In this definition, "occultism" covers many esoteric currents that have developed from the mid-nineteenth century onward, including Spiritualism, Theosophy, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the New Age. Employing this etic understanding of "occultism", Hanegraaff argued that its development could begin to be seen in the work of the Swedish esotericist Emanuel Swedenborg and in the Mesmerist movement of the eighteenth century, although added that occultism only emerged in "fully-developed form" as Spiritualism, a movement that developed in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century.
The term occult sciences was used in the 16th century to refer to astrology, alchemy, and natural magic. The term occultism emerged in 19th-century France, where it came to be associated with various French esoteric groups connected to Éliphas Lévi and Papus, and in 1875 was introduced into the English language by the esotericist Helena Blavatsky. Throughout the 20th century, the term was used idiosyncratically by a range of different authors, but by the 21st century was commonly employed – including by academic scholars of esotericism – to refer to a range of esoteric currents that developed in the mid-19th century and their descendants. Occultism is thus often used to categorise such esoteric traditions as Spiritualism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and New Age.
Another feature of occultists is that—unlike earlier esotericists—they often openly distanced themselves from Christianity, in some cases (like that of Crowley) even adopting explicitly anti-Christian stances. This reflected how pervasive the influence of secularisation had been on all areas of European society. In rejecting Christianity, these occultists sometimes turned towards pre-Christian belief systems and embraced forms of Modern Paganism, while others instead took influence from the religions of Asia, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. In various cases, certain occultists did both. Another characteristic of these occultists was the emphasis that they placed on "the spiritual realization of the individual", an idea that would strongly influence the twentieth-century New Age and Human Potential Movement. This spiritual realization was encouraged both through traditional Western 'occult sciences' like alchemy and ceremonial magic, but by the start of the twentieth century had also begun to include practices drawn from non-Western contexts, such as yoga.
An issue of academic debate has been regarding the connection between the New Age movement and contemporary Paganism, or Neo-Paganism. The two phenomena have often being confused and conflated, particularly in Christian critiques. Religious studies scholar Sarah Pike asserted that there was a "significant overlap" between the two religious movements, while Aidan A. Kelly stated that Paganism "parallels the New Age movement in some ways, differs sharply from it in others, and overlaps it in some minor ways". Other scholars have identified them as distinct phenomena that share overlap and commonalities. Hanegraaff suggested that whereas various forms of contemporary Paganism were not part of the New Age movement – particularly those that pre-dated the movement – other Pagan religions and practices could be identified as New Age. Partridge portrayed both Paganism and the New Age as different streams of occulture (occult culture) that merge at points.
As a form of Western esotericism, the New Age has antecedents that stretch back to southern Europe in Late Antiquity. Following the Age of Enlightenment in 18th century Europe, new esoteric ideas developed in response to the development of scientific rationality. Scholars call this new esoteric trend occultism, and this occultism was a key factor in the development of the worldview from which the New Age emerged.
Religious cosmology (also mythological cosmology) is a way of explaining the dynamic structure and order of the cosmos or universe as a process, from a religious perspective. This may include beliefs on origin in the form of a creation myth, subsequent evolution, current organizational form and nature, and eventual fate or destiny. There are various traditions in religion or religious mythology asserting how and why everything is the way it is and the significance of it all. Religious cosmologies describe the spatial lay-out of the universe in terms of the world in which people typically dwell as well as other dimensions, such as heaven or hell (places often believed to be above or below the earth); and, religious mythologies may include descriptions of an act or process of creation by a creator deity or a larger pantheon of deities, explanations of the transformation of chaos into order, or the assertion that existence is a matter of endless cyclical transformations. Religious cosmology differs from a strictly scientific cosmology informed by the results of the study of astronomy and similar fields, and may differ in conceptualizations of the world's physical structure and place in the universe, its creation, and forecasts or predictions on its future. The scope of religious cosmology is more inclusive than a strictly scientific cosmology (physical cosmology) in that religious cosmology is not limited to experiential observation, testing of hypotheses, and proposals of theories; for example, religious cosmology may explain why everything is the way it is or seems to be the way it is and prescribing what humans should do in context. Variations in religious cosmology include those of Indian origin, such as Buddhism, Hindu, and Jain; the religious beliefs of China; and, the beliefs of the Abrahamic faiths, such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Religious cosmologies have often developed into the formal logics of metaphysical systems, such as Platonism, Neoplatonism, Gnosticism, Daoism, Kabbalah, or the great chain of being.
Esoteric cosmology is cosmology that is an intrinsic part of an esoteric or occult system of thought. Esoteric cosmology maps out the universe with planes of existence and consciousness according to a specific worldview usually from a doctrine.