree below those, and so on.
Demon. A spirit being, usually of an evil or at least mischievous nature. Certain grimoires describe demons and how to make them serve the magician following processes of ceremonial magic.
Divination. The process of using occult means to discover information about the past, present, or (perhaps most frequently) the future. Popular systems of divination include astrology, geomancy, I Ching, and the use of Tarot cards.
Druidry. May refer either to the paleopaganism of the ancient Celtic peoples, or to a form of neopaganism based upon the ancient Celtic religion.
Elements. In Hermeticism and the Western mystery tradition, four different categories of physical matter, energy, and other phenomena, labeled Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. These are applied to intellectual concepts as well as physical ones; for example, a person’s personality traits may be labeled thus: Passion is Fire; love is Water; logical reasoning is Air; pragmatism is Earth. A full listing of what concept goes into what category is beyond the scope of this glossary.
Frater. Latin for “Brother”. A common title used by magicians (usually those identifying as male), especially those in magical orders. Frequently used before a magical name. Compare soror.
Freemasonry. A fraternal system originating probably in England in the early 1700s, almost exclusively for men, although various organizations closely related to Freemasonry (and often sponsored by Freemasons) exist for women. Freemasonry is founded upon the Biblical story of King Solomon building the Temple in Jerusalem, and uses metaphors from that story to describe how each Freemason should build his own character, life, and soul into a metaphorical Temple, i.e. a state of moral and ethical uprightness. Freemasonry contains rituals of initiation and secret words and handshakes which, although widely published in various “exposés” over the centuries, are considered sacred secrets of the fraternity. Because of its secrecy, Freemasonry is a central feature in countless conspiracy theories. The Roman Catholic Church forbids its adherents to join the Freemasons, and many Evangelical Christian groups accuse them of Satanic practices, charges which are generally regarded by disinterested observers as unwarranted. The initiatory system of the Golden Dawn, of Ordo Templi Orientis, and various other occult groups have many similarities to that of the Freemasons, notably initiation by degrees. (Wikipedia)
Gematria. In kabbalah, the process of using numerical values assigned to words to find mystical connections between those words. In Ancient Greek and Hebrew, the entire alphabet was also used for numbers, so every word had a numerical value. For example, Aleister Crowley pointed out that the Greek words “Agapé”, meaning “love”, and “Thelema”, meaning “will”, both add up to 93 using the values of the Greek alphabet, and therefore there is a mystical relationship or identity between love and will. (Wikipedia)
Geomancy. A system of divination based upon pseudo-random generation of marks, traditionally in the earth, and counting them to produce a series of symbols which are used for the divination. Possibly originating in the Arab world, geomancy is one of the systems integrated into the teachings of the Golden Dawn and of Aleister Crowley. (Wikipedia)
Golden Dawn, Hermetic Order of the. Occult order founded in England in 1887 dedicated to the study of ceremonial magic and kabbalah, as well as some techniques such as divination by means of Tarot cards or geomancy. Its goals included the spiritual development and growth of its members, and the mastery of ceremonial magic for practical purposes. Noteworthy members included Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, Aleister Crowley, and W. B. Yeats. Note: The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn should never be confused with the modern-day political party in Greece known (in English) as the “Golden Dawn”, associated with extreme right-wing ideologies. (Wikipedia)
Greek Magical Papyri. (Also known by the Latin phrase “Papyri Graecae Magicae” and abbreviated “PGM”). A collection of texts from Egypt written on papyrus which contain various magical spells and rituals in Greek. The Bornless Ritual is one of the best-known spells found in the PGM. (Wikipedia)
Grimoire. A magical textbook. The term is generally applied to a category of books from Europe in the Middle Ages, containing descriptions of various demons and spells for summoning, binding, dismissing, and commanding them.
Headless Rite. The word “Headless” is a better translation, but less frequently used in occult literature, for the ritual known as the Bornless Ritual, which see.
Hermes Trismegistus. “Hermes, Thrice-Great”. The legendary figure credited with writing the foundational texts of Hermeticism. The figure was probably the result of syncretism between the Egyptian mystery tradition (represented by Thoth, god of writing and magic) and the Greek mystery tradition (represented by Hermes, god of travelers, boundaries, and trickery).
Hermeticism. A religious, spiritual, and esoteric tradition based upon teachings ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus, generally composed in the first several centuries of the Christian era, deriving primarily from ancient Egyptian and Greek sources. (Wikipedia)
Hexagram. 1. A six-pointed star; the “Star of David”. 2. One of several figures formed by two equilateral triangles being drawn adjacent or overlapping each other, of which definition 1 is one case. 3. Any of the 64 different divination symbols in the I Ching, so called because each of them is formed by a series of six rows representing Yin or Yang forces, although a Yin line is “broken” and looks like two shorter lines, so the hexagrams don’t always look like they contain only six lines.
