By Craig Branch

As I reflect on last Halloween season, I can’t tell you how many horror movies I saw listed on the television stations. People tend to think about many practices and entities from the dark side like vampires, ghosts, black magic, psychics, séances, witchcraft, spells, voodoo, mediums, neo-paganism, demons, and Satanism. Not quite as often considered are astrology, tarot cards, yoga, divination or clairvoyance, fortune telling, transcendental meditation, territorial spirits, aspects of alternative “medicine,” and the New Age Movement in general.

All or most of these things belong to what we call the occult. But what do we mean by that term? And does the Bible speak about these topics? What is the Christian’s responsibility with regard to these things? Is it part of our spiritual warfare to understand and oppose them? In this issue of Areopagus Journal we will delve into these questions. In this opening column I hope to set the stage for our discussion of the occult and explain why it’s important that we address it.

What is the occult?

The word “occult” is derived from the Latin word occultus which means “hidden knowledge.” Former New Age occult adherent, Brooks Alexander of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, provides a good applicable definition: While most Westerners are accustomed to think of the occult as equivalent to Satanism, black magic, astrology, and fortune telling, the word in its pure sense simply means “hidden” or “concealed.” Thus it is closely related to esoteric. Occultism in all its forms consists of secret techniques of consciousness alteration, coupled with secret doctrines which explain the inner meaning of the experiences thereby attained. An occultist has declared that “occultism may be defined as the use of hidden powers in man to discover the hidden life in the world.”1

Theologically, the root of occultism is found in Satan’s temptation of Adam and Eve. Satan attempted to undermine the truth of the distinction between God and His creation, and especially the truth that man is made in the image of God and designed to be submissive to and dependent on God. Satan’s lie is that in order to be fulfilled or achieve self-actualization, man needs to have his eyes opened (enlightenment) and realize that he is God or equal to God (Gen. 3:1-5). Satan implied that God is suppressing this knowledge and that by eating the forbidden fruit man will gain inherent, supernatural, psycho-spiritual powers.

Based on this root lie, and with the aid of demons (1 Tim. 4:1), man has developed various religions and practices such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christian Science, Unity School of Christianity, and all the other false and occultic beliefs and practices listed at the beginning of this article. In these religions and practices, God is reduced to an impersonal energy force, with ultimately no distinction between the Creator and creation.

The Bible explicitly condemns many occult practices which were already in practice in Bible times. Practices specifically condemned are predicting the future, child sacrifices, the use of occultic paraphernalia such as pendulums, and divining rods, as well as practices like astrology, sorcery, spiritism, séances, fortune telling, mediums, palm reading, witchcraft and divination. God says, “You shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations…for whoever does these things is detestable to the Lord.” (Deut. 18:9-14; see also Lev. 19:31, 20:6, 27; 1 Chron. 10:13-14; 2 Chron. 33:6; Isa. 47:12-14; Acts 16:16-21, 19:13-20).

Modern Growth of the Occult
The occult has had a presence for many centuries in the world, going back to ancient times as we saw in the previous section. This continued right up to the seventeenth century. Then the Age of Reason cast the shadow of superstition on those practices, but then a new growth of occultism in metaphysical movements and cults began to develop in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. For a while these occultic movements were mostly out of the mainstream and below the surface of the culture. Theological liberalism in the Western Church—which stresses the presence of God everywhere, in everything, and even morphing into panentheism in some cases—helped to replace the narrow lines of truth with postmodern relativism and create a greenhouse for an emphasis on human potential, experiential belief and practices. And so there was an explosion of the occult in the 1960s which continues today, typified by the popular 1967 song, “This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” This occultic explosion in the 60s was closely related to the tradition-breaking counterculture, largely a youth culture. Now those youth are leaders who have raised another generation with some of the same mindsets and values.

