The Rise of Occultism
Recently evangelical press agencies carried a noteworthy news item concerning the rise of occultism in the Western world, particularly in West Germany. 1 Apparently the United Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD) saw the need to express its concern about what it termed "a wave of occultism." Lutheran bishops have declared that whoever lets himself be treated by occult healers, such as magnetizers and iriscopists, or occupies himself with fortune telling, astrology, and exorcism, does not engage in "an innocent game." The bishops are of the opinion that occult and spiritist practices can lead to psychic fears which seriously damage one's personality. The bishops have requested parents to be on the lookout for occult symbols and behavior among their children. The press was called upon to be responsible in critically monitoring the situation.
What is Occultism?
The word occultism comes from the Latin verb "to cover up," and denotes a belief in hidden or mysterious powers and the possibility to control or use such powers to one's advantage or disadvantage. Occultism may have a broad range — from voodooism, a Negro cult found chiefly in Africa and the Caribbean, to the horoscope in your local daily newspaper — but it is invariably an attempt to manipulate and utilize "hidden," even supernatural powers. Occultism is often (and rightly so) connected to the worship of the devil and his demons. We find ourselves in the realm of "black magic," the darkest corner of the occult. Here bizarre practices and rituals often lead to degradation and death. It is not without reason that a well-known scientist who wrote a book about occult practices, titled it, The Domain of the Snake, 2 meaning with snake indeed the devil, the serpent of old. Occultism always involves some unleashing of diabolical power or demonic influence.
Essentially, then, occultism is a worship of created things, whether these be fallen angels or celestial bodies. It is that superstition and idolatry which is forbidden by the LORD in the first commandment of His Law, "You shall have no other gods before Me." We are to trust in the LORD alone and fear Him only, and not place our confidence in any creature. Occultism is all the more dangerous because it indeed places a person under the direct influence of the realm of darkness and this often has disastrous results.
Occultism and Rock
One of the reasons why occultism is again on the rise must be attributed to the influence of rock music. Major rock stars have unashamedly introduced satanism into their music and stage presentation. One of the most well-known is the group "Black Sabbath" which has even named itself after a satanist ritual. But the trend started much earlier, when the Rolling Stones recorded "Sympathy for the Devil" on the LP Beggar's Banquet. Rock music has since then become an unmistakable vehicle for the occult.
Another reason why occultism is again so successful is that the lives of many (young) people in the Western world are spiritually empty. We are increasingly faced with a generation that has gone adrift and has lost touch with the Living God. Church attendance in West Germany and in other European countries, as well as in the free world in general, is dropping at an alarming rate. The effects of a Scripture-critical theology are more and more being felt: people who have turned away from the revelation of God are becoming ensnared by the imagination and superstitions of man. In such a climate, occultism thrives.
Occultism and Christianity
Already in the Old Testament the LORD had forbidden His people to engage in or allow any occult practices. In Leviticus 19:31 we read, "You shall not turn to wizards or mediums; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God." In Deuteronomy 18:9-12 it is stated that Israel shall not have anyone "who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer." Still, Israel fell prey to many of these wizards, and King Saul, for example, had to wage a concerted campaign to rid the land of them (1 Samuel 28).
It is remarkable that the Christian missionaries on their journeys were immediately faced with occultism. In Samaria the Apostle Peter has to deal with one Simon, who practiced magic (Acts 8). And on Cyprus, in Paphos, Paul and Barnabas come upon a man called Barjesus who was known also as "Elymas, the magician" (Acts 13). It is obvious that in the Greco-Roman world of those days occultism was a major opponent of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
It was therefore no small victory that the true preaching of the Gospel in Ephesus led to an unmasking and overpowering of occult practices there.
We read in Acts 19:19 and 20, And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all; and they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the Word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily.
Occult objects and books are apparently expensive and much sought-after in this world. The people made no small sacrifice when they burned their books of sorcery.
From the above Scripture passages it is evident that the powers of darkness thrive wherever the Gospel has not been preached or where the Gospel is rejected. Black magic is defeated only by the open proclamation of the Truth. It is no wonder, then, that occultism is on the rise in countries where the Gospel was once a powerful force but where it has in the past decades been systematically undermined. Until the last day occultism will remain one of the great enemies of the Gospel and a powerful tool of the devil.
Oppose the Beginning
Most of us will not be involved with extreme occult practices. Being taken in by the powers of evil, however, can be a slow, methodical process of which the beginning was not properly discerned. Therefore the warning of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in West Germany should not be disregarded.
It is indeed important for parents to watch whether their children become preoccupied with rock paraphernalia or with occult symbolism. This is generally not a sign of solid spiritual health. Wearing of jewelry displaying the signs of the zodiac should be forbidden in Christian families. Reading of the horoscope should be frankly discouraged as being dangerously misleading. Games which feature occult themes, such as the Ouija board, should not be allowed in the home.
The Magic Healers
There is a trend in Western Europe to make increased use of the services of "healers" such as "magnetizers" and "iriscopists." We must distinguish here between "homeopathic" healers who usually treat illnesses with herbal medicine and "psychic" healers whose power is mostly of an obscure (occult) origin and nature.
"Magnetizers" seek to heal others by emanating a magnetic force into their patients. "Iriscopists" believe that the pattern of the iris (of the eye) reveals exactly where diseases are located in the body. It seems that the Lutheran bishops are particularly concerned about the influence of these kind of magic healers.
It cannot be denied that magnetic forces can influence a process of healing. It is also true that the eye often reflects the physical wellbeing of the body. Apparently the jury is still out on some of these healing methods. Still, it is hard to deny that most of such healers are connected to the occult and have many questionable practices. Often the diagnosis is based on intuition or "feeling," while the treatment is one of suggestion. There is no "magic healing," and whatever is presented in this fashion is unquestionably a hoax. It is even dangerous to become involved with such "healers," for they not only take your money, but they also make you dependent on their influence and power.
The Only Comfort
It is very understandable that people who are terminally ill or who suffer from great pain will go almost anywhere to find healing or to experience relief. Such "healers" prey upon those in need, offering "the last hope." But instead they can take away the only hope and comfort.
The Heidelberg Catechism explains the first commandment as follows, "That for the sake of my very salvation I avoid and flee all idolatry, witchcraft, superstition..." We are called upon to trust only in God. This is basic to our Christian life. We must in all temptations and trials expect all help and strength from the Lord alone. Otherwise we fall into idolatry and put our trust in creatures or created things. In doing so we forfeit the salvation of God.
We should not exchange the only comfort for the little and false comfort which this world provides in its superstitions and deceiving practices. It is not without reason that the Apostle Paul, when rebuking Elymas the magician, spoke of "deceit and villainy." Occultism is after more than just our money: the devil is after our soul.
Of great importance is, then, that parents lead their children in a life filled with trust in the Lord who alone provides in all the needs of His children and who has in Jesus Christ given the victory over the devil and his demons.