Traditional Christianity is being abandoned for other forms of "worship." Oriental religions, witchcraft, the occult, so-called Christian "sects," and outright paganism have drawn thousands from the mainstream churches. WHY are people turning to the mystical in an age priding itself on scientific and material knowledge?
"DOUBLE, double, toil and trouble, Fire burn, and cauldron bubble." Almost everyone has heard these lines from Shakespeare at one time or another. Accompanying is always the nocturnal image of several black-cloaked, vile-looking old hags, stirring the contents of a frothing, seething, squat iron kettle in the middle of thick woods. But if you met a "real" witch on the street, the chances are you would never recognize her. The unimposing lady next door or the attractive secretary in your office could belong to a coven and attend esbat (coven meetings) regularly without being discovered.
Occult in the Open
Witchcraft is only one of many new forms of "worship" attracting thousands of new converts each year. Astrology, spiritism, occultism, Ouija boards (they have outsold Monopoly sets), Tarot cards, and other associated items are big business. The fact that commercial businesses have capitalized on them attests to their present popularity. What was once discussed only in hushed whispers with a nervous glance over the shoulder is now paraded before the public eye. In the Middle Ages, hundreds of thousands died as a result of being accused of witchcraft, devil worship or some other such practice. (At the famous Salem trials in 1692, 23 were executed as witches) Now self-professed witches write books and news magazine columns. The names of two "psychics" (Edgar Cayce and Jeanne Dixon), have become household words. Popular movies include Rosemary's Baby, in which a young woman has a child by a demon, and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, which makes reincarnation a central core of the plot. Jesus freaks about which a popular book has been written called Jesus Is My Trip gurus, Zen Buddhism, necromancy, spiritualist churches, and directing one's life by the stars have all found their niche in our modern society. The late Bishop James Pike, who warned his parishioners about the dangers of glossolalia (speaking in tongues), added to his fame by seeking to communicate with his dead son through the help of a medium. Why the sudden interest in the psychic, the spiritualistic, the occult? There is no doubt that much of the upsurge of attention is only a fad. But there is more to it than just passing fancy. Before answering this puzzling question, let's take a look at some of the major areas of offbeat religious practices causing such a stir. First, some points about spiritism and the occult.
Conversations With the Dead
Necromancy conjuring up the dead is certainly nothing new. It was explicitly forbidden in the Pentateuch (Deut. 18:11). In the Old Testament the first king of Israel, Saul, is mentioned as having met his death after supposedly speaking to the "ghost" of the prophet Samuel. Yet, today we find the widow of a religious leader seeking messages from her late husband. This of course, is another paradox of the Christian religion doing what is prohibited and condemned by the claimed Christian Guidebook the Bible. The spirit manifestations in many sιances have, of course, been exposed as absolute frauds. The famous escape artist Harry Houdini added further to his reputation by bringing to light the fakery often accompanying sιances. It was undoubtedly through his efforts and those of others that interest in spiritualism waned between the Depression years and the 60's. But seldom now do mediums even bother with flashing lights, messages in the air, or misty figures wafting across darkened rooms. They claim simply to be "mediums" the human instrument through whose vocal cords the spirits speak. Probably the most well-known spiritualist medium in the United States was the late Arthur Ford, a minister of the Disciples of Christ Church. A good deal of his fame was the result of work with Bishop Pike who wanted to consult his son, Jim Pike, after the latter's suicide death. There are presently two major organizations of spiritualist churches. The oldest and largest is the National Association of Spiritualist Churches. But perhaps the fastest growing is the Universal Church of the Master, founded in Los Angeles in 1908. It claims about 125 churches, the majority of which are in California, though exact membership figures are not available. However, in the approximately 400 spiritualist churches in the United States, there are some 150,000 members. Another religious group, the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship, has mainly clergymen of different denominations for its 4,000 members. But it also has 110 scientists. Among those meeting regularly in groups, even in the late 50's, were a smattering of politicians and some outstanding ministers of religion.
