With fascination growing for the occult, cinema queues growing for spine-chillers such as the ‘Twilight’ series, ‘Resident Evil’ and World War Z, and hit series such as the Walking Dead, Supernatural etc, spiritistic themes are providing juicy pickings for the entertainment industry.
But is there any basis for believing in the ‘undead’ or the ‘after life’? Are films that feature spiritism in its myriad forms suitable for the young and impressionable? In order to find the answers, we first need to trace the source of such beliefs, to find out whether there is any foundation for them.
Cue Ancient Babylon, home of Nimrod and many uncanny practices still in use today. Fortune-telling, omen-spotting, entrail-reading, runes, star-gazing and communing with the dead all have their roots in this magic-obsessed city. (Incidentally, Babylon also invented the fiscal system, which, considering recent history, some may regard as the ultimate nightmare!)
Ironically, atheists’ refusal to believe in a separate, invisible soul is backed up by scripture. Here, death is clearly shown to be a state of total unconsciousness, a dreamless sleep from which, according to several Bible verses (particularly the Lazarus account) people will ‘awake’ to a physical resurrection when paradise is restored on earth.
The Mosaic Law did not allow for any form of spiritism whatsoever - in fact it was forbidden on pain of death for the nation of Israel - and it wasn’t until Greece began to stride the world stage that afterlife philosophies began to take root.
In the fourth century CE, the Roman Emperor Constantine, unable to quell the rise of Christianity by other means and determined to unite his empire, cunningly infused original gospel teachings with pagan beliefs such as the immortality of the soul, the trinity doctrine, and – that most terrifying concept of all – eternal hellfire! The Biblical word rendered as ‘hell’ in many versions simply means ‘grave’ or ‘death’. (Hebrew - sheol; Greek - Hades)
Constantine’s ‘miraculous conversion’ marked the beginning of the Holy Roman Empire from which the rest of Christendom developed, combining Bible accounts with Babylonish rites and practices while keeping generations of adherents in ignorance. The Dark Ages had truly begun and the Bible was unavailable to the majority of people until the 16th century when William Tyndale translated the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into English. His aim - for ‘even a plowboy’ to understand scripture - was not appreciated by the church; hardly surprising as, from the Vatican to house churches, Christendom has done more than any other organisation to promote spiritistic practices. According to one spiritualist I met some years ago, “the church already preaches life after death – all mediums do is prove it!”
What harm does it do? Well, for one thing, the whole concept of life after death is a cruel deception, especially for people who have lost a loved one. Believing they can communicate through a spiritualist medium can lead to all kinds of fraud and extortion; even if the medium is basically well-meaning, it can still open the floodgates to a very dangerous world.
One particular form of spiritism – now available as a game! – is the Ouija board, regarded by many as a bit of harmless fun. Others, however, no longer share that view. While at university, John*, a close relative of mine, was persuaded to attend several Ouija board séances by a neighbouring couple. At first, the spirit seemed friendly and jovial but over several weeks, it became more sinister, prompting John to avoid these sessions. He was reminded of them sometime later when watching a movie about demon possession: “The first scene showed people playing with a Ouija board,” he explains, “What really scared me was how closely the spirit portrayed in the film mirrored the one conjured up by the couple at my student digs! Afterwards, I couldn’t sleep for weeks thinking how close I’d come to having the same horrific experiences. There’s no doubt the movie played on my mind and had a very negative, frightening effect.”
Such negative feelings are common in those who dabble with spiritism, sometimes even resulting in serious mental illness as the unwary are drawn into darker and darker practices. (Apparently, John’s former friends eventually joined a coven).
Fascinated with fortune-telling, Mary* began visiting a psychic to gain insight into the future. Dissatisfied with her safe but dull husband, she believed the psychic’s prediction that a special man would into her life – prompting her into a divorce, a disastrous love affair and a life of poverty for herself and two children. It was only after a particularly harrowing session to which she’d been invited that she finally came to her senses, realising how deep her obsession with the occult had become.
Others are not so fortunate, developing paranoia or psychotic symptoms, hearing voices, and suffering night terrors with horrific dreams. In many countries, the occult is particularly rife with of voodoo priests and witches threatening curses or spells in order to bend others to their will. Fear of vengeful spirits has caused many to be forced into drugs, slavery and prostitution. For example, women taken as sex slaves from Nigeria to Europe are forced to take ritual oaths at juju witchcraft shrines, ensuring their obedience to traffickers who prey on a profound fear of punishment from spirits. Another serious problem is the torment inflicted upon so-called 'Witch Children' with cruel exorcisms which result in injury and even death for innocent youngsters.
So much suffering could be so easily avoided if only people knew the truth. That’s why care should be taken with the kind of entertainment we choose. If it promotes spiritism, it could create a chink for unwelcome and unwholesome forces.
*Not their real names