SORCERY, A Vocabulary Word For 2015
A brief primer on this word, and its significance for 2015—and the years following! Many of us will, upon hearing it, think back to fairy tales, or superstitions from past centuries, or occult fantasy stories. Christians may well remember its obscure and possibly figurative use in the Book of Revelation, and in the times of ancient Israel when this was said to be practiced by surrounding pagan nations, and forbidden under Moses—but consider it not pertinent to our day. In fact, however, such thoughts reflect dangerous ignorance of an important topic. Why important? And why dangerous? Because it’s all around us and we don’t recognize it—it’s so commonplace we do not associate it with anything really amiss—yet its silent affect in our lives and culture is profound.
It’s true that there is much superstition attached to the word sorcery, and to distance from that entire realm of arcane and unreliable lore I would first like to focus on its definition and use as spoken of in the Bible. When I have done this I hope it will be understood why this is a very significant word for 2015.
Sorcery, rightly understood, is the use of a certain class of drugs to access the spirit world—to bring the awareness and power of it within our consciousness (and those around us whether they like it or not). A respected theological dictionary1 defines it as “a magical tradition of herbs gathered and prepared for spells, and also for encouraging the presence of spirits at magical ceremonies”, while in Simon Kistemaker’s commentary on Revelation he says of “sorceries” in Rev 9:21 (translated from the Greek, pharmakon φαρμάκων), “ ‘magic potion . . .’ [and refers] to the concept of drugs that induce magic spells” 2; Spiros Zodhiates in his Greek-English lexicon says it means “the occult, sorcery, witchcraft, illicit pharmaceuticals, trance, magical incantation with drugs” 3. Note, in the Greek there are three kinds of drugs included in the classification pharmakon: regular medicines, poisons, and magic potions; only the last one—magic potions—pertains to pharmakon and its cognates use in the Book of Revelation. More lexical information on this in the paper referenced below, “New Insights in Amillennial Eschatology”.
What kind of drugs are these? In ancient times they had names peculiar to those days, but in ours they are LSD (a synthetic compound created in the mid 20th century), mescaline, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, marijuana (and its derivative, hashish) and others that have similar psychoactive properties. They were popularized in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, and marijuana—one of the staples of this class of drugs—is experiencing a wide popular revival now, such that it is slowly gaining legal status, both for “medicinal” use and recreation. Its modern potency is estimated to be at least 50 times stronger than back in the Woodstock and counterculture days. This class of drugs is termed psychedelic.
Please note, these are not the legitimate pharmaceuticals, such as analgesics (pain killers) and other standard medicines, including morphine and other opiates, which are acceptable when properly administered and used. The psychedelic drugs are a class unto themselves.
What follows is a brief look at the emergence of this class of drugs and its relation to Biblical sorcery through the eyes of Christian observer Os Guinness and his book, The Dust of Death: The Sixties Counterculture and How It Changed America Forever.4 From chapter 7, “The Counterfeit Infinity”:
A third defining feature of the counterculture is its resort to drugs, particularly the psychedelics to achieve a transcendental consciousness and a true infinity. Within the movement drugs attained an almost sacramental importance. They are virtually the bread and wine of the new community. But for many outside the movement they are a spectral horror, a phobia almost on a par with communism. . . .
Two preliminary qualifications must be made. First, we are concerned with the psychedelics and not the depressants or stimulants. Many in the sixties generation have taken speed, heroin, and opium; others have resorted to nutmeg or airplane glue. These drugs range from the trivial to the terminal, but the [latter] are hardly worthy of attention, and the horror of the [former] are well documented. The psychedelic movement, on the contrary, shows the resort to drugs at its highest and is close to the nerve of the counterculture. . . . (Pp. 236, 238)
Guinness proceeds into a close examination and analysis of the claims, the drugs themselves, their histories, and different aspects of their spiritual, philosophical, and cultural impact. The next chapter appropriately follows this one: “Encircling Eyes”, on the occult:
But developing alongside the psychedelic movement and related to the logic of its failure is a further trend. It is a real defining feature of the movement. It will probably outlast the counterculture and go far beyond to be a profound influence in the closing years of the twentieth century. I am speaking here of the resurgent trend toward the occult.
