A tricky term – オカルト

Today’s conundrum: Is オカルト a false friend for “occult,” or not?


In Japan, for example, writers who dabble in horror, mystery, and stories with a weird, dark edge are often labeled オカルト (okaruto, a direct transliteration of “occult), and there are things like オカルトサークル (okaruto sa-kuru – occult circles), which are clubs that discuss and share information about things like urban legends (a very common theme on オカルト websites, it appears), strange true crime stuff, and related fiction.

But calling those “occult writers” or “occult clubs” seems, to me, to have entirely different connotations. I feel like the label “occult” is strongly associated with witchcraft and mystical secrets, rather than “eerie stuff in general.” The dictionary definition tends to point that way, too, but of course dictionaries always lag behind popular usage.

A look at the massive Wikipedia list of “occult writers” in English clearly shows a leaning that way: people like Anton LaVey, Aleister Crowley, Madame Blavatsky, and Simon Magus. More popular writers listed include Lovecraft, Robert Anton Wilson, Carlos Castaneda, and W. B. Yeats. Clearly, these writer seem connected by a focus on mysticism and the secret layers of reality, rather than “could-be-true scary stuff.” Again, this is not any kind of definitive list, but I do think it reflects the popular perception of the word.

The upshot of all this is, if I wanted to write about a Japanese オカルト writer, what would I call them? An eerie writer? A dark writer? A writer of the hidden world?

I wonder if anyone else thinks about this stuff?

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