Strange practices and religions such as Wicca, Santeria, voodoo and channeling are growing in popularity. What's behind them? Are such things harmless, or is there more to them than meets the eye?
As traditional Christianity has lost its appeal for many people, growing numbers have sought to fill that vacuum in their lives in other ways. Some turn to alternate religions popular in other parts of the world. Some turn to witchcraft and pre-Christian paganism. Some seek answers in the occult. A few even knowingly turn to Satanism and evil spirits.
Some are simply curious; others are very serious. But whether they recognize it or not, all are dabbling in dangers that likely are well beyond their limited comprehension. That's why these dangers are often referred to as the occult—things that are secretive, mysterious and concealed.
Maybe you've never directly seen Satan or his demons, but certainly those familiar with the Bible recognize their influence in this rapidly degenerating world. No wonder the Scriptures describe Satan as "the god of this age" (2 Corinthians:4:4).
His influence is not new, but its prevalence in modern society certainly is. What was once banned or very limited in dealing with the dark spirit realm is now mostly out in the open. Satanism is rampant in movies, and movements based on it, such as Wicca, Santeria, voodoo and consultation with mediums, are thriving, especially with the young.
The apostle Paul tells us we should be wary of such practices, "lest Satan should take advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices" (2 Corinthians:2:11).
Wicca, Santeria and voodoo
One of the fastest growing movements in Western nations is Wicca, a modern version of witchcraft. Part of its popularity is due to American TV programs such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Charmed. Wicca is so popular that the United States, Great Britain and many other nations now recognize it as a legitimate religion with legal rights.
The term Wicca was popularized in 1954 by the British leader of the movement, Gerald Gardner, who described it as a return to the "Old Religion" popular in Europe before Christianity.
Wicca, from on an Old English word for "witch," incorporates many of the trappings of ancient British witchcraft practices. The satanic pentagram is used as its symbol, and one of its main tenets is adoring nature through different rituals and deities. Some, but not all, covens, or groups, practice casting spells, divination and magic. Wicca is an umbrella group or movement that gathers under its fold very different beliefs and practices—but is at its core a thinly disguised type of old-fashioned witchcraft.
Santeria is a Caribbean religion based on mixing African witchcraft with Roman Catholic beliefs—similar in many ways to voodoo or pure African witchcraft. Its followers practice animal sacrifices and perform feverish dancing during Santerian rituals that can lead to possession of a person by an orisha or "saint" being invoked. The individual then is said to speak and act as that saint. If this is an actual spiritual experience, however, it is nothing more than demonic possession.
All of these practices have this in common: Satan is their originator and they should be absolutely avoided. God, who knows exactly how Satan and his demons work, emphatically warns us not to have anything to do with them. He tells us to not "give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians:4:27, New International Version).
We should not consult with people associated with these practices, in spite of what they claim are good intentions to help us. God says: "There shall not be found among you anyone 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, emphasis added throughout).
What are mediums and familiar spirits?
What about mediums and people who use such things as tarot cards and Ouija boards to consult with the spirits?
Mediums—also sometimes called "seers" or "clairvoyants"—are people who may be used by the fallen angels the Bible calls demons. They might appear normal and helpful, but those who are not fakes (and many are) can genuinely have contact with deceitful spirits who seek to attract and use human beings for their own evil purposes. For this reason these evil angelic beings are called in the Bible "deceiving spirits" (1 Timothy:4:1).
A true medium has a "familiar spirit" in him, and the term comes from the Hebrew word obh, meaning "a leather bottle." To the ancient Hebrews, the hollow sound of the voice of a familiar spirit, speaking through a medium, sounded as if it came out of a skin bottle. Just as a skin bottle is a type of vessel, so a person who has a familiar spirit serves as a vessel or a "medium" that contains the spirit.
Familiar spirits, in reality disguised demons, can have an intimate knowledge of people, alive or dead. They have at their disposal an extensive network of information from fellow demons who are more than willing to share their knowledge with the deceived "host." In this way, they will entice many more people to be deceived and hooked—ending sometimes as pawns to these spirits.
This is the grave danger of participating in any of these practices—at first these spirits appear as willing servants, but inevitably they end up as harsh taskmasters.
That is why we should avoid coming into any contact with people who claim they can communicate with the dead. God, who is intimately familiar with this spirit world, warns us that "the person who turns to mediums and familiar spirits, to prostitute himself with them, I will set My face against that person and cut him off from his people" (Leviticus:20:6).
The Scriptures candidly admit that legitimate mediums do exist and can establish contact with demons, who disguise themselves as departed loved ones, to attract the unsuspecting into their dark spirit world.
