STUDY TEN: OCCULTISM

© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015

BACKGROUND AND DEFINITION

There has always been ‘the other side’. It was there in Old Testament days. It was there in New Testament days. It was there through the various centuries of Church History, including the generation that experienced the great Reformation. It has always been a fact of life in animistic and pagan cultures. Westerners could perhaps have been forgiven for thinking that during the past few centuries this ‘other side’ had disappeared from western culture, disenfranchised for ever by the domination of Christianity. That such a conclusion is both inaccurate and naive, is evident by the escalating resurgence of occult practices over the past half century.

Secular humanism, evolution, philosophical materialism and relativism have ripped away the concept of ‘God’. Man has been cast adrift into a godless world with the perception that there is no rational basis for believing in anything except the material reality that surrounds him. In this aloneness man has reached again beyond the physical world, not to the rational Biblical God, but into the irrational, mystical world of the occult experience. We have already looked at an expression of this in the New Age, where man has looked beyond reason to find his identity. In part the New Age reaches into the occult to find meaning and reality, and it is largely, but not exclusively, the followers of the New Age, or those influenced unknowingly by New Age thought, who have contributed to the massive increase in interest in the occult in the western world.

We must however recognize that one does not have to be ‘New Age’ in belief or practice, or to belong to a specifically occult group to be involved in occult practices. As we will see in later studies, things which belong to the occult have been embraced by Christians and even proclaimed as Christian truth.

Definitions:
One definition of ‘occult’ is: ‘Kept secret, esoteric; recondite, mysterious, beyond the range of ordinary knowledge; involving the supernatural, mystical, magical’ (The Concise Oxford Dictionary). ‘Occultism’ then is ‘belief in occult powers’ and ‘the study or use of occult sciences’ (World Book Dictionary).  In recent years some aspects of the occult have gained scientific respectability as the paranormal and parapsychology.

 

A. WHAT IS THE OCCULT?

McDowell and Stewart list three distinct characteristics of the occult:

The occult deals with things secret or hidden
The occult deals with operations or events which seem to depend on human powers that go beyond the five senses.
The occult deals with the supernatural, the presence of angelic or demonic forces.
[p9,10 Understanding the Occult]

A.1 Biblical affirmation of the reality of the occult
Just as the true God has consistently revealed himself as distinct from and opposed to human concepts and constructs of ‘god’, so he has always consistently revealed himself as distinct from and opposed to occult powers. Unlike the false gods, which the Bible presents as powerless nothings, mere creations of men, the Bible presents these spirit powers as a reality from which the people of God must keep themselves separate. Jesus himself engaged in real conversation and real conflict with demonic powers and with Satan himself, and, indeed, came to liberate us from their dominion.

A.2 A warning against extremism
While it is essential for the Christian to acknowledge the reality of the occult, it is also necessary that we do not go overboard and see demons and demon influence ‘under ever green tree’. CS Lewis comments:

‘There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.’ [p9, The Screwtape Letters]

McDowell and Stewart point out that there are many pseudo-occult phenomena which are not the result of occult activity but of deceptive human activity where humans fake or imitate occult phenomena. Such deceptive methods include sleight of hand, use of a stooge, use of hidden devices, knowledge of psychological principles, optical illusion. These writers caution the use of restraint in assuming that an unexplained phenomenon is demonic. [p14]
 
A.3 Different aspects of the occult
There are three basic areas of occult involvement:

[1] The area of divination. This is the area of trying to gain information [often about the future] by supernatural means; practices involved here are perhaps the most commonly used of the occult practices, including: astrology, tarot cards, fortune telling of various descriptions, Chinese (and other) horoscopes, dream interpretation, omens, crystal balls, and so on. These can be readily identified in newspapers, magazines and in telephone directories. Many people involved at this level do not realize the occult connection.  

[2] The area of paganism [commonly called neo-paganism]. This is a return to animistic belief systems in which witchcraft, Wicca, magic and shamanism are practiced. This area includes the concepts of nature worship, female goddesses and ‘Mother’ earth. It extols native religions.

