ctices—principally magical or divinatory—have occurred in all human societies throughout recorded history, with considerable variations both in their nature and in the attitude of societies toward them. In the West the term occultism has acquired intellectually and morally pejorative overtones that do not obtain in other societies where the practices and beliefs concerned do not run counter to the prevailing worldview. Occult practices centre on the presumed ability of the practitioner to manipulate natural laws for his own or his client’s benefit; such practices tend to be regarded as evil only when they also involve the breaking of moral laws. Some anthropologists have argued that it is not possible to make a clear-cut distinction between magic—a principal component of occultism—and religion, and this may well be true of the religious systems of some nonliterate societies. The argument does not hold, howeve r, for any of the major religions, which regard both natural and moral law as immutable. Those aspects of occultism that appear to be common to all human societies—divination, magic, witchcraft, and alchemy—are treated in depth below. Features that are unique to Western cultures, and the history of their development, are treated only briefly. The Western tradition of occultism, as popularly conceived, is of an ancient “secret philosophy” underlying all occult practices. This secret philosophy derives ultimately from Hellenistic magic and alchemy on the one hand and from Jewish mysticism on the other. The principal Hellenistic source is the Corpus Hermeticum, the texts associated with Hermes Trismegistos, which are concerned with astrology and other occult sciences and with spiritual regeneratio