Superstition, Astrology and the Occult
It is estimated that 80% of the population in America know their astrological sign.
- In the sixties one of the most popular songs was a number with astrological significance – "It is the dawning of the age of Aquarius…"
- Of course, most people of the era didn't know what that title meant. We liked the song for its melody, however, for those in the "know" Aquarius was not only the name of a constellation of stars, not only the eleventh sign of the zodiac, but the code name for those who practiced various forms of occultism (Aquarians).
- I use the word occult because it is a general term (meaning hidden, mysterious, supernatural) that includes a variety of practices and beliefs such as astrology, fortune telling, satanism, witchcraft, magic, demon-possession and spiritism to name a few of the occult arts.
- Occult practices are as old as Satan, however they have gained an unprecedented following here in the United States and Canada in the last fifty years where occultism is no longer practiced only in secrecy but has spread into every area of our everyday lives.
- As Christians, we need to be able to recognize occult practices when we see them and know what the Scriptures teach about such things so that we can avoid being influenced by this evil and denounce it as such when necessary.
Most people want to have a "spiritual" or "religious" experience in life --- it is their answer to the beckoning finger of death. Karl Barth, a famous theologian, once said, "Death is the birth pang of faith." In our country this "spiritual" experience that individuals seek usually takes one of three forms.
A. Church type of Spiritual Experience
Formal organized religion with priests or ministers, that have a definite set of doctrines and support the existing social order. This describes most standard religious groups, especially those who identify with Christianity.
B. Sect Type
These voluntarily reject any compromise with the world and denounce most standard "church type" religions and make a point of it. Sectarians seek individual perfection and high levels of spiritual experience on their own (i.e. Mennonites, J.W.).
C. Cult Type
This group is characterized by mysticism in its ritual and mode of thinking. People in this group seek a self-fulfilling religious experience usually provided by the mystic element within the cult. It is within this grouping that we find most "occult" practices happening - since most are based on information derived from occult sources.
Dr. L. McMillian in his book "Doctrines of Demons" lists some of the main features of the cultic religions:
1. They usually center on a strong personality.
A founder who has vision, mystical abilities, or claims to be able to lead his/her disciples to higher levels of spiritual experience.
2. They react strongly against Orthodoxy (a set of doctrines that can be verified).
They reject normal standards of religion. Truth is available to only a select few of those who have been properly initiated. Truth is a "hidden" thing.
3. Cultic teaching reflects "success" orientation.
These adherents hold an evolutionary view of man and teach that adherence will produce better or "super" people. All abilities come through a re-training of the mind, possibly through access to the mystic powers or the mystic system provided to them by the leaders.
4. Mystic Fellowship with super-human helpers.
There is the belief that there are masters, gods or other beings that assist humans in achieving newer and higher levels of spiritual awareness. The work of leaders is to be channels or communicators for these.
5. Belief in healing powers.
Power to heal the body and mind is a way of verifying the total system of belief to the devotee. The ability to heal confirms the doctrine.
6. Physic powers often designate the elite.
Mastery of secret knowledge produces physic powers unavailable to outsiders or casual members. Encouragement to total devotion is required to access more power.
7. Belief in ceremonial magic.
The goal is transformation to the highest state of being, and quite often magic is a means to gain mental concentration (magic and its practice will be discussed later).
8. Syncretism of religions and philosophies
These groups include features and teachings from every philosophy and type of religion.
9. Cultic groups appeal to individuals, not families.
These groups exploit the fragmentation of family in order to influence those who are lonely, unfulfilled and directionless. We can see that some of these features have permeated into more "church type" religions or organizations. For example:
- Strong leader, healing, syncretism (Unitarian Church), appeal to those who are above (spirits and angels), sanctification and success go hand in hand (success gospel).
There was a time when every major newspaper carried a daily horoscope. There were approximately 10,000 full-time astrologers in the USA (more astrologers than preachers). Occult fairs, conventions and organizations with tax free status are plentiful. The Reddit/occult site alone has 1.5 million Facebook fans and 700,000 Twitter followers, and it is ranked number 19! Today, we can easily obtain comic books, videos, games (Dungeons & Dragons), movies, music and books which feature occult themes and ideas.
