All religions are good ways of living what you may call the symbolic life. Also there are alternative ways to approach spirituality like astrology, dream interpretation, yoga, reiki, etc.
The problem is that there is a lack of tolerance and communication between different religions. Also religions tend to ban alternative spirituality, because they perceive it as evil or dangerous.
Long before Rome conquered all of Europe, the people known as Celts (known by the Greeks as Keltoi) lived and practiced complex polytheistic religious traditions, including Druidism, from Britain and Ireland to Spain, France, southern Germany, and all the way to central Turkey.
But they had no written language. Until modern archaeology began to reveal the depths of their culture, all that was known about them came from folklore, oral history, and Roman writers, particularly the quite prejudiced work of Julius Caesar (The Gallic War), Polybius, and Strabo.
Caesar first spoke about Druids-intellectuals, judges, diviners, and mediators with the gods. But Celtic religion was widespread, and it varied from land to land. Lugh (the "shining light"), Teutates ("god of the tribe"), Andastra, Belenus, Artio ("the bear"), Camulos, Cernunnos ("the horned one," lord of the animals), and Vasio all had their followings.
As is the case with many indigenous religions, gods had their own locations. A god of the grove sacred to one tribe might be recognized by another tribe but not worshiped, because he or she didn't live nearby. Instead, this other tribe would tend to worship the god of the lake near where they lived.
Celtic religious practice points out an important theological truth. When gods or spirits arise within the context of a particular place, the people connect with their environment and treat it accordingly. Indigenous people who worship in this manner, whether they are European Celts, Japanese Shinto, or American Indians, know that their environment is their cathedral. They live in their church, the home of their god. This kind of connection cements the bond between the land and the people. To cut down the sacred grove of the Druids, to kill the buffalo of the Dakota people, or to strip-mine a Cherokee mountaintop is religious blasphemy. Indigenous religion cannot be transported to another place. Missionaries cannot carry that religion with them to indoctrinate a new culture.
People of Jewish, Christian, or Islamic traditions often failed to understand this point of view. And when they did understand it, they usually exploited it. A people cut off from the "ground of their being," their god, are a defeated people. Julius Caesar understood. When he burned the Druid sacred groves and toppled the standing stones, he tore the soul out of the Celtic people, and with it their will to resist. Celtic religion went underground, practiced by old women who remembered herb lore and snatches of forgotten prayers and rituals. It was found in men's secret societies and existed in overgrown roadside shrines in the hollow hills of dim legend and folklore.
Only now, through the patient work of archaeologists, are we beginning to discover how much was lost. And who is to say whether the terrible record of environmental catastrophe in Western civilization is not a result of practicing religion in a way that separated humans from, rather than connected them to, the land they call home?
Born in 1895, Jiddu Krishnamurti became one of the most prominent representatives of Eastern Thought to the West, after the Theosophy Society, run then by Annie Bessant and CW Leadbeater, 'discovered' him living in India during the early part of the 20th century. Identified by Leadbeater as being the new 'Messiah', Krishnamurti was instantly accepted into the Theosophy Society and placed in training and preparation for his coming mission under the care of Leadbeater, who was also a suspected paedophile.
After enduring constant manipulation, Krishnamurti eventually renounced not only the training prepared but also all forms of organisation for the progress of enlightenment, leaving the Theosphists in the 1920's. Embarrassed by his actions, the Theosophy Society merely ignored him, Leadbeater already having jumped various continents to help teach a number of new young boys as to how to become prospective Messiahs.
Krishnamurti then grew in stature to become one of the most important spiritual philosophers of the 20th century, becoming a source of inspiration for innumerous people, spending the last 55 years of his life travelling throughout the world, speaking with people about the fundamental human problem of conflict in the world and the activity and nature of human thought. He died in 1986.
"Man cannot come to [truth] through any organisation, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, nor through any philosophical knowledge or psychological technique. He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection..."
"Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organisation be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path."
Neo-paganisn has undergone an extensive revival since the middle of the 20th century. As the role of the Christian church in the west has come under repeated intellectual attack and questioning, many people have looked towards pre-Christian folk roots for alternative expressions of spirituality.
One of the biggest areas is Wicca, which is essentially a reinvention - instituted and popularised by Gerald Gardner - of the practice of witchcraft. It is from Gardner that all major Wiccan traditions are originally derivative. Gardner himself has been variously criticised, not least for highly romanticising the tradition away from its actual traditional roots. Regardless, Wicca itself continues to grow in popularity, especially in Europe and the USA, as an alternative route of worship of the Divine from mainstream Christianity.
A lot of ink is used up attempting to describe New Age religions. There are so many movements, groups, cults, and sects falling under the rubric that it is impossible to deal with them all. But certain categories do recur consistently.
Many New Age movements believe spirit entities speak, or are "channelled," through receptive humans. In the popular series of "Seth" books, for instance, Jane Roberts claims to be channelling Seth. In Seth Speaks, Seth describes himself this way:
If you believe firmly that your consciousness is locked up somewhere inside your skull and is powerless to escape it, if you feel that your consciousness ends at the boundaries of your body, then you sell yourself short, and you will think I am only a delusion. I am no more a delusion than you are.
I can say this to each of my readers honestly: I am older than you are, at least in terms of age as you think of it.
If a writer can qualify as any kind of authority on the basis of age, therefore, then I should get a medal. I am an energy personality essence, no longer focused in physical matter. As such, I am aware of some truths that many of you seem to have forgotten.
I hope to remind you of these.
Whether the spiritual entities were once human, or whether they even once existed on Earth, they claim to have messages for the human race. Unable to physically put pen to paper, they must find receptive conduits through whom they are able to funnel their message. Because there are more and more entities being channelled into books nowadays, it is thought by many New Age believers that a cosmic shift of emphasis is upon us, and that the time of our particular mode of human understanding is getting short.