[3] The area of spiritism. This involves contact and/or communication with spirit beings and/or dead people. Here are included such things as mediums, séances, channelling, necromancy, soul travel (astral travel), trances, altered states of consciousness, telekinesis, levitation, tongues speaking, telepathy, Ouija boards, worship of demons and/or Satan.  The high probability is that the whole concept of UFOs and extra-territorials fits under this category as well.


B. WHY DO PEOPLE GET INVOLVED IN THE OCCULT?

McDowell and Stewart quote W. Elwyn Davies' list of three characteristics which may be true of those involved in the occult:

[1] ‘Many are escapists. It has become a cliché to say, “Satan {or the demons} made me do it.” The world of the occult becomes attractive to people who find it difficult to face up to their moral responsibilities. Many dabble with “other powers,” and are drawn into involvement. They often claim that they have tried ‘”other remedies” in vain, and the alternative empowerment through the occult allures them.

[2]  ‘Many more are superstitious. Going beyond the bounds of revelation and common sense, they profess to see demonic activity in many areas: Sickness, depression, anger, any unusual or unexplained behaviour. While such may be evidence of demonic action, it should by no means be an automatic assumption. Where natural causes offer a reasonable explanation it is wise to accept them as the origin of the problem. People who jump to the conclusion that demonic influences are responsible for a wide variety of phenomena invariably become obsessed with the thought of demons-at-worm, and suffer many of the disabilities commonly found in victims of demonization.

[3] ‘All are victims. … of powers immeasurably more powerful and knowing than (they are). What kind of a person is (a victim)?

The curious, who experiments and plays with demonic forces, only to find eventually they are playing with him.

The conformist, who looks around at this peer group and says, “everyone does it,” and decides to be another who “does it”.

The dissatisfied, whose religious experience has left him unfulfilled and sceptical.

The sad, whose bereavement inclines him toward anything that offers knowledge of the dead.

The rebellious, who recoils from the status quo in the church and in society, and seeks a viable alternative elsewhere.

The psychically inclined, who wants to develop suspected latent powers.

The offspring of practicing occultists, who are conditioned from childhood.

The credulous, and every generation seems to produce its quota of them!
[p14,15, cited from Principalities and Powers, Ed: John Warwick Montgomery]

The widespread involvement in and acceptance of occult practices has been significantly encouraged by the media: print media feature various forms of divination, television programs (from documentaries to children’s cartoons) promote the occult, and blockbuster movies present the paranormal and esoteric in a thrilling form that sucks people right into the occult world.

 

C. THE BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE

As we have already seen the Bible affirms the reality of the occult and of occult powers. It calls these occult powers ‘demons’, ‘evil spirits’ and ‘Satan’ or ‘the devil’. It presents these powers as the enemies of God and forbids any contact or involvement with them.

Scripture research and discussion:
Discuss the Biblical perspective in the following areas:

The Bible attributes spiritual deception and destructive activities to spirit powers that are seen as the enemies of God and of people. [Note also that the Bible sees all false teaching as ‘deception’.]
1Chronicles 21:1

Isaiah 44:20 [Note idolatry is a deception]

Zechariah 3:1.2

Mark 4:15; Luke 8:12

Luke 13:16

Luke 22:31

John 8:39-47

Acts 5:3

2Corinthians 2:11

2Corinthians 4:4

2Corinthians 11:3

2Corinthians 11:13-15

Ephesians 6:11,12

1Thessalonians 2:18

2Thessalonians 2:9-10

2Timothy 2:26

1Peter 5:8

2John 7

Revelation 12:9

Revelation 18:23b

Revelation 20:3,7-10

These powers are described as being defeated by Christ and to be under his authority  
Matthew 12:28

Mark 5:2-17

John 12:31

Ephesians 1:21

Colossians 1:13

Colossians 2:10, 15


The Bible forbids involvement in occult practices
Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27

Deuteronomy 18:9-13

2Kings 23:24

2Chronicles 33:6

Isaiah 8:19-20

Jeremiah 29:8-9

Galatians 5:20

Ephesians 5:8-14

Revelation 2:34

Revelation 21:8; 22:15


God alone is to be honoured and worshipped
Exodus 20:3-5

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

Isaiah 45:22


We should trust God for all we need to know, including the future. God has revealed in his Word everything that we need to know.
Psalm 37:5

Psalm 119:105

Proverbs 3:6

Philippians 1:6

Colossians 2:3

2Timothy 1:12

2Timothy 2:15-17

 

D. THE OCCULT AND THE CHURCH.

Within the Christian church is a wide spectrum of responses to occultism.

