The Idol of Occultism
The same forces that created modern secularism are also responsible for the widespread adoption of occultism in the Western world.
Both began when enlightenment thinkers overflowed the established channels of Catholicism in France, Lutheranism in Germany and the Church of England in Great Britain. Two streams of thought flowed out of the Enlightenment: The stream of secularism, as we have seen, left behind not only the Judeo/Christian spiritual foundations of Western civilization, but all spiritual influence as well; the stream of romanticism developed among those who were unable to see man merely as a machine and who sought to uncover a spiritual world outside the narrow confines of Western (biblical) the ology.
The secularists could speculate that thought, love and art were the result of developments in the brain, but the roman tics could not. They saw in nature something too wonderful to be explained by science. They were fascinated with the spiritual side of nature, but unwilling to be confined by theism. Their spiritual quest led them to the "hidden wisdom" of the ancients. They turned to Neoplatonism, which suggested mankind is basically an extension of nature. Human beings, the Neoplatonists said, exist in a body of flesh at the lower end of the cosmic spectrum. Their destiny is to rise through successively higher spiritual planes until they become pure spirit.
Neoplatonism is Western paganism. At its heart, it is no different from Eastern paganism—Hinduism. For our purposes all these terms are synonyms for the occult. Hinduism was born a thousand years before Plato speculated about the soul and its migration toward heaven from its fleshbound captivity. Let's look at Hinduism briefly to see the comparison.
Hindu philosophy begins with the idea of Brahman, the One Reality. The human soul is a projection of Brahman, and is, therefore, God. Classic Hinduism is essentially negative since it teaches that the soul is trapped in an endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth (Samsara). The law of Karma states that the condition of successive reincarnation is determined by the actions of previous lives.
About 500 B.C. Buddha, the Hindu prince, attained "enlightenment"—the final blessed state, free from both desire and suffering—while sitting under the fabled Bodhi tree. Buddha's enlightenment resulted from understanding Four Noble Truths: 1) Life is misery; 2) Misery comes from selfish desires; 3) Desire can be muted; 4) The process of muting misery consists of following a methodical path toward enlightenment. The methodical path became known as the Eight fold Path of Buddhism and included such endeavors as right speech, right thinking and right action.
Modern Hindu philosophy assimilates Buddhist salvation theology, suggesting that the cycle of birth and death may eventually be ended through some form of religious exercise such as meditation, good works or devotion to a particular god. Yoga, transcendental meditation and all other Eastern thinking, which penetrate the West through the teaching of various gurus, are all methods by which human beings can "become one with God."
At nearly the same historical moment Buddha was ascending in India, Plato was suggesting that the human soul could wend its way heavenward through philosophy. Perhaps Plato was influenced by Indian thinking. Certainly he came up with many of the same ideas the Indus River valley mystics taught. One similarity, as we noted earlier, was reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul. It wasn't until the third century A.D., however, that a man named Plotinus developed Plato's ideas into an organized system of philosophy that outlined the pathway by which the soul could ascend through various astral spheres to "the One" or "the Good." Later Neoplatonists decided they could not attain this oneness through philosophy alone. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes it this way:
Help from the gods was needed, and they believed that the gods in their love for men had provided it, giving to all things the power of return [to God]. . . implanting even in inanimate material things—herbs, stones and the like—. . . communications with the divine, which made possible the secret rites of [Greek magic].Here we see the overtones of sorcery and alchemy, the manipulation of the "elements" (minerals, herbs and crystals, for example) in order to gain wisdom and power. When the romanticists turned to Neoplatonism, they were, in reality, turning to ordinary witchcraft. This was idolatry plain and simple, which they dressed up in philosophers' clothing and sold to the world, particularly the academic world.
