Is there such a thing as a harmless preoccupation with the occult? Do astrology and pseudo-religions really pose a spiritual danger to the believer? Recent news reports, for instance, have highlighted a popular game called “Charlie Charlie,” in which a cross of pens or pencils supposedly creates the communication bridge between this present age and the spiritual dimension. Called Juego de la Lapicera for years elsewhere, the players pose questions to the spirit world. Whether a Ouija board or astrologer’s prediction, what all of these pursuits have in common is a desire to increase personal knowledge beyond the natural limitations of the human mind in order to uncover hidden secrets that will somehow benefit us. Unlike prayer in which requests may be offered up to God, the occult seeks to remove God altogether from the communication. The best one can hope for is that the prayer is going nowhere, but, sadly, other forces may take advantage of the opportunity.
Speaking of secrets, let’s look at The Secret a moment as an example of this kind of misguided thinking. Popularized by the likes of Oprah Winfrey, this movement teaches its followers that the power of the universe can be tapped into like a plug inserted into a home’s electrical outlet. It begins with what some people might call the power of positive thinking—pretty harmless stuff in its day—but from there it teaches that we can attract good things and prosperity to ourselves like magnets attract iron. The corollary to this, of course, is that we are at fault if we encounter sufferings in this life. What a terrible lie to tell the naïve: your sufferings are your own fault, and there is no redeeming value or worth to hardships. This line of thinking also enables people to remove themselves from helping or having compassion for their neighbors, since it suggests that individuals are ultimately responsible for the pain and suffering encountered within their lives. False beliefs like this are a dangerous thing—especially when the lie is cloaked by a bit of truth, as in the case of The Secret and the concept of positive thinking and attitude.
Paragraph 2116 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church instructs us, “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. 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.”
Why, then, do so many seemingly intelligent Catholics (and Christians of other traditions) fall into the trap of believing and promoting false and spiritually harmful beliefs of this nature? Astrology, in particular, has done an excellent job in covering its spiritual tracks. It seems to be viewed by many as a way to enrich spiritual and intellectual worldviews, yet it’s danger has been pointed out time and time again by the Fathers of the Catholic Church--from Saint Augustine to Tertullian. It has no business in the life of a Christian. Saint Augustine observed the following concerning astrology in Confessions.
…I turned my thoughts to those that are born twins, who generally come out of the womb so near one to another, that the small distance of time between them— how much force soever they may contend that it has in the nature of things— cannot be noted by human observation, or be expressed in those figures which the astrologer is to examine that he may pronounce the truth. Nor can they be true; for, looking into the same figures, he must have foretold the same of Esau and Jacob, whereas the same did not happen to them. He must therefore speak falsely; or if truly, then, looking into the same figures, he must not speak the same things. Not then by art, but by chance, would he speak truly…
North, Wyatt; St. Augustine (2012-02-27). The Life and Writings of Saint Augustine (Kindle Locations 3965-3972). . Kindle Edition.
Astrology claims to identify a system by which human behavior can be influenced and predicted by the movements of the heavenly bodies. Saint Augustine uses the example of what we commonly know of twins to highlight one dimension of error in this thinking. If astrology were accurate, identical twins would be as identical in behavior and temperament as they are identical in physical features. We know, however, that this assertion is nonsense. In only few sentences, then, Saint Augustine attacks the central premise of astrology and lays bear its foolishness for all to see.
After all, astrology isn’t so much about increasing knowledge as it is an effort of man to become more like God in power. This brings us straight to the sin of pride. When we dabble in or seek to learn from the occult—from Ouija boards to astrology—we are opening doors to dark powers that are beyond our understanding. This means we are, at the very least, pushing God away from our hearts and our lives. Instead of looking at the stars for predictions of future human events, we should focus upon “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” Look to Christ first, and you will recognize that the answer is not in the stars.
Special thanks to Catholic Answers for their wonderful resource page on astrology.