When the popular actress Shirley MacLaine published her best-selling memoir Out on a Limb, in which she claimed past life experiences, the Hindu concept of reincarnation was reintroduced to the mainstream American public. Since then, many Hindu and Buddhist practices, such as yoga and meditation techniques, have been given a Western twist and a new hearing. The Beatles came back from a trip to the East with sitar music and a guru, along with George Harrison's song "My Sweet Lord," dedicated to Krishna. It didn't take long for the mainstream Christian population to adapt their religion, in the name of evangelism and attracting a younger audience. Soon Christian Bible study groups began to discover that David practiced transcendental meditation in the Psalms and John the Baptist was the reincarnated Elijah. "My Sweet Lord," cleaned up a little, began to appear regularly even in Roman Catholic liturgy. East had been brought West-Americanized, to the great dismay of an older generation-and a new trend began.
On December 26, 2002, a group called the Raelian movement appeared on the cable television network CNN, claiming to have cloned the first human baby. Details were sketchy, at best, and the scientific community greeted the announcement with scorn. Five months later, Raja Mishra of the Boston Globe reported that "there are plenty of people who are gullible, who believe … and may fall victim to their scheme." Indeed, dues-paying Raelian membership had increased by 10 percent, and dozens of people paid up to $200,000 apiece for the privilege of cloning themselves or loved ones when they learned that Raelian religious doctrine teaches that the human race began when a group of extraterrestrials began fiddling with our DNA a few million years ago.
Many have speculated that only a brush with beings from another planet could unite the populations of Earth. They may be on to something, because following the announcement by the Raelians, U.S. senators as far apart as the liberal Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts and the conservative Orrin Hatch from Utah partnered a bill aimed at banning human cloning. But not all religious groups followed the ecumenical lead of Kennedy and Hatch. The National Right to Life committee, in favor of the bill, found themselves opposing the Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, who opposed it.
Other New Age UFO groups (see, for example, Heaven's Gate and Hale-Bopp in the Cult entry) look to the stars to define their religious beliefs. And their numbers seem to be multiplying with each passing year. Ever since Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods became a popular success in the 1970s, introducing the theory that ancient Earth had been visited by aliens, many people have turned to the Bible to seek "proof" of alien visitations misunderstood by the biblical authors. Take, for example, the experience of Ezekiel, excerpted from Ezekiel 1:
I saw a windstorm coming out of the north-an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was like that of a man.… I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature … they sparkled like chrysolite.… Their rims were high and awesome … spread above their heads was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice and awesome. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man … and I heard a voice speaking.
If this wasn't a passage from the revered Holy Bible but had just been discovered as a fragment of text from early times, an honest reading would certainly raise interesting questions.
This is not the only example. Elijah was taken up from Earth into the "heavens," or sky, by "a fiery chariot." He later appeared to three witnesses on a mountain. Could this be a description of what we now call alien abduction? The story becomes more intriguing when we read of the solitary death of Moses. He walked up into the mountains following the command of a voice he heard speaking from the Ark of the Covenant. When he returned from the place where he communed with this voice, his face glowed as if from radiation or sunburn. Then he disappeared. No one saw him again until he appeared with Elijah to talk to Jesus on the mountain. There the two of them stepped out of and were surrounded by a great light, with glowing raiment covering their bodies. Separated from its sacred context, this might indeed sound like an extraterrestrial encounter.
Golden Age Movements
Did Atlantis really exist? And if so, did Atlantians know something about God we have forgotten? Was there an "age of the goddess" ? Many New Age movements think so. For example, they are interested more in why Stonehenge was built than how it was built. Were ancient builders in tune with spiritual powers we need to understand today? Neo-paganism would like to see a return to a pre-Judeo-Christian/Roman age when people were supposedly more in tune with Mother Earth. An element of this kind of thinking appears in Judeo-Christian belief as well. Eden, was, after all, a "golden age" before sin entered the world.
Many other kinds of religious movements fall under the New Age category. Robert Ellwood and Barbara McGraw, in their book Many Peoples, Many Faiths, identify categories they label reactive movements, accommodationist movements, spirit movements, new revelation sects, import religions, and hybrid movements. They summarize these movements as follows:
Basic features of new religious movements are likely to be: a different but recognizable doctrine; a practice centered on a single, simple, sure technique or a creative group process and practice; a charismatic founding and leadership and/or an intense, highly demanding group. On the other hand, they may involve a diffuse type of influence that is not directly competitive with mainstream religion. In every case, though, a new religious movement must offer inner rewards sufficiently effective and convincing to compensate for a break with conventional faith.
Protestant religious movement that originated in the U.S. in the 19th – 20th century. It is characterized by a belief that all Christians should seek a postconversion religious experience called baptism with the Holy Spirit. The experience corresponds to the descent of the Holy Spirit on the twelve Apostles (Pentecost) and is evidenced by speaking in tongues, prophesying, and healing. Pentecostalism grew out of the 19th-century Holiness movement and shares its emphasis on biblical literalism, conversion, and moral rigor. The charismatic movement in Roman Catholic and mainstream Protestant denominations represents the same spirit. Today there are many Pentecostalist denominations in the U.S. and around the world, including the Assemblies of God. Penetcostalism has been especially successful in the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa.
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)
It was the birthday of the Christian Church. The believers had gathered together to celebrate the Jewish feast day of Pentecost, and reports of what happened spread throughout the city of Jerusalem and, later, the whole world. Peter delivered the first Christian sermon. Three thousand people were reported to have been baptized on that day. And more flocked to join the new movement, for "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
Skip now to the year 1906. The Methodist Church is sponsoring a revival meeting at the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles, California. Those who attended later reported that it was as if Pentecost had happened again. The people were gripped by a force that felt "like a violent wind"; "They began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." People were healed. People were converted. People felt they "were filled with the Holy Spirit."
Pentecostalism was born.
At first it was experienced in the rural south. Robert Duvall's brilliant 1997 movie, The Apostle, captures it perfectly. Pentecostalism was about revivals held in tents. There was singing, dancing in the aisles, and down-home preaching that was an art form in itself. Heavily influenced by the freedom of African American worship style, the preacher talked to the congregation, and the congregation answered right back. Not just the occasional "Amen!"-this was full-throated, throw-yourself-in-and-participate conversation. People moved. They were "slain in the Spirit," fainting dead away when the preacher put his hand on their forehead. No one looked at the clock. No one cared what time it was. The service was over when the Spirit stopped moving.