These Enlightenment Neoplatonists could be called Neopagans; they merely penned a new chapter in idolatry. It was the same mistake made by "enlightened" thinkers in New Testament times. The apostle Paul, in the opening chapter of the book of Romans, described their error:
Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. . . . [They] exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator. Romans 1:22—23, 25
Idolatry is the deification of that which is not God. It is the assignment of the power of God to abstract nature or to demons. The goal of idolatry is to induce mankind to submit to the lie of the devil in the Garden of Eden: that men may become gods. It is an attempt to dethrone God and enthrone man. Both Eastern and Western paganism boil down to sophisticated philosophical systems that enable mankind to evolve to godhood. When Neoplatonism, Hinduism, Mormonism, the New Age movement or witchcraft teaches methods for man to accomplish this evolution, it is advancing theories that are no different from the idolatry of the Philistines or Persians of Old Testament times.
The Roots of Modern Witchcraft
The romanticist occultists borrowed a wide variety of philosophies, all of which propelled them away from the revealed God of the Bible, instead exalting mankind. They experimented with spiritual power, a practice basic to rebellious human nature. Fascinated with the unseen world, they desired to manipulate it to their benefit. They did not understand that demon powers stand ready to offer forbidden wisdom to occultists and to reward their experimentation temporarily, but that they expect exorbitant payment. They require increasing submission and obedience from the occult practitioner. As Manly P. Hall has noted in his book The Secret Teachings of All Ages:
Those who sought to control elemental spirits through ceremonial magic did so largely with the hope of securing from the invisible worlds either rare knowledge or supernatural power. . . . All forms of phenomenalistic magic are but blind alleys. . . and those who . . . wander therein almost invariably fall victims to their imprudence. Man, incapable of controlling his own appetites, is not equal to the task of governing the fiery and tempestuous elemental spirits. Many a magician has lost his life as the result.
Witchcraft and sorcery are the practical application of occult philosophy. Witchcraft, or ritual magic, is traced to ancient fertility rites when, for example, a barren woman would carve a figure of a pregnant woman to carry as an amulet or set up in her home. Magic was a common attempt to influence the gods to grant requests. Amulets and idols used in this way were a form of "sympathetic magic." Likewise, a tribe desiring a bumper wheat crop would erect a phallic symbol in the wheat field. They might then engage in sexual rites in the field, in the shadow of the phallus, to encourage the unseen powers to impart energy to the wheat. Occult religion established rules that attempted to influence the powers or gods. The sorcerer or witch or shaman was the guardian of the religious rituals. As societies became more formal, the witch doctors often became formalized into a priesthood. This happened very early in ancient Babylon, Egypt and India.
Judeo-Christianity was born in the midst of the worship of numerous local gods. God revealed Himself to Abraham and called him to monotheism. The first two of the Ten Commandments defined monotheism. So did the Schema, the declaration of Deuteronomy 6:4: "Hear, 0 Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!"
God declares that He is not identical with nature; rather, He is the Creator of nature. He is the God who made man, loves him and communicates with him. God—ultimately revealed in Jesus Christ—is not to be approached through arcane study of the "weak and beggarly elements" (Galatians 4:9), but through the clear path of faith, described in the Bible: "When you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. But now after you have known God ... how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements . . . ? You observe days and months and seasons and years" (Galatians 4:8—10). The last sentence is a reference to astrology.
Witchcraft has changed little during the six thousand years of human history. The biblical admonition against it is clear:
"There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to
the Lord." (Deuteronomy 18:10—12)
The prophet Isaiah chastised the Israelites for their necromancy. God, he said, had forsaken them because of their fascination with Eastern mysticism:
You [God] have forsaken Your people, the house of Jacob, because they are filled with eastern ways; they are soothsayers like the Philistines. . . Their land is also full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands. (Isaiah 2:6, 8)The temptation to idolatry did not end at the close of the Old Testament. Believers in the New Testament were in danger of being induced to forsake worship of God in Christ for "another" gospel. Paul expressed his fear that this would happen to the Corinthians:
But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it! (2 Corinthians 11:3—4)
In the book of Colossians, Paul warned further against dabbling in occult practices and sophisticated worldly philosophies: "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
The basic principles Paul referred to were the pagan philosophies of the Greeks and Persians of his day.
Neopagans Enter the Modern World
The romantic philosophers uncorked old wine—ancient "wisdom"—and its aroma spread throughout the modern world, intoxicating not only the religious, but most of the academic world. This basic shift was from theism to pantheism: God is not the Creator and sustainer of the universe, He is the universe. God ceases to be a personal Being but rather is identified as a spiritual power or force that is indistinguishable from creation.
