We receive quite a few letters here at St. Michaels Journal; most of these are from desperate people seeking advice regarding how to deal with threatening paranormal phenomena. Occasionally we receive messages that are best answered in the form of editorial published here in the Journal versus a private direct response; today’s email yielded such a question. The question was from an individual involved in investigating the paranormal through the use of Tarot cards and the possibility that such activity might lead to demonic possession.
Of course, as a minister, I am obligated by the promises I made during ordination to answer this question by saying that Christian Doctrine specifically forbids such activity; however I remember those days so many years ago when I asked my parents “Why?” when they gave me a seemingly baseless blanket response like the church do regarding their teaching on divination and related paranormal activities. Blanket responses in the negative, which do not have an absolute authority rooted in secular science, appear to be baseless to those that are drawn to certain metaphysical or paranormal activities and lifestyles. In an effort to answer this question without appearing to take a stance similar to parental authority, a “Because I said so,” position similar to parental authority or church doctrine might not be enough for some, I have wrote this piece on the subject.
In addition to the authority of the Bible which we hold to the inspired word of God, and hundreds of years of church teaching on this subject; the most common defense used to make the argument that these activities should be avoided is the classic “slippery slope” argument which holds that taking the first step into forbidden activity results in becoming lost to that activity. An example might be a person experimenting with tobacco, alcohol or other chemicals and then becoming hopelessly addicted to the same.
The slippery slope argument is generally considered invalid to some progressives and certain libertarians as it is obvious that there are those people that can smoke a cigarette or a joint, or even take an occasional drink of beer wine or whiskey and never become addicted. But the point that we who use this argument sometimes fail to make is that while some can experiment with potentially addictive substances and never become addicts and while others can just sample “forbidden fruit” once and become hopelessly lost, we have no way of absolutely knowing who is inclined or at danger of becoming an addict and who is not. Therefore we have to ask everyone why take the risk of becoming addicted by experimenting with potentially dangerous substances?
How does this argument apply to the investigation or experimentation with that generally regarded as paranormal or the occult? First let us take a look at the history of this subject of contacting the dead.
One account in the Bible is found in First Samuel 38:3-25 which tells of how King Saul after driving all seers and necromancers from the land, then finding himself surrounded by enemy armies and not having any guidance from God as to how he might emerge victorious in battle, Saul then turned to the witch of Endor demanding that she contact the spirit of the Prophet Samuel. Theologians generally believe that the entity that the witch summoned was not the Prophet but rather a demon or spirit masquerading as Samuel; however the bottom line here is that this entity berated Saul for betraying God’s commandments by utilizing divination and as a result Saul’s forces were defeated in battle the next day and he committed suicide. For the purpose of our discussion we need to look at the aspect that to this day no one knows for sure if that which the witch contacted was the ghost or spirit of Samuel or if it was a demon. In modern day usage of such experimentation, how can we be for sure who or what we are contacting is indeed who we think it is.
There shall not be found with thee any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, one that useth divination, one that practices augury, or an enchanter, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a consulter with a familiar spirit, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto Jehovah: and because of these abominations Jehovah thy God doth drive them out from before thee. Deuteronomy 18:10-12
In this passage from Deuteronomy we find a typical ordination against paranormal or occult activities, stating that users of such are an abomination in the eyes of God. But imbedded in this passage is a reference to passing children through fire which is more thoroughly explained in other verses elsewhere in the bible. In this case it is possible that the infant child was passed through the fire (close proximity thereof) symbolically consecrating the child to the pagan deity Molech, elsewhere it appears that they actually practiced human sacrifice by burning their children so as to gain knowledge or material possessions. [see http://biblehub.com/deuteronomy/12-31.htm ] This concept of personal or material gain seems deeply rooted in the historical lore surrounding divination, however after the American Civil war and other conflicts elsewhere in that same period we see a shift in the need to contact the dead.