The most visible gathering together of these practices in recent times was under the umbrella of what was called the New Age Movement which was a combination of eastern religion, occult philosophy and American marketing methods often mixed together under the banner of environmentalism. This movement was the greatest challenge to Christianity in the 1990s and at the beginning of the second Millennium.
Mystery, magic, astrology and Satanism are present in every area of our lives and most of us tolerate some of it in our speech, reading or thinking habits without actually realizing it. Interest in the occult has only grown with the development of the internet which provides a platform for thousands of sites devoted to its practice.
The attempt to know the future course of events by observing and interpreting heavenly bodies. Astrology was an ancient art practiced almost 2000 years ago in Babylon. It was the Greeks who developed the idea of searching the stars for individual destinies.
Modern astrologers use the characteristics of each sign in the Zodiac, the position of planets in the solar system at the moment of birth, along with information from the "houses" (similar to signs) and this charts which area of our lives will be influenced by the planets. Horoscopes are the most popular form and practice of the occult today.
B. Fortune Telling (Divination)
Divination comes from the Latin word meaning "gift of prophecy." The term implies the ability to know, through some means (crystal ball, tarot cards, tea leaves, dice, palm reading) the events of the future. It is illegal in the U.S., so most get around this by claiming only to give advice. Spiritism/Spiritualism is in the same general area where a person is used as a "medium" to speak to the dead person to know secrets or the future.
Two main forms of Satanism:
1. The actual worship of Satan as a powerful spirit god that grew out of a primitive worldview, Zoroastrianism. They believed that there existed two spirits (good and evil) and that the earth was created and dominated by the evil spirit and thus the worship and cult of evil developed. Satanism in its many forms includes human and animal sacrifice as well as all forms of occult practice and mystic rituals. Those who seriously follow this belief system are very secretive about their involvement.
2. Popularization of Satan worship through "First Church of Satan" founded in 1966 by Anton LeVay. This and other groups (churches) such as church of evil, church of Satanic brotherhood don't actually believe in the existence of a Satan, but they use him as a symbol for their group that is dedicated to the worship of the flesh and not any spirit. Practices include orgies, magic, and other occult activities.
D. Witchcraft (comes from Celtic Word Wicca = wisdom)
Primitive witchcraft developed out of early society's worship of nature and the effort to control nature through the practice of religion combined with magic. Fertility was a common theme and the primary god was female, so witches tended to be used.
Modern witchcraft is still steeped in the concepts of the past but has taken on a more modern image and is more organized than before. "Halloween" witches are stereotypes that are far from the truth of what modern witchcraft is like. They have a distinct religion with deities (male deity represents death, the female deity represents life), churches (covens), rituals and a belief system, etc. The stated goal of witchcraft is spiritual fulfillment. This is interpreted as the full manifestation of the mystical powers within themselves and nature.
To achieve this includes what is called the "eightfold path" a series of activities that will help achieve fulfillment. Some of these are: meditation/dance/ fellowship/drinking of wine/flagellation/ ceremonial intercourse/ sacrifice of animals, incantations, etc.
Magic is the attempt to control or manipulate higher or unseen powers or beings through the use of objects, incantations, rituals, etc. Serious (not show business) magicians strive for harmony between themselves and the mystical powers within nature in order to achieve the highest in self-fulfillment. Magic is an element used in many forms of occult practice.
F. Demon Possession
The invasion of a human being by an evil spirit or power. The New Testament attests to the reality of demon possession but most of our concepts about possession today are derived from superstitions in the Middle Ages and popularization of these through the media in the last twenty-five years.
(i.e. The Exorcist - a movie about a young girl possessed by an evil spirit and driven out by a priest performing the Roman Catholic right of exorcism).
In the Middle Ages, demon possession cases were closely associated with occult practices and witchcraft. Sociologists claim that so called demon-possession is reported most often in primitive pagan cultures but decreases dramatically as the level of civilization and education increases. Demon possession was mostly cited in ancient times to explain deviant behavior patterns. The state where one believed he was possessed was often enhanced through occult rights, the drinking of blood, taking drugs, etc.
We need to be able to tell the difference between possession which is actual invasion; and obsession which is a persistent or haunting thought or feeling that can be manufactured and once produced acts out like possession. A common symptom among those who suffer "obsessive syndrome" is the belief that one's being is being subdued by an alien or spirit being. A person's guilt may combine with deep fears of possession and produce a condition which resembles demon possession.
Can people be possessed today? Why?