The Enlightenment took the lid off a Pandora's box of occult deceptions. The new religious liberty of the romanticists, combined with a near-religious devotion to science by the secularists, allowed Western philosophers to stretch the envelope of spiritual thinking. Witchcraft—including sorcery and alchemy—was mixed with Hinduism and a form of unholy medieval Christian mysticism to form secret occult philosophical societies like Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism. Enlightenment romantics like Swedenborg and Goethe laid philosophical foundations for nineteenth-century occultists like Rudolph Steiner and Helena Blavatsky.
In the new pantheistic model, individuals were not rebellious and fallen. They were not sinful. Instead they were simply afloat in a physical, social and emotional process of evolution. The romantics saw the solution to human ills in education and social progress, not in redemption.
One of the most compelling assaults on the theistic traditions of Western society came as social scientists developed new definitions for the human soul. The animating force of human beings (which the Bible describes as the soul) began to be approached not by theology, but by the emerging science of psychology. Some romantics who explored the soul clearly crossed the line into witchcraft. Franz Mesmer, a Viennese physician who was influenced by the Renaissance mystic physician Paraclesus, attempted to develop a system of incorporating astrology into healing. He developed the theory of ''animal magnetism,'' meaning that one person can transmit forces to others in sessions not unlike seances. Mesmer's animal magnetism would become modern hypnotism. Sigmund Freud's early work employed Mesmer's technique.
Psychology is a legitimate social science that explores human behavior—the way individual human beings react with their environment. The very root of the word psychology comes from the Greek word psuche or soul. The mistake some psychologists make is to assume it is possible to comprehend the inner workings of human beings from a non-theistic view point. To explore the soul of man without God is to invite chaos. Human beings can be understood only superficially if we rule out the fact that they are created by a God who knows them, loves them and has plans for them.
Freud attempted to describe man's fear, guilt, hatred and love as a result of his repressed sexual feelings. Jung at tempted to describe individuals as motivated by social and racial "archetypes." Both explanations are opposed to the Bible's position that man is a rebel and a sinner from birth, that he is terminally selfish, that he needs to face that condition realistically and turn to God and ask forgiveness.
The Bible, once the guide for human personal and social activity, was discarded by many seminaries and colleges by the early twentieth century. The new psychologists, who thought they understood humanity without a personal deity, began to treat the human soul from a pantheistic rather than a theistic viewpoint. Today modern science is split between the secular and the occult viewpoints. The humanities are overwhelmed by occultism. Current education models were heavily influenced by John Dewey (1859—1952) and reflect his conclusion that science has ''cast into doubt the doctrines of sin, redemption, and immortality" (from Herbert Schlossberg's Idols for Destruction, p. 143).
As the twentieth century dawned, dusk settled over theism. William Manchester, describing the changes in England at the close of the Victorian era, said three forces replaced "religious evangelism": decadence, empty high Church or ritualistic Christianity, and rationalism (The Last Lion, Vol. 1., p. 197). Decadence and rationalism were two sides of the same coin of secularism; Christianity based on empty ritual reflected the penetration of paganism or mysticism into the Church.
The close of the nineteenth century saw the establishment of Freethinkers, Unitarians, Freemasons, Mormons, Christian Scientists and Madame Blavatsky's Theosophists.
Spiritualism was another broad, entrenched force flowing into the vacuum left by the removal of the Bible. Spiritualism grew out of the "folk magic" of New England when two young girls, the Fox sisters, began to receive messages from "departed spirits." During the last half of the nineteenth century, spiritualism numbered many distinguished men among its converts: John Ruskin, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and English statesman William Gladstone. Spiritualism now de scribes an occult denomination that claims to be Christian, but it once was a synonym for what we call the occult. It included the followers of the Swedish Enlightenment mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg. Christian Science was another at tempt to marry the occult and science with Christianity.
