If you weren't allowed to watch He-Man or The Smurfs as a child because of their pagan themes, you might tend to dismiss all occultism as hokey. Even today, watching videos of "witches" and neo-pagans "talk about magick" on YouTube is more likely to induce laughter than fear or worry. For most modern Americans, occultism and the New Age are little more than excuses for geeks to go into the woods wearing horns and playing Native American instruments.
Another extreme response is to picket your local Wicca bookstore, bless every room in your house against evil spirits, and tell people that Harry Potter is really the Antichrist (he does have a mark on his forehead). This is almost as silly as a Renaissance Faire: in both cases, people who know nothing about the topic end up taking it way too seriously.
The word occult has a fairly boring meaning: hidden knowledge. Occultists, therefore, are those who seek hidden knowledge, and they range from Wiccans, to Rosicrucians, to Mormons. The idea is that the deeper you go in the hidden knowledge, the more greatly you're rewarded, and the more power you obtain. There are 33 levels of Freemasonry, each one separated from the last by bizarre rituals and ideas—occultism in its purest form.
It's easy to dismiss any organization or religious group that wears funny hats, maintains secret handshakes, and dances naked in the woods as goofy, but there is a darkness to occultism in any form that is troubling, particularly to Christians. It's this very darkness, however, that attracts adherents and makes the secret knowledge so tantalizing.
The Christian Gospel, though there are concepts inherent in it that are difficult to understand, is open to everyone. There are no secrets, no hidden bits, nothing we should or can hide from those outside the Church. Jesus Christ came as the light, not as darkness, and His offer of eternal life is plain, forthright, and open.
Humans have been drawn to hidden knowledge since they were created. Eve's sin was essentially motivated by a desire to gain knowledge God had forbidden her to seek or have. King Saul looked for answers beyond the grave. The Gnostics in the early Church sought a higher knowledge that would transport them spiritually and mentally to another plane of existence without the help of Jesus Christ's atonement.
This is the crux of all occultism: man wants a way to sublime consciousness without having to humble himself and put his faith in the Son of God. The fact that most occult beliefs are completely fabricated doesn't seem to bother most followers; those beliefs serve a purpose, and therefore they suffice.
Probably the most recent incarnation of occult ideology has come in the form of the "New Age" movement, which is really just an umbrella term for all manner of gnosticism, witchcraft, neo-paganism, and the like. The New Agers draw on mystical forces, hidden knowledge (the common bond), self-awareness, meditation, and other Eastern and pagan practices to draw initiates into the circle of understanding.
A lot of Christians understand the New Age movement to have demonic origins. This may well be true: by opening themselves to an unknown spirit world that is nothing if not opposed to true Christian spirituality, New Age worshippers, shamans, philosophers, and enthusiasts potentially expose themselves to attacks from Satan and his minions.
While this is obviously dangerous, there's another (perhaps not so obvious) danger in occult and New Age movements that has far-reaching effects and has infiltrated much of the Church. The idea that New Age ideas about spirituality and awareness are part of a common ancient heritage has led many to lead Christians into deception by advocating forms of prayer and meditation that are rooted in sorcery, idolatry, and paganism.
The most well-known of these practices is contemplative prayer, in which the practitioner empties his mind in order to "let God in." Except that God never tells us to empty our minds, He tells us to fill our minds with Him; removing all thought is a perfect invitation for all kinds of evil to creep in, and it rejects the only source of true knowledge we have about God: His Word.
Ultimately, the only knowledge we can be sure of is the knowledge God has chosen to reveal. The Gospel as found in all of Scripture is our only source of hope for salvation, and all knowledge that pretends to be deeper or more secret is ultimately evil and worthless. Even Christians who claim to have words from the Lord are often operating under the mistaken assumption that there's more to be known about God than is present in the Bible.
In one sense, that's true. God is to humans utterly incomprehensible, and only the Holy Spirit can make us able to understand Him, His purposes, and His nature. Yet this knowledge is still only in part. The irony of occultism, gnosticism, whatever you want to call it, is that there is hidden knowledge, but the only way any human will ever obtain such knowledge is by having faith in Jesus Christ, dying, and going to God's presence where all things are made light, no knowledge is hidden, and what knowledge we have now is finally and perfectly made complete for God's everlasting glory.
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