Pentecostalism is probably most famous for its practice of glossolalia, speaking in tongues. To outsiders, it sounds like gibberish-nonsense syllables. Sometimes it sounds like that to insiders, too. There is a difference of opinion as to what it means. To believers, it is often thought to be a heavenly language only God can understand. The Apostle Paul wrote about "tongues of men and of angels" (1 Corinthians 13). In other words, glossolalia is the language spoken by the angels in heaven.
But in the Bible it seems to be real languages that people could actually understand. On the day of Pentecost, for example, people had come together from many different countries to celebrate the holiday in Jerusalem. They all heard the Gospel proclaimed in their own language. Paul even put some boundaries around the use of glossolalia in the church. He said that when it occurs, only a few people should do it, one at a time, and not at all unless there is an interpretation given.
Some conservative theologians have theorized that "tongues speaking" was a foundational gift, needed at the beginning, to quickly reach a lot of people who would not otherwise have understood the apostle's language. So when the apostle Paul wrote, again in 1 Corinthians 13, "When the perfect comes, that which is imperfect shall pass away," he was saying that when the ability to provide translations had been perfected, as it has in our technological era, there would no longer be any use for the gift of glossolalia, and it would pass away.
But if that is the case, what is happening in Pentecostal churches when people speak in tongues today?
Well, say the doubters, it's just gibberish. Other religions do it, too. And there is even some clinical evidence that it can be learned and practiced until it becomes almost another language.
But believers disagree. There is no denying the fact that Pentecostal Christians believe glossolalia is a spiritual gift from God, proof of the "infilling" of the Holy Spirit. Some denominations do not even allow people to preach or become members until they demonstrate the ability to speak in tongues. It's proof that they have been both "saved" and "sanctified." Salvation is the first blessing. Sanctification, being cleansed by the Holy Spirit, is the second.
Pentecostalism has changed over the years. From the poor and rural South, it moved uptown in the charismatic movement and into mainstream denominations such as the Assemblies of God. But there are still parts of the country that look forward to the day the evangelist comes to town, sets up his tent or builds a "Holiness Temple," and invites them to "hit the sawdust trail," to walk down the aisle (usually consisting of sawdust spread on the ground under the revival tent) to get "saved" and "receive the blessing" of speaking in tongues.
Pow-wow is a North American Indian term with many meanings. It's difficult to translate directly into English because words represent thought patterns, and Indians traditionally thought quite differently from most Europeans.
Sometimes pow-wow means a holy person or shaman. Sometimes it refers to a tribal council. Often it refers to a ritual involving healing. Most often it refers to a celebration or ritual involving dance. The word conjures up community dancing, accompanied by the beat of drums and rattles and, usually, by singing rendered in the style modern musicologists have labelled "vocables," or ritualized chant.
Some of the customs practiced by Indian nations go back to antiquity and must be memorized exactly, so that an ancestor from a thousand years ago would know precisely what was going on. Many of the songs are said to have been taught by "First Man" or "First Woman."
Some pow-wows are held today for the benefit of tourists. Others are sacred religious services.
Europeans tend to sit in straight rows when they go to church. Indians dance. Europeans are used to being "preached at." Indians participate. Europeans are used to organ music. Indians prefer the throbbing of the drums.
I once asked an Ojibway elder how he was feeling. "Ninety-eight percent fine!" came the reply. "What would it take to fill in the last two percent?" I responded. "I'd have to hear the drums!" he said.
In October of 1650, a young preacher who had a brand-new vision for the church was arrested in England and brought to trial on the charge of blasphemy. George Fox appeared before the magistrates and was asked questions concerning his orthodoxy. He believed in God. He believed in prayer. He believed most Christians tried to do the right thing. But he also believed something had gone terribly wrong with the way God's church was being conducted. He spoke the truth as he believed God revealed it to him. The reality of the presence of God was such that the magistrates should "tremble at the words of the Lord." When God spoke to him and to those who followed him, they "quaked" in the presence of divinity.
Whether the term "Quaker" was coined by one of the magistrates or adopted by Fox and his small band of believers is a matter of debate. But the term stuck. To this day, those who worship with the Religious Society of Friends are nicknamed Quakers.
Fox never intended to start a new religion or Christian sect. He just wanted people to be in touch with God and experience the divine presence directly. To this end, the Friends didn't appoint ministers or establish ritual patterns of worship. God spoke to each person individually. You could never predict when the word of the Lord would come. Meetings consisted of sitting quietly and waiting for the voice of the Holy Spirit to make itself heard. Friends would gather together in silence. Nothing might happen for minutes, even hours at a time. But then someone would stand and speak what he or she felt God had lain on their heart. Quiet minutes followed, during which the assembly would ponder the message. Then someone else would stand and speak.
And so the meeting would continue. No minister worked out a polished delivery. No clergy stood between the congregation and God. Each person was expected, as instructed in Philippians 2:12, individually to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." There was no official creed or fixed set of doctrines.
The movement arrived in Boston in 1654. But the New England Puritans didn't want to be told they were stifling the spirit. They certainly didn't want to be told they were wrong in the way they conducted their church and its meetings. Quakers were persecuted, whipped, imprisoned, and run out of town. But they would not stop speaking what they considered the truth.
In 1672 the Friends received a real boost. William Penn, who counted himself one of their number, laid the foundation for Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia. Quakers gradually became part of the American mainstream. They preached pacifism as they always had, but it was mixed with a fierce sense of determination.
A wonderful story about peace-loving Quakers standing up for their rights concerns a Quaker who investigated the source of a noise in his house one night, only to discover a thief had broken in and was about to rob him. Holding his firearm firmly in his hand, he said to the intruder, "I would not harm thee for the world, my friend. But thee standeth where I am about to shoot!"
Quakers have been way out in front of just about every American cause concerning peace and justice. They were the first to permit women an equal part in worship. They were the first to protest the American government's treatment of Indians. They were the main force behind the Underground Railroad, helping runaway slaves find freedom in the North. They campaigned for voting rights, first for freed slaves and then for women. They protested the Nazi treatment of Jews before World War II and attempted to transport as many Jews as possible out of Germany.
