Psychology and the Occult
“Meditation, if properly understood and taught, is a powerful complement to the biopsychosocial model of psychiatric treatment” - Joseph Arpaia, M.D., (2000)
The newest literature of psychology and psychiatry is replete with references to the beneficial effects of meditation in its various forms on the psychological well being of patients. What is called meditation includes within its scope various forms of occultism, ranging from Yoga to Rebirthing, mantra repetition (often described as “concentration meditation,” which supposedly blocks out negative thoughts), and “open meditation” which “allows one to keep one’s awareness on whatever changing phenomena arise in the mind, thus lowering psychological defenses to formerly repressed material.” (Boorstein, Seymour, Clinical Studies in Transpersonal Psychology, 1997) These methods are often accompanied by breathing techniques, and in some of the more radical of psychological circles, even the use of psychedelic drugs, though of a natural variety so as to somehow assure us of their safety. What characterizes these efforts is that such techniques, drawn from various occult and religious traditions, are used in a setting that fails to acknowledge or explain their origins, and which pose a spiritual, moral and ethical dilemma for the Christian patient and practitioner. This is not to deny their apparent therapeutic value in certain situations, but to point out that their use is in many cases similar to the symptomatic relief of a cancer patient without truly treating the underlying disease, and which introduce individuals to spiritual practices not in harmony with the Gospel, all under the guise of therapy. Therapeutically these occult methods may relieve some of the psycho-emotional symptoms, but at the same time exacerbate the underlying condition, which continues untreated. Instead, prayer should be offered as it truly aligns the constituent parts of man with their Source (God), leading to healing.
The fundamental reason for the use of occult approaches in psychology is that the average therapist, having no basis in biblical theology and Christian approaches to prayer and contemplation, and almost certainly an operative relativist as well as an Atheistic Naturalist, has a different concept of the nature of man - what man is. Indeed many have the view that we are nothing more than a highly evolved animal, while others have a more theosophical or New Age approach that seeks out Eastern “wisdom” and it's view of man in a misguided attempt to heal, all to the exclusion of Christianity, which is viewed as inherently repressive, and therefore somehow insufficient to meet the therapeutic needs of a patient. Generally, most atheistic/humanistic therapists will view man as being of two parts: mind (psyche) and body. For them health is a holistic approach to the healing and integration of these two parts. If one has this Descartian view of the duality of mind (psyche) and body, such techniques will inevitably be applied to the psyche (and in part to the body, as in yoga), and be thought of as therapeutically beneficial. However, Christianity, while it can accept this view of man in the basic sense, also maintains that above both body and psyche (which includes our thinking and emotive processes), there is in man a soul, a spiritual center, which is of divine origin. This fact, coupled with the fall of man from a higher original state, demonstrates why we are often at contention with the so-called "inner self". This apparently allows Paul to say that there is a law in his members as opposed to the law of the Spirit. (Rom. 7:23) If this is true, any therapeutic effort towards healing must take into consideration not only the body and the psyche, but also the soul and it's absolute need for communion with God as part of the wholistic healing process. One of the purposes of Christian prayer, over and against occult techniques, is to do just that by integrating man as a whole, connecting mind, body and soul to the ultimate Source of wellness- God.
Secular psychologists may be uncomfortable with the concept of a soul, but experience tells us that there is in every person a supra-individual self which goes beyond the classical super-ego category, and indeed, it is clear to the Christian that one’s problems may revolve around an inability to resolve conflicts between this inner self as it seeks it's Source (God), and the negative desires and thoughts that arise in their psyche as a result of sin and the separation from God it brings. The only hope of bringing happiness and contentment to the patient is to properly align these three components, the Soul, the Psyche and the Body in such a manner that what is “higher” controls what is lower. In simpler terms, if the body runs the show- gluttony or sexual drives for example- then chaos results. Similarly, if anger, greed or the other passions are the center of one’s life, chaos once again reigns. Only if the Holy Spirit informs the psyche (as part of the indwelling presence), and the psyche in turn the body, is there any hope of healing. Though it must be added that it is not just a matter of aligning these constituent parts of man to their Source. They must be aligned to some purpose. In this respect one of the purposes of prayer in psychology is not just to create a contented couch potato, blissful in some Eastern mystical way, but rather to align these components for a higher purpose - namely to know, love and serve God and our fellow man - and not simply in some internal vague way, but also an external vibrant way.
