Question: What do seances, Ouija (pronounced
weegee) boards, astrology and occult studies have in common?
Answer: All are used to understand or contact supernatural
forces, sometimes for good, sometimes not. And in marked contrast
to the often-peaceful feelings coming from prayer and quiet
reflection, efforts to "contact the spirits" through
such mysterious means often result in either hysterical laughter
or fear and guilt.
I remember the time when three scared college
freshmen burst into my room. (I was a dorm counselor as well
as being a teacher.) When they calmed down, we talked about
why the three were so frightened. A bit sheepishly, they told
me that they had been pretending a seance, trying to communicate
with otherworldly spirits.
As if that hadn't been eerie enough, they decided to turn
out all the lights, light one candle and invoke the devil.
"All of a sudden," one told me, "there was
a terrible chill in the room, even though it was very warm.
We all felt it and immediately ran over to see you."
What had happened? They were worried and wanted a convincing
explanation of what they had experienced.
I suggested that they had pulled one on themselves, unconsciously
communicating their personal fear to each of the others. After
all, they were all church-going Catholics who had been joking
around with something of great seriousness. After a while,
they were able to go back to their rooms, firmly resolved
not to mess with seances ever again!
Just this past semester, I learned that a number
of students and their high school friends were using Ouija
boards in their dorm rooms. With Ouija boards, it is claimed
that answers to your questions will be given as the marker
moves across the lettered board, presumably directed by a
force beyond the players' control. As in the earlier episode
with the "devil seekers," these teenagers were a
bit uneasy with the whole procedure and, more importantly
perhaps, troubled by their fascination with the unknown, the
underside, with mysterious forces.
Not only young people, however, are fascinated
with the occult, with the mysterious. We read that Nancy Reagan
consulted an astrologer concerning her husband. Shirley MacLaine,
movie star, has written and starred in a made-for-TV movie
which included sequences on channelers (people who appear
to act as intermediaries between the living and the dead)
and on extraterrestrial communications. These two people are
celebrities, but they are joined by tens of thousands of others.
Some are friends of yours. Is this serious?
Some analysts of human behavior worry that there is a rejection
of reason and science underlying the popularity of many expressions
of the occult and superstitious practices. In episodes such
as those I've described, such rejection is probably involved.
But when Satan or satanism becomes part of such a rebellion,
I think more is going on. There is a darker, more sinister
side to the flirtation with the champion of evil and sin.
Giving the Devil His Due
Grappling with knowledge of evil and its source
presumes some belief in good. Professional polls taken in
the United States have shown that Americans do have such a
belief. Nearly 90 percent answer affirmatively to the question:
"Do you believe in God?" On the other hand, only
60 percent of that number say that they believe in the devil.
Despite the lack of belief in what I suspect people may see
as a Halloween-type demon, there is a great deal of wrestling
with the crucial questions of the origins of good and evil,
difficult questions bigger than humanity can answer in full.
You and many of the adults in your life are deeply aware of
evil and are puzzled, confused, even fearful about its source.
This may be why some teenagers turn to Ouija boards, astrologers,
fortune tellers and other mediums that promise to connect
with the unknown, the mysterious, the future. Everyone wishes
to increase a personal sense of control over life. You want
to protect yourself and to be more aware of the forces at
work within you and around you.
Those forces have become part of the songs of Ozzy Osbourne,
Iron Maiden, Megadeth and some other heavy metal rock groups.
Many of their lyrics, album covers and concert acts seem designed
to shock and offend and Christians will often find that they
do just that. It's a difficult and challenging balance to
weigh musical creativity and satisfying sounds against mean-spirited,
sometimes insulting lyrics.
For some young people who feel powerless and
unloved, an initial interest in Satan might be inspired by
music. Reading occult sources coupled with a desire to gain
power and earn respect can lead to Satan's becoming a hero
to be imitated and an inspiration for a way of life. Today
there is a growing concern about satanic cults. Such cults
practice a serious devotion to the devil and dedication to
the works of evil.
