What is the difference between the occult and religion?
I find myself answering this question, usually not quite so concisely worded, fairly often. The wording is usually more like, "So, by Occultist do you mean Wiccan?" or "You don't actually believe you can talk to spirits, do you?" or "You don't need all that magic stuff, just pray and trust in God." but the essence of statements like these, is the same. A challenge, to explain why to the label of occultist rather than a religious label. But more specifically it seems to be a challenge from the questioner asking if I think I'm better than them or that what I do is more effective than what they do.
I imagine most practitioners of the occult have similar experiences. And most have probably considered those questions themselves. Why do we do magic? Why don't we just pray? What is the difference? And is there even a difference at all? So I will endeavor here, to explain the difference, as I have come to understand it. Your experiences may differ.
Religion is a set of rules to live by, mythology to understand the world by, and terminology to define one's own spirituality with.
The Occult, on the other hand, is a set of tools to change one's life, meathod of communication to demand answers from the world with, and methods to take an active roll in one's own spirituality.
Those who follow a religion are passive observers in their spiritual world, whereas those who practice the occult have chosen to take an active role in the spiritual world around them and within them.
Occultists don't pray to their gods, they communicate with their gods.
Occultists don't say, "everything has a reason," they demand an explanation from everything.
Occultists don't sit back and hope for a miracle, they create the miracle they need.
The occult is the math of the spirit. To study the occult is to choose to know the inner workings of the spirit, the inner depths of the mind, and the science of spirits. The Occultist chooses to learn how to use the tools of the gods, and indeed take their place among the gods and demi-gods of lore.
My favorite quote from a modern work of fiction sums up my feelings precisely: “It's one of the perks of the job... we don't have to operate on faith. We can know for sure. Don't you want to know for sure?”
That is what the occult is. Religion operates on faith. Occultists operate on experiment and practice to garner true knowledge about the spiritual. Religious adherents “believe” in angels. Occultists talk directly with them. Religion fears demons. The Occult cages them and puts them demands labor from them. Religion interprets the words of the gods. The Occult draws the gods down to ask for clarification.
In short, what is the difference between the occult and religion? Religion is faith. Occult is knowledge.