Universities (Occult)
In many works on the occult sciences, allusions are made to
schools and universities and the instruction of those who were
drawn to them. The idea for such schools derived from the
philosophical schools and academies of the ancient Greek
teachers. In the early Christian era, Gnosticism was taught in
such schools. Since that discipline was centered upon gnosis or
knowledge, a school (rather than a temple or church) was the
natural form that its group life assumed.
While a few similar schools might have existed in the Dark
Ages, the idea of such institutions was largely a myth used to
credential otherwise informally and self-taught occultists or to
refer to the places where alchemists and occultists quietly gathered
to consult with each other. It was the practice of those on
the faculties of the universities and those who operated independently
to draw students around them, and professors of the
occult sciences were no different.
There is no doubt that during the Middle Ages many lecturers
taught alchemy and kindred subjects at great universities.
Thus Paracelsus lectured on alchemy at the University of
Basel, and he was preceded and followed there and elsewhere
by others who taught that and other occult arts.
Louis Figuier, in his book L’alchimie et les alchimistes (1854),
alluded to a school in Paris frequented by alchemists that he
himself attended in the middle of the nineteenth century. The
school—an ordinary chemical laboratory during the day—
became in the evening a center of the most elaborate alchemical
study, where Figuier met alchemical students, visionary and
The novelist Balzac alludes to an occult school in the story
‘‘The Secret of Ruggier,’’ which he placed at the time of Catherine
de Medici. He stated ‘‘At this epoch the occult sciences
were cultivated with an ardour which put to shame the incredulous
spirit of our century. . . . The universal protection accorded
to these sciences by the ruling sovereigns of the times
was quite remarkable.’’
He goes on to say that at the beginning of the sixteenth century,
Ruggier was a member of a secret university for the study
of the occult sciences, where astrologers, alchemists, and others
studied several branches of hidden knowledge. Balzac gives no
details as to its locality, or as to the exact nature of its curriculum.
The College of Augurs in Rome and the Calmecac of ancient
Mexico are distinct examples of institutions for the study of divination,
and in this connection, the House of Wisdom of the Ismaelite
sect at Cairo, Egypt, may be mentioned.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky insisted that a great ‘‘school’’ of
illuminated occult adepts flourished in Tibet, but nobody except
herself and her immediate friends ever saw them or had
any dealings with them. Prior to 1959, Tibet was the home of
a large number of monasteries that were also the schools of Tibetan
Buddhism and its esoteric practices.
Instructional centers for people who studied the occultism
integral to Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Asian systems did
exist (and continue to exist) across Asia. These centers, remote
Universal Religion of America Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
and mysterious prior to the transportation and communications
revolution of the twentieth century, took on a mythical
character in the occult literature of the nineteenth century.
Those associated with these Asian schools were rumored to
have extraordinary occult prowess.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries attempts have
been made to recreate these ancient occult schools. For example,
the School for the Discovery of the Lost Secrets of Antiquity
flourished for a generation in San Diego, California. It was
founded by Katherine Tingley late in the nineteenth century
and taught Theosophy. A decade earlier, Blavatsky founded
the Esoteric Section of the Theosophical Society, an organization
carried on by Theosophists associated with the Theosophical
One modern equivalent of ancient occult universities are the
secret magical orders, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden
Dawn, where occult and mystical subjects are taught to students,
with grades of advancement. Many such orders, based in
part on a format adopted from Freemasonry, exist.
One outstanding attempt to recreate the ancient Gnostic
schools, with an intense course in esoteric training, is Ramtha’s
School of Enlightenment in Yelm, Washington, opened in
1988 by JZ Knight. Ramtha, a channeled entity, instructs students
through the entranced Knight.