Today the Friends have come a long way. They no longer dress in the familiar "plain" style made popular by the image on the box of Quaker Oats. They do not speak in the formal language of "thee" and "thou" as they used to. But they are still in the forefront of issues concerning peace and justice, still worship in the quiet style conducive to listening for the Divine Spirit, the "Inner Light," as they call it. And they continue to respect all religious perspectives.
During the eighteenth century many Christian communities, sects, cults, and denominations were formed, each with its own expressive way of interpreting the Gospel.
In Manchester, England, a group led by James Wardley broke off from a Quaker community because they wanted to practice a form of religious expression foreign to Quaker tradition. They believed in the ideals of simplicity and gender equality beloved by Quakers, but their services were often interrupted as members experienced ecstatic dance and trembling when filled with the Holy Spirit. Because of this habit, they became known as "Shaking Quakers." Understandably for the time, they were soon the objects of persecution and harassment.
One of the founders of the group was a young woman known as Ann Lee. During a long imprisonment she experienced a vision in which it was revealed to her that she was the Second Coming of Christ, the female component of "God the Father/Mother." Upon her release, "Mother Lee," as she came to be called, became the leader of the movement.
With a theology so radically different from mainstream Protestantism, the group, now called Shakers, were forced to immigrate to the United States, home of many diverse sects and cults. They arrived in New York City in May of 1774, gained some converts, and started a commune in Watervliet, New York.
Their timing couldn't have been worse. Persecution intensified, first because the Shakers were different, second because the bumptious Revolutionary War spirit so prevalent in America at this time was often directed at anyone who had recently come over from England, and third because the Shakers were pacifists.
They might have simply disappeared into history, forgotten like so many other small Christian cults, were it not for a religious revival called the New Light Stir that swept across New England beginning about the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Other independent but like-minded sects united with the Shakers, impressed by the preaching of Mother Lee, who traveled and taught extensively in the western portions of Massachusetts and surrounding states. She died in 1784 having accomplished what she had set out to do. The Shaker religion was now firmly entrenched.
It wasn't just due to Mother Lee, however. "Father John" Meachim recognized early on the attraction many people had for Shaker furniture, music, dancing, and books, all of which demonstrated simple design and flawless craftsmanship. These industries began to finance the organization and served as marketing tools.
And it was good that they did, because the only way the Shaker religion was going to grow was by making converts. They couldn't "grow their own" like other religions because they practiced absolute celibacy. According to Mother Lee, sex was a gift given only for reproduction. It constituted the original sin in the Garden of Eden. The only way to grow spiritually was to return to the uncorrupted state of Adam and Eve before they started fooling around with something God had intended only as a reproductive duty.
Needless to say, no babies have ever been born into the Shaker religion. That tends to keep the numbers down.
By the 1880s Shakers had peaked in terms of numbers. They became sort of a tourist attraction that "worldly people" could observe. Their furniture and music were certainly in great demand. Ironically, there may have been more complicated musical arrangements of the Shaker tune "Simple Gifts" than of any other song. No less a luminary than Leonard Bernstein tried his hand. But probably Aaron Copland's ballet music, Appalachian Spring, takes the prize for the most musically complex and embellished setting of a tune written to celebrate simplicity. On the other hand, thanks to Martha Graham's choreography, at least people dance to it. Mother Lee would have appreciated that.
But all good things come to an end. Industrialization caught the fancy of the American public, and mass-produced chairs soon replaced the handcrafted Shaker furniture so sought after today by antique dealers. During the twentieth century the Shakers retreated into small communities, cutting way down on their contact with outsiders. In 1965 the group decided to accept no new members. Only two small communities, one in New Hampshire and the other in Maine, now remain. A few new members were received into the Maine community at Sabbath Lake during the 1990s, but some original members refused to recognize them. So, very soon, the Shakers will have no remaining presence save for their historical legacy and museum displays.
The word "occult" means: "hidden from view; secret; mysterious..." (The Modern University Dictionary). It has been defined in the following ways:
1. Secret, hidden except from those with more than ordinary knowledge.
2. Involving the supernatural, occult powers. The occult [involves] the world of the supernatural, mystical or magical. (The Oxford American Dictionary).
"A person...who studies or practices any form of the "occult sciences" (such as divination, magic, mysticism, spiritualism, and so forth) is called an "occultist". (Gerina Dunwitch, A-Z of Wicca, p. 95).
Although many occult groups do tend to share in common elements of secrecy and exclusivism among themselves, it is useful to understand that not all groups which may be classed as "occult" are the same. This article will therefore seek to briefly identify and examine some of the main occult groups in existence today and highlight some of their primary beliefs.
Paganism - Contrary to popular belief, it must be stressed that Pagans do not worship the Devil*. Indeed, Pagans will normally throw their arms up in horror if a Christian accuses them of Devil worship.
Pagans tend to be folk who have a leaning towards nature and seek to harness the power of nature through various magical rites. Some, who may have had nominal Christian upbringings, rather than a life changing experience with Christ, may have become disillusioned with 'established religion' and as a result, have seen Paganism, or Witchcraft, as an attractive alternative.
Some of the Pagan groups in existence today include: Druids and Wiccans. Some groups tend to worship a female deity whereas others will worship a male deity of some description.
Wiccan's will normally class themselves as practicing 'white' witchcraft, and say that they do good. However, it must be stressed that white witchcraft can certainly lead a person down the slippery slope towards its black counterpart. The Bible does not draw a line between white or black witchcraft, but simply warns against practicing "witchcraft" (e.g. Deut. 18:9-14; Micha 5:12; Gal. 5:20).
Spiritualism (Spiritism) - The main practice, and attraction, for many people to the practice of Spiritualism, is the professed ability to contact the dead. Many Spiritualists are normally acting out of genuine motives, and feel that they are doing well by helping those who are grieving by putting them in touch with their departed loved ones.
