Occult bookstores, psychic readers, and herbalist witches have moved from the darkened woods and back alleys to Instagram. If you live in a decent-sized city, you’ve definitely noticed it. Throughout the sites and strip malls of North America, you’ve certainly seen the new, cool occultists selling their trade from dark storefronts or, increasingly, on social media.
Hipster occultists can even have the convenience of shopping Amazon and Wal-Mart for their idols, candles, and spells if there isn’t an all-organic store near them. In fact, social media is now spreading interest in the occult, leading to the creation of digital ritual spaces.
Depending on who you ask, this modern occult revival may have started in Brooklyn, or Toronto. Wherever it started, though, we now see it in our online and offline lives, oftentimes under the guise of new age “self-care”.
I don’t write any of this to spread fear or to cause alarm. Far from it! Vigilance demands sobriety and my goal is to show you the realities of today’s trendy occult, which includes a lot of con-artists. As the late Fr. Gabriele Amorth, a priest and exorcist, said of these professional magicians: “The majority, fortunately, are charlatans.”
Although the occultists selling their wares and crafts on Etsy or Twitch may be mere charlatans or actors, there’s still plenty of pitfalls for the curious. How does a Catholic fight against this trend? What can we do to bring Christ back to our children, friends, or even parents who get caught up in the demonic, supernatural, or occult?
Why a Modern Interest in the Occult?
There tends to be a heightened interest in magic and the occult during times of tribulation and uncertainty. As historian Malcolm Gaskill notes,
Political turmoil makes people feel that truth and reality are being undermined. And, ironically, in an upside-down-world the supernatural can be a source of stability
Jeffrey Russell echoes a similar sentiment: “interest in the occult has grown significantly in periods of rapid social breakdown, when establishments cease to provide readily accepted answers and people turn elsewhere for assurance.”
The news can convince you that we’re at the end of an age. The old assurances of community, politics, and economics are out of reach for so many of our youth. To say the least, the world is full of fear and uncertainty. Such fear, with a little curiosity, can quickly lead a soul to some strange places.
When you’re lacking economic means, a social circle, and any real spiritual foundation, trying a Tumblr spell to get money and friends might seem like a good idea. Some will even argue that its cheaper than therapy. It can start with something as simple as visiting an psychic or astrologer at a bookstore or local library. But it rarely stops there.
This picture of a desperate youth is familiar to nearly all of us. We shouldn’t excuse the poor decisions and wicked practices, but we should be moved to empathy and love for people who get caught up in this online world. Much like people who foolishly turn to internet pornography, they are often desperate, isolated, and likely the victim of a lie. Or, worse, they have let that fear and uncertainty lead them to being tricked by devils.
Additionally, you will often find people living with mental illness among occult practitioners. Some even use occult practices to attempt to alleviate or cure their mental anguish. This can be compounded by the fact that people who are “spiritual but not religious” are more vulnerable to mental health troubles.
Of course, most mentally ill people never go near the occult (eg, both the author and editor of this article) and mental illness is distinct from demonic interference. But, knowing who is taking up the occult at this time gives us an idea for how we can instruct and evangelize.
These are the times and people who feel powerless can be tempted to gaining power over their desperate lives any way they can. As the Catechism says, all occult practices “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.”
We all struggle with wanting to wrest power from God. We assume we know better than the Almighty and can lack trust in His divine plan. A budding occultist or Satanist may indeed start with a horoscope to know the future, but the need for greater power grows.
Finally, let’s be blunt: the Devil is a liar and liars target the desperate, along with the prideful and the naive. The serpent in Eden promised the powers of God to Adam and Eve. His script hasn’t changed much.
We must be spiritual warriors against the powers of darkness. But we can be saints, friends, mentors, and healers to those who are seduced by the darkness in their desperate times. Those who seek out diviners of the future may not have an evil intention, but they are still heading down a dark and harmful path.
Remember the Kavanaugh Hearings? As with so much of today’s politics, everybody took a side and the shouting was deafening. If you don’t remember it, you certainly can recall a political flash-point from the last few years that caused a media frenzy. In the noise of it all, some have turned to other gods to get their political way.
Political witches on the left are casting hexes on Judge Kavanaugh and ritually binding President Trump. Some fringe members of the right engage in “meme magic“. And with the revival of Nazism in some parts of the world comes the revival of Nazi Occult practices.
Once again, the goal is power. Now it is no longer power over their own chaotic lives but power over the political workings of their nation. Through the power of social media, more can be tempted to such dark ways.
What Can We Do?
First things first: “Do you reject the glamour of evil?”
Evil can seem attractive, especially when it has a cool, trendy hipster veneer. But we know where it leads us. So, as you did at your baptism, your first call is not just to reject evil, but even the seductive appearance of it. Then its time to reject Satan and all his empty promises.
As you continue to remember your baptism, you’ll find that the sacraments are the ultimate spiritual weapons. So get to confession, Mass, and communion as often as you can.
Obviously, don’t even have curiosity about divining the future. The Catechism states that God will give knowledge of the future to His prophets, but we must form an attitude that “consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it,” (CCC 2115).
If somebody in your life is tempted by the occult, or is even following the occult hashtags, you must begin praying for them. Especially ask St. Michael for protection and that the Holy Spirit guides you in any future discussions. Have confidence in Christ, but also have the prudence to not be caught up in or affected by their false spirituality. You might also need the prudence of a priest—please call or write one.
Finally, learn about the spiritual combat we are all called to. You may not have to evangelize any hip witches, but you will have to do battle with the sin in the world and in our hearts. There are many prayers you can learn and have at hand.
Our task is to grow in holiness, love our neighbor, and keep watch for the snares of the devil. Now that you know those snares can even lurk on a smartphone or in your mall, you can be vigilant. Through prayer, fasting, and charity, Christ can heal all of us and can even bring people back from the practices of black magic and satanism.
Have hope. Occultism might be trending online but Our Lord will be at our side until the very end.