Holy Guardian Angel. (sometimes abbreviated “HGA”). The term used in the book of Abramelin for each person’s personal spiritual guide and teacher, assigned to that person by God. Other systems (notably Thelema) believe that each person has an associated spiritual being which acts as a guide, and some call the being by this term, even if those systems don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian God. The Golden Dawn adapted the Bornless Ritual into a ritual to help the magician invoke their HGA. Aleister Crowley taught that the most important magical procedure one could perform was to forge a communication link with one’s HGA, a state called knowledge and conversation. (Wikipedia)
I Ching. (pronounced “ee ching” or “yee ching“) An ancient Chinese classical text used for divination by generating random numbers to select which of 64 symbols known as hexagrams is to be interpreted to answer the questions asked. Recommended by Aleister Crowley. (Wikipedia)
Illuminates of Thanateros (IOT). From the Greek words thanatos and eros, “death” and “sexual love”, considered two of the biggest psychological drives in the human personality. An order of magicians practicing chaos magic founded by Peter Carroll and Ralph Tegtmaier. (Wikipedia)
Kabbalah. Also spelled “qabalah”, “cabala”, and variants thereof. A system of mysticism derived from the scriptures of Judaism, originally practiced only by older Jewish men, but adopted and adapted (some would say “hijacked” or “appropriated”) for the use of magicians of any religion, ethnicity, or gender. The concepts of Kabbalah include gematria and sephiroth. Kabbalah is a major component of the magical systems of the Golden Dawn and Thelema. (Wikipedia)
Knowledge and conversation. The term used for the state in which the magician can clearly perceive, experience, and communicate with their Holy Guardian Angel. Generally the terms are used together: “knowledge and conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel”, hence infrequently abbreviated “K&C of the HGA” or simply “KCHGA”.
Liber. Latin for “book”. Frequently used in the title of occult writings, such as Liber Null by Peter Carroll, and in dozens of books and essays by Aleister Crowley. A liber (particularly one of Crowley’s) may have a number or a cipher letter associated with it, and may have the Latin word vel, meaning “or”, in the title, and the phrase sub figura, “under the figure” or “numbered”. For example, the full title of The Book of the Law is often given as Liber L (or AL) vel Legis sub figura CCXX, which means “The Book L, or ‘Of the Law’, numbered 220.” The number Crowley assigns to a liber is not the order in which it was written; rather it will have some meaning based on kabbalah or gematria or some other consideration; in the case of Liber Legis, it is because the book has 220 verses.
“Magic” versus “magick.” The spelling “magick” is used by some authors to distinguish “real” magic, intended to actually cause changes in the world, and the existence of which is doubted by many scientists and skeptics, from “stage” magic, done entirely for entertainment value, using conventional methods of sleight of hand and misdirection which are uncontroversial from a scientific point of view. Aleister Crowley said that he used the “magick” spelling to distinguish “the true science of the Magi from all its counterfeits,” although it’s not clear from the plain reading whether by “counterfeits” he means stage magic, or whether he means other systems of belief intended to produce real effects but which are ineffective. Some authors furthermore use the “k” in “magickal” and “magickian”; Crowley did not, keeping those derivative words as “magical” and “magician.”
Magical name. A self-adopted name used by a magician for magical purposes, which may include secrecy, self-empowerment, or otherwise. A magical name usually, though not always, expresses some aspiration or value held dear by the magician. For example, Aleister Crowley had a variety of magical names, most famously Perdurabo, Latin for “I shall endure”.
Mathers, Samuel Liddell MacGregor. English occultist and student of kabbalah. One of the founders of the Golden Dawn and a teacher of Aleister Crowley. Produced the first English edition of the Book of Abramelin. (Wikipedia)
Meditation. Any of a variety of mental techniques which may involve learning to observe one’s thoughts, or learning to train oneself to quiet the constant “chatter” of the mind. Advocated strongly by Aleister Crowley as an additional practice to ceremonial magic to help in achieving one’s spiritual goals.
Neopaganism. “New paganism.” A system of religious practice which is a modern reconstruction or reintepretation of older practices worshiping various deities; for example, “Greek neopaganism” would be a modern system of worship dedicated to the Greek gods such as Zeus or Hermes or Athena. Contrast with paleopaganism.
Order. A group of people united for a purpose, usually fraternal, mystical, or magical in nature, and usually requiring some form of pledge, oath, or commitment to the order, its ideals and goals, and often secrecy about the same.
Ordo Templi Orientis. Latin for “Order of the Eastern Temple.” Occult order which takes much of its symbolism and structure from Freemasonry, but which is open to members of both genders. Reformed in the early 20th century by Aleister Crowley and functions as a fraternal order for followers of Thelema. Controversies occurred in the late 20th century about which of several rival groups was the “true” O.T.O.