Again, as with Pagans, Spiritualists do not worship the Devil*. In fact, many Christians are surprised when they encounter spiritualists who profess to be Christians themselves. This branch of Spiritualism labels itself "Christian" by meeting in a "Spiritualist Church", singing hymns at their meetings, and having such things as crosses and Bible's on display in the building.
However, although some Spiritualist churches are covered in a veneer of Christian trappings, this does not make Spiritualism compatible with the Christian faith. On the contrary, the Bible explicitly forbids attempted contact with the dead (Deuteronomy 18:11).
The Bible states that the dead do not have contact with the living (Luke 16:19-31), and that the messages which are meant to come from the dead are actually from deceiving spirit's who are familiar with the departed. Indeed, Isaiah 29:4 calls such a spirit a "familiar spirit" (KJV).
Satanism - It could well be said that Satanist's fall into three
Typical of the dabbler Satanist is the young white male who has become bitter against established religion and authority. Many will be into various rock band's and Gothic groups like Marilyn Manson and Cradle of Filth.
This category of Satanist will openly confess his or her interest in Satanism with the intent to shock others. Some in this category will establish a group of others around themselves. This was the case with the teenage gang "The Trench coat Mafia", who held to a brand of Satanism, and sadly took the lives of many other teenagers in their school. However, more often than not, most of those who dabble in Satanism tend to be loners.
Those who fall into the category of what I would call "The Theatrical Satanist" are those who hold to the teachings of the late Anton La Vey, who founded the First Church of Satan, in 1966 in San Francisco. Although Lavey's organization continues to grow, La Vey himself recently died. One of La Vey's claim to fame is that he is the author of the book The Satanic Bible. La Vey, like many of those who fall into the "dabbler" category seen above, made no secret of his involvement with Satan.
Many photographs of La Vey show him as wearing a black costume complete with horns. La Vey's followers are equally as open about their attachment to Satanism and are often heard giving the cry of "Hail Satan!" Surprisingly though, La Vey's brand of Satanism declares that it does not believe in Satan, nor God, as personal beings (although a few individual's in the movement may view Satan and God differently). Rather, La Vey taught that Satan stood for a symbol of man's darker carnal nature and believed that this nature should be harnessed and encouraged to grow. To La Vey, Christianity is an establishment of great bondage which seeks to enslave humanity into another system.
The most dangerous types of Satanists, however, are what I would call "The Professional Satanists." This particular group, unlike, those who merely dabble, and in contrast to La Vey's brand of Satanism, is a highly organized and secretive network of people.
Many will meet in Satanist temples which require absolute obedience from those who attend. Also, in contrast to La vey's church, those who fall into this category, do believe that the Devil really exists as a personal entity. For example, Former Satanist, Doreen Irvine was crowned as "Queen of the Black Witches" of all of Europe, prior to her conversion to Christ. She states in her testimony that there is absolutely no doubt in the mind of the Satanists that Satan actually exists. She explains that many times Satan would appear in the Satanist temple and in many different forms (see the book "From Witchcraft to Christ" by Doreen Irvine). Many of those in this group will also be involved in drug trafficking, child abuse and prostitution.
In conclusion it can be said that, Christians who want to communicate effectively about Christ to those who are engaged in occult practices, should understand the different categories of occult groups in existence. Doing so enables the Christian to be better equipped and prepared to speak more effectively and have more of a chance of gaining a hearing.
*It must be said, however, that Christians would point out that while Pagan and Spiritualist groups do not profess to worship the Devil as a personal entity, many of these groups are unknowingly getting involved with deceptive and harmful spiritual forces which stand in opposition to Jesus Christ.
For many the word Voodoo conjures up sinister images. Images of sacrifices, zombies, and curses. The truth is, this is only a small representation of Voodoo culture. A representation that Voodoo so wrongly deserves. Many of the worlds religions are full of good and bad, so why should Voodoo be looked upon as any different.
During the second part of the 17th century, regretfully the beginning of the slave trade, seems to have been when Voodoo was born out of a need and necessity. Many different African tribes such as the Bambara, Foula, Arada, Mandingue, Fon, Nago, Iwe, Ibo, Yoruba, it's people and beliefs were thrown together and forced to work amongst the plantations of the Caribbean Island of Haiti.
Being suppressed and often beaten by their unforgiving plantation owners, only drove the different tribes, and their belief systems together in unity. The practice of this new "religion" grew amongst the many thousands of slaves, and honoring the spirits and gods by dancing, chanting and performing magick amounted to a resistance, an escape from their constant beatings. Being caught practicing these "Pagan" ceremonies only resulted in server punishment handed out by those in charge. This only served to strengthen the belief in Voodoo, and forced it to be practiced in secret locations, hidden from the plantation owners eyes.
To try and demoralize the slaves from believing in the power of Voodoo, the Governors forced the plantation owners to have all new slaves who were bought to the island baptized, and instructed in the Catholic religion. This was the intention anyway, but after the baptism took place there was seldom any instruction in the Catholic faith. Many of the plantation owners would not even permit priests onto their land, fearing that they would see the cruel atrocities being handed out to the slaves. This only forced the practice of Voodoo further underground.
The slaves now began to play the plantation owners at their own game. They would practice Catholicism in front of them, and when their backs were turned, continue to perform Voodoo rituals and services. Slowly the slaves began to infiltrate their Voodoo beliefs and rituals into the Catholic services held in church. This was done by while publicly praying for the Catholic saints, they would be secretly honoring their own spirits and God. Now the plantation owners would even permit the slaves to light candles and 'Pray' openly.
Catholic beliefs and worship now became integrated into Voodoo, and for many this only served to enrich this new religion. Voodoo had come of age!
The God of Voodoo
Voodoo is a monotheistic religion recognizing only one God, not unlike Christianity. The God of Voodoo, Grand Maitre created everything, and so can destroy everything if he wishes to do so. He is so powerful and aloof that he cannot be contacted directly by humans, unlike in Christianity, but is reached through spirits called Laos. These spirits where created by Grand Maitre to intercede between the divine and human realms.
The Loa are also known as Mysteries and can be divided into three separate divisions. The Guedes, the Loa spirits representing death and the dead. The Rada, which are the more gentle among the Loa spirits, and the Pethro. The Pethro are the Loa that become angered easily and turn violent on occasions during the ceremonies.