The Bridey Murphy Affair
In the early 50's an unusual incident caused no small stir among the American populace. A Colorado housewife, Mrs. Virginia Tighe, was hypnotized by Morey Bernstein. As he took her further and further back into her early life, he found her describing experiences in a distant land long before her birth. According to the story, he was talking to one Bridey Murphy who lived in Ireland in the early 1800's. With the publication of the bestselling book The Search for Bridey Murphy, speculation about reincarnation became household conversation. Many other people claimed to come up with details of "past lives" while under hypnosis. I personally had a man tell me his fear of fire was the result of being burned at the stake while a Crusader in a previous lifetime. Reincarnation is, of course, a basic constituent of a number of Oriental religions. Once despised by a "Christian" populace, these religions are finding new adherents, some perhaps with tongue in cheek, but others quite serious.
Witches Ride Again
One Scotland Yard official estimated there is presently more black magic in Britain than there was during the Middle Ages. One witch estimated there are at least 3,000 witches in Great Britain today. There are approximately 2,000 active secret sects in France, which include the "onionists" (God is shaped like an onion), the navel worshippers, and the Druids (Druids are also in England and have an annual festival at Stonehenge). One report estimates the French spend about 1,000 million francs ($200 million) a year in consulting 60,000 sorcerers. Germany is the traditional land of witches, spells and hexes. According to the German Medical Information Service, 10,000 people are engaged in witchcraft there. Charges of witchcraft often come up in court. In the United States there are those who actually claim to be practicing "Satanists." According to Arthur Lyons, Jr., author of the book The Second Coming: Satanism in America, there are 20,000 followers of this ideology in the United States. Some are "playing games" but others are quite fervent about their "religion." Perhaps the most well-known is San Francisco's Church of Satan, headed by High Priest Anton LaVey.
You Can Bet Your Lucky Stars
It is estimated that at least 5 million Americans plan their lives by the stars. This naturally does not include the additional millions who consult their daily horoscope out of curiosity or buy zodiac-decorated items ranging from drinking glasses to silk pajamas. There is enough business to keep 10,000 full-time and 175,000 part-time astrologers on the go. More than two thirds of the daily newspapers in the United States carry astrology columns. The columnists include such famous names as Jeanne Dixon and Carroll Righter as authors. Sybil Leek, self-professed witch, writes an astrology column each month for a leading women's magazine. You can now receive your own personalized horoscope by computer. A French firm began such a program about four years ago and has since expanded its operations to the U.S. The Paris operation spits out astro info in four different languages. A rival firm operates a 24-hour phone service. A third firm mails out monthly horoscopes for a fee, of course. Some astrologers, such as Carroll Righter of Hollywood, conduct their businesses almost as if they were consulting physicians. Righter charges according to ability to pay. The phone rings in his office, and he sometimes has 2:30 a.m. calls from as far away as Hong Kong. But if he doesn't get nighttime calls, he says he begins to "feel not needed." Astrology is the basis of the rock musical Hair, which lists a company astrologer among the credits in the program. Its opening dates on Broadway and in London, Los Angeles, Munich, Stockholm and Copenhagen were all carefully planned by the "signs." Farmers and ranchers have raised crops and cattle by the zodiac for centuries. But even today many farm almanacs and calendars have a horoscope by which one can plant corn, harvest wheat, or plan the spring roundup. Astrology is one aspect of twentieth-century life in which the ancient Babylonians would feel perfectly at home.
Some Miscellaneous Superstitions
For the millions who would not associate themselves with any of the aforementioned "cults," there is still widespread superstition, often just an offshoot of astrology, witchcraft, or the occult. According to one estimate, there are 20 million people in the United States alone who actually carry with them a rabbit's foot or other good-luck charms. This does not include millions more who cross their fingers, knock on wood, cower before black cats, throw salt on their shoulder, or experience triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13). The next time you ride an elevator in a building with fourteen or more stories, look for floor 13. You will probably NOT find it. According to tradition, the U.S. Navy will not launch a ship on Friday or the 13th of the month. Yet a recent survey of major air crashes saw no particularly great concentration on Friday or any other day and none since 1937 on the 13th! It is reported that the British Navy, to counteract the superstition, purposely launched a ship on Friday the 13th, called the ship the H.M.S. Friday and used a captain whose name was Friday. Even our speech is laden with expressions, such as "thank your lucky stars" and "cross my heart," which arise out of superstitious beliefs.