The growth of occultism has been measured by a number of research studies. In 2001, the City University of New York’s Graduate Center surveyed the change of “Religious Identification of the U.S. Adult Population” between 1990-2001. In 1990 the adherents in a number of occult-oriented groups (Hinduism, Buddhism, Native American spiritualism, Taoism, New Age, Eckankar, Rastafarian, Druid, Santeria, Pagan, Spiritualist) numbered 816,000. In 2001 that number had grown to 2,731,000.2

In 2003 the Dallas Morning News reported the results of a Barna study which found that 66% of all teenagers say they’ve experimented with at least one occult activity. Media saturation with occult series on television was found to be part of the reason why one in four teens has tried at least three occult activities. Nine out of ten teens had seen a movie or television program featuring the occult within three weeks before the survey.3 That same research showed that 86% of kids watch movies or television shows with supernatural themes on a regular basis.

A December 2005 Harris Poll surveyed the religious beliefs of Americans. It revealed that 40% believe in ghosts, 34% in UFOs, 28% in witches, 25% in astrology, and 21% in reincarnation. Not only that, but between 16% and 25% more people said they were “not sure” whether they believed in those things.4

An even more recent Barna survey (2006) explored teenagers’ views and behavior regarding the supernatural. Because of the proliferation of occult themes in the mass media through movies, television shows, books and video games, 73% of America’s youth have engaged in at least one type of psychic or witchcraft related activity. 10% of teens have participated in a séance and one in twelve have cast spells or mixed a magic potion. 10% (2 million) teens have communicated with a dead person and claim to have psychic powers. Another noteworthy finding is that churches have by and large neglected teaching the youth about occultism or about the supernatural.

We all know that movie stars have an undue influence on people. As these surveys show, the occult gets a lot of impetus from Hollywood. Another example is the recent fad embracing an occult interpretation of the Jewish Kabbalah popularized by stars like Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton.

A recent story in the Los Angeles Times reported the efforts of Pagan Pride, an organization pushing to legitimize the practice of pagan religions in culture. They won a struggle last year with the Veterans Administration to get approval for using a pentangle, a symbol of Wicca, on headstones. They have also established a Pagan Pride Day and hope to spread its celebration throughout America. 40,000 attended last year.5

Finally, Publisher’s Weekly just released a story detailing the growing popularity of occult books in America. The story begins:

Traditionally, the New Age category has catered to aficionados of the esoteric and the occult. Today the genre gratifies a more mainstream consumer. Fading is the era of tarots and crystals. Nowadays readers seek science based titles that will help them become healthier, and more spiritually aware. As New Age is continuing to expand onto other categories, many titles that were once provinces of health, psychology, self-help, and spirituality have now assumed a New Age mantle. . . .The unanimous opinion is that the New Age category is thriving regardless of which type of book sells better.6

In This Issue
We have already covered certain expressions of occult philosophy and practice in earlier issues of Areopagus Journal—Engaging the New Age, Stretching the Truth (yoga), Alternative Medicine and an entry in our journal They Became Fools focusing on “The (True/False) Origin of (True/False) Religion,” where Hinduism and Buddhism are among those addressed. In this Areopagus Journal, we cover some of the more popular expressions of the occult that are growing in our culture today. The first article “A Biblical Look at Satanism” is written by ARC’s cult apologist, Clete Hux. He describes the various levels of involvement from “dabblers” to hardcore Satanists. He lays out their historical development, symbols, and beliefs, and provides a Christian response.

Even within hardcore Satanism, there are variables. In the almost 30 years of counter-cult work, I have personally been in contact with about a dozen individuals who claimed to have been or were currently involved in hardcore Satanism. Ten of those were people with serious psychological issues not related to demon possession, and one was an escapee of a secret organized Satanist group in the Tampa, Florida area.

In the latter case, the escapee had no birth certificate, had been raised as a breeder of babies for sacrifice, and as a sex-object for guests of the cult. She was given refuge by a New Age practitioner here in Birmingham, and eventually came to Christ through contact with our office. The claims she had made about the Satanist group were thoroughly investigated by us and authorities, and everything pointed to corroboration. I cite this example because many Christians believe that this doesn’t really exist any more, while others are taught and believe that there is a demon behind every sneeze.