The fixation on occult methodologies like meditation does not arise from a vacuum, but reflects the thinking of some of psychology's most notable pioneers. Carl Jung is a good example of this. Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, was very much immersed in occult philosophies and methodologies. Richard Noll, a clinical psychologist, explains Jung's occultism in his book The Jung Cult (1994). Noll exposes Jung's fascination with and exploration of the German neo-paganism and occultism of the last century. Through his occult practices Jung claimed to contact various spirit entities through the use of creative visualization, a common occult practice in New Age circles. Perhaps the most influential of these entities on the life and thinking of Jung was one he named Philemon, who was Jung's “spirit guide”, who influenced Jung's approach to psychology. Noll writes that Jung claimed to have gone through an initiation into an ancient Hellenistic mystery religion “and had even experienced deification in doing so.” In fact, Jung's 1902 doctoral dissertation was on occultism. And as is expected, Jung had a very negative view of Christianity. He wrote of the experience of receiving communion: “Slowly I came to understand that this communion had been fatal experience for me. It had proved hollow; more than that, it had proved to be a total loss. I knew that I would never again be able to participate in this ceremony. “Why, this is not religion at all”, I thought. “It is the absence of God, the church is a place I should not go to. It is not life which is there, but death.” (C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams and Reflections, 1963, p. 55)
The practice of occult oriented meditation as understood by secular psychologists is, oddly, not necessarily deemed to be connected to what is spiritual, though the word may be used to loosely refer to emotional well-being. For the secular psychologist, it is merely one useful psychological technique among many to bring about a sense of wellness, regardless of the fact that the techniques draw from a spiritual tradition. Indeed, it can be fairly said that the use of such occult techniques introduces a spiritual life to the patient, alebit one not compatible to a healthy spiritual, and therefore psychological, life. Of course, Christians cannot agree with this approach. For the Christian the fact that one may feel better is not the issue. Though Christian theology informs us that spiritual life does not aim at making us feel better (indeed there are times where it can makes us quite uncomfortable), this of course may be one of its results. The Christian spiritual life, which aims at transforming the individual, has as its ultimate aim the sanctification of the individual. This is not, of course, an easy process. Only the temple of God can receive God. That is, a soul predisposed by grace and faith, grounded in a relationship with Christ, solid in orthodox doctrine, not indulging in willful sin, transformed in the Holy Spirit, and established in godly virtue. This requires more than individual effort because our natural instincts, as a result of our self centeredness, are fixed upon the things of this world. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit and proper Biblical accountability, one cannot hope to interrupt the self centeredness which drags us down and prevents our healing. This is one of the problems with occult oriented psychological therapy. These techniques largely promote a self will, self healing and “power of the mind” approach that ignores the need for divine guidance. This is not to suggest that our will plays no part in healing, but that our will must be subordinated to that of God and informed by His Word.
The fragmentary nature of these occult spiritual practices previously mentioned, is not without significant spiritual dangers. One hears little of the psychological or spiritual consequences that people experience who become deeply involved in New Age and occult practices, such as repeating mantras, the meaning of which practitioners almost never comprehend, to say nothing of the possibility of self-hypnosis with consequent delusions. The emptying of the mind as advocated by some clearly allows for negative forces (demonic entities) and influences to enter and dominate the thinking of those who engage in such activity. The fact that there may be some short term psychological benefits in no way changes the possibility that such individuals can be demonically influenced to a greater degree than normal temptations. Of course, these same secular psychologists would deny the existence of a soul, never mind the demonic, judgment, hell and eternal suffering.
What is meditation? Webster's Dictionary defines meditation as "to keep the mind or attention fixed upon" something. It is defined by the Catholic Encyclopedia as "a form of mental prayer consisting in the application of the various faculties of the soul, memory, imagination, intellect and will, to the consideration of some mystery, principle, truth or fact...." This is an adequate definition from the Christian perspective. As many New Age techniques are drawn from Hinduism, we will look briefly at the Hindu approach to these techniques and what they are really designed to do. The word dhyana is used for meditation in the Hindu tradition, and the literal meaning is "concentration." It should of course be remembered, that the Catholic Encyclopedia says, "the control of attention is the vital point in the education of the will." This gets to the heart of Christian meditation, which is the study of God's Word with the goal of allowing it to speak to us on a personal level, transforming our lives with the goal of sanctification in mind. Hinduism however has a very different definition. Swami Sivananda tells us "it is a continuous flow of oil. All worldly thoughts are shut out of the mind. The mind is filled or saturated with Divine thoughts, Divine glory and Divine presence."
