What is Occult? What is Biblical?
The Occult vs. The Bible
by R. Davis
What is the occult? Longer answer
Examples of occult practices
What the occult is not
Biblical spiritual practices?
We do not deny the supernatural in true Christian experience
Biblical and occult ways contrasted
Introduction: The occult vs. the Bible
The God of the Bible cannot be found through occult spiritual practices. In the occult we find only Satan and his demons. The Bible consistently refers to occult religious practices as “abominations” and they are forbidden. Believers are earthly temples of the Holy Spirit, so we keep utterly separate from the occult in order to avoid contact with demons and Satanic influences.
But—what is the occult?
We know the names of some occult practices from the Bible, such as magic, necromancy and witchcraft, but often do not understand what makes them occult. So, for example, if a person knows someone who openly practices as a witch, they judge it correctly, but if they know someone practicing as a ‘Christian’ yet unwittingly doing the same things, they fail to judge correctly because they do not understand what witchcraft is.
Therefore we need a clear and accurate definition of the occult. If we have a clear definition we can test our spiritual practices against it. If our practices are occult, then any experience deriving from them, no matter how godly they may seem, is suspect.
But what confusion and ignorance there is in Charismatic circles! As a result, there is widespread disobedience to God’s commands for spiritual practices. And there is widespread suffering when people make contact with demons during occult spiritual practices: they suffer compulsive thoughts, irrational fears and even outright poltergeist attacks. But the Bible DOES warn us of the troubles — plagues, gall, and wormwood — that befall those who become involved in forbidden spiritual practices, whether deliberately or through ignorance.
What is the occult? Longer answer:
The noun ‘occult’—used with ‘the’ as in ‘the occult’—means spiritual practices involving ‘hidden’ spiritual mysteries and the supernatural, whence occultism. Used as an adjective, for our purposes, occult means ‘of or relating to the occult’. Occult practice has certain characteristics, one or more of which may be present in varying degrees:
- Occult practice includes seeking God or truth beyond nature, reason and the rational mind—that is, directly in the supernatural realm and apart from God’s word and sacraments.
- Occult practice is based on a belief that communion with God comes through subjective, supernatural experience. (This is not meant to deny the supernatural nature of true Christianity, or our personal experiences of salvation and sanctification, as is explained below. On the other hand, neither do we deny the reality of occult experience: we acknowledge it and warn against it.
- Occult practice involves seeking supernatural energy, spirits, power, presence, influence, action or enchantments.
Another way of explaining it is: the occult involves humans by their own efforts and outside biblical means attempting to pierce the veil between the natural and the supernatural; it really is a case of the occult vs. the Bible and the word of God. These efforts might be part of a misguided quest for God and truth, or stem from a desire for feelings of peace and love that sometimes come during occult experience (being manifestations of the angel of light). They might be part of a search for supernatural power to help people (so-called white magic), or to hurt them (black magic); or to develop occult powers such as the ability to tell the future, discern people’s illnesses, or heal people magically; or simply to be enthralled by signs and wonders.
Often, especially in mysticism, occult practice requires altered consciousness. The rational mind needs to be turned off; this is one aspect of seeking beyond reason and the rational mind and can be accomplished through so-called ‘quieting’ the mind in meditation, seeking a ‘still’ or visualized place where you can ‘go’, dulling the mind through chanting or drumming, taking drugs, or attempting to set a mystical mood with music. Through altered consciousness, Satan gains access to the mind, and through the mind he moves on our hearts, souls and even our bodies, where he or his demons somehow evoke feelings of peace or love, or cause manifestations such as jerking, vomiting, electrical currents, etc. Manifestations and feelings of love and peace are some of the subjective experience aspects of occultism. Note, the Word of God has no place here.
A special word about mysticism, since it is gaining ground in the emerging Church and in so-called “contemplative prayer.” One author describes it as follows, noting the typical characteristics of altered consciousness and seeking beyond the Word of God and beyond reason (or, as he puts it, “ordinary understanding”). Again, the occult vs. the Bible:
“Although defying exact definition because the practices and experiences of mystics are so various and mysterious, one dictionary defines mysticism as, ‘the doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation and love.’ Note that in contrast to God revealing Himself in Scripture, mystical truth is individually, intimately, and immediately intuited through spiritual experiences.”