[1] Some churches deny the power of occult practices and the existence of evil powers. This includes the denial of the existence of Satan and evil spirits or demons.

[2] Some churches and Christian writers and teachers exaggerate occult powers, so much so that it sometimes seems that Satan is on a par with God, and ends up getting as much glory and attention as God. This is blatant in some popular Christian novels.

[3] Some churches over-react and see occult practices under every green tree and in every corner, labelling as occult everything they don’t understand.

[4] Some churches distinguish between ‘harmless’ occult practices and those to be avoided. In this distinction they are dishonouring God and his Word by their assumption that one can dabble in certain things and not be affected.

[5] Some groups and preachers presenting themselves as Christian use and promote practices which have all the appearance of being occult.

This wide spectrum of attitudes within the church makes it imperative for every Christian to be particularly alert for non-Biblical attitudes in this area.

 

E. THE OCCULT AND INDIVIDUAL CHRISTIANS

Individual Christians are affected by the occult in the following ways:

[1] The saturation of our society with the occult means repeated temptations to participate, even if it’s only to ‘read the stars’ or view an occult movie.

[2] Fear and/or superstition are generated.

[3] Participation in some occult practices can have long term psychological consequences.

[4] Involvement in occult practices is direct disobedience to the Word of God.

[5] For some individuals, because of either their personality types or personal history, even to talk about occult things is emotionally distressing and mentally disturbing.

[6] Some Christians become obsessed with the occult, reading more books against the occult, or on how to handle the occult, than they read about Christ and Christian living. In their preoccupation with the occult they neglect the knowledge of Christ, his salvation and spiritual growth and discipleship.


F. HOW CAN WE STRENGTHEN OURSELVES AND OUR FAMILIES AGAINST THE OCCULT?

For the Christian the occult should have no attraction. It is diametrically opposed to all that we know of Biblical faith and of the Biblical God. Yet such is the wickedness and deceitfulness of our hearts (Jer 17:9) that we ourselves don’t realise how easy it is for us to fall into temptation. The occult pervades our society. It confronts us in many magazines. We cannot avoid exposure to it. We can however commit ourselves to stand against it and refuse it entry into our lives and the lives of our immediate family.

If it is the desire of our hearts to honour and glorify our God and Saviour, let us each one determine with his help to:

[1] Submit to his Word and have nothing to do with the occult.

[2] Refuse to be drawn into conversations about it.

[3] Refuse to read books, even Christian books, which glorify the power of Satan and his cohorts.

[4] Study the Scriptures to increase our knowledge of, and confidence in, the one true God, and our knowledge and assurance of the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.

[5] Study the Scriptures to increase our understanding of Christ’s defeat of Satan.

[6] Study the Scriptures to increase our confidence in God’s sovereign hand on our lives and our futures.

[7] Be contented with Jesus Christ and the salvation we have in him.

 

G. FOR THOSE WHO ARE EXPERIENCING SPIRITUAL OPPRESSION

It may be that some of you experience attacks of oppression that can result from past or present involvement in some occult practices. If so, please take the following steps:

[1] Acknowledge the sin of that involvement and repent of it, severing all relationship with occult practices, and committing to, and seeking God’s help to, obey him in this area.

[2] Receive from God’s hand the assurance of his forgiveness of sin and your deliverance from the dominion of Satan obtained for you through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross (Colossians 1:13; 2:13-15).

[3] Realise that you belong to Jesus Christ; Satan has no rights over you. You are seated with Christ in heaven (Ephesians 2:6); you no longer belong to the kingdom of darkness.

[4] Live with the reassurance that Jesus Christ is Lord, before whom all Satanic powers must bow.

[5] Praise God with prayers of thanksgiving, rejoicing in him and his salvation. Put your safety and security in his hands, and rest. (Read Psalms 3 and 4 as prayers if you cannot voice your own.)



Christian web resources for information about the occult
http://www.watchman.org/occult/occult2.htm   
www.apologeticsindex.org