Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Dangers of Fortune Telling & Other Occult Practices



In the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 16, St. Luke recalls the following incident involving a fortune-teller: “It happened one day that as we were going to prayer, we were met by a slave girl who was a soothsayer (literally in Greek: who had a python-spirit, so called from the serpent python of the ancient Delphic Oracle) and made a lot of money for her masters by foretelling the future. This girl started following Paul and the rest of us and shouting, ‘Here are the servants of the Most High God; they have come to tell you how to be saved!’ She did this day after day until Paul was exasperated and turned round and said to the spirit, ‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to leave that woman.’ The spirit went out of her then and there.”

As can be seen from this short passage, the abilities which this girl had were authentic, but they were not a gift from God. Her ability to ‘see’ was given her by the evil spirit which possessed her. This is not to say that all those who dabble in telling fortunes are possessed, but that their ‘art’ is steeped in and founded on occult practices; practices which both the Old and the New Testament condemn in very strong terms.

Let there not be found among you… a fortune-teller, soothsayer, charmer, diviner, or caster of spells, nor one who consults ghosts and spirits or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 18: 10-12)

As for cowards and traitors to the faith, the depraved and murderers, the fornicators and sorcerers, the idol-worshippers and deceivers of every sort – their lot is the fiery pool of burning sulphur – the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
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These last words are Jesus’ words and their strength and harshness should alert us to the great dangers that are inherent in all occult practices. If these practices are condemned so forcibly then it can only be in proportionate response to the spiritual danger they pose to us. Our Father does not desire the death of the sinner but that he or she repents. These practices, however, open us up to the darkness of hidden things (the real meaning of occult) and can extinguish the light of life and faith within us.

So what practices of the occult fall under the banner of fortune-telling? There are many around these days, ranging from the most simplistic to the more obviously occult practices. At the more usual end of things, and something which is unfortunately practiced by well-intentioned Christians, is the consulting of horoscopes which hold that our fate or destiny is dictated by the stars and the movement of the planets. How could the Father who knows every hair on your head and who looks after even the birds (see Matthew 6) leave something as important as our life here on earth in the hands of the stars and at the mercy of the movement of the planets?
As St. Thomas Aquinas states: “Those who believe that Heavenly Bodies (planets and stars) influence the human will, and who choose certain season for their actions, make gods and rulers out of the heavenly bodies and cast horoscopes.”

Another more developed and increasingly popular method of fortune-telling is the use of tarot-cards. This practice uses various occult symbols on a pack of cards and seeks to reveal the future through the permutations of the dealt cards. An even more sinister type of fortune-telling involves the use of a psychic, medium or channeller who seeks to consult a spirit or departed soul to predict the future. It is this sort of practice that is recounted in the above passage from the Acts of the Apostles and a similar account is recalled in 1Samuel 28, when Saul consults a witch about the outcome of a battle he had to engage in. She conjured up the dead prophet Samuel, but it didn’t go well for Saul after that; he and his sons were to die the next day.

So the practice of fortune-telling ranges from what “seems” to be harmless fun to the more serious magical consultations of forces and spirits that are not of God. Some Catholics justify the consulting of the daily horoscope in the newspaper as harmless fun and not to be taken too seriously, but innocence and naivety and a lack of desire to do anything occultic is hardly a defence against our mortal enemy who prowls around “like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8). We must never do anything that would compromise the stand we take with and for Christ as Christians. We are advised by St. Paul: “Do not give the devil his opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27); “Avoid what is evil, stick to what is good” (Romans 12:10).

And what exactly is this compromise? It is twofold in nature. Firstly, any occult practice is opposed to the action of the Holy Spirit and seeks to obtain some power, knowledge, or gain that God has not desired us to have. Once again let us hear St. Thomas Aquinas: “Those who engage in sorcery and incantations treat the demons as if they were gods, since they seek to obtain from the demons that which God alone can give, namely knowledge of what is hidden and the truth about future events.”

A Christian who dabbles in occult practices cannot dwell in the light of God and the darkness of these satanic practices at the same time as “God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. If we say that we share in God’s life while we are living in darkness, we are lying.” (1John 1:4-6). Jesus himself warns us that we cannot be slave to two masters (see Matthew 6:24).

The second type of compromise we make by getting involved in the occult through the practice of or consulting of fortune-telling involves an undermining of the faith we profess to have. If we believe in the absolute sovereignty of God as our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier then how can we doubt his goodness and providence on our behalf? It is normal enough for us to be curious about the future; to wonder what our life will be like in 5 or 10 years time. (If only we had the same concern about our eternal future). But to be a Christian is to be called to a radical trust in the Providence of God. We call God Father not just as some sort of nice title or as some symbolic title. We call him Father because that is what he is. It is from him that all fatherhood takes its being (See Ephesians 3:14) and he is the best of all Fathers. Jesus repeatedly calls us to trust in the loving care of our Father for us. He encourages us to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) and not to worry about the future because the Father will take care of all that.