It seems to me that dealing with the reality
of cults requires some understanding of evil. Many good people,
both young and old, struggle with belief in a devil, hell
or eternal punishment, since it seems to be opposed to a belief
in a loving, merciful God. But the devil, and notions about
the devil, have a long history within the Judeo-Christian
tradition. Where did our concept of the devil, both theological
and popular, come from?
Background Check on Beelzebub
It may surprise you (because many people think
that Satan is a major biblical figure) to learn that there
are only four references to Satan as a supernatural being
in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament. These references
are found in Zechariah 3, 1 Chronicles 21:1, Psalm 109 and
in the Book of Job, which is perhaps the most famous depiction
of Satan in world literature. (Check your Bible for details.
The suffering of Job and his family and his efforts to understand
God's ways make good, thoughtful reading. Satan who "roams
the earth" causes great havoc and pain, but it is clear
that God is the greater power.)
Each of these four references was written after the tragic
period in Jewish history known as the Babylonian Exile (597-538
B.C.), when thousands of Jews were forced into slavery in
Babylon where they lived for over 50 years. During this period
they came into contact with Zoroastrianism, the religion of
The Babylonians believed in two gods: a god of light and a
god of darkness. These gods, they believed, would fight with
each other until the end of the world when Ahura-Mazda (the
good god) would defeat Ahriman (the evil god). Many biblical
scholars think that the Jewish people adopted and adapted
this Babylonian belief in Ahriman and called him Satan. Satan
was an explanation for evil in a world created by a loving
Yahweh or God.
Satan can also mean obstacle and
the word is used in this way many times in the Christian Scriptures
or New Testament. Jesus, for instance, tells Peter, "Get
out of my sight, you satan!" (Mark 8:33). When he says
this, he is speaking like the Jewish people of his time who
had personified Satan as a hindrance to God's will. In Luke's
Gospel, Jesus says, "I watched Satan fall from the sky
like lightning" (10:18).
In the New Testament, Satan is held responsible for many physical
ailments and for much evil. "Satan took possession of
Judas," Luke reports, and this led him to betray Jesus.
It seemed obvious to Jesus and the early Christians that an
evil being was responsible for the pain and suffering that
they saw all around them.
You will sometimes see Satan referred to as
"Beelzebub," which means "Lord of the flies"
and refers to the earlier-mentioned Babylonian god of evil,
Ahriman. In John's Gospel, Satan is referred to as the "Prince
of this world." And in the Book of Revelation, the last
book of the Christian Scriptures, a final and bloody conflict
between Christ and Satan is described (Revelation 20). Christian
fundamentalists especially like to cite this passage as proof
that Satan is a powerful being and is capable of great harm
before he is finally brought under the subjection of the Lord
The Second Vatican Council (in the document
on the Liturgy) teaches that Christ "has freed us from
the power of Satan," and has consistently taught that
the devil's power is limited.
Isn't Satan a Piece of Fiction?
Our image of the devil, you must admit, hasn't
come exclusively (or even mostly) from the Church. Some of
you have seen films like The Shining, The Exorcist
and Rosemary's Baby on videocassettes. These horror
films depict satanic possession. Each has had some effect
on a popular image of the devil while encouraging fears that
Satan can take over a person's life, and even a person's body.
In your study of literature, you may have read
one of the three great classics of Western literature that
grapple with the power of Satan. Dante's Inferno, Milton's
Paradise Lost and Goethe's Faust all feature
the devil as a central character. So Hollywood filmmakers
didn't discover the excitement of Satan as a star; they simply
modernized the role.
Former TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Bakker have blamed all
their personal and financial troubles on Satan. While it seems
fairly clear that the devil didn't make them do it, they aren't the first or the only people to use the devil
as a convenient escape from personal responsibility and as a cover-up or alibi for their own mistakes
Sometimes, however, people become unable to distinguish fantasy
(their own excuses or what they've seen and read) from reality
in their lives and they act out of their darkest impulses.