While a Hindu would have no problem accepting the definition of meditation in Christianity, the Christian cannot embrace that of the Hindu, as their definition carries a very different meaning regardless of how it might sound compatible. The techniques themselves demonstrate this definition is antithetical to that of Christianity. Take for instance the repeating of a mantra. Most mantras are based on, or include the repetition of, the name of one of many Hindu deities. The purpose is not to understand God's will and be guided by the Holy Spirit on the journey of sanctification, but rather to assist the occultist in being permeated with the essence of the false deity's name which, as it vibrates through the psyche and body, is claimed to have a transformative effect. One becomes united with the deity who is being called upon in the mantra. Occult meditation then is not a means to know God's will for us, but rather of being absorbed in the nature of the false deity as the name is repeated. The problems that arise from the use of mantra's, even those proposed as “non-sectarian”, are obvious. The Bhagavad Gita, the most popular Hindu scripture, states: “The yogi should then sit..... very firmly and practice yoga to purify the heart by controlling his mind, senses and activities and fixing the mind on one point.” (A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada;1972.) The notion that man can purify himself of the problems of self centeredness and the effects of sin leads to a very anti-biblical worldview, and as previously noted, is one of the driving philosophies behind this type of approach to psychology. It denies the central Christian teachings of the fall, depravity, and of salvation and true wellness only in and through Jesus Christ. It is self will that “saves” the occultist and that is the active agent of healing for the occult psychologist, not the grace and intercession of a loving, personal God.
The Central Problem
“Nothing,” says William Law, “hath separated us from God but our own will, or rather our own will is our separation from God... the fall of man brought forth the kingdom of this world; sin in all shapes is nothing else but the will of man driving on in a state of self-motion and self-government, following the workings of a nature broken off from dependency upon and union with, the divine will. All the evil and misery in the creation arises only and solely from this one cause.” Or, as Dr. Allan Brown, Chair of the Ministerial Department at God's Bible School and College puts it, the problem with man is inherited depravity, which he describes thus, “This is what I consider the best definition of “inherited depravity.” It is self-centeredness.” (Basic Christian Beliefs, Brown, Allen, 2010)
In other words, a self-will directed toward selfish purposes to the exclusion of the will of God is the central problem for man, and out of it arises many of the psychological problems plaguing our world today . As the root of our psycho-emotional problems, the self-will cannot be relied upon as a means of wholistic healing. Furthermore, for the Christian, giving up self will is not a process found in an occult meditative state, but rather a subordination of the human will to the divine will of God, recognizing the destructive nature of the unguided self will. Self will is the source of sin, and arises out of man centering his reality solely in himself. Pride, arrogance, and rebellion are all a concentrated self will ignoring the counsel of God. This means we need to recognize those elements in our own lives - the passions etc., - which are opposed to the will of God, for these are the “illnesses” to be overcome, and an unrecognized illness can hardly be healed. This means we subordinate the unbridled personal will to God as we seek to embody the higher qualities we were created to give expression to. These are the very same qualities that once gave rise to the beauty, order and advancements of the Western European Christian cultures. Thus, prayer, as opposed to occult methodologies and meditation, is one of the Christian means to follow the footprints of Christ, and thus, by desire and affection, and in union with love, reflect His image back into our culture by surrendering self will to God's will. Prayer then is the better means of complimenting psychological counseling as it meets the ultimate needs of hurting humanity suffering the effects of the Fall.
It should be clear that occult techniques in psychology, are not in any way “scientific” as the term is currently understood. The use of occult techniques is indeed a spiritual practice disguised as therapy that will send very spiritually dangerous messages- distorting one's worldview- and which may ultimately do more harm than good. Their use can in no way be reconciled with Sacred Scripture nor the Christian worldview. Rather, the Christian psychologist should urge prayer and fervent self reflection. In sincere and mindful prayer with the goal of sanctification, the restraining of our sinful and destructive impulses allows the mind to curb the negative aspects of anger, loss, rejection, and inordinate desire and bring us closer to our created character.