There is considerable confusion between the concept of occultism and the idea of the practice of magic (whether considered ‘white’ magic or ‘black’ magic). Occultism essential is the science of dealing with forces subliminal to our outer senses, but nevertheless active and acting upon our being. On the material plane, electricity is essentially an occult force, working unseen but having palpable results of its action. Those who learn how to generate, channel and put electricity to work are essentially practicing occultism on the material plane. Similarly, there are forces that act on the vital or mental planes, or even on the spiritual planes, that while unobserved by our external senses, nevertheless have their impact, follow their own laws of development of action, and can be studied, harnessed and utilized by those who take up the study of occultism.

Magic, on the other hand, is essentially a ‘cookbook’ of processes that are developed using various words, gestures, symbols and prescribed actions designed to invoke a particular energy or perhaps a vital being, to accomplish some fixed task set by the practitioner of magic.

The Mother writes: “… you must not mix up magic with occultism. … Occultism is a science and it is the knowledge of invisible forces and the capacity to handle them, as one has the capacity of handling material forces if one has studied them scientifically.”

“Magic: these are different kinds of processes which were fixed probably by people who had a certain knowledge, and still more a certain power of vital formation. These things can be learnt without having any special capacity, that is, someone who has no inner power can learn this as he learns chemistry, for example, or mathematics. it is one of the things which are learnt like that, it is not a thing one acquires. So it doesn’t itself carry any special virtues except the same kind of qualities as those one learns through chemical manipulations. You may reproduce these manipulations, but if you are an intelligent and capable being, you can by the help of these manipulations obtain an interesting and useful result, and in any case, be sheltered from all danger; whereas if you are an idiot, misfortunes may come to you. It is something similar.”

“With the help of magical formulas one may produce a certain result, but this result is necessarily limited and has no particular interest for those who, through their inner development, spontaneously receive powers of which they have a higher knowledge, not a mechanical one. It is not for someone who is truly a yogi; it has no interest except that of curiosity. It is interesting only for people who are precisely not yogis and who want to have certain powers which, in fact, they have in a very limited way — it is always limited.”

“What is special about it is that it has a direct action upon matter; while usually, apart from some rare exceptions, with people who have spiritual powers, yogic powers, it acts through the intermediary of the mental forces usually — either spiritual or mental forces — sometimes of the vital forces (more rarely), but not directly upon matter, except naturally with those who have done yoga in matter, but these are exceptional cases of which one doesn’t speak. These things put into motion certain small entities which are usually the result of the decomposition of human beings and yet have a sufficient contact with the material world to be able to act there. But anyhow, if the action is of a lower order, the power is of a lower order, and it is something almost repugnant for one who is truly in relation with the higher forces.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, The Hidden Forces of Life, Ch. 5 Occult Forces, pp 103-105

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast located at
He is author of 20 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.
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More information about Sri Aurobindo can be found at
The US editions and links to e-book editions of Sri Aurobindo’s writings can be found at Lotus Press