War is a terrible thing; one moment a person is alive and dead a heartbeat later. Prior to the second world war and improved communications, the sense of loss felt by surviving loved ones was compounded as the soldier was separated from his family for months or even years before his death and then in those days before the coming of modern technology it might be a year before the news of his demise reached his survivors, if any news was forthcoming at all. This resulted in a sense of non-closure that we cannot imagine, losing a loved one and never knowing of his disposition.
Of course wars have been waged since time immemorial and few sought out the services of mediums to contact the dead, perhaps it was the waning of church magisterium that caused countless bereaved individuals to contact their deceased loved ones. It is not hard to see a correlation to the coming of the enlightenment age of the late 19th century and the emergence of non-sectarian segments of society that either totally reject religion or that choose to ignore Catholic as well as Protestant teachings on this subject.
With the tremendous loss of life due to the wars and epidemics that plagued the period from 1850 through 1950 we see a growing number of people desperate to have one last contact with the departed, and as one might imagine there was a corresponding increase in the number of charlatans preying on these people at their most vulnerable state. Séances said to enable the communication between this plane of existence and the great beyond became so popular that they were highly fashionable events for the educated and social elite. Much of the lore and beliefs that were espoused during this time period became the foundation for our modern day fascination or even obsession with the paranormal.
It has been said that a lie told often enough becomes a truth, and this observation might be applied to the vast majority of concepts and philosophies held by the true believers of the paranormal realm. Whether these so called truths are indeed lies or not we cannot say as there is no hard scientific proof that one can contact the dead. Modern day mythology becomes quasi-religious as it requires believers to have faith in dogma that is based upon empirical evidence or speculation derived from observation of phenomena that might have or might not have a logical explanation. In other words what we seem to be hearing from the proponents of contemporary paranormal thought is this is what we believe, we hold it as a truth, so do not question it in any way. Some within this particular group are very adamant and dogmatic as they hold their beliefs to be incontrovertibly true, and (I reiterate some) as closed minded as any religious fundamentalist.
With all due respects to the practitioners of Tarot or its fans, who or whom actually invented the cards and their meanings? Have you actually taken the time to research the real historic origins of the game? Why did that which simply began as a game then suddenly a century or two later have esoteric meaning? Is this just a case of a group of people establishing meaning then as more and more people accepted this allegorical meaning it suddenly became a truth?
So while we have nearly two thousand years of precedence in the Christian faith and thousands of years of experience outlined by the Jewish tradition which gave us the Old Testament of the Bible, we only have about two hundred years of narrative behind contemporary paranormal studies. Does one system have any benefits over the other? Well personally I will stick with the teachings of the Christian faith as practiced by Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and other Protestant denominations, which of course is my choice.
Freedom of choice is a precious gift given by God, the freedom to believe in him, to believe that he gave his only Son to die for the sins of the world, and that through our love for him and his rules for living we should try to do as he suggests, as such I choose to believe that—just as other theologians throughout history—we have no way to know for sure what it is that goes bump in the night. We have no positive scientific way to discern if the voices we hear from the other side is our long lost Aunty Louise, or if that voice is something else, possibly even sinister with evil intent. So my response—to those that I confidently feel are going to exercise their freedom of choice, ignore my advice, dismiss church teachings, and do what they want to anyway—is to never take it for granted what they encounter in the way of paranormal activity but always consider the possibility that the entity might not be truthful.
The inherent dangers of dealing with the paranormal or occult are based upon empirical evidence and subjective opinion. We of the ministry—as well as true believers of the paranormal/occult—can cite innumerable examples of how people were somehow oppressed, possessed, physically attacked, or even killed by forces unseen. These same case histories are often debunked by skeptics who at best can be attributed with simply seeking rational answers to the unexplained. In some cases of oppression or even possession, skeptics claim mental illness on the part of the victim. In cases of physical attack they once again victimize the aggrieved person or persons by claiming mental illness contributing to hallucination or even self-mutilation.
Admittedly even I have been associated with cases in which I came to the conclusion that the victim was simply suffering from a paranormal version of Munchausen’s Syndrome in which he or she was directly causing what only appeared to be paranormal activity or in rare instances drawing entities into their home due to their obsession with the paranormal. But in the same respect I have dealt with cases that I have no doubt were of diabolical origin.
