Popular dictionaries define occult:
Occult noun (the occult) matters regarded as involving the action or influence of supernatural agencies or some secret knowledge of them.
Occult adj. 1. involving supernatural powers. 2. known only to the initiated few, esoteric. 3. secret, hidden, not easily understood; abstruse.
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Supernatural agencies are ‘occult’ since they cannot be detected except by the results of their activities. Knowledge of those agencies, their power and influence, is usually restricted to initiates, and thus, such knowledge is ‘occult.
The idea of something being ‘occult,’ or hidden may come up in medicine, where the mysterious cause of a condition, for instance blood loss, cannot be detected by the unaided eye; it is occurring occultly.
Something actively hidden from view is said to have been concealed by occultation. Occultism is understood as the study of the hidden supernatural, which may involve magic, sorcery, witchcraft, wizardry, devil worship, mysticism, spiritualism, etc.
Walk into most sizeable bookshops today, and the shelves of books dealing with all things occult seem to be growing by the year. Remainder book shops carry a dizzying selection of books, games, and paraphernalia inviting us to delve into the mysteries of the ages, divine our futures, improve our lives, and otherwise take control; and make a tidy profit for the business.
The occult, in it’s many forms, is about control. Control over the environment, over other people, over knowledge, over fate, over the self. It is especially prominent when people feel their world is increasingly beyond their ability to understand or influence. Is it any wonder it is proving more popular today, when ‘wars and rumours of wars,’ are on the increase in our fractured society, where people increasingly live isolated, ‘silo’ lives, when so many feel detached from, abandoned by, the social and political elites?
History is strewn with examples of occult practices, from the ancient Mesopotamian seers and astrologers, to Greeks and Romans writing and casting good or bad omens on friends or foes, calling down blessings and curses in equal measure. The proscription of such things is as old the practices themselves, and for good reason.
If you believe someone can help an enemy, or harm you by occult means you will use whatever power you have to banish such people and practices – unless they serve you perhaps. The Roman Lex Cornelia of 82BC declared of anyone found with books of magic: “He will lose his property, the books will be publicly burnt, and he will be deported to an island. Persons of lower social status will be executed.”
In the ancient world people were convinced that hidden forces, malignant or benign, controlled their world. Even more recently, laws proscribing the use of occult practices stood on our statute books. The last person to be imprisoned in the UK under the British Witchcraft Act of 1735 was Helen Duncan, a Scottish medium, jailed in 1944, although hers was more a charge of fraud for using cheesecloth to produce fake ectoplasm.
The Act of 1735 was repealed in 1951. Today, people are impatient with, and mock such ideas, pointing, with the late Carl Sagan, to science as ‘a candle in the dark world of superstition.’
The Occult: For Christians Two Things Stand Out
1. The hidden, secret nature of the occult. Whether or not we believe in a supernatural realm, it makes sense to be cautious of people whose motives and actions are hidden and secret. Jesus declared, ‘‘I have said nothing in secret’ (John 18:20)and Paul insisted that Christian believers have, ‘given up secret and shameful ways,’ and instead ‘set forth the truth plainly.’ (2 Cor.4:2) There is no room in the Christian life for the secret chamber, inner circle, the abstruse and esoteric.
2. The existence of the supernatural world. Whatever progress science makes in this world, and however wonderful it’s discoveries, there is one thing it will not discover by it’s art and practice and that is the supernatural world. Our knowledge of God is not discovered but revealed knowledge. We would know nothing of him without his self-revelation, which is most clearly revealed in Jesus Christ. In the absence of that revelation, our experiences of the supernatural would continue inexplicable, and superstition would rise to fill in the vast gaps in our knowledge and understanding.
Of course, people may choose to believe, or not, as suits them (which is what it is). But the supernatural world does not need our endorsement or approval to continue existing, any more than the points of the compass need our faith to give us our bearings. Natural phenomena may once have been ascribed to supernatural causes.
Frauds have most certainly preyed on people’s fears, but that does not mean the supernatural does not exist. God has revealed both the existence of a supernatural world (Dan.10:20-21), as well as that world’s rebellion (Jude 6; 2 Pet.2:4), and finally it’s conquest in Christ’s triumphant rising from the tomb (Col.1:15-20).
A Christian will be aware of the increasing popularity of the occult, and it’s inevitable commercialisation. We come across it at every turn, from fairies and angels in china shops, to Ouija boards and spell books in book shops. What should be the Christian response?
The Christian Response to the Occult
It is clear, for those who accept the statements the Bible makes about the occult, that there is potential danger in pursuing an interest in arcane, in secret powers we don’t begin to understand. However, for those who do not see it like this, or indeed for those who see no danger whatsoever, how do we make a reasoned defence?
What follows are some of the ways I have tried with varying degrees of success. However please realise we cannot make someone believe, our job is to provide well-communicated evidence , reasoned arguments, and a clear witness for Christ.
Is There Supernatural Good in the Occult?
For a start we must accept that supernatural activity is going on today, and this results in phenomena that have no human explanation. People will readily speak about, testify to things that ‘work,’ things that seem to do good. Can this then be the rule for checking things out? If they feel good and appear to work then can we go for them?
This is a problem because not everything that feels good should be applied to our lifestyle and, certainly, the fact that something works in itself makes it neither right nor wrong. Surely, then, the question we must ask is where does the power come from?
