2016-06-30
As Israel's King Saul was coming to the nadir, and indeed the end, of his reign, he paid a visit to the medium of Endor (1 Samuel 28:6). He did this only after "the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets." Saul knew mediums were forbidden by God, so he assumed a disguise and asked the witch to call up the spirit of deceased Samuel. This is of course ironic, because Samuel himself would have forbidden Saul to do such a thing-in fact, the story reveals that Samuel was none too pleased to be summoned. Witchcraft was wrong because Israel was to live by the Word of God, both in its written form and according to the living prophetic voice, in this case Samuel's.

Leviticus 20:27 says clearly, "a man or a woman who is a medium or spiritist must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own head." Equally emphatic is Deuteronomy 18:10-11: "Let no one be found among you who sacrifices a son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead."

Lest we think these texts are just examples of Old Testament stringency that we do not find in the New Testament, Paul condemns idolatry and sorcery or witchcraft, saying in Galatians 5:20 that no one who practices such things will inherit the Kingdom of God. Equally clear is Acts 19:19, in which Greeks who had practiced sorcery publicly burned their spell books and scrolls containing magical incantations, frightened by the evidence of the power of Jesus they saw in Paul and others.

The biblical tradition sees mediums and necromancers (those who call up the dead) as problematic because they seek special knowledge, usually of the future, from an inappropriate source-someone other than God, such as a deceased person or evil spirit. The Bible disapproves of people who fail to: 1) seek God's will in God's revealed Word; or 2) be satisfied by what they have learned from reading God's Word; or 3) accept the biblical God in favor of polytheism or other non-biblical forms of religion. This latter reason is why Paul associates sorcery of any sort with idolatry.

But what about astrology? Reading your daily horoscope is miles apart from true astrology. Consulting the stars to learn something about your fate or about the future has been going on almost as long as recorded human history. The basic notion that undergirds it is that somehow important future events are revealed in the stars, or that the heavenly patterns which existed on a person's birth date help determine their fortune, fate, character and personality traits. The ancients believed the stars revealed the divine will because they also believed the stars were themselves beings--the heavenly hosts, angels, and the like. They did not view stars as inanimate matter in the sky that somehow controls earthly relationships or events. Ancient astrologers were polytheists who believed that some of the beings they worshipped could be seen in the sky at night, and so could be studied, and the will of the gods could be discerned.

Why the Bible doesn't mention tarot cards. Read more >>

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  • In the Greco-Roman world, astrologers were placed in the same league with those who examined sheep livers to see if the day was auspicious for doing one thing or another. This was called augury, and sometimes it also involved watching the flight of the birds, or the behavior of other animals. Again, the idea was to get some sort of forewarning about what the future might hold. From the point of view of ancient Jews and Christians, this was unnecessary because: 1) there was only one true God and 2) God had made perfectly clear in the Scriptures what his will was for the past, present, and future, and also what he required of human beings. In fact, both ancient Jews and Christians thought such practices reflected lack of faith in the true God at a minimum and idolatry at a maximum. Almighty God, not the stars, was in control of the universe, including the world of human affairs.

    The Bible has nothing to say about Tarot cards for the very good reason that they did not exist in biblical times. But the judgment about them would surely have been the same as on these other forms of 'consultation.' Tarot involves seeking personal information which one should seek only from one's Maker and from the revealed sacred texts of that Maker.


    There are some wise words in the Catholic catechism which deserve to be quoted here:

    All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future. [Cf. Deuteronomy 18:10; Jeremiah 29:8] Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

    All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others--even if this were for the sake of restoring their health--are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.
    The bottom line is that Christians should trust God, pray to God for answers, search the Scriptures for answers, and ask questions of mature and wise Christians. They should ignore the illegitimate claims of people who allege that they know things they either do not really know, or only have learned through nefarious means that reflect a lack of trust or belief in God. God has revealed enough about the future in his Word to give us hope, but not so much that we do not have to live by faith.

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