The Fire Burns Low
Early hunters on safari in Africa used to build their fires high at night in order to keep away the wild animals. But when the fires burned low in the early hours of the morning, the hunters would see all around them the approaching outlined shapes of animals and a ring of encircling eyes in the darkness.
As we have witnessed the erosion and breakdown of the Christian culture of the West, so we have seen the vacuum filled by an upsurge of ideas that would have been unthinkable when the fires of the Christian culture were high. But this last trend is the most sinister of all. The occult is not just another compulsive spiral down which many have plunged, caught by the current of fascination with the weird and the wonderful. The trend is difficult to chart except the points that are spectacular, silly, or sinister and thus basically irrelevant to its deeper reality. At this deeper level the occult needs to be felt to be understood. So far as its future is concerned, only the grey outlines have emerged. But these are enough to quicken an appreciation of the horror of great darkness sweeping over the West, inexorably rolling inward like a swelling black tide or approaching with its encircling eyes.
In many ways this trend is the most surprising of all. Only a short time back any belief in such a world as the astral, the supernatural, the occult would have been relegated to the ridiculous. Spine-tingling stories and horror films were the modern surrogates for the modern loss of belief in Hell. They were anything but real. Perhaps stories of the occult were to be expected as part of the Middle Ages or the missionary world, but certainly they had little to do with the twentieth-century West and still less to do with the avant garde and the young. But the occult can no longer be relegated in time or distance. Yesterday’s skeptics are some of today’s firmest believers. (Pp. 276, 277)
After examining these developments in the culture of the times he was writing of, and of the reality of occult signs and powers in the writings of Paul (2 Thess 2:8-12) and in the Apocalypse, which signs and powers—especially at the very end of the age—are meant to deceive, Guinness says,
Reality is not to be mistaken for legitimacy. In a day of contentless religious experiences, the appeal of powerful spiritual phenomena is far wider than their legitimacy.
Interestingly, the word used for sorcery predicted in this context in Revelation is the word farmakeia, from which we get our word pharmacy or drugs. It is far from fanciful to interpret this as a prediction of the prevalence of drug-inspired sorcery at the end times. The Apostle John warns in his letter that we must test the spirits to see whether or not they are truly from God. In our day. . . . there must be neither naiveté nor total skepticism, but a critical discernment made possible within the Christian framework. (Pp. 309, 310)
To bring forth another observer of our times before I continue my own remarks, I would like to note the view of David H. Stern, author of the Jewish New Testament Commentary; on Revelation 9:21, he translates the Greek pharmakeia in that verse as,
Misuse of drugs in connection with the occult, usually translated ‘sorceries,’ ‘witchcraft,’ or ‘magic arts,’ [and] here rendered by this longer phrase in order to focus on the fact that using potions and drugs is an essential part of the word’s meaning – as is clear from the derived English words ‘pharmaceuticals’ and ‘pharmacy.’ The usual renderings suggest to many people a setting so removed from the fabric of their lives that the text does not speak to them. The reason I employ this lengthy expression is that the Jewish New Testament is a product of the 1980’s, when the Western world has seen an explosion of drug abuse, and I want readers to understand that this subject is dealt with in the Bible.
Spiritually speaking, there are four distinct categories of [psychedelic] drug misuse: (1) taking drugs in order to explore spiritual realms, (2) taking drugs in order to engage in ‘sorcery, witchcraft and magic arts’ while under their influence, (3) giving drugs to other people in order to gain control over them, which is another form of ‘sorcery, witchcraft and magic arts,’ and (4) taking drugs for pleasure. The last is a misuse because the drugs in question – besides whatever temporary enjoyment they provide, and apart from their adverse medical and psychological effects – open a person to supernatural or spiritual experiences; but these experiences are almost always demonic and not from God, since the Holy One of Israel reveals Himself through his Word (Ro 1:16-17, 10:8-17), not through drugs. (Pp. 816, 817)
To restate what Dr. Stern is asserting: even taking the drugs—marijuana being one of them—for mere pleasure and “kicks”, completely apart from any intent or even thought of the occult or spiritual, is still pharmakeia / sorcery activity—because the pleasure is heightened by the forbidden enhancement of these unusual drugs. The devil comes not only as a false teacher or seer, but as a giver-of-pleasure, and able to amplify it through various means, sorcery being one of them.
