The dictionary defines “occult” as “that which is hidden, secret and mysterious, particularly that which pertains to the supernatural.” Examples of occult practices are astrology, witchcraft (Wicca), the black arts, fortune telling, magic (both black and white), Ouija boards, Tarot cards, spiritism, parapsychology, and Satanism. Human beings have always been interested in the occult, from ancient times until today. Occult practices and psychic phenomena have a hold on millions of people worldwide, and this is certainly not limited to the ignorant or uneducated or to those in third world countries. There are several factors that make the occult fascinating to everyone, even in our age of technological and scientific advances.
For one thing, occult practices appeal to our natural curiosity. Many people who get involved in the occult begin with “harmless” practices such as playing with a Ouija board at a party out of simple curiosity. Many who have begun this way have found themselves going deeper and deeper into the occult. Unfortunately, this type of involvement is very much akin to quicksand—easy to get into and very difficult to get out of. Another fascination of the occult is that it appears to offer quick and easy answers to life’s questions. The astrologer gladly charts your future, the Ouija board and Tarot cards give you direction, and the psychic gets you in touch with your Aunt Esther who tells you all is fine in the afterlife. Since occult phenomena are controlled by demons, they offer just enough information to keep their victims fascinated, while they exert more control over gullible hearts and minds.
The dangerous nature of these occult practices cannot be overstated. The Bible tells us that God detests the occult and warned the Israelites against being involved with it. The pagan nations that surrounded Israel were steeped in the occult—divination, sorcery, witchcraft, spiritism—and this is one reason God gave His people the authority to drive them out of the land (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). The New Testament tells us that the rise of interest in the occult is a sign of the end of the age: “The [Holy] Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Timothy 4:1).
How are we to recognize the occult and those who promote it? The incident involving Paul and Barnabas in the early days of the church is a good place to start. They “traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, ‘You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?’” (Acts 13:6-10).
From this account, we see several characteristics of those promoting the occult. They are false prophets (v. 6) who deny the basic doctrines of Christianity: the deity of Christ, the fall of man into sin, heaven, hell, salvation and the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Second, they seek to influence people, particularly those in positions of power (v. 6-7), to turn them from the faith. Third, they do everything in their power to keep the true gospel of Christ from being spread, opposing His ministers at every turn, and try to keep others from hearing it (v. 8), which is their ultimate goal. When the truth of the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ is curtailed, watered down, or flatly rejected, Satan and his demons rejoice.
There is no mistaking the fact that the occult in all its forms should be avoided. We are to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Part of being self-controlled and alert is being wise to Satan’s schemes, but not to delve into the details of every occult practice and phenomenon. Rather, we are to understand his ultimate goal—the destruction of our souls—and be on the offensive by having a clear understanding of the truth of Scripture and by putting on the “full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18). Only then can we stand firm and extinguish the “flaming arrows” of the evil one which often come in the form of the occult.