This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume31, number 5(2008). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org.
Christians often feel like strangers to anything or anyone involved with the occult. Traveling to the strange world of the occult understandably may be intimidating, even for those brave souls who set out on the journey.
Having been involved in occult practices prior to trusting Christ and in ministry for many years after trusting Him, I believe this reaction is not only normal, but healthy, given that the occult is evil and dangerous. Retreating from the occult is one thing; retreating from witnessing to those in the occult, however, is another.
Various misconceptions about the occult and its practitioners form another barrier to evangelism. It is vitally important for Christians to keep in mind, as a corrective to such misconceptions, that the power of the gospel to bring salvation (Rom. 1:16) is real, that everyone is made in the image of God, and that there should be nothing daunting about witnessing to someone in the occult when Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is in the encounter. A basic understanding of what the occult is and why people are drawn to it will be helpful for the believer who desires to prepare for such an encounter.
Clarifying the Definition of Occult. Illuminating what constitutes the occult can be tricky because there is disagreement1 on what the occult is and definitions vary. My working definition of the occult is “an underlying supernatural worldview supporting various practices that are designed to access information or power through reading hidden meanings or through contact with supernatural beings or forces.”
The occultist sees the exterior world as masking a deeper reality. Tapping into these secret truths or powers requires the divinatory ability to interpret general symbols in the natural world (like astrology), or specific symbols, images, or numbers (like Tarot cards or numerology) in one’s life that convey messages; as well as the practical ability to perform esoteric techniques, rituals, and/or incantations to summon aid or direction from forces, disembodied beings, deities, or the dead. The occultist is more of a practitioner than a philosopher and cares about what works in practice, and not what one wonders in theory.
Occult practices are delineated in Deuteronomy 18:10–12: divination (tarot cards, astrology, numerology, palm reading, crystal balls, psychic abilities, and other related practices); initiating contact with spirits or with the dead; and sorcery (the attempt to bring about changes in reality through access to invisible powers or forces or through contact with spirits and/or gods). Astrologers, tarot card readers, psychics, mediums, people who practice what they may call “white magick,”2 then, and those who combine a variety of these practices, would all fall into this category.
For the purposes of this article, the occult is not limited to Wicca or Neopaganism, though some of the discussion here applies to them. Satanism, although an occult system, has its own ideology. Many New Agers are involved in occult practices, and some occultists blend New Age views with their own, but the New Age worldview differs in some significant ways from the occult. This discussion thus does not include Satanism or the New Age.
There is no central authority, doctrine, or teaching in the occult, but there are some common characteristics. The principles listed as follows are widespread in the occult, but not everyone necessarily accepts all of them.3
There is no absolute truth.
Experience (and for some, nature) informs one’s truth and ethics.
There is a unifying energy or force(s) in creation that humans can access to alter reality.
Power is neutral.
Good and evil are two sides of the same coin, and should be balanced.
There may be deceptive or even evil spirits, but Satan does not exist as an actual, personal being.
One can imbue objects with power.
The rational has its place, but intuition has priority.
Death results in reincarnation, or death is final.
Understanding People’s Attraction to the Occult. One of the things I’ve been asked many times is, “Why would anyone get involved with something evil like the occult?” The answer is that they do not see it as evil. People in the occult are more likely to see it as part of a spiritual practice used for self-knowledge, personal or spiritual growth, healing, or harnessing energy for helping purposes. They thus regard the occult as participating in beneficial activities. They also tend to get engaged in it gradually, even over many years. They either do not become aware of any negative effects of this association for a long time, if ever, or they become desensitized to it.
The esoteric nature of the occult also attracts people who want to know things others don’t. Occult practices usually entail learning complex systems such as astrology, magical rituals, and numerology. Learning these is challenging and seems to offer a lifetime of discovery and growth in self-knowledge. This is one reason many bright teens and young adults are drawn to the occult. Possessing arcane knowledge makes a person feel special.