No! Four Reasons:
1. Satan, the greatest of evil spirits has been bound according to the promise of Scripture.
- Zechariah 13:1-2 – the promise is that with the establishment of God's Kingdom there would be a curtailing of Satan's power.
- Luke 10:18; Luke 11:21-23; John 12:31 – Jesus accomplished this task and proved it by giving the power to do this to his disciples.
- Romans 8:38 – Nothing can separate us from God, no evil spirit can possess us.
2. Demonic possession ceased in the apostolic era. Acts 5:16; 8:7; I Corinthians 12-14
In Acts we see Apostles using their spiritual gifts to confirm the gospel. Casting out demons was part of this. Persons already possessed at the crucifixion would remain so or could be healed by disciples. However, because of the victory of Christ at the cross over Satan, the power of possession ceased, there were no new victims. Jesus cast out Satan, the apostles healed in their time. There is no need for this gift today since possession is no longer possible. There may now be obsession, but the Word can deal with this.
3. Satan now works through deception – II Corinthians 11:13-14
We cannot be possessed, but we can be tricked, tempted and seduced into being obsessed – where the suffering is as great. It is possible, with God's help, to resist Satan's attacks (I Corinthians 10:13; James 4:7). We have the power to resist.
4. Modern demon possession can be clinically analyzed as emotional disturbances and treated.
- Obsession with a compulsive type hallucination
- Disassociation - multiple personality, one of which is a demon
- Somnambulism – sleep walking syndrome
- Contagion Syndrome – Mob influence. Most speaking in tongues is accomplished in this way.
A Christian's position towards the occult
Forbidden by scripture for the following reasons:
1. A Form of idolatry
Depending on inanimate objects to manipulate God or to know the future is the sin of idolatry. It is degrading to God when we don't pray to Him but rather depend on things to comfort and guide us rather than on Him and His Word (things like stars, omens, spirits, rituals, etc).
People put much confidence in telepathy or spiritists in order to communicate with the dead. Many are paranoid that Satan or evil spirits can possess them or talk to them but Luke 16:26 (Lazarus and the rich man) shows that no one in the spirit world can communicate or possess someone in the physical world.
The only Spirit who can hear us to respond is God and the only way to communicate to Him is through prayer. The only way He communicates to us is through His Word (II Timothy 3:16). Any other manipulation or way to know is a form of idolatry and God will destroy the idolators.
2. Superstition is fatalistic
Superstition is based on the notion that all things are predetermined and all we can do is find out in advance what happens. Magic believes that the force in change of the universe can be manipulated to serve human will by pressing the right "buttons." Luck is the belief that circumstances are predestined to favor you. All of these practices are based on the notion of fatalism and are both vain and useless for the following reason.
A. We can change things since we have free will and access to God through prayer who works for our benefit. God knows the future because he is eternal, but he doesn't create the future - we do this by our decisions. Fatalism is based on circular history. Movies and books about time warp, Back to the Future, and time machines are based on this. This is an inaccurate view of reality.
Truth is recorded in the Bible. Very simply said there is a beginning and an end.
History, therefore, is linear not circular.
B. When good things happen to us, they are blessings from God. God blesses all people whether they recognize this or not. The fatalists gets no real joy from "luck", but he who knows the truth rejoices in his prosperity and knows where to go for help in times of trouble.
3. It is basically anti-Christian
Witchcraft, astrology, magic, etc. create and foster insecurity, fear and instability. These practices do not bring peace, joy and assurance. The occult is usually accompanied by what is unnatural, violent and death! It is against every notion and teaching of Christ and its roots are in darkness, mystery and untruth.
"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed."
- Galatians 1:8-9
No matter how slick the presentation or nice looking the people, if you are anti-Christ you are pro-Satan and therefore doomed.
The basic allure of the occult is that you will find out something which you didn't know about self, the future or the spirit world that will give you power or more meaning. Romans 16:25-27 tells us that the greatest of all mysteries has already been rewarded.
"Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen."
- Romans 16:25-26
The gospel reveals:
- The meaning of life - To seek and find God (John 17:3)
- The true self - Lost sinners (Romans 3:23; 6:23)
- The person of God - Through Jesus Christ (John 14:8-9)
- True Spirituality – Walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23)
- The future – The return of Christ (I Thessalonians 4:13-18)