“In his book The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James identified four main characteristics of mystical experience: first, ineffability; second, noetic quality; third, transiency; and fourth, passivity. James also notes that absorption, fusion, or union of the individual into the Absolute, or deity, is “the great mystic achievement.” He adds, “In mystic states we both become one with the Absolute and we become aware of our oneness.” On this point, James apparently suggested a fifth characteristic of mysticism—absorption.” *
Sometimes, Charismatics alter consciousness by quieting themselves and “waiting on a Word” so they can grasp at some supposed revelation from God and offer it as a prophesy. This is seeking supernatural influence or power, what the Bible calls divination. During such practice Satan takes this opportunity to plant his darts—visions, thoughts, lies, etc—in the mind. Since the person has chosen the occult over the Bible to seek a word from God, Satan is happy to oblige and send a counterfeit. (I do not deny that God sends words of knowledge sometimes, but this would never come in response to occult practice.)
Occultists find that the active and intelligent use of their mind interferes with their experiences. Thus, they learn to disparage reason and the intellect. This is one of the ways the occult vs. the Bible: Charismatics turn believers away from the Word of God by seeking experience over intelligent study of the Bible. It is a sign of satanic influence when people disdain reason in spirituality. Satan wants us to disdain reason and discernment. This plays into his hands because a dull mind is easily manipulated.
Examples of occult practices
Examples of occult practice include ( and this is far from an exhaustive list):
- Emptying the mind, meditating, focusing on one thought or object to attain a peaceful state or subjective spiritual experience.
- Endless repetition of verses in a song so the meaning is lost and one enters into a dulled or trance-like state.
- Visualizing the breath moving in unnatural ways.
- Speaking with the dead, including entering trance states to speak with dead people, pets, or Mother Mary (necromancy).
- Channeling spirits and prophesying in another voice.
- Channeling animal spirits: roaring like a lion, etc.
- Passing electrical currents or waves of heat through laying on hands.
- Speaking to demons or angels. This is part of the problem with deliverance ministries. Telling angels and demons where to go was the work of ancient magicians who used wands to order them about. Now, Charismatics send them to the abyss, or to a waterless place, etc.
- Waving flags to keep demons away.
- Calling down a spirit to feel its ecstatic influence (soaking in the spirit, called samadhi in yoga).
- Submitting to a spirit it so it can “have its way” with you (manifestations, spiritual drunkenness).
- Calling down spirit to work with it—dig in the heart, etc.
- Seeking supernatural knowledge from dreams or visions.
- Waiting for ‘prophetic words’ or supernatural insight into peoples’ illnesses or problems (taught in the Alpha course) .
- Casting spells or curses.
- Breaking off spells or curses (reverse voodoo).
- Yoga, Tai Chi, Reiki and Acupuncture, where practitioners channel ‘spiritual’ energies (as they imagine).
- Attempting to develop supernatural prophetic powers such as gifts of healing or prophetic gifts (divination).
- Developing spiritual eyes (called ‘opening the third eye’ in yoga) to see angels and demons (clairvoyance).
- Conjuring gold dust and ‘manna’ miracles (pure magic).
The notion that one must assemble under an anointed elder or pastor to receive the Holy Spirit, which is “called down” through Charismatic practices, is in my view a clever counterfeit of public assembly for Holy Communion and receiving the body and blood of the Lord. It appears that in the occult counterfeit, demonic spirit can be received at the hands of demonically anointed ministers, and there follows a very real communion with occult spirits when worshipers are slain in the spirit and soak in the spirit. I have written more about this in my article Unholy Communion.
Despite pretences, the Word of God has absolutely no place in any of these practices. They are all counterfeits of biblical practice in the ongoing spiritual battle, Satan the god of the occult vs. the Bible. In my book, True to His Ways: Purity & Safety in Christian Spiritual Practice, I show how Charismatic practices and teaching very closely resemble yogic, magic, and even Satanic practices and teachings. This book is available in our bookstore.
What the occult is not
‘Occult’ does not necessarily mean secret or private. It may, when used as an adjective, mean ‘hidden.’ It is used in this sense in medicine (e.g. an occult bleed). But occult religious practices are not necessarily hidden or secret rituals. Nowadays, much occultism is openly practiced in Charismatic Churches, in yoga classes, etc.— and even in our schools. When it comes to the occult, the word ‘hidden’ refers to where we seeking, that is, in the hidden, spiritual realm.