Carl Raschke is the director of the Institute for Humanities and professor of religious studies at the University of Denver. In 1990, he authored a scholarly book, Painted Black, documenting the very dark and evil side of Satanism. He documents not only the long history of torture, murder, and insanity within individual and underworld group Satanists, but reveals facts about groups like the Matamoras Satanists, who were also drug runners operating a vast underground empire in Latin America. Raschke points to the occult revival embodied in the New Age “phenomenon” begun in the 60s as well as the effect of heavy metal groups like AC/DC, Venom, Ozzy Osborne, KISS, and certain fantasy role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, as stimulating and reinforcing interest and participation in the dark arts.7

The second article in this journal is “Do You Believe in Ghosts? A Look at Contact with the Dead,” written by Marcia Montenegro. Montenegro is a former professional astrologer and served as president of the Atlanta Board of Astrology. She was involved with Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, psychic development classes, numerology, Tarot cards, spirit contact, séances, astral travel, and guided visualization. After becoming a Christian she began a full-time ministry called Christian Answers for the New Age (www. christiananswersforthenewage.org). She has recently authored a book titled Spellbound: The Paranormal Seduction of Today’s Kids which we feature in the book review section of this issue.

Montenegro addresses the issue of spiritism, the practice in which mediums allegedly channel messages from the dead. With the pagan shift in our culture we are being bombarded with such spiritism in the media. Montenegro focuses on James Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne, Lisa Williams, and John Edwards and his syndicated television show Crossing Over. She points to the popularity of television dramas like Medium and Ghost Whisperer and the frequency of appearances of the previously mentioned mediums on programs like Larry King Live and Montel Williams. Montenegro reveals the actual source of these messages as well as the biblical prohibitions and responses to these practices.

The third article is by ARC’s Keith Gibson, “The Divination Deception.” Keith explains the occult worldview accompanying the practice of divination, as well as a number of forms divination takes. He presents the biblical response as well as revealing ways the mindset behind this practice is beginning to infiltrate the church. He addresses astrology, Tarot cards, numerology, and how an element in the so-called prophetic movement is opening up to numerology.

Spiritual Warfare
One area of the occult not directly addressed in the following articles is the controversial issue of “Spiritual Warfare.” We in the western Church are not accustomed and are somewhat immune to the supernatural due to the influence of Enlightenment rationalism. Christians in the cessationist camp who believe that the miraculous sign gifts (e.g., tongues, miracles, prophesies, healings) have fulfilled their function tend to dismiss much of the overt practice of supernatural encounters in spiritual warfare. Moreover, some in the charismatic community are obsessed with this topic to such an extreme that they have made others shy away from dealing with the topic at all.

Even though spiritual warfare involves much more than dealing with the occult, the Bible is consistent in relating the need for believers to take seriously the existence and influence of evil supernatural forces (cf. Eph. 6:10-18). One of our future issues of Areopagus Journal will address this important and somewhat complex issue. Until then, I recommend two books, Spiritual Warfare by Timothy Warner, and I Believe in Satan’s Downfall by Michael Green.

notes
1 Brooks Alexander, “Occult Philosophy and Mystical Experience,” SCP Journal (Winter 1984): 19.
2 See http://www.gc.cuny.edu/faculty/research_briefs/aris/key_findings.htm.
3Dallas Morning News (February 15, 2003) , online at http://www.dallasnews.com/religion/ stories/150203dnrelconnect.1b035.html.
4See http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=618.
5Matthew Debora, “Paganism Casts Spell Over Followers,” Los Angeles Times (July 30, 2008).

6Juan Martinez, “New Age Pragmatism” Publisher’s Weekly (September 22, 2008).
7 Carl A. Raschke,
Painted Black (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 161-194).

 (This article first appeared in The Areopagus  Journal July/August 2008)