Whatever the reasons for being drawn in, it is always much harder to leave than it was to get involved initially. The occult feeds the fallen nature and, as time goes by, imprisons those involved ever more deeply and fiercely on all levels—mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual.
Dialoguing with Occultists. There is no formula for witnessing to someone in the occult, especially since occultists are inclined to be individualistic. They also tend to be on their guard. You should view the occultist as a person made in the image of God and not just as an occultist. Pray for the Lord to give you love for that person. Since occult views vary, begin by asking what his or her particular beliefs are (do not use the word “occult”). It might be helpful to imagine that you are on an investigative assignment to find out all you can about that individual.
It is helpful to ask about the person’s spiritual background, what was attractive about his or her present beliefs, and why he or she rejects Christianity. Listening respectfully will help you understand these issues, give you insight into the occultist’s comprehension or ignorance of the gospel, and open the door for you to speak. Try to ask questions that will get the person to think specifically about his or her beliefs. For example, if the person believes that good and evil are relative, ask for examples and how that works in real life. If the person believes god is an impersonal force, ask, “Why then do you think it is that we are all beings who seek personal relationships?” Some people are more willing to answer questions than others, so you need to be sensitive to this. You do not want to sound like you are interrogating. Remember that although He can use believers in doing so, only God can open people’s eyes. Keeping all this in mind, here are further suggestions:4
Don’t mislead the occultist regarding your faith—you don’t need to announce your Christianity right away, but do reveal it earlier rather than later in the course of the conversation.
Don’t be surprised if the occultist refers to the Bible or claims its authority.
Don’t use terms the person may not understand such as atonement, redemption, justification, and so forth; it is better to give examples of what these are.
Keep in mind that there is demonic power underlying the occult and that the occultist is in bondage (usually unknowingly). At the same time, remember that nowhere in the Bible are believers told to fear Satan—we are to be prudent, vigilant, and discerning, but not afraid; therefore, do not fear occultists (1 John 4:4).
Don’t try to prove that a particular occult practice or experience is wrong; instead, seek to discuss the nature of God and Jesus, especially Jesus’ power over nature, demons, and illness, as narrated in the Gospels.
Don’t pretend to know things you don’t.
Don’t hesitate to stand on the truths of Scripture, but do this with gentleness and love (1 Pet. 3:15).
Let the person see Jesus’ love in you! There is no such love in the occult. Despite friendships one may have with other occultists, and despite the belief of some occultists in a divine being, the occult is isolating. This is because the individual, being in rebellion against God, seeks answers from the self, creation, or fallen angels (usually without awareness of the latter).
A Final Word of Encouragement. Jesus said, “believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light” (John 12:36).5 The Bible also says that believers are to “walk as children of Light” (Eph. 5:8). Treating occultists with kindness and respect is a way to show them this Light that indwells us; doing so exalts God, and paves a way to share the gospel so that they, too, may turn from darkness to light (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:12–14). The darker the night, the brighter the light, and witnessing to someone in the occult not only reveals Christ’s love and truth to that person, but allows you to experience His amazing power as well.
Marcia Montenegro is a former professional astrologer who now has a ministry that reaches out to those in the occult and New Age and educates Christians in these areas.
1 Non-Christians may see the occult as hidden teachings that may or may not involve the supernatural. Some Christians use the term “New Age” for the occult, but this writer makes a differentiation between the two.
2 Occult magic is often spelled with a “k” as “magick” to distinguish it from stage magic.
3 See articles on Marcia Montenegro’s Web site at www.christiananswersforthenewage.org on “Astrology,” “The Psychics: Can They Help You?” “What Do You Mean by the Occult?” “Spirit Contact: Who Is on the Other Side?“ “Occult Terms,” and “Wicca, Witchcraft, and Neopaganism.”
4 For further information, see “10 Q & A on Magic, Spells, and Divination,” Rose Publication Pamphlet, principal author, Marcia Montenegro, http://www.rose-publishing.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=999.
5All Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.