Paleopaganism. “Old paganism”. The original pagan religions and their practices, such as Ancient Greek worship of Zeus, Hermes, or Athena, or Norse worship of Odin or Thor. Contrast with neopaganism.
Raja yoga. “King yoga.” The school of yoga dedicated to the process of learning to use meditation and observe one’s own thought processes, so that they can gradually be stilled in order to achieve mental quiet, which leads to mystical experience. Advocated for magicians by Aleister Crowley.
Sephiroth. Hebrew for “Emanations” (the singular form is sephira). In kabbalah, a series of ten projections of the Supreme Reality (“God”) which embody the creative processes of the universe. Understanding the nature of the sephiroth and how different parts of the universe relate to them is key to the magical systems of the Golden Dawn and Thelema. Not to be confused with the popular character of this name, presumably named after the mystical concept, in the video game Final Fantasy VII.
Sex magic. Has several meanings, chiefly: 1. Ceremonial magic incorporating sexual activity as a key part of the ritual procedure, generally to use the energy of sexual activity and orgasm to empower the ritual. Aleister Crowley was a frequent practitioner of sex magic, and the Ordo Templi Orientis is generally believed to teach techniques of sex magic. 2. Magic performed for the purpose of increasing one’s sexual potency or attracting sexual partners.
Sigil. A symbol which has personal or magical importance. In grimoires, demons are often assigned specific sigils used to identify or summon them. In chaos magic, magicians often create sigils for specific spells, sometimes by combining letters from the stated purpose of the spell into interesting geometric shapes, focusing on them, and then trying to forget them so the unconscious mind can work the magic from there.
Soror. Latin for “Sister”. A common title used by magicians (usually those identifying as female), especially those in magical orders. Frequently used before a magical name. Compare frater.
Sun sign. The zodiac sign which the sun appears to be in at any given time. Generally refers to the sign the sun was in at the moment a person was born; that is “their” sun sign. For example, if the Sun was in Virgo when a person was born (and viewed from their place of birth), then that person has Virgo for a sun sign (and is usually said simply to be “a Virgo”).
Tarot cards. A pack of 78 cards, originally found in Italy and used for card games, adopted as a means of divination and developed into a very rich system for such by the Golden Dawn.
Tegtmaier, Ralph. (also known by the magical names, Frater V∴D∴ and Frater U∴D∴). German magician. Co-founder of the Illuminates of Thanateros. Author of several books on ceremonial magic, sex magic, and German magical traditions. (Wikipedia)
Thelema. Greek for “Will”. A religious philosophy/belief system devised by Aleister Crowley, based upon the notion that every person has a True Will, a correct path in life, and that the correct thing for each person to do is to discover what their True Will is, and then to do it.
True will. The correct path for a person to follow in their life for the attainment of spiritual success. A key concept in the system of Thelema. Not to be confused with what the person happens to “want” at any given moment. For example, a person’s temporary desire to cheat on their partner might go against their True Will to have a happy and committed relationship. On the other hand, perhaps it’s their True Will to be with the other person, and talking themselves into staying into their relationship is the mistake. Discovery of what one’s True Will actually is is a primary problem to be solved in Thelema.
Western Mystery Tradition (also Western esotericism). A loose collection of topics including divination, kabbalah, Tarot cards, alchemy, elements, the Holy Guardian Angel, and others, all having the common characteristics that they come from “Western” civilization (including Greek, Roman, and Judeo-Christian-Islamic) and cover esoteric, spiritual, magical topics. (Wikipedia)
Wicca. A system of neopaganism dedicated to respect for and devotion to the forces of nature, generally personified as a Goddess and a God. There are many varieties of Wicca, which vary in the names they use for the deities, the exact details of the rituals performed, and how much they emphasize the God as compared with the Goddess. Wiccans generally acknowledge the power of, if not personally practice, a form of ceremonial magic.
Yeats, William Butler. (1865-1939) Irish poet and magician. Member of the Golden Dawn and rival (in Crowley’s mind, at least) of Aleister Crowley. While Yeats certainly did not like Crowley, he did not seem to think Crowley was particularly important; Crowley said much more about Yeats than the other way around. (Wikipedia)
Yoga. From the Sanskrit for “union”. Describes a variety of practices for personal self-improvement including Raja yoga (the practice of stilling the mind via meditation techniques to attain mystical experiences), Bhakti yoga (practices of devotion and love toward a spiritual being), and Hatha yoga (physical exercises and postures of the sort generally thought of in modern-day “Yoga classes”). The various forms of yoga are not thought to be mutually exclusive; one may practice more than one in one’s lifestyle.
Zodiac sign. Most of the planets in the Solar System have their orbits in roughly the same plane, not tilted much relative to each other, and when viewed against the constellations behind them, traditionally they are seen to pass through 12 constellations which are the Signs of the Zodiac.