Full Text for The New Quest for the Sacred: The Witchcraft Craze and the Lure of the Occult (Text)

icience, The Bible, Evolution, Zreation, And The Flood RAYMONDF. SURBURG The Outside Limits Of Lutheran 2onfessionalism In Contemporary 3iblical Interpretation HORACED. HUMMEL fie New Quest For The Sacred: IXe Witchcraft Craze And The Lure Of The Occult RALPH L. MOELLERING I I kitsch1 And Pieper On Subjective ustification : A Comparison OTTOC.HINTZE he "Cry Of DerelictionM- ROBERT HOLST 1-ndex, Volume 35 The New Quest For The Sacred: The Witchcraft Craze And The Lure Of The Occult R-~LPHL. ~IOELLERISG IJisiting Professor at the Ct~irersit! of Frankfurt, Gertltatg, WHAT HAS H;lPPENED to the alleged triumph of secularity in American life? Only a few years ago religion nas pre-sumably in eclipse. In a scientific era what was once attributed to supernatural causes could be readily explained as "natural." >la-ture, self-sufficient men and women, we were told, had throlrn away their crutches of prayer and faith, and n-ere making their on-n decisions independent of any projected deity. Rebellious !outh, it mas said, had repudiated the church. "Irrelel-ant piety" was re-nounced by avant-garde seminaries and the public press heralded the "death of God." At the beginning of the Serenties, howe~er, religion seems to have made a surprising comeback. Or could it be that journalists and other commentators were misreading the signs of the times? Undeniably the "recover!- of transcendence" is now a major theme. "God talk" is fashionable again. Evidence multiplies that there is a new quest for the sacred. Perhaps nothing illustrates more clearl!-how drastic this re-~ersal in thinking has become than the shift of emphasis in the writings of the popular theologian Harvey Cox. In 1965 Cox nent into verbal ecstasies over the marvels of technolog!- and celebrated the joys of The Secular City. Religion was dismissed as a passing episode in the upbringing of humanity. Alan's profane and prag- matic attempt to build a better urban life in this present world was the all-absorbing and totally valid concern. In a remarkable about- face Cox has dropped his optimistic appraisal of the =hole seculari-zation process and his glorification of modernity to propose a "the- olog). of juxtaposition" which reflects on the tension dimensions in the collisions and contraditions of past, present, and future. Khat was once peripheral in his evaluation has now become festive de- light. In his latest book, The Feast of Fmls, Cox deplores the loss of IPestern man's earlier capacity for jubilation and fantasy. What is needed, he argues, is a rejuvenation of the faded faculty for mys- tical experience and imaginative expression. On every hand there are abundant indications that man is incurably susceptible to religious feelings and motivations. The re- covery of the categorJ- of transcendence among the intelligentsia is only the "high-brow" aspect of a new mood which is most acutely discernible in anti-intellectual gropings among alienated youth. Jacob Keedleman, professor of philosophy at San Francisco State College, has felt con~pelled to explore the wide spectrum of Oriental Sew Qzcest For Sacred: 275 religions which have appealed to so many young rebels on the \Test Coast. Repudiating the "tough mindedJ' anal!.tical appraisal of the esternal world as utterly devoid of purpose, these enthusiasts for change, Keedleman finds, embrace all sorts of Indian gurus and Eastern sages. In multifaceted ways strange to the Western mind these imported faiths seem to captivate the imagination of people who have ne\-er understood or appreciated their own Judeo-Christian heritage. The "lovers" of Rleher Baba, for instance, cultivate a sense of self-surrender to intuitive feelings in order to experience internal harmony. Practitioners of Subud join in a remarkable s iritual ex- ercise knor~n as the lntihnlr with the intention of subSuing one's "lon-er natureq-patiently seeking a state of receptivity for divine illumination. The adherents of Krishnamurti propose instantaneous self-observation to acquire a new and more profound comprehension of individual freedom. Even Tibetan Buddhism has made some in- roads in America, and the Zen Buddhism once associated with the beatniks of the 1950s has displayed an amazing I-italitp in continu- ing to gain converts. Amid all of the unrest and ferment of our troubled era, with our moral bankruptcy and spiritual emptiness, it should not per- haps be too surprising that ancient religions are moving in to fill the deserted spaces. \That is deplorable is that so much of this ani- nlatcd quest for sacred meaning bypasses Biblical truth and ignores or scorns reconciliation through an encounter with the Crucified and Resurrectcd Christ. IPhenerer people are tempted to love or trust in some human construct or resource more than in the Cove- nant God of -Abraham and the Father of Jesus of Nazareth. they become immediatel!-prone to violating the First Commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." In accord with its own subjective !-earnings the human mind has aln-a!