They are ridiculously called "sensitives": people who claim to have the ability to communicate with the dead, for a fee, of course. If your phone bills are high, imagine the overhead of running a business that connects with those beyond the grave. That must surely be long distance and then some.
A book by James Van Praagh has occupied a place on the New York Times nonfiction best seller list for months and has brought new legitimacy to a most illegitimate fraud. "Talking to Heaven: A Medium's Message of Life After Death" explains that his and other mediums' success these days can be attributed to the failure of mainstream religion. He reports that Cher has employed him to communicate with a recently deceased Sonny Bono. He says that he receives these "communications" by sensing an "energy level" of a spirit and passing along the message that comes to his mind.
A sociology professor at Eastern Michigan University is equally antipathetic toward religion but also critical of Van Praagh and his ilk. Marcello Truzzi says that "When people talk to the Virgin Mary, they're talking to a dead person. It's just a question of how you define this, as magic or religion .... Most of what he gives people is twaddle, and in a way that's good. What people want is comfort, guilt assuagement. And they get that: 'Your parents love you; they forgive you; they look forward to seeing you; it's not your fault they're dead.'"
The purveyors of this fraud prefer to be distinguished by three types of "sensitives." There are the mediums, considered to be intermediaries between the living and the dead. Mental mediums have the power of the mind, including clairvoyance. The rarer physical mediums work in a trance.
Psychics are the second type. They claim to possess the ability to obtain information beyond ordinary means and the five senses. Psychics are generally employed to foretell the future, prophets of a sort.
Finally, there are channelers, who say they receive messages from some spiritual entity seeking an outlet to the "human channel" of communication. One well-known channeler is J.Z. Knight who claims to have channeled Ramtha, a 35,000 year-old warrior spirit from Atlantis.
Americans have always had a fascination with the occult. It used to be a fascination that led to condemnation, however. The witch trials in Salem, Mass. exemplified an unwillingness to associate with anything of this nature, even if it was only imagined and trumped up. Now, the executed witches of Salem are having their revenge. America is in love with the occult, flocking to New Age bookstores and embracing dozens of pseudo-religions, spiritual pursuits devoid of our God's imprint.
One of the most prevalent types of occultism is the daily horoscope, printed in almost every newspaper in the country and available for a fee on "900" phone lines. The continued existence of so-called psychics and their new rise to prominence on infomercials and toll lines should also serve to accentuate the growing influence of the occult.
The easy answer when any new thing begins to make its way into spirituality is to seek God and his guidance. We must know the truth and be able to persuade others about it. God has always opposed any reliance or affinity for things of the occult. In the days of the prophet Isaiah, popular opinion was leaning to some relationship between God's people and occultism.
Isaiah wrote, "And when they say to you, 'Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,' should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (8:19-20).
The pigeons that Truzzi described, looking for guilt assuagement and forgiveness, are looking in the wrong place. While they may receive a feeling of absolution, it did not come from God and it will not function with effectiveness in the day of reckoning. These "sensitives" are simply prophets for hire, worse than Balaam and the ungifted rivals of Jeremiah. For an outrageous fee, they tell people what they want to hear, instead of what they need to hear. There is nothing more dangerous in this world than to be told that one's soul is in good standing when it is not.
When Christians begin consulting psychics and horoscopes, it displays a distrust in Jehovah and a disregard for His will. "Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God" (Leviticus 19:31). God sounds disgusted that his people are searching for answers in black arts and mysterious evil when He has provided them with all they need to find peace.
"To the law and testimony," Isaiah cried. Why search for answers from any source but God? Has God not given to modern man all knowledge that pertains to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3)? Yet, still many flock to new age philosophies and doctrines.
King Saul had banned practitioners of the black arts from Israel, but in a faithless fit of desperation, he sought one out himself. The king disguised himself and went to a witch by night to ask that she conduct a seance for him. He hoped to talk to Samuel, who had died some time ago. The witch was hesitant at first, but then agreed, saying, "Who shall I bring up for you?". Saul asked for Samuel, but before the witch started her conjuring and incantations, Samuel appeared. Samuel simply told Saul that the king no longer had a relationship with God, because he had disobeyed the voice of the Lord (cf. 1 Sam. 15). Samuel went on to tell Saul, "Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines" (1 Samuel 28:19).
Does this passage sanction using mediums and other tools of the occult by Christians? Hardly.
In the first place, God had no welcome for mediums and spiritists in fleshly Israel. Saul, himself, had put them out of the land, in keeping with divine edict.
Second, Saul only turned to the occult after the Spirit of the Lord had departed from him and "a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him" (1 Samuel 16:14). If one uses Saul's example for approval of what they want to do today, they are using a practice he engaged in after succumbing to evil influences already.
Third, Saul was only now consulting the black arts because the Lord had refused to hear him due to his impenitence (1 Samuel 28:6). Calling on witchcraft for help indicates a total lack of trust in God, who cannot attend to the prayers of the impenitent (Isaiah 1:15; 59:1, 2).
Fourth, before the woman had begun her incantations, there was the appearance of something extraordinary that struck her with astonishment and fear. She was neither the cause nor the medium of this appearance of Samuel; only God could do what Saul observed. The Keil and Delitzsch commentary states that "These words [verses 12 and 13] imply most unquestionably that the woman saw an apparition which she did not anticipate, and therefore that she was not really able to conjure up departed spirits or persons who had died" (Vol. 2, page 262 ).
Fifth, her claim of power in verse 21 is nothing more than the boasting of an impostor; the evidence proves something other than her claim is true.
Sixth, just because you find some person doing something in Old Testament history, that doesn't necessarily show approval of that act. You can find David involved in an adulterous affair; Moses disobeying the Lord; Abraham using deception; and so forth. Saul's visit to a witch (after the Spirit of the Lord departed from him) was not revealed as a pattern for God's people to follow. In fact, 1 Chronicles 10:13 says, "... Saul died for his unfaithfulness which he had committed against the Lord, because he did not keep the word of the Lord, and also because he consulted a medium for guidance."
In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists some evident works of the flesh and lists sorcery as one that would deny a man entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Condemned in verse 20 and from the Greek word pharmakeia, sorcery is the practice of magical or curious arts (Robertson, Thayer).
In whatever form the occult may take, Christians should flee from it. Trusting in the daily horoscope to bring messages from the heavens is a rejection of the message God sent to us in the Bible. Consulting psychics to dip into the secret things of God is tantamount to attempted thievery. Engaging the Ouija board for prophecy denies God's role as prophesier to spiritual Israel.
The psychic is right about one thing. Americans have grown restless and dissatisfied with "traditional religion." In response, many groups are taking on their own new age feel. The church of the Bible is only made more easily distinguished by all this, though.
(Material for this column was reported in an article by Dru Sefton, printed with permission from Knight Ridder Newspapers in the June 25, 1998 edition of the Austin American-Statesman (page E5).