Humans are endlessly fascinated with the Occult. From séances to Ouija boards, we’re obsessed with seeking knowledge from realms we were never meant to roam. This isn’t unique to our age.
We see instances of this all throughout the Bible with Israel building altars and praying to other gods, and most infamously, Saul using a witch to summon the spirit of Samuel (1 Samuel 28) when God didn’t answer his inquiry. God strictly forbids these practices, which tells us that it’s not a bunch of hocus pocus. It’s dangerous and not to be played with.
What makes this age unique is that while the occult is generally met with skepticism and disbelief (even from people within the church) we still practice its rituals, wear its icons, and celebrate its holidays. It has become a sort of play thing for humans—an innocent past-time.
We see this sort of “harmless”occult play in entertainment: movies, TV shows, and books about demons and witches. We see it in fashion: Jewelry and clothing that incorporate imagery like the Eye of Horus. And we see it in company logos: Free Mason symbols and the hidden satanic imagery behind the Starbucks logo.
As Christians we’re called to be in the world but not of the world. So, how do we respond to a culture that’s rampant with the occult? Do we run and hide? Does disbelief or unintentionality in our interaction with it inoculate us from the effects or keep our hands free from sin?
With Halloween on the horizon and its many pagan associations, Bone of Bones decided to ask one of the Elders at our church, Pastor Bryan C. Hodge, a series of questions on this very subject.
This is part one of a two-part series on the occult. Enjoy.
Amber Ornelas: Standard definitions usually refer to the Occult/Occultism as the belief and study of the action and influence of supernatural or supernormal powers. One could accuse Christianity of being a part of the occult. What differentiates Christianity from the occult?
Bryan Hodge: Actually, the word “occult” is from the Latin occultus, which refers to something that is “hidden, secret, and not revealed.” It is attempting to discover information about life that God has not revealed to us through His Word via a supernatural means. It is likely taken from Deuteronomy 29:29, where YHWH declares, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those that are revealed belong to us and our descendants forever, so that we might obey all the words of this law.” In that regard, Christianity cannot be of the occult because it is a revealed religion. God revealed to us this information via prophets and the inspiration of Scripture. Most religions that incorporate things like astrology, seeking after signs/omens, mediums, witchcraft/the manipulation of nature through incantations or potions, etc. are all of the occult. They seek information, and therefore, mastery of the world through a non-revealed means. The only time Christianity would fall under this category is when it has been syncretized with some form of cultural religion (e.g., Christianity in South America or Africa combined with voodoo, in America, combined with folk religion that looks for signs, etc.).
AO: We live in a society that’s been inundated with occultic symbols–from logos to jewelry to the patterns on our clothes. These symbols range from well-known satanic imagery (pentagram, 666, Baphomet) to the lesser known Free Mason symbols and Egyptian icons (Eye of Horus). I’d argue that most are used for stylistic purposes and not to harness the power of Satan but, even if used innocently, do occultic/Satanic symbols have an inherent power?
BH: I don’t believe they do. A symbol is like any created thing in the world. It can be used for good or bad. The good or evil is in the intent of the user. This idea is taken from Romans 14–15. That being said, I would want to know the purpose of having something like an Eye of Horus hanging around a person’s neck. As Christians, we shouldn’t be superficial about what we wear or hang on our walls. Like holidays, we shouldn’t merely just celebrate them with old pagan symbols that now have no meaning, which would be a mark of our atheistic society rather than our Christianity, but have a Christian reason for them that replaces the pagan one (i.e., like Luther’s use of the Christmas Tree).
AO: Do we give power to these symbols by wearing and/or interacting them?
BH: I think we give power to anything we wear and interact with because it communicates something about us. I don’t think they hold some mystical or demonic power in themselves, as you see often in movies. That’s not to say that I don’t think an object can be cursed if one makes a pact with a demonic power, but a symbol itself, again, is nothing. The one using it communicates himself with it through either the intent of his use if communicated well, or if not communicated, through the unmarked meaning, i.e., what the culture believes about the symbol. And that is where I would caution a Christian in using them. If it communicates something antichristian to the culture around the person, or to other Christians, the weaker brother, then it either needs to be redefined clearly to the surrounding culture, or just abandoned by the Christian for the time being.
AO: Are we guilty of being mystics if we believe that there’s power in these images?
BH: I think we’re guilty of believing the same type of demonic religion that those who practice the occult believe. They believe these symbols themselves have power, but in reality, it is their playing with demonic forces that have power. The symbols are pictures and scribbles on a tablet.
AO: Halloween is approaching, and with it its dark origins and occultic traditions. In your opinion, should Christians participate in Halloween festivities?
BH: The problem may be in the question. What one means by the word “Halloween”, determines how I would answer. If by “Halloween,” one means partaking in occultic activity and glorifying what is demonic (Satan, demons, witches, vampires, zombies, etc.), then No, a Christian should not be involved in the glorification of the occult. These things oppose the revealed truth of God, and so should be shunned. That being said, Halloween is actually a Christian holiday. It’s one of the days of Allhallowtide, which is a three day festival (the triduum) from October 31 to November 2 that remembers that we, the saints of the past who have fallen asleep, the martyrs, and the saints today around the world, are part of a larger Church body that are unified in the risen Christ. In Christ, no one is lost, and so it is a day of celebration in remembering that fact and being encouraged by the lives of those who have been faithful to live for Christ throughout the centuries.
There are other elements of Halloween, like it being the same day as Reformation Day, when Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of Wittenburg Castle Church, which would cause the Christian to further celebrate this day. And, of course, if this is all remembered, dressing children up as superheroes and princesses, etc. can be a mindful expression of who they are, i.e., their assigned roles in this world, as God’s men and women, princes and princesses of His Royal Majesty.
A big thanks to Bryan for answering this round of questions. Here’s a little bit more about our pastor:
Bryan C. Hodge is an Elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Las Vegas. He holds a B.A. in Biblical Theology from Moody Bible Institute and an M.A. in Old Testament and Semitic Languages from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. At this same school, he also received Candidacy for an M.A. in New Testament and achieved Candidacy for the ThM in New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary.
A husband and father of nine children, when he’s not at the pulpit teaching, defending the faith, and affirming Christ through what has been historically maintained as Orthodox Christianity, he’s doing the exact same thing on his blog Theological Sushi: Theology Served Raw.
Join us again next week as we continue our discussion with Bryan on the topics of Harry Potter, haunted houses, and that weird Starbucks logo.
Until next time, salutations and selah.