The occult is not selfish religion or religion for evil people. It is true that some satanic sects are nasty, but ordinary people who are simply trying to fill a void in their life, or to learn about spiritual things, are often lured unawares into it.
Occultism is not some sort of deeper spirituality for really spiritual people. Christian mystics might claim their practices are truly spiritual and those who read the Bible are ‘religious’ or stuck in a ‘dead letter’. But if we believe the Bible, those mystics are fleshly and carnal, since witchcraft and all occult pursuits are works of the flesh (see Galatians 5:19-20). As to the Word of God, Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
Biblical spiritual practice
Godly spiritual practice involves:
- Reading, learning, and studying the Father’s Word—the Bible.
- Praying to the Father with thoughtful, intelligent prayer.
- Doing the Father’s will; i.e., walking in obedience.
- Receiving the sacraments ordained by the Lord: Baptism, and, as we continue in our walk, the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. The Lord’s Supper is ignored in much of the modern evangelical Church, to our great loss, for it is a means of grace that nourishes us up in the faith. I discovered this only years after leaving the Charismatic church, and wrote about it here.
There is nothing occult about the above practices, and they are spiritually safe. If we follow these ways, we should find ourselves being conformed more and more to the likeness of Christ, and growing more in faith, hope, love, and peace.
We do not deny the supernatural in true Christian experience
It is not that the supernatural is necessarily ‘wrong’. That’s not the point. The point is that it is wrong for humans, whom God has placed in the natural and temporal realm, to attempt to reach outside into the supernatural. It is also wrong to invite supernatural spirits into the natural realm.
I do not deny that man is spirit and partakes spiritually of that other realm in mysterious ways — ways having to do, I suspect (but do not know), with the mind as a point of contact through thought and belief. Nor do I deny the supernatural aspects of true Christian experience. Salvation is supernatural—a wondrous miracle. The believer’s union and communion with God the Father by his Spirit is supernatural and our experience of it is subjective. God’s love shed abroad in our hearts and his tenderness moving us to new mercies are miracles. God grants miracle healings and answers to prayer. But we must leave the supernatural work to him. We must be content with the humble ways he set for us to find him, to learn of him, and to abide in his presence.
As to visions and angels in the Bible: when godly people in the Bible prophesied or saw angels or visions, they were always first moved by God or moved upon by him. They never sought these experiences, which did not come through occult ritual.
The occult vs the Bible: Biblical and occult ways contrasted:
Biblical practice – stays natural
1) Biblical practice includes seeking truth in God’s Word through the natural senses—sight, hearing and reason. The Holy Spirit teaches each believer who so applies him or herself, or provides the teacher.
2) Biblical practice is based on a belief that God’s Word is an objective truth to which we must conform while denying the flesh and being ever alert to the deceptions of the heart and subjective impressions.
3) Biblical practice means relying upon God to perform wonders of sanctification in our souls for His glory and pleasure while we walk in humble obedience to His moral and spiritual commands.
Occult practice – goes supernatural
1) Occult practice includes seeking God or truth beyond nature and the rational mind—that is, in the supernatural realm. Reason and the natural senses are usually disdained. Occult teachers abound.
2) Occult practice is based on a belief that communion with God comes through subjective, supernatural experience, and emphasizes reliance upon feelings and impressions.
3) Occult practice involves seeking supernatural energy, spirits, power or presence, and often emphasizes growing in the ability to work supernatural signs and wonders.
Any person who seeks God outside His Word and sacraments is on a wrong path. But sometimes occultists dress up their practices as if they were based on the Word: we see this blatantly in the Charismatic Churches.
Although Christian (so-called) occultists dress up their religion as if it were biblical, satanic influence can be seen in the way they actually suppress the Word of God. The Satanic battle, the occult vs. the Bible, is real. Satan wants to keep people away from the Bible because they will find the truth there. I found that in Charismatic churches people rebuked or excluded me when I showed concern for the teachings of Scripture. The wife of a Charismatic pastor actually told me not to refer to the Scriptures in our Alpha classes, where we were trying to lead people to Christ. She instructed me not to open the Bible.
©Ruth Davis, Baruch House Publishing, 2008. Revised Sept 2013.
* Note – the description of mysticism is by Larry DeBruyn, reference: Church on the Rise (Indianapolis: Moeller Printing Company, Inc., 2007) 183.
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