The Loa can be male or female in form and represent many things. Some can be the forces of the universe, some the forces of nature, and some the spirits of departed family members.
The Mysteries can represent everyday life, from good to evil, life to death, Sexuality and reproduction, health and well-being.
These supernatural sprits number into the hundreds. Here is a short list (some with definitions), of some of the Loa spirits that are worshipped and invoked by the Voodoo devotees.
Adja: Loa of spring water
Agau: Very violent Loa and is associated with Earth tremors.
Agwe: Loa of the Sea.
Aida Wedo: The rainbow snake Loa.
Ayida: A mother figure Loa. Counterpart of Dumballah.
Bade: Loa of the Wind.
Baron Samedi: The Loa of death. Keeper of the cemeteries.
Bosou Koblamin: A Loa invoked during times of war.
Brise: A gentle Loa associated with the hills.
Clermeil: A Loa in the form of a white man. When upset causes rivers to flow.
Congo Savanne: A strong and fierce Loa who at times will eat people.
Diable Tonnere: Loa sprits of virgin women.
Diejuste: The kind and friendly Loa.
Dumballah: The serpent Loa. He is the most popular Loa to be invoked.
Erzilie: Loa of sexual love.
Gran Boa: Loa of wildlife.
Legba: Legba stands at the crossroads of life. He is a powerful Loa.
Linto: Loa of childishness.
Marasa: Twin child Loa's.
Marinette Bwa Chech: An evil Loa. A she devil.
Mombu: The Loa who causes storms and rain.
Obatala: The Loa of the sky.
Ogoun: A warrior Loa.
Siren & Whale: Loas of the sea.
Sobo: Loa of strength.
Sogbo: The Loa of lightning.
Ti jean: A Loa of black magic.
The Loa are invoked by the Priest or Priestess during ceremonies, and proceed to posses some of the individuals who worship. These individuals are called the "horse". The Loa act and talk through the possessed. The Practitioner of Voodoo believes that when he or she is possessed by the Loa, the human soul is replaced momentarily by the Loa. To go against the wishes and requests of the Loa is to risk the wrath of the spirit, and this could result in harm or even death to the believer.
The Priest and Priestess
The Priest in the Voodoo religion is known as the Houngan or Papa, and the Priestess as the Mambo or Manman. They are regarded as almost royalty with their religion.
It is their responsibility to not only lead the religious ceremony's but also to act as prophets, family and finical advisors, even doctors and magickians within the community.
If a Papa or Manman is unable to fulfill the needs and questions of the community they may consult with the Loa, seeking to further their knowledge.
The Papa and Manman are only held responsible to the Loa, and during religious ceremonies they speak directly to the Loa, taking power and wisdom from these supernatural beings.
The Oum'phor is a large area that can be both covered or uncovered. It is the holy of holies. The temple of Voodoo. The shape of the Oum'phor is based on the design of the Ark of the Covenant built by Moses. It should be noted that in the Voodoo tradition Moses was initiated into Voodoo, and was said to have gained much knowledge in its religious practices.
There may be many chambers within the temple, each dedicated to one particular Loa. If there is only one chamber it may have several alters assigned to each one of the Loas to be worshipped.
On the walls of the Oum'phor are hung veves with elaborate ritual designs
The Pe is the name given to the Alter stone used in Voodoo. It is square or rectangle in shape and is raised of the ground to about chest height.
Placed upon the Pe are items used in Voodoo and its rites such as, magick jars containing the spirits of people who worship Voodoo, rattles, bells ,drums and ritual jewelry, even books on the Occult.
Next to the Oum'phor is a roofed and partially enclosed courtyard called the Peristyle. The floor of the Peristyle is made of beaten earth and surrounded by a wall of about four feet in height. This wall is to allow spectators who are not properly dressed for the occasion, or who are not regular worshipers to witness the ceremonies and celebrations.
Contained within the walls of the Peristyle are seats or benches for the members of the Oum'phor to sit on.
A fire is kept constantly burning in the center of courtyard. Within the fire, and standing upright is an iron bar. This bar represents sexual desire.
The Peristyle is where the sick amongst the worshippers are taken to be healed.
The most important feature within the Peristyle is the square wooden post at its center. This post is called the Poteau-mitan, the wood of justice.
The post is usually set in to a stone circular pedestal. This pedestal acts as a alter on which sacrifices to the Loa are placed.
The Poteau-mitan is placed in the center of the peristyle as this is said to be axis of all Voodoo magic. The top of the Poteau-mitan represents the center of the sky, the bottom the center of hell.
A spiral design winds its way up the Poteau-mitan and is the image of two serpent Loa.
On the side of the Poteau-mitan is hung a whip. The whip is a symbol representing redemption and obligation to and from penitence, the mastery of Voodoo and the faith in its power.
Within the area surrounding the Oum'phour are trees that are used as a place of sanctuary for the Loa. These trees are often decorated or painted, and have areas to place lighted candles and food as gifts to the mighty Loa.
Ritual singing and dancing around these trees often takes place.
Veves and Ritual Flags, Veves are impressive ritual designs that are mostly traced or drawn onto the ground of the Peristyle or the Oum'phor, but they may even be put onto any of the ceremonial items being used.
The veves are representations of the astral forces and figures. The veves are drawn using a variety of materials such as wheat flour, brick dust, face powder and wood ashes. Sometimes even gunpowder.
Depending on the particular ceremony, and which Loa is to be called, depends on which type of material is used to draw the veve.
Each of the Loa's is represented by a colour, so flags are made and flown in the Oum'phor during the rites. These flags have designs drawn on them again to represent the Loa/Loa's being invoked.
When not in use the flags are placed against the Pe to renew their magickal energy.
Food for the Loa
During the ceremonies ritual food and drink is offered to the Loa. Each of the Loa spirits have their favorite foods.
The correct food and drink must be offered during rituals so as not to offend and upset the Mysteries, but to bring forth their power and wisdom.
While the ceremonies are being performed batteries of drums are rhythmically beaten to raise the magickal energy within the Oum'phor.