-s been profusely productive in fabricating false ideologies and half-truths. Some-times, in a desperate attempt to evade a reckoning with the God of judgement and grace revealed in Holy Scripture, it will become susceptible to the most irrational absurdities and far-fetched super- stitions. As an integral part of the current revival of interest in the sacred, we witness not only a return to metaphysical speculation and a resurgence of Islam and Buddhism, but also an absorption in trans- mundane m!-ster! or anything which contradicts the presuppositions of our arrogant technoIogica1 age. An example ma!. be found in the way some college students hare been enchanted b!-the I Chijlg or Book of Cllanges, a common source for both Confucianist and Tao- ist philosoph!-. In this approach, so incompatible with the ration- cinations of .Americans and Europeans, ethical values are attached to oracular pronouncements. Zealots give credence to such niethods of attaining n-isdom because they know that long-accepted asion~s of causalitv have been shaken to their foundations b! the theories of modern ph!sics, and thev are now inclined to dismiss what we have hitherto termed "natural laws" as mere statistical truths and not ulti-mate knolvledqe. 113th such a disavowal of "scientific evidence" it seems plausible to turn to the ancient Chinese preoccupation with the fortuitous character of ever!-thing which happens. ll'hat has been called "synchronicity" assumes a peculiar interdependence of objective events even among themselves as well as with the psychic states of the observer or obserrers. Contingency, not predestination or divine governance, determines our fate. Thus something like the I Cl~ingversion of reality has an intense appeal for our unstable youth n-ho are out of step with the emphases of our own society. The most bizarre and inexplicable elements in the contem-porary urge to fathom the supernatural are to be found in ded worship, the witchcraft craze, and the lure of the occult. AIost popular, and presumably quite "respectable," are the flirtations with astrology and moderate forms of spiritualism. ll-ide publicity was giren to the tragic (some n~ould say pathetic) developments in the erratic career of Bishop James Pike (especiall!-the suicide of his son) n-hich induced him to seek consolation and contact with the departed through the ministrations of professional spiritualists. El-en more astounding are llelrs reports of worried American parents n-ho hare crossed the JIexican border to confer with wizards and charla- tans concerning the fate of servicemen in l'ietnain. An!-one sensitive to the vibrations moring through our youth sub-culture might have predicted this surge of interest in supersti- tion and the Satanic arts. The language of the hippies in Sail Fran- cisco has been loaded with magic phrases, and Ouija boards ha1.e sold briskly in l\IanhattanJs Greenwich Village. The musical play "Hair" celebrated the dawn of the Age of Aquarius. "Rosemar!-'s Baby," a norel and movie about witchcraft in a "quality" neighbor- hood of Ken. York, enjoyed considerable box office success on]!- a fen- years ago. ;\lost publicized and most disturbing has been the trial of Charles \[anson, where ritual murder, drug usage, sexual orgies, and all sorts of mumbo jumbo have combined to form an in- credible phantasillagoria which jolts all normal sensibilities. Earlr in 19 7 1 underground newspapers reported that seeress Sybil Leek mas making sensational predictions about public figures ("Richard Nixon [will be] involved in a major scandal that n-ill eliminate him from the 1972 presidential race . . . Jackie Onassis will make eyebrows arch with flamboyant behavior . . Recently."I. the Berkeley Repertory Theatre featured John lyhiting's pla!-, "The Devils," an episodic dramatization of alleged demon possession in- volving Ursuline nuns in France in the 1630s. lyith all of this contemporary furor over Satanism, it is not surprising that church historians have been stimulated to search for precedents and sources in the past record of TVestern Christen- dom. In the March, 1971 issue of Churclz History, Donald Xugent, associate professor of history at the University of Kentucky, pur- ports to perceive striking similarities between outcroppings of super- stition during the Renaissance and the ps!-chic aberrations which have become almost characteristic of our emerging sub-culture. In both periods, Nugent reminds us, there is an abrupt break with the existing value system and a profound sense of discontinuity. 17io-lence, apocalypticism, and severe Angst permeated the age of the Renaissance just as they agitate our world today. Side by side in both 277 Xelr Quest For Sacred: situations one finds the coarsest hedonism and the most ethereal mysticism. In extreme instances, both then and non-, irrational pro- pensities hal-e span-ned manifestations of the occult. '-4s Sugent elaborates on his thesis he amasses e~idence which indicates that certain common denominators are founcl almost uni- versally in witchcraft-medieval or modern. Usually the practice of carious types of diabolism involves a fusion of sexuality and power. Anton Lave?, the nortorious leader of a devil-worshiping "church" in San Francisco, reflects a common perspective n-hen he writes that "no one el-er pursued occult studies . . . n-ithout ego gratifica- tion and personal pon-er as a goal." Self-acclaimed n-itches have gen- erally relished the opportunity to manipulate and dominate their devotees. Concurrently, sexual licentiousness and escessil-e sensu- slit!