By the twentieth century, America was ripe for groups like Guy Ballard's I AM Movement. Ballard, filling lecture halls as he traveled through the United States in a caravan of cream- colored Cadillacs, claimed to share the secrets of the Great White Brotherhood, the so-called ascended masters of Theosophy, who supposedly initiated him on the heights of Mount Shasta. At Duke University J. B. Rhine, a psychologist, established a parapsychology department and coined the acronym ESP, for extrasensory perception, giving academic status to Neopaganism. By the 1950s countless denominations of "religious science" were selling various philosophies of mind over matter and positive thinking, like L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology. Wicca and other forms of witchcraft were coming out of the closet. The lines between Freudian/Jungian psychology, liberal Christianity, the human potential movement and the occult were nearly indistinguishable.
How Pervasive Is the Occult?
The final blow to Western theism came in the 1960s. By then the Bible had lost its authority for Americans. America publicly declared the biblical God dead. Not surprisingly, chaos mounted: The sparkling dreams of the 1950s were tarnished by rising crime, drug abuse, sexual immorality and, finally, Vietnam. Disillusioned baby boomers—robbed of the Bible and searching for meaning—turned toward the East to welcome an array of saffron-robed gurus. Popular music declared, "This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius," and the Beatles brought us Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and through him transcendental meditation. Advocates of free sex, psychedelic drugs, homosexuality and "peace" discussed Zen Buddhism and meditation.
By the 1970s the joining of Eastern and Western paganism was complete. By the 1980s a new term was coined to de scribe the eclectic mix of psychology, liberal Christianity, Eastern mysticism and witchcraft—the New Age movement.
Marilyn Ferguson authored the seminal book for advocates of this new deception: The Aquarian Conspiracy. Describing the dawning of the New Age (supposedly marking the pas sage of the earth from the Piscean to the Aquarian astrological age) she wrote in 1980:
A leaderless but powerful network is working to bring about radical change in the United States. Its members have broken with certain key elements of Western thought, and they may even have broken with history.
Broader than reform, deeper than revolution, this benign conspiracy for a new humanagenda has triggered the most rapid cultural realignment in history. The great shuddering, irrevocable shift overtaking us is not a new political, religious, or philosophical system. It is a new mind—the ascendance of a startling world view that gathers into its framework breakthrough science and insights from earliest recorded thought.
There are legions of conspirators. They are in corporations, universities and hospitals, on the faculties of public schools, in factories and doctors' offices, in state and federal agencies, on city councils and the White House staff, in state legislatures, in volunteer organizations, in virtually all arenas of policy-making in the country (pp. 23—24).
Today Eastern and Western paganism have flowed together to form a stagnant pool of deception that threatens to extinguish objective intellectual thought in the Western world. Pantheism reigns above the historic challenge to it. Witchcraft is practiced openly. Christian pastors commonly invite occultists to teach from their pulpits. Mediums (channelers) bring messages and "scripture" from demon powers. Rock music extols Satanism. Homosexuality is blatant. Abortionists cry out for the "freedom of choice" to murder the unborn. Drug abuse threatens the stability of the Western hemisphere. AIDS threatens to bankrupt our health care system. Violent crime makes the elderly prisoners in their homes. Large segments of our population are functionally illiterate. Welcome to the New Age.
Reaching the Occultists
To reach those lost in the occult, our greatest challenge is to unmask the devil. The occult is so insidious that Christians—even Christian leaders—are uninformed about it. The key to understanding the occult is to understand its general theological and philosophical underpinnings. To that end I dedicate the next chapter. Because the New Age is developing so rapidly and on so many fronts, it is impossible to be informed on every group and deception that springs up. It is not even possible to be well-informed on the largest groups.
In addition, the new occultism is anti-hierarchical. By that I mean we should not look for a structured association of New Age groups. In the first place, the devil is proud and occultists have little ability to submit to anyone, even each other. So those who look for a conspiracy among men are, I think, barking up the wrong tree. A conspiracy exists, but its man agement resides in hell.
Once we have become conversant with the general principles of occultism, we will rescue those trapped by it as we expose its fallacies. The key to winning occultists is to expose their systems, to show them for what they are—hollow, powerless shells in comparison to faith in Christ.