Tarot cards and Ouija boards
Some use manual devices such as tarot cards or Ouija boards to consult directly with these familiar spirits. These objects should be avoided at all costs—they are not innocent "games" but ancient ways of attracting these familiar spirits.
Think of these instruments as potential passports into your mind—possibly opening an entry to the zone that should only be inhabited by your own thoughts and God's Holy Spirit. If you do not invite these evil spirits, they cannot enter. Yet sometimes even an unsuspecting invitation through these devices can give demons a green light! Sadly, many people have unknowingly invited evil spirits into their minds—never to be quite the same again.
As the Scriptures reveal, these spirits need to be cast out by genuine ministers of God. Acts 19 records an instance where some would-be exorcists tried to cast a demon out of a person and the demon turned on them, saying, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?" Much to their surprise, "the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded" (verses 15-16).
This is therefore no laughing matter or cute entertainment—it is deadly serious! Scripture records several instances of people falling into such forbidden practices with disastrous results.
Saul and the medium of En Dor
In the Old Testament, we find the tragic example of King Saul going to a medium. He had first tried to consult with God, but because of his multiple sins, especially his slaughter of 85 priests and an untold number of innocent inhabitants of the town of Nob, he did not receive any answers (1 Samuel:22:18-19).
Saul then broke God's law and consulted with a medium at En Dor (1 Sam- uel 28:7). She invoked a figure of one appearing as the prophet Samuel. Yet Saul never saw him; he only heard a voice. This is one reason why God prohibits such consultations—demons are very clever and can impersonate the person being summoned. Notice the Bible had said God would not answer Saul's inquiries "either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets" (verse 6). This clearly was not the prophet Samuel!
The spirit the medium saw ascending out of the earth (verse 13) was in fact a demon. Saul only thought it was Samuel, but this demon had tricked him. As the apostle Paul explains: "For Satan himself transforms himself into [or disguises himself as] an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into [or impersonate] ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works" (2 Corinthians:11:14-15).
It was not unusual, therefore, for a demon to have impersonated the dead prophet Samuel. The Scriptures clearly tell us Samuel was dead, buried and unconscious: "For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing" (Ecclesiastes:9:5).
Saul was left with the dire prediction that he would die the next day. He never did turn back to God. That is one of the reasons he is such a tragic figure in the Scriptures.
Paul confronts a spirit of divination
Another case of a medium is found in the New Testament, and it is quite instructive.
We read in Acts:16:16-19: "Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, 'These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.'
"And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.' And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities" (emphasis added throughout).
This passage tells us quite a bit about the dark side of the spirit world. First, it reveals there are some cases where people actually do have the spirit of divination and are quite economically successful at what they do. Nowhere does this section deny the fact that people can tap into this source for valuable information. Also, it shows there are others willing to promote such a business, which can be quite profitable. Today, millions if not billions of dollars are made from this ancient and harmful practice.
One can find many programs on radio or TV, backed by successful businessmen, where people with a spirit of divination can greatly impress audiences with their apparent intimate knowledge of those they interview. Most of the time these persons openly call themselves channelers, psychics or mediums. Of course, not all who practice this profession are genuine mediums, for there are many clever charlatans as well, but some are authentic!
As the biblical case in Acts 16 shows, the slave girl with the spirit of divination was a real medium. We know this because when the demon left her, she could no longer reveal intimate details of a person's life or predict the future.
Another insight from this account is that the message from a spirit can be positive and true. After all, the Bible plainly says the young girl used by the spirit of divination announced that Paul and his companions came from God and preached the way of salvation. This was true, so what was the problem?
The problem wasn't the message itself, but the source of the information. We see here the subtle element of deceit. Many times, the initial message of a spirit of divination, or a demon, can seem positive, harmless and helpful. Just as a fisherman entices fish with succulent bait, so these spirits know they must attract innocent victims with something useful and agreeable. They know, once their victims are hooked, there will be plenty of time later for them to change their message.
Simply say "No!"
We must simply say "No!" when enticed to play with this dark spirit world. Don't fold under pressure from friends, family or anyone else. Put God and His Word first! Literally, your life and your mental welfare could depend on it!
God, who knows exactly how Satan and his demons work, emphatically warns us not to have anything to do with them. We should not consult with people associated with these spirits in spite of any stated intentions to help us. God's Word is clear: "Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus:19:31).
Ask, "Would Christ approve of this?" Certainly He would not! So we should avoid all contact with mediums, fortune-tellers, witches and their devices—and not be fooled by whatever means they might use to try to entice us. GN