Throughout our history, the occult has held a misty fascination for the human mind. One no longer has to seek it down dark alleys, however; I was walking through my local mall recently, and was rather taken aback to see the lobby full of small tables set up for consultations with psychics. I stared for a moment at a young blonde woman sitting at one of the tables, in the modest, hospital green shopping centre of our quiet town of retirees, being told her future.
Around the same time, I happened to be taking my lunch break with three other women, two of whom are fresh out of college, the third a generation older (call them Betty, Susan, and Jane) and found myself in the middle of an unexpected conversation. Betty, full of vivacity, was fresh from just such an experience—she had gone to visit a psychic. It had cost her $60 and taken about half an hour. Eager to tell us all about it, she had been totally convinced that the psychic was authentic, and felt elated with the affirmation she had received. The psychic, Betty declared, had known all about her, details of her life that Betty had not indicated or said. For instance, Betty had pulled a tarot card:
“Are you a student? This is a student card.”
“Are you taking any classes right now?”
“Well, yes, actually. I am taking a cooking class.”
Enough— Betty’s confidence was won. And understandably, for the human heart longs to be known and understood.
The psychic told Betty that someone owes her an apology. In fact, Betty had recently been dumped, without explanation, by her boyfriend of almost two years. The wound has yet to heal, and an apology would be a welcome thing.
Respecting this past relationship, the psychic told Betty that “the door” was not totally closed; perhaps something may still happen to bring the two together again, but there was no way to guarantee anything. Again, an encouraging thought. That young man had meant a lot to Betty.
At the conclusion of the half hour, the psychic assured Betty that she was on the right path, that she was doing well, and that she could only go forward from here. Betty was thrilled, bolstered, and, though she repeatedly said, “It was so creepy!” she left the psychic feeling affirmed in her identity and purpose.
As the conversation in the lunch room progressed, it became clear to me that the question, “Would you do it?” was circulating around the table. My stomach gave a leap.
Susan, whom I would put in her early fifties, communicated that she had been to a psychic numerous times; it was old hat to her; she gave no details, only generally agreed to the credibility of the experience.
Jane, on the other hand, did not hesitate to say that she would not go to consult a psychic. I was surprised, for the young woman has no religious background. Nevertheless, Jane declared that she would not pay $60 to consult a psychic. “If I was at the mall with friends and it only cost $10, I could probably be persuaded.” Everyone laughed at that. “But isn’t there something evil or demonic about it? I’ve been reading this book….”
Betty and Susan protested that psychics are certainly not evil.
Now Jane looked straight at me and asked, “Would you?”
“No,” I shook my head. Should I explain why? Am I capable of such an explanation? Is there a chance the seed might fall on fertile ground, or would this be a case of throwing pearls after swine? It was a timeless moment. Here, at a round table in a lunch room with fluorescent lighting and no windows, four women of diverse backgrounds are arrayed two against two in a question of ancient interest.
There was a pause in the conversation, and then Jane returned to the subject of her book, explaining that the heroine was pursued by a man with psychic powers which he was using against her for his own evil purposes.
Is there not something wicked about psychics? Why does traditional social law shun the occult? Can we say something is evil, or is it really all relative?
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are three incisive paragraphs, numbers 2115, 2116, and 2117, under the heading “You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me”, that define the Church’s teaching on divination. One can learn in very short order that, though “God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints” (2115), “[a]ll forms of divination are to be rejected” (2116). The heart of the matter is that to consult a psychic or astrology or tarot cards—“even if this were for the sake of restoring…health” (2017)—is to commit the sin of Adam and Eve once again: It is to grasp for knowledge that gives the promise of power over one’s life, which, in our world, means the freedom of self-determination. We see symptoms of this desire to such incredible extremes—to the extent that people use technology to change their gender, their appearance, and to push death as far away as possible. In Pope Benedict’s book Truth and Tolerance, he states, “Basically, what clearly stands behind the modern era’s radical demand for freedom is the promise: You will be like God” (p 247).
Returning to the lunch room and my three companions, is there something wrong about consulting a psychic?
“Well, I guess it depends on what you believe,” Susan qualified.
Jane wanted something more concrete. She asked me again directly, “What do you think?”
“From what I understand, the reason going to a psychic is wrong, whether the psychic is real or not, is that it shows a lack of faith that a greater Power is taking care of you. It means you are trying to take your life into your own hands, instead of trusting in Providence.”
The Catechism puts it very nicely: “[A] sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future” (2115). When a person with a secular mindset, such as my friend Betty, seeks guidance for her life from a psychic, she is acting on her innate human instinct for religion, though sadly missing the mark. She intuits that there exists a greater authority, but, rather than submitting to it, she strives to put herself in its place by way of knowledge, specifically, knowledge of the future.
The virtue of religion disposes us “to render to God what we as creatures owe him in all justice” (CCC 2095). When this virtue, which is part of our anthropological make-up, is misdirected, it becomes irreligion or superstition, and it puts up blinders and barriers between the soul and God, creature and Creator, child and Father. True religion, on the other hand, binds us closer to God, so that we come to resemble him through the transforming power of love. This is the essential difference between Satan’s lie, “You will be like God,” and Jesus’ affirmation, “I no longer call you servants…but I call you friends” (John 15:15).
The sickly illusions offered by the occult evaporate when they come into contact with the light of hope founded in confident love of God, and faith based in God’s promises. It is not by knowledge of the future that we become like God, it is by grace and inscrutable mercy.