“In great part, the early learning consisted in an acquisition of knowledge and facility in the service of a supernatural agent. It was therefore closely analogous in character to the training required for the domestic service of a temporal master. To a great extent, the knowledge acquired under the priestly teachers of the primitive community was knowledge of ritual and ceremonial; that is to say, a knowledge of the most proper, most effective, or most acceptable manner of approaching and of serving the preternatural agents.”
Medicine men, shamans, wizards, whatever, had ‘knowledge of the unknowable', and this characteristic depth and secrecy of knowledge, he says, is barely differentiated from the attitudes to be found in higher education of his time.
“The recondite element in learning is still, as it has been in all ages, a very attractive and effective element for the purpose of impressing, or even imposing upon, the unlearned; and the standing of the savant in the mind of the altogether unlettered is in great measure rated in terms of intimacy with the occult forces.”
As the body of systematized knowledge increased there arose a distinction between esoteric and exoteric information. The former, defined as 'intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialised knoweldge or interest', Veblen says was primarily of no economic or industrial effect. The latter, defined as 'intended for or likely to be understood by the general public, relating to the outside world; external', he said comprised 'chiefly knowledge of industrial processes and of natural phenomena which were habitually turned to account for the material purposes of life.’ This line of demarcation has developed the reputation of being the normal line between the higher learning and the lower.
I can’t claim a very great understanding of the development of universities but I have noticed that there is possibly less prestige in a degree from a former agricultural or polytechnic college / university than from other universities where one finds the schools of medicine and law. I would certainly agree that those latter topics are closer to the occult than most other subjects, wouldn’t you?