Tag Archives: Joan Quigley

The use and misuse of the word ‘occult’

crucifix
Image by Flickr user Photodeus.

Last week, several news outlets latched into the story of a Colorado house where cleaners preparing the house for sale found something a little unusual: animal bones. But several reports said they also found “occult items.” So, what exactly were the occult items?

chains
candles
bottles
a machete
a crucifix

… Really? These are not occult items. They’re household items, particularly if it’s a Catholic household. It’s easy to dismiss the use of the word “occult” here, because it doesn’t connect to anything.

But even stalwart publications like the New York Times aren’t immune to throwing this word around when it suits them. The article describes South Korean CEOs who rely on “the occult” — in this case, fortune-telling — when making business decisions. Although this may be unfamiliar to Westerners (at least those who don’t remember that First Lady Nancy Reagan had an astrologer), according to the piece, many South Koreans believe in physiognomy or speak with fortune-tellers, so it may not be so taboo there. But here, the word “occult” — which doesn’t clearly apply to what’s going on in Korean — serves to stigmatize something that may be common practice there, and alienate readers from this Asian culture at a time when Korean exports from Samsung and other companies are booming. We need to be finding common ground with counterparts in other cultures, not demeaning their beliefs.