Each of these drums have a significant meaning within the ceremony. Most represent the Rada and Pethro Loa.
The Voodoo devotees who play the drums are called the hountorguiers, and are guided and watched over by the Loa spirit, Papa Hounthor.
Blood sacrifices, which are for the most part chickens, are used to increase the power during ceremonies.
The sacrifice is rubbed against all four sides of the Poteau-mitan, the center post. It is then sprinkled with alcohol before have its crop plucked. The sign of the cross is then made over the bird before and it's throat is cut. The blood from the sacrifice is then poured on, and around the center post, and onto the ground where a veve has been traced.
It is very rare for human sacrifice to take place, but unfortunately on occasions it has been known to happen. This kind of sacrifice is connected only to the black magic rites within Voodoo, and which are only practiced by very few Voodoo devotees today.
The practice of black magic rites only goes to make up for abut 5% of all Voodoo rituals. The other 95% being performed for good and healing purposes.
Voodoo is a very complex religion and much deeper in form than it first appears. It does not deserve to be painted as black and sinister, but allowed to stand side by side with other religions from around the world. When you look closely, and scratch the surface of other belief systems and religions that claim to be the " ONE TRUE RELIGION", Voodoo shares many characteristics with them.
Voodoo has not just been thrown together in some kind of mish mash way, but has grown and developed over time. Lets also remember that Voodoo has many "Catholic" beliefs incorporated into it's so called "primitive rituals and ceremonies", and many Catholic Saints are still worshipped by Voodoo devotees today. All too often in today's society if something is not understood it is frowned upon, and consequently mocked. Voodoo's darker reputation has not been helped over the years by its gross misrepresentation from within the world of film and media. Why do so many have a blinkered view of different religions from throughout our world. Who is to say which one of them is right, and which one is wrong? After all, each of us need something to believe in!
Popular understanding has it that Wicca, also known as witchcraft or the "Old Religion," dates all the way back to Paleolithic times, echoing goddess worship, sacred festivals, and holy places.
Those overtones are certainly heard in the twenty-first-century version, but Wicca today is really part of the neo-pagan, or "new pagan," movement. Many people have reacted strongly against the monotheistic, patriarchal organizations and institutions comprising Western religion. They have tried to rediscover a spirituality that connects humans to their environment, rather than separating them from it. They have tried to find the feminine face of the divine, rather than just the masculine.
In 1921 Margaret Murray wrote The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. It proposed that witchcraft was a remnant of pre-Christian religion, barely surviving many purges but still continuing in many disguised traditions that the church "baptized" and adopted. Christmas and Easter are only two examples of Christian customs loaded with pre-Christian symbols.
By the time witchcraft laws were finally repealed in England in 1951, the Wiccan movement was well entrenched. Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), considered by some the father of modern Wicca, had already published his novel, High Magic's Aid, based on his experiences with Wicca, and in the 1950s he followed with the nonfiction Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft. Also influential was Robert Graves's (1885-1985) The White Goddess, published in 1959.
Wiccans believe that all nature is sacred and that human beings, rather than being nature's rulers, are very much a part of nature. Typically, Wiccan worship revolves around the goddess, but both male and female attributes comprise the sacred presence. The goddess is pictured in three forms-maiden, mother, crone-and these forms are seen monthly in the phases of the moon as it waxes and wanes. The male horned god, lord of the animals, is also an important metaphysical deity, born each year at the winter solstice. In the spring he is the lover and mate of the goddess, but he dies each fall, symbolized by the cold and dark of winter.
Wiccans form covens, small groups of typically twelve or thirteen people who meet to celebrate rituals and festivals. A typical meeting consists of "casting the circle," or defining a sacred space; purification rituals involving the four elements of fire, water, earth, and air; and the use of sacred implements such as the chalice, wand, and blade. Participants engage the ancient power of the dance and chant to form a "cone of power," channelling the collective power of the group to effect healing or transformation.
Wicca has provided a much-needed avenue in which to recover feminist spirituality and a healthy antidote to patriarchy. Goddess worship, emphasizing the sacredness inherent in Earth and nature, has even been recognized by scientists who coined the term Gaia Principle, thus invoking the name of the goddess, "Mother Earth," to describe how things really work on this planet.
It is hard to know how many people practice Wicca today. The religion is, by design, not inclined to publish membership lists or hold annual meetings. But in 1993 the Parliament of the World Religions conference held in Chicago saw a very visible Wiccan presence. That presence sparked the formation of many more covens around the country. Many beginners are still feeling their way. It's not like there is a Wiccan manual to follow, though there has been talk in the Unitarian Universalist Association of training Wiccan clergy for military chaplaincy. But as experiences are shared and Wiccan wheat is separated from charlatan chaff, it is certain that the movement will continue to grow, develop, and gain acceptance.
English Folklore: Wicca
This Old English masculine noun meaning ‘male witch, wizard’ was curiously misinterpreted by Gerald Gardner's followers as an abstract noun meaning ‘witchcraft’, and is now the title of a modern pagan movement which is both religious and magical. It was founded by Gardner in the 1950s, who claimed it was an ancient cult preserved secretly by persecuted but benevolent witches; it combined worship of a horned and phallic god such as Murray described, with that of a universal goddess, who is now the chief deity. There are now many independent groups within the movement; most are polytheistic, revering gods and goddesses from many mythologies as aspects of a sexual pair of deities, but some feminist covens worship the goddess only. Rituals are linked to the seasonal cycle and the phases of the moon; prehistoric sites and places of natural beauty are greatly respected. A wide variety of magical and meditational techniques are learnt; altars, magic circles, consecrated tools, and ritual invocations are used (Hutton, 1999).
Witchcraft can be roughly defined as the power of a person to do harm or influence nature through occult means. It has been believed in by most known cultures. Indeed, the fact that belief in witchcraft and magic has largely been rejected in post Enlightenment Europe and North America could be seen as one of the distinguishing features of the cultures of those continents in modern times.
