What is the occult?

This article is from Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector’s Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008)
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While the word “occult” (from the Latin occultus) literally means “hidden” or “secret,” the world of the occult is clearly out of the closet. It has been glamorized as New Age, but its genesis is as old age as the hiss of the serpent: “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). The objective of occultism is self–deification through sorcery, spiritism, and soothsaying.

First, through sorcery (magick), occultists seek to harness paranormal powers for private purposes. Using ritualistic formulas, spells, and incantations, occultists seek to harness what they perceive to be the natural and spiritual powers of the universe in order to satisfy their own desires. God warned the ancient Israelites that these very practices would inevitably lead to their downfall (Deuteronomy 18:9–14; cf. 2 Kings 17:16–18). Likewise, he rebuked the ancient Babylonians for supposing that they could bypass his power through their “many sorceries” and “potent spells” (Isaiah 47:8–15).

Furthermore, occultists employ spiritualistic practices (mediumship) in order to contact non–physical entities including the souls of the dead. These spirits are believed to be capable of providing cosmic insights into this world and the next. As such, spiritists employ Ouija boards, crystal balls, and the belongings of the dead to conjure up the departed. God’s warning against those who practice spiritism could not be more ominous or direct: “I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people” (Leviticus 20:6; cf. 19:31; 1 Chronicles 10:13–14; Isaiah 8:19). The objective of occultism is self–deification through sorcery, spiritism, and soothsaying.

Finally, occultists seek to access secret or hidden information about the future through soothsaying (divination). Among the most common tools of the soothsayer are Tarot cards, astrological charts, horoscopes, and tea leaves. The Lord’s command is emphatic and explicit: “Do not practice divination” (Leviticus 19:26). Indeed, a tremendous insult to the power and providence of the Almighty is to seek guidance through the occult. Thus, when the Israelites were about to enter the land of Promise, the Lord warned them not to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there: “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD” (Deuteronomy 18:10–12; cf. Acts 13:6–11; 16:16–18; Galatians 5:19–21).

For further study, see Elliot Miller, A Crash Course on the New Age Movement (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989, out of print but available used online through many outlets).


“Many of those who believed now came and
openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had
practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together
and burned them publicly. When they calculated
the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand
drachmas. In this way the word of the Lord
spread widely and grew in power.”

Acts 19:18–20

More Bible Answers with Hank

Will the Created Cosmos Be Resurrected or Annihilated?

How Can the Eternal Son of God Be the “Firstborn over All Creation”?

Will Adam and Eve Receive Brand-New Bodies in Eternity?

Do Naturalists Consider Chance the Singular Cause of Evolution?

Why Did Heliocentrism Triumph over Geocentrism?

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