-hare often accompanied the celebration of the Black Mass or other nocturnal rites conducted during clandestine gatherings in secluded cal-es. In the demonolatry of Lave!-, a naked n-oman is placed on the altar as an object of veneration. Blasphemy, egomania, and lascil-iousness seen1 to be molded together as an internal to-tality which hurls defiance at ever!-thing which has been treated as inl-iolable or considered hol!- in Christian usage. Some obserl-ers are convinced that witchcraft is more prel-alent in the 1970s than it has been at any time since the XIiddle Ages. Kugent offers estimates of 60,000 sorcerers in France, 30,000 witches in England. and 20,000 Satanists in the United States as unreliable but l~ossible figures. The nen7 ware of witches cuts across all of the strata of society. Sot only gullible illiterates, but also the sophisticated n-ealth!.. and occasionally the educated elite, are en-tranced by encounters with demonic supernaturalism. There are in- timations that extremists in the \vomenJs liberation movement find diabolical symbolisnl apropos for their assault on male chaurinisnl le.g.. I\-.I.T.C-.H., \\-omen's International Terrorist Conspiracy fro111 Hell, and S.C.C.11.. Society for Cutting Up AIen). Facetiousl!- per- haps. !-et significantl!-. members of 1Y.I.T.C.H. appeared on Hal-10x1-een, 1968. to lead heses against the Stock Exchange n-ith the declaration: ''you ha\-e a fiend at Chase Alanhattan." Another aspect of the current revival of the occult is the way in n-hich it is interwoven with the conspirac!- theories emanating from religious and political factions on the Far Right. The Tohn Birch Societv professes to detect sinister Communists lurking in the background .as devil-extolling cults are organized. Rock music, hal- lucinogenic formulas. and all kinds of weird perversions are asso-ciated n-ith Red-inspired plots which are presumably designed to de- moralize America. Aiizerica~l Opilziolzs for September, 1970 in- cludes extensive commentary on diabolism n-ith a photograph of "Satanist organizer -4leister Cronley, a sadist and homosexual, [who] corresponded with kc!-Communist Leon Trotsky to whom he of- fered his serl-ices." From Sew Haven, Connecticut comes Tlze Yale Strr~ldnrdfor the spring of 1971 with an escerpt from the'book, The Bible, the Sllllrr-llntlrl-a1and the !en-s bv 3IcCandlish Phillips. Ac-cording to this expos; of the occult under\vorld, invisible forces are presently at ~rork seeking to undermine our morale and cause degen- eratire changes in our society. Jews, in particular, are n-anled against experimentation with demonic spirits which can beguile them into chaotic misperceptions. For evangelical Christians who have ner-er ceased to beliew in the deadly potent? of Lucifer there mav be less astonishment at the present obsession n-ith magic and the black arts than among "eman- cipated" moderns who long ago relegated such absurdities to the ash heap of discarded anachronisms. The dimension of the demonic remains a grim reality because sin and decadence abound. Sadly enough we are prone to the most abhorrent practices imaginable when Christian faith is undercut and a vacuum of despair and dis- illusionlllent ensue. People in rebellion against God are susceptible to the blandishments of the Old Evil Foe. The Biblical imagery which portrays the devil as a "roaring lion" stalking across the earth in search of vulnerable prey is still all too appropriate. Even the Old Testament castigations of conjuration and thau- maturgy take on renewed and incisive meaning in a twentieth cen- tury setting where authentic faith in a God of redemptive love has often been repudiated or disregarded, and pseudo-religions have once again arisen which appeal to the urge to penetrate esoteric secrets and appease carnal ambitions. "Do not turn to mediums or wizards" is the admonition from the statutes of Lel~iticus, "do not seek them out to be defiled by them." \\'ith a stern caveat the Deu- teronomic Code forbids the "abominable practices" which the Lord God punished among the pagan nations. Fidelity to the col-enant requires that "there shall not be found among Ithe Israelites] an!--one 11-ho . . . practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer." The proscribed list of vices which dishonor the name of the Sov- ereign God is exhaustive. No compromise with the machinations of the Prince of Darkness is to be tolerated. In our reputedly en-lightened, but nevertheless benighted, "scientific" area such eshorta- tions against "spiritual wickedness" need to be repeated and re-emphasized. For a positive antidote to the "wiles of the devil" -subtle maneuvers and overt temptations-we can turn to the apostolic counsel addressed to the Ephesians and "put on the n-hole armor of God." Equipped with defensive and offensive rveapons (the breastplate of righteousness, the Gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spiritj. we can cope effectivel!. n-ith every exigency, including the lure of the occult n-hich has deceived the unwary in so inanv recent happenings. Above all, the person who confides in Jesus Christ knows that the final victory against the pon7er of hell has already been won. partook of our flesh and blood so that "through death He might de- stroy him who has the power of death, that is. the devil." (Hebren-s 2: 14.)