In its historical dimension, witchcraft is most familiar in the light of the period of the witch persecutions in western and central Europe, between 1450 and 1750. Gaps in records preclude precision, but the best current estimates suggest that some 40 000 people, perhaps 80% of them women, were executed for witchcraft between these dates. (The claim that there were nine million witch executions is now rejected as a wild over-estimate.) Witchcraft as a historical phenomenon continues to attract wide interest, and has also attracted a high degree of serious scholarly attention.
This interest and attention has created a plethora of approaches to and interpretations of witchcraft, but it is only very recently that these have overtly addressed issues related to the history of the body. Certainly, there has been a degree of interest in the medical aspects of witchcraft. Physicians were frequently called in to attend the suspected victims of bewitchment, and a number of them wrote tracts on the subject. Perhaps the most famous was Johann Weyer, court physician to the Duke of Cleves, who in 1563 published De Praestigiis Daemonum, a tract which, while not denying the existence of witchcraft, argued that most cases of supposed witchcraft were, in fact, the outcome of natural causes or of trickery. More recently, writers within the women's movement of the 1970s argued that the witch-persecutions of the late medieval and early modern periods were the outcome of an emergent male-dominated medical profession attacking female healers in general or, more particularly, midwives. This interpretation has been discredited, but the broader issue of the interface between medical practice and witchcraft remains largely unexplored.
Perhaps the key to placing witchcraft within the history of the body will be provided by the investigation of two sets of problems. The first of these is the question of the source of the power of the witch and where it was thought to reside; the second is the rather better documented phenomenon of the physical sufferings supposedly undergone by victims of witchcraft and, more particularly, of witchcraft-induced demonic possession.
Certainly, the research carried out by anthropologists on witchcraft has provided ample evidence of beliefs which locate the power to bewitch in the physical body of the witch. Perhaps the fullest description of this phenomenon came with a famous early study, E. E. Evans-Pritchard's analysis, based on three periods of fieldwork carried out between 1926 and 1930, on witchcraft, magic, and oracles among the Azande, a people living in the Sudan. The Azande thought, as did many other peoples in western and central Africa, that witchcraft existed physically as a substance in the bodies of witches. The exact details of this substance and its location varied, but it was most commonly held that it took the form of an oval brackish swelling or ‘bad’ that was joined to the edge of the liver of the witch. Thus proof that a person was a witch might take the form of a public autopsy of the suspect's body after death, performed in the presence of the deceased's relatives and, blood-brothers, and important members of the local community.
This type of evidence is less overt in historical materials, and at present much of the thinking on this range of issues remains speculative. It is clear that witchcraft was in some ways conceived of as a form of power which ran between the body of the witch and her victim, and thus notions about witchcraft in this period were connected with ideas about the body, and especially the female body. The medical theory of the day, with its attachment to the importance of humours, made it easy to see the body as a type of vessel in which there might be forces which could get out of hand, were the humoural balance to be upset.
Perhaps these forces were at their most unruly when the witch changed her shape, as many cultures believed was possible. Many early accounts of witchcraft touch on this (and there is the connected issue of lycanthropy, the form of witchcraft in which humans were supposed to assume the form and nature of wolves). It was a recurrent theme when, in the nineteenth century, folklorists collected tales of witchcraft. In England, in particular, it was still held at that time that witches were able to change themselves into hares. Other witchcraft beliefs demonstrate the importance of the body of the witch. The counter measures aimed at combating witchcraft often involved sympathetic magic that was aimed at hurting the witch physically. Perhaps the most striking example of this was the witch cake. This was typically made of some sort of flour (and sometimes other substances) mixed with the urine of the person supposedly suffering from witchcraft, and thrown onto a fire. The idea was that the process would cause unbearable pain in the urinary system of the witch, who would reveal her identity by coming to destroy the source of her discomfort. It was also widely held that the witch's victim would gain relief by scratching the witch on the face and drawing blood.
The body of the witch was meant to carry the witch's mark. This normally took the form of an excrescence or area of skin that was insensible to pain, or a supernumerary teat from which the witch's familiar spirit, which normally took an animal form, was thought to suck blood. Thus the body of the witch might be subjected to penetration by bodkins or needles as the insensible spot was sought, or to searches for the teat, which was generally expected to be located on the suspected woman's genitals or anus.
If the body of the witch showed peculiar manifestations, so too, on the evidence of some of the better documented cases, did the body of the witch's supposed victim. We have numerous descriptions of the sufferings allegedly caused by bewitchment, descriptions that, for the most part, await analysis by modern doctors or psychiatrists. These descriptions are especially rich, and the symptoms they record especially puzzling for the modern reader, when contemporaries thought the problem involved the possession of the body of the sufferer by demons sent into them by the witch. Many modern readers will be familiar with such celebrated incidents as the possession of a whole convent of young nuns at Loudun in France in the 1630s, or the crucial role played by a group of supposedly possessed young girls in the witch-scare at Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692. But these are merely two well-known examples of a phenomenon which was widespread in Europe in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. In England, for example, the possession of several children at Warboys in Huntingdonshire, which resulted in the execution of three witches in 1592, created a model of possession through witchcraft that survived for at least another century. The possessed demonstrated clear symptoms: convulsions, contortions, trances, vomiting of foreign bodies (notably pins), speaking with the voice of the possessing demons, and becoming unnaturally strong or unnaturally heavy.
Perhaps the deepest analysis of such possessions has been carried out by the historian Lyndal Roper, on sixteenth-century materials relating to the German city of Augsburg. Here the crucial issue was the changes in attitudes which the Reformation had created towards the relationship between the flesh and the spirit, with both Catholics and Protestants developing rival theologies of the body. Protestantism weakened the links between the physical and the divine, and therefore forced a revision of the theological understanding of the body. The exorcism of people thought to be possessed by demons, frequently at the instigation of the witch, therefore became an area of dispute between the two sides in the local religious struggle. The fact that most of the supposedly possessed were women added another dimension: the possessed women, as they contorted in their beds as a result of the attentions of male demons, bore strong resemblance to women lost in lust. Analysis of such cases, therefore, introduces medical, theological, and wider cultural attitudes towards the body through the inherently dramatic (and usually public) phenomena of possession and exorcism.