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Occultic techniques in the Hebrew Scriptures:

There are a number of instances in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) where respected biblical leaders were involved with various black magic, divination and occultic activities as a normal part of their daily activities -- apparently without any condemnations from God:

bullet In Genesis 44:5, Joseph's household manager refers to a silver drinking cup " which my lord drinketh and whereby indeed he devineth". Later, Joseph accuses his brothers of stealing the cup, saying "that such a man as I can certainly divine [the identity of the thieves]". These passages show that Joseph engaged in scrying. This is an ancient occultic method of divination in which a cup or other vessel is filled with water and gazed into. This technique of foretelling the future was used by Nostradamus and is still used today.
bullet Numbers 5:12-31 describes a ritual of black magic that the Priest would perform on a woman if her husband suspected that she he had committed adultery. Verse 17 says: "Then he shall take some holy water in a clay jar and put some dust from the tabernacle floor into the water.." She and her husband would go, with an offering of barley meal, to the tabernacle. The priest would make a magical drink consisting of holy water and sweepings from the tabernacle floor. He would have the woman drink the water while he recited a curse on her. The curse would state that her abdomen would swell and her thigh waste away if she had committed adultery. Otherwise, the curse would have no effect. If she were pregnant at this time, the curse would certainly induce an abortion. Yet nobody seems to have been concerned about the fate of any embryo or fetus that was present. There was no similar magical test that a woman could require her husband to take if she suspected him of adultery.
bullet The Urim and Thummim were two objects mentioned in Numbers 27:21 and 1 Samuel 28:6 of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were apparently devices (perhaps in the form of flat stones) that the high priest consulted to determine the will of God. They might have worked something like a pair of dice.
bullet Elisha was on his way to Bethel. Some small boys came out of the city and made fun of him because of his lack of hair; they called him "baldy". In a violent display of the power of black magic, Elisha cursed the children in the name of God. Two bears, apparently prompted by God, came out of the forest and tore 42 of the boys to shreds. The implication is that the children were all murdered. See 2 Kings 2:23-24.
bullet Lots -- pieces of wood or stone with markings -- were used to determine the will of God. They were similar to dice. See: Numbers 26:55; Proverbs 16:33 Proverbs 18:18.
bullet Daniel, the prophet, was employed for many years in Babylon as the chief occultist to the king. He was supervisor "of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans and soothsayers". See Daniel 5:11.

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Occultic techniques in the Christian Scriptures:

bullet St. Paul engaged in evil sorcery as described in Acts 13:6-12. (Sorcery is here used in the same way as Exodus 22:18: a person saying magical words or performing magical rituals in order to harm or kill another person). During his journey to Cyprus, St. Paul met Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus. He had a conflict with cursed Bar-Jesus, saying:

"You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun. (NIV)

Bar-Jesus heard the curse and immediately was blinded.

bullet St. Peter also engaged in evil sorcery, as described in Acts 5:9. After he determined that Sapphira had lied to him, he cursed her, saying

"How is it that ye have agreed together to try the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them that have buried thy husband are at the door, and they shall carry thee out. (ASV)

She collapsed and died immediately.

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Biblical Condemnation of the Occult

There are many Biblical passages that described some prohibited types of occultic activity by the ancient Israelites. These include Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 19:26-26; 19:31; 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:10-11; Isaiah 8:19 and Malachai 3:5. Of these, Deuteronomy 18 is perhaps the most important. They forbade the Israelites from engaging in human sacrifice and in eight specific practices which some have been regarded as occultic. The King James translation is:

"There shall not be found among you anyone that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

Various other translations of the Bible use the following terms or phrases here: augur, black magic, calls up the dead, charm, consults with spirits, fortune teller, interpret omens, look for omens, magician, medium, sorcerer, soothsayer, spiritist, weaves or casts spells, witchcraft, and wizard.

Clearly, translators have had a great deal of difficulty selecting unique English words or short phrases to match the 8 original Hebrew words:

  1. yid'oni Making contact with spirits (not of God).
  2. sho'el 'ov Making contact with the dead .
  3. qosem q'samim Foretelling the future by using lots or a similar system.
  4. m'onen Predicting the future by interpreting signs in nature.
  5. m'nachesh Enchanting (perhaps related to nachash, a snake).
  6. chover chavar Casting spells by magical knot tying.
  7. m'khaseph evil sorcery; using spoken spells to harm other people.
  8. doresh 'el hametim "One who asks the dead", probably via another method than sho'el 'ov

The reference to passing children through the fire has historically been interpreted as the ritual killing of the first born child in each family. Tribes surrounding the Israelites were believed to engage in this practice. In reality, it probably refers to a painful coming-of-age challenge that children had to endure. They would pass through the fire and (hopefully) emerge without much injury. In other traditions, they would run between two fires. This phrase has caused many people to believe that Pagans in ancient times engaged in child sacrifice. This appears to be the source of the belief among some Christians that modern day Pagans do the same thing. While we do not know what ancient Pagans did, we can be certain that modern-day Pagans do not murder children. This phrase (and many similar ones throughout the Bible) has probably contributed greatly to the public's widely held fear of Ritual Abuse and Satanic Ritual Abuse.

Interpreting Deuteronomy 18 in terms of modern-day practice, it is apparent that the following are prohibited:

  1. yid'oni The New Age practice of channeling in which a person attempts to contact a spirit in order to gain knowledge.
  2. sho'el 'ov Spiritualism, in which a medium contacts the dead.
  3. qosem q'samim Casting stones or sticks and predicting the future by their position (e.g. I Ching, and perhaps runes, or Tarot cards).
  4. m'onen Foretelling the future by looking for signs in nature (e.g. predicting the harshness of a winter by looking at moss on trees, or fur thickness on animals in the wild, or whether the groundhog sees his shadow on FEB-2.)
  5. m'nachesh Snake charming.
  6. chover chavar Casting (presumably evil) spells while tying knots.
  7. m'khaseph Reciting evil spoken spells to injure others .
  8. doresh 'el hametim Any other method of contacting the dead .

Other currently used methods of foretelling the future, such as tea cup reading, astrology, palm reading, tarot cards, runes etc. are not mentioned. It is thus not obvious whether they are forbidden (as in snake charming) or whether they are acceptable to God (as in scrying). A Membership in the Masonic Order (or similar fraternal/spiritual organization) is not banned. Wicca (Witchcraft), which does not allow its followers to engage in black magic or manipulative spells, is not prohibited either. Black magic rituals, are occasionally performed by Satanists as revenge to injury done to them by others; they would be condemned by this passage.

The Biblical passages appear to apply to persons who are directly engaged in the various practices (e.g. mediums, channelers, astrologers, etc.); they do not seem to refer to people who simply observe the activity.

The Greek word "pharmakos" which appears in Galatians 5:20 refers to poisoners. It was mis-translated as witchcraft in the King James Version. Since no modern-day Pagan, Neopagan or occultic activity engages in killing people by poison, the verse does not refer in any way to Wicca, other Neopagans or Occultists.

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Related essays on this web site:

bullet The Occult
bullet Are all Witches alike? Public confusion over terminology
bullet Witchcraft in the Bible

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Copyright 2000 to 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-JUL-12
Latest update: 2004-NOV-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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