What is the Occult?

James Walker

This issue of the Watchman Expositor, discusses several aspects of the occult from a Christian perspective.

It explores some ways that the occult has impacted traditional cults such as the Watchtower's use of Spiritist Johanes Greber to support their New World Translation and the recent news reports of Satanic ritualistic abuse infiltrating the Mormon Church.

This issue also examines recent reports that question the truthfulness of America's best known former satanist converted to Christianity, Mike Warnke. This is an important issue considering that many Christians base their view of modern occultism and spiritual warfare largely on his testimony.

A biblical warning concerning the occult is also provided that can be used as an outline for a Bible study on the subject or as a helpful tool in witnessing to someone involved in aspects of the occult.

Cult and Occult: What Is the Difference?

It is often said that the term cult and the occult are two sides of the same coin.

It is true that there are common aspects of both terms and often some blurring occurs; cults frequently practice aspects of the occult and occult groups are (in a larger aspect of the word) themselves cults.

Watchman Fellowship, however, usually makes a distinction between the term cult and occult.

Most often when using the term cult, Watchman Fellowship is referring to groups that claim to be Christian or compatible with Christianity, but when their theology and practices are examined, they are found to be contrary to the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.

Frequently cults will exploit their followers through the abuse of religious authority, forms of mind control, or psychological abuse, often in the name of Christ.

Occult organizations, however, seldom claim to be Christian churches. Occult practices are less frequently billed as compatible with Christianity (although there are exceptions).

The term "occult" is derived from the latin word occultus which means to cover up, to hide, or those things which are hidden or secret. When used in this paper the word "occult" means any attempt to gain supernatural knowledge or power apart from the God of the Bible.

Although occultism is widespread and eclectic, with many groups advocating principles or positions in opposition to others, there are basically three types of occultism.

Psychic Discernment Groups

These practitioners attempt to supernaturally gain hidden knowledge (often about the future) through psychic "readings" or by the use of various props.

These include Astrology (which uses the stars as props), fortune telling (using palms, tea leaves, crystal balls, Tarot cards, etc.), and various quasi-medical "readings" involving the iris of the eye (Iridology), or the bottoms of feet (Reflexology).


A second class of occultists are neo-pagans. These occult groups represent a revival of the more accent forms of worship involving the belief in animism (living spirits in inanimate objects and plants) and the worship of self, earth, or an all encompassing "Mother Goddess."

Practices and organizations include WICCA, witchcraft, magic, and shamanism (primitive witch doctors or Native American spiritism).

Most neo-Pagan groups do not claim to worship or even believe in Satan, a fact often surprising to outsiders.


A final category of occult activity is known as spiritism, which is defined as an attempt to contact or communicate with a spirit entity or deceased person (called necromancy).

This classification includes trance-mediums, New Age channeling, Edgar Cayce, seances, and Ouija (a board "game" by Parker Brothers that is described by Harper's Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experiences as, "Used for divination and by some as a means to contact spirits or entities").

This form of occultism would also include Satanic groups that believe Satan is a real entity and who attempt to gain supernatural power by contacting, worshipping, or appeasing Satan and/or his demons.

In the last thirty years the United States has witnessed an explosion of occult activity.

Evidence for the rise in the occult include everything from shocking media reports of alleged Satanic ritualistic child abuse in day-care centers (Dallas Morning News 5/22/88 p.A 8) to seemingly innocent forms of witchcraft promoted on Saturday morning children's cartoons.

Harmless sounding styles of occultism invade almost every home in America in the form of horoscopes in the daily newspaper and TV commercials enticing callers to dial a "900" telephone number to consult with their very own psychic reader for just $2.00 per minute.

In some cities, police departments train special officers to detect and investigate occult crimes while at the same time

legal forms of occultism are witnessed in the form of tax-exempt "churches" such as Anton Lavey's Satanic Church, the Temple of Set founded by Dr. Michael Aquino, and Gavin Frost's WICCA, which promotes witchcraft.

The past ten year has also seen a link between forms of feminism and a revival of nature worship, witchcraft, and the veneration of female deities such as Isis, Ishtar, or Diana (Artemis), etc. (see The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects, Harper & Row).

Interest in the occult seems to peek each Fall with the coming of Halloween, which is regarded by many practicing witchcraft, divination, and satanism, as the most important religious holiday of the year.

A Christian Response

The staff of Watchman Fellowship has had contact and dialogue with a number of occultists throughout the years. Some have left the occult to receive Jesus Christ as Savior!

Readers are cautioned to remember that while the occult is sinister and evil, the individuals involved are often average people who are desperately searching (in the wrong direction) for answers to problems, acceptance and love.

While there are celebrated exceptions (the Son of Sam, and Charles Manson), most occultists are not that different than any other lost person who is apart from the saving knowledge of Christ. Often they are truly seeking supernatural answers for their spiritual needs, unaware of they are playing with fire.

Christians are encouraged to respond to the occult, not with fear and hatred, but by sharing Christ with respect and love.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

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