One of my favorite books which I recommend to those seeking to study this particular realm of the paranormal, that of demonic possession, is titled Hostage To The Devil; The Possession and Exorcism of Five contemporary Americans. At least when the book was first published by Father Malichi Martin in 1976 the five victims were contemporary Americans, we have to admit that in the ensuing thirty-eight years Americans have changed considerably.
Of these five cases the one that relates to this discussion is described in the chapter Fr. Martin named The Rooster and the Tortoise. A sad story of how a successful and brilliant psychologist answers his lifelong ambition of scientific investigation of parapsychology only to be victimized. You see this person Fr. Martin identifies only as Carl V. has believed all his life that he was having out of body experiences. He apparently wanted nothing more than to be able to leave his body and travel across the astral plane to distant lands, even into the far reaches of forgotten antiquity. It was on one of these adventures into the past that Carl V. became aware–very painfully– of the evil that was deceiving him.
Today we have an unknown number of people that like the Doctor Fr. Martin refers to as Carl V. and who want nothing more than to somehow experience this realm that the church has declared verboten. Frequently I work with those that are highly educated, scientifically skeptical, but yet have experienced what their science denies. These individual simply are seeking answers, trying to prove to themselves that what they personally witnessed was either real or a figment of their imagination. However the ones that I am the most concerned about are those that place their needs of the self, the needs of the ego above caution and seek out the unknown not for scientific reasons but for personal self-gratification or profit.
Even if the case of Carl V. is not true but simply fiction, the message is none the less relevant as any unhealthy obsession can be destructive.
With our media, cable and satellite TV networks, countless YouTube channels and virtual plethora of blogs, forum boards and web sites all brimming over with programming regarding the paranormal and the occult; no one should be surprised of the number of people obsessed with the subject. And on the same note, we should not be surprised of the number of people that get injured, physically or spiritually through their unhealthy and unwise obsession with this field.
A good friend of mine, a fellow Bishop and brother in Christ, published a chap book several years ago regarding the dangers of paranormal investigation otherwise colloquially referred to as Ghost Hunting. In his essay he detailed two cases —among others—that he and I had intimate connection to in which two paranormal investigators separated by a thousand miles both were attacked and subsequently possessed and now suffer from mild to severe mental illness. Of course our opinion of demonic forces having a direct relation to the conditions of these two unfortunates is subjective, but the timing was indeed uncanny. For in less than two weeks after these two men encountered paranormal entitles they both began to exhibit signs of distress.
An old minister friend of mine who is of blessed memory having passed way several years ago, often told the story of how a female relative of his had been given by God the gift of healing. He claimed that this lady could “lay hands” on the infirm and miraculously cure their ailments. The lady’s husband one day realized that this could be a highly profitable enterprise, however the minute that he starting charging for her gift, she lost forever the ability to heal by touch. There are living amongst us certain people that have special abilities; even I have witnessed uncanny events surrounding these people. But what amazes me is that as long as these people remain humble—recognizing that their gift is from God—they seem to survive life usually peacefully, but the minute their gifts become “ all about them” their gifts become questionable and sometimes their worship of self leads to destruction. Again if we feel that what we are experiencing is not rooted in the word of God, how do we know what it is rooted in?
If we cannot see, touch, or even smell that which we are contacting from the other side, all we have to rely on is it’s personal testimony. And if we believe in the paranormal we have to acknowledge that there are entities that are inherently evil, how do we know we are not being deceived by one of these. I know someone who was told by a spirit through an Ouija board to look out for a relative, and this person took it to mean that she was to protect, to guard, to care for this person. Several years of frivolous law suits and untold of damages later she came to realize that what the spirit was telling her was to beware of the relative in question, an insanely and vindictive person hell bent on destroying the victim for no reason other than spite.
The best advice I can give those that might become obsessed with the paranormal is that which my friend that I spoke of earlier who wrote the chap book and I, as bishops of the church, make it habit to tell wannabe ghost hunters or dabblers in the unknown, “It’s best not go looking for trouble, it might just find you.