A good Biblical illustration of this is the story of Moses before Pharaoh in Exodus chapter 7. Here God turned Aaron’s rod into a snake, but Pharaoh called all his Wizards with their secret arts and they copied what God did, but with an occultic power not the power of God. All the snakes looked the same and you could not tell the difference just using your natural eyes and mind. The difference was only evident when you answered the question, what power caused this to happen?
Although it appears that the person using the power is in control they are not. Rather, they are in the control of whatever is behind the power.
But the Occult Power Works!
Many in the occult will answer the question, “where does the power come from?” with “I do not know, but it works and as we only do good that is okay.” As we shall see, this is not okay but first we need to underline the fact that they are being irresponsible by unleashing a power that will affect someone’s life, perhaps profoundly, and they don’t know where that power comes from.
By very definition that power is supernatural and so much greater than the natural, which means that, although it appears that the person using the power is in control they are not. Rather, they are in the control of whatever is behind the power.
It is like taking a train journey. First we decide where we are going, who is in control? We are. Then we decide which day to travel on, who is in control? We are. Next we decide which type of ticket to buy, who is in control? We are. We decide which train to go on and which seat to sit in, who is in control? We are. The doors close and the train pulls out of the station, who is in control? The driver.
This is the same with supernatural occultic power – at first we feel that we are making all the decisions but eventually the power, that is greater than us, will take control and lead us where it wants to go.
What is the Occult Power?
When pressed and the matter investigated most in the occult realm would say that the power is a latent power within man which we learn to harness and use. However, from the Biblical point of view if it is a power within man then it is resident within fallen man and, as such, is not from God but from the work that Satan did within man at the Fall. Such a power is not going to be very helpful; but there is also another possible explanation.
Despite the false optimism of New Age thinking so prevalent today most people would accept that everything in this world is not ‘good’. The way one human being sometimes treats another human being is seen to be evil. There would probably be some discussion as to where evil comes from but it would appear to have a different root to good. If the supernatural power that is being unleashed, even though it appears to do good, is actually ‘evil in disguise’ then whoever opens themselves up to such a power is in potential danger.
The Bible shows that Satan is a supernatural being. It also shows that he can get into disguise and show himself as an ‘angel of light’ (2 Corinthians 11:14). Evil disguised as good; darkness disguised as light. Such a power is not benign but dangerous. This is the spy in the camp, that acts like a friend but all the time is passing on information to the enemy.
We have another illustration of this in the Bible, in Acts 16:16, 17. Here it is recorded that an evil spirit within the girl was actually encouraging everyone to hear and respond to the Gospel that Paul was preaching. What better disguise than to say the opposite of what you really want to happen. But how can this help the enemy? How can telling the truth, or doing good to a person, actually help him – the answer is credibility and control.
In the above incident in Philippi, unless Paul had cast out the demonic spirit before he left town, it could have said what it wanted through the girl after he left. The girl would have had credibility and been accepted as a true servant of God. The spirit in her could tell lies and twist the truth to bring people under its control.
How it Manipulates
I [Doug Harris] was on a television programme with a witch (she called herself that and indicated she was of the ‘white’ variety as she did good). She explained to the presenter the difference between the powers of ‘black’ and ‘white’ witchcraft. What she said was something that many others also believe.
She claimed that there was only one power in the world and that this could be manipulated by the receiver to either do good (‘white’) or evil (‘black’) witchcraft. This idea was universally popularised in the idea of the Force in the Star Wars films, a benign force that can be used to serve either the dark or the light side. It is a romantic, even comforting idea but should we think this way? Doug takes up the story:
‘Off set I talked further about this with her and got her to explain it again. I then shared with her that I thought this was a very difficult position to be in. It was quite worrying because you never know which way the power is going to go if it is capable of both expressions. After discussing this for a while I introduced the fact that when I had received God’s power that I was absolutely safe and knew where I was with it (Him) because it (He) could not be manipulated. Just for a second you saw the light go in the eyes.’
The Occult as Dictator
When the subject of power and its source has been discussed another strand in the debate is often opened with a question such as, “Why should God tell us what to do? The Bible may say that the occult is wrong but so what? We will do what we want to do and will not be dictated to.”
What is important in such cases is that you make clear, by looking at the Scriptures if necessary, what God is saying, and just as importantly, how He appears to be saying it.
One of the passages often used is Deuteronomy 18:10-12 because it seems to sum up so many of the practices.
“When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD. And because of these abominations the LORD your God is driving them out before you.”
First there can be no question that God says that these things do not come from Him and that He tells us not to do them. Why does He tell us that though?
The answer I believe can be seen in the illustration of one, man-made, law that is very restrictive and yet which we all accept happily. What is it? Driving on the left/right-hand side of the road (depending on your country). Just how restrictive can you get! Yet we do not see demonstrations to repeal this law and give us the right to choose? Why?
Because in the end it is all about safety and security not being told what to do. It is the same with the Lord when He tells us not to get involved in these things. The reason is not just that He wants to restrict us but that he knows where the power for these things comes from and He knows where they will lead us. He wants us to be safe and secure and we should accept these restrictions in this light.
However we should also note one other thing about the context of these verses in Deuteronomy. The practices in themselves are mostly to do with getting information concerning the future or help with present situations. Note what God says in verse 15:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen”
He compares the seeking of omens and diviners etc, with the Prophet that is yet to come. He shows that these other practices cannot be trusted and are counterfeit, but the Prophet that is coming can be totally trusted and has the original plans, power, and will of God.
Why settle for second best, that can lead us into the clutches of a supernatural evil power when we can have the best – the Lord Jesus Christ who will lead us into knowledge of God (John 17:3-6), freedom and, peace.