Glossolalia the Tongues Movement
Perhaps one of the most unusual phenomena among Christian churches, condoned by some and condemned by others, is glossolalia. Great debate has accompanied any discussion of what constituted "tongue-speaking" in the Apostolic Church. Various groups have claimed this "gift" down through the ages since then. It has been confined to the Pentecostal churches for most of this century. But during the last decade, it has been experienced and supported by individuals of practically all the major church groups, from the Catholics to the Episcopalians to the Baptists. It is prominent among the so-called "Jesus people," a sizeable portion of them young people dropouts from the major churches.
Universal Need for Religion
But why are so many turning to the mini-religions which include everything from spiritism to astrology? Why in an age of skepticism, of materialism, of science are so many seeking satisfaction in the occult and spiritualistic? A famous Los Angeles religionist recently stated that religion is as basic to the nature of man as sex or thirst. There is a natural desire a basic urge within each human being for something outside and beyond himself. Some few appear to squelch that urge and claim to be atheists. (But, does an "atheist" really remain an atheist in a foxhole?) Most satiate their desire with the "status quo" religion or church. They belong to the ecclesiastical group of their parents, their friends, their colleagues, their race or their nationality. But the major Christian denominations are losing their influence. The reason is as we pointed out in an article on the subject in the June PLAIN TRUTH that the mainstream churches are not fulfilling the people's needs. They have failed miserably. People are turning to occult, the mini-sects and other related practices in a desperate attempt to get what they have not received elsewhere. Thus, in Britain the rise in spiritism is matched by a decline in the traditional religions. Psychotherapist Ludwig B. Le febre wrote that people are trying to find ways "to get beyond themselves," yet the churches are just not responding suitably. Mankind wants something more than just "relevancy" of religion to his secular way of life, though he certainly wants that as well. He has an inward drive for something above and beyond the human. This innate drive is partly the cause of the widespread use of "mind-expanding" drugs. The use of LSD is often known to be accompanied by what is termed a "religious experience." Some Oriental religions, such as Tibetan Buddhism, claim to offer the same effect without drugs. The American host of one Tibetan-Buddhist guru describes such a mental trip as a "non-drug turn-on, inner enlightenment." In fact, John Moon, registrar of Chelsea (London) College of Arts, predicted last year that black magic might replace drugs as the next "craze" among young people. But drugs often are not replaced by spiritism or occult experiences they are instead many times an essential part of it. According to Dr. A.L. Malcolm, staff psychiatrist of the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario, mysticism is one of the things underlying the drift to drugs by young people. But in any case whether drugs, mysticism, or both the end is a "religious" trip. If such a religious experience cannot be found by conventional methods in conventional churches, it is only predictable that many will turn to a source elsewhere for excitement. This is precisely what is happening.
Sign of Death?
One "famous" witch explained why young people turn to witchcraft: "... they're disenchanted with the Christian religion. They feel their religion has gotten away from the people. Everybody gets dressed up and goes to church to hear someone else do it. That's not religion, it's one big social club, so a lot of people, especially the younger people, are looking for something more." "Social club" religious services might fill one's social needs. But not his religious needs. People are looking for something to hang on to. They want security. They want to know that a greater power than themselves is with them. They have found the watered-down ritual in normative "churchianity" of no help. So they turn to astrology, mysticism, and the occult. Religion writer George W. Cornell has pointed out that this state of things "reflects a widespread reaction against all-out modern secularism and its tendency to reduce religion to man's own capabilities and judgment, instead of his being helped by it." Churches have ceased to give moral guides to living. And many have quickly tired of their new-found "freedom." People are dissatisfied with our materialistic society. They are equally disenchanted with the standard-brand churches which seem to give no alternative to the secular world. In their frustration to find a power beyond themselves, they seem to feel the only other path open is mysticism and the psychic. One of the major causes for the collapse of Rome was the decay of religion from the status of moral judge and champion to a hollow shell of ritual and liturgy. In desperation, people turned to astrology, sorcery, and divination, the natural refuge in a time of confusion and collapse. The occult scene as the drug scene, the crime scene, and the immorality scene reflects the turbulent state of our contemporary society. It seems that decadent and dying civilizations almost always turn to the mystical in their final hours. Rome did. So did Constantinople. And Athens. Is the present interest in the occult another sign that our Western civilization is in its "final hours"?