When this happens, Satan becomes not just a scapegoat or person
to take the blame but an obsession. The results can be deadly.
The TV news show 60 Minutes has done
an extensive report on a number of young persons who murdered
members of their family or neighbors because they claimed
to be under the control of Satan. One researcher and author
who has studied the phenomenon of satanism for 20 years feels
that the number of actual "believers" at any one
time is as few as 5,000. Another person studying the situation,
Thomas W. Wedge, feels that no number is possible because
of the number of isolated, self-styled individual satanists,
often young and sometimes dangerous.
Who tends to become involved with satanic ritual
and imagery? Research indicates that troubled young persons,
usually male, are drawn to satanic practices. Darkness stands
against light, bad against good (remember the Babylonians?),
so the unhappy young man selects an evil hero off-limits to
other people he knows and enviespeople who excel in
sports, school or community activities.
In a culture that still claims many Christian
symbols, Satan becomes the ultimate rejection of all the values
and ideals to which you and I are expected to conform. Unhappy
persons who are looking for support, love and a sense of worth,
but not finding it, may choose a negative option like satanism.
Others who experience themselves as weak and powerless persons
who are victimized by others can choose to align themselves
with satanism in order to seek revenge for what has seemed
like injustice to them.
Through such a choice, the impulsive and destructive parts
of the personality are given free rein and terrible things
can happen. A fascination with death, destruction and pain
is often a warning signal that something unhealthy is brewing.
Antisocial behavior, satanic involvement, even suicide can
The Divine, Demons and You
You may have friends who draw pentagrams or who
read about occult subjects. As long as they draw other things
and read other books as well, this shouldn't cause you to
panic. Because they are your friends, you should be able to
comment and even to express your concern, but it is rare for
an individual with moral and religious convictions to become
seriously involved with satanic worship or ritual. That's
why I could rest easy when I sent those college freshmen back
to their dorms after their brush with fear.
Those who know and believe the story of Jesus,
Redeemer of the human race, realize that it is indeed possible
to turn away from God and consciously decide to do wrong.
Evil is no trivial matter, as even the daily news can remind
Modern psychology, regardless of the language used, recognizes
a dark side to the human personality. The possibility of sin needs
to be admitted and guarded against. Self-control, concern,
honesty, trust in God and love of people are attitudes that
weaken the power of evil and strengthen the possibility of
good in the world.
Christians should be realists. You know that
earth is not heaven, yet belief in the power of Jesus can
give you hope for the long haul. To embrace a satanic code
is to reject and trivialize the very heart of Christian existence
which is that Jesus has power over sin and death. No truly
good and informed person would make such a choice. Nor would
he or she glamorize the expression of evil.
Christians should also be optimists. They don't
need to dwell on Satan as God's opponent, like the ancient
Babylonians did. Jesus made it clear that Satan has no
power over anyone unless that person cooperates with evil.
Christians believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus
has overcome that kind of fear. Jesus has promised to strengthen
his followers as they work to live a life that rejects selfishness
and harm to others.
Satan actually has no more appeal to the person of faith than
illness does to the person with health. If you are aware of
persons in society who are indeed attracted to Satan, your
challenge is to help them through love, understanding and
Satan has had a long history and a certain seductiveness
for some persons, despite being associated with despair and
loneliness. Much of the evil which gets pinned on the devil
actually comes from human sinfulness and a pride that refuses
to accept God's love and learn God's will. In other words,
while the devil may be a source of temptation, your cooperation
is certainly required.
When people choose that sinfulness and pride, evil will certainly
follow. When people choose the challenge of being their best
and know that God is the source of their gifts and their talents,
good follows and evil has no power over them.
Five Cincinnati-area high school students,
ages 15-16, took an evening to preview this issue, ask important
questions and offer helpful advice to both author and editor.
While they preferred to remain anonymous, their contributions
were essential to clear communication and completeness on
what they felt was a topic of importance to them and their