St. Paul reminds us that, “God makes all things work together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his decree.” (Romans 8:28) As Christians, it is our belief that our whole lives are in God’s hands and therefore we have nothing to fear of the future because God can and does use all things and all circumstances – even the seemingly bad or hopeless ones – to bring about good in our lives and in our world. We can fear about the future and be paralysed by it. Going to a fortune-teller is, for many, an attempt to get control of their future and their destiny; to escape the fear of the unknown. But at any moment we may have no more future to look forward to. Upon our death, all the worry about tomorrow, and what will happen then, will seem very foolish because all we really have is today – this very moment.

Our Faith tells us that neither satan nor the stars, or any other created being is in charge of our destiny. Jesus Christ is the “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last” (Revelations 1:18). Only he controls the lives of all peoples. He decides, he plans and he gives you your future. St. Paul recognised this when he told us, “For all things give thanks; this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” (1Thessalonians 5:18). For us Christians, an excessive anxiety or curiosity about the future contradicts our faith that Jesus Christ has, and indeed is, the power that directs human history. To try to discover our future says something very powerful about the faith we have in Jesus Christ. It undermines the fact that we address Jesus as ‘Lord’, because we imply that his Lordship does not extend to all things – our personal destiny in particular.

In every circumstance we must remember that the Risen Lord Jesus Christ has won the victory that has freed us from the tyranny of satan, superstition, fear and oppression. Why are we so willing to take up that burden again by dabbling in the occult? We must be more willing to abandon ourselves to the will of the Father – in imitation of Jesus who followed that will right to Calvary. To those who fear for the future and fear the circumstances that they presently find themselves in, listen to the words of Jesus: “In the world you will have hardship, but courage! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

The last word is given to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which has the following to say about an unhealthy obsession with knowing the future: “A sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all curiosity about it… All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honour, respect and loving fear that we owe to God alone.” (CCC 2115-2116)

If you have ever availed of the services of any kind of Fortune-teller then please do not delay in turning that sin over to the Lord of all mercies in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you so much, Father, for this informative post. I have a question...what about the Gift of Prophecy? How would one know the difference between that Gift from God and an occult practice?

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  2. Dear Father..a few years ago,my Daughter and I ,out of desparation for a lot of unusual bad luck,and thinking we might have been harmed by a hex,consulted with a few Mediums..We figured maybe God gave them the ability to see things..Also that Pharoh in Egypt consulted Joseph to interpret his dreams(why was that alright? Just wondered. But now I think it opened some doors ,better left shut. We began to have things(hautings) happen in our home,needing our Priest come out ..we confessed to him our sins,among them consulting Mediums.

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  3. Thanks for this commentary!

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  4. I heard a some people are afraid on fortune teller and i agree that their is some danger about it cause sometime the fortune teller say bad stuff which you can't really avoid.Well this is the first time that i read some case like this.I just love it.

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  5. Life is about living and not knowing what will happen like a story book, forgive me father cause i have sinned- there is only one GOD , and i need to show myself as a more God fearing person to push away evil filth that occupies my cup of life

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  6. I was a bit bemused when reading St Augustine to see him spurn fortune tellers and astrologers.

    But instead of taking a prosaic approach, that is, accepting that his spurning of 'these foul rites' might indicate there was no supernatural world, Augustine jumps toward a view that 'all the time I was offering myself as a sacrifice to them because of my false beliefs' and criticises himself for 'Oh God of my heart, it was not from a pure love of you that I rejected this wickedness.'
    What was his rejection of these 'foul rites' if not moving away from offering himself as a sacrifice to them?

    And, if I can paraphrase the above, once freed from the tyranny of Satan, superstition, fear and oppression inherent in fortune telling, why was Augustine so willing to take up that burden *again* by dabbling in a belief in Christ?

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  7. Dear Father, PAX

    Hope this email finds you well. I wonder what is your view on " python spirit "? Thanks,

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  8. Thanks for this post, Father. These accursed occult practices should be avoided by all. I sought "solace" from palmistry and astrology in my teens, and more than 50 years later cannot shake off this superstition. May Our Lord and His Most Holy Mother help all of us who are in this unfortunate situation.

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  9. This is a good article. I have found out that even playing cards have been used for divination, it is called cartomancy! That's a very bad idea. I dread to think how many invisible spirits or demons can influence and frighten us when we open ourselves by turning our trust away from God and towards divination. It's a real danger.

    The serpent spirit is also particularly troubling because in Yoga, meditation and new age one often finds reference of a serpent spirit that can be unlocked in ones spine. I suspect its actually a demon that causes trouble in ones life and turns one away from God and rewards its unsuspecting victim with apparent psychic powers, It's all very bad stuff. No wonder we are commanded by God to avoid worshipping false Gods and other religions and avoid their practices.

    Following Jesus is the only way. He really straightens out our lives and points us in the right direction.

    Thank you for writing this article. God bless you.

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