In other words, does intended use make the drug work a certain way? Change its effect on the human body and psyche? What kind of chemical is this whose properties and affect change with intent? No other pharmaceutical has this characteristic. What we see is that there are different “levels” of Biblically-defined sorcery: occultic, spiritual, psychic / mental high, and sensual pleasure. The enhancement by means of psychedelic agents constitutes them all pharmakeia activities.
But how can someone be convinced—namely those skeptical—that what I have been saying of these drugs is true? How could they possibly know—or even believe—if they had no personal experience of them? It should be sufficient that the Lord has raised up witnesses through the exposition of His word, and the accompanying testimony of those He has rescued from participation in these activities.
Which brings me to the matter of witnesses, and legal testimony. In this matter of the pharmakeia drugs there are three witnesses:
1) The testimony of Scripture: these drugs exist, are used in sorcerous activities, and are condemned by God on pain of death.
2) The testimony of exegetes, linguists, and commentators: who define what sorcery and witchcraft are by indicating the use of drugs to enter demonic realms, and the practicing of their crafts there by said users.
3) The testimony of those who have experienced these peculiar drugs, and they are of two classes: a) godly men and women who have been delivered from the use and effects of them; and b) ungodly men and women who continue in use of them and clearly tell of their properties, their affect within their beings, and their efficacy in entering the spirit world.
The quality of this legal testimony (Deut 19:15; Matt 18:16; 2 Cor 13:1; etc) ought to be sufficient for skeptics to at least take notice, and ponder, weighing it.
Returning to 2015. Although LSD5 and psilocybin mushrooms6 (“magic mushrooms”) are being touted again as having therapeutic value in the venerable NYTimes, the currently popular—and increasingly legal—psychedelic is marijuana, which the NYTimes strongly pushes for legalization of. Not surprisingly not a few Christians do not consider pot anything to be wary of—except when not “used in moderation”—and resist the idea of its being sinful, or (heaven forbid!) sorcerous. It matters not to them that testimony abounds in the literature of the world—and especially among occultists of various sorts—of the efficacy of marijuana in allowing users to attain heightened states of consciousness in the spirit world. Eventually the LORD will bring this home to these—albeit some professing strict orthodoxy, as in the Presbyterian and Reformed churches—emerging-church-type believers the danger of their activities. Especially serious is when leaders indicate to younger Christians it’s acceptable.
The reason we can identify the present-day drugs with those spoken of in Scripture is that while the names may differ or be unknown, the properties are exactly the same: encouraging the presence of spirits and inducing magic spells and trance states. The world is very familiar with this, as the online article, “The Spiritual Use of Cannabis” 7 shows. When questioned regarding marijuana, a “spiritual teacher” discusses with the enquirer “the spiritual potentials of marijuana . . . [and how that] This plant has the potential for use as a psychoactive booster of consciousness. It is a kind of ‘psychic vitamin’ that can expand ones’ abilities mentally, psychically and spiritually.” 8 Even if many treat it as a vehicle for enhanced “recreation” this does not diminish its power as a sorcerous drug opening the heart and spirit to influence from the spirit world. What some think of only as a powerful “high” is in reality far more, and many Christians, alas, are oblivious to this, some perhaps willfully, trusting in their own ideas more than the testimony of Scripture, and other reliable witnesses.
There is even a new name for this and the other psychedelics:
Entheogen: “An entheogen (‘God inside us,’ en εν- ‘in, within,’ theo θεος- ‘god, divine,’ -gen γενος ‘creates, generates’), in the strict sense, is a psychoactive substance used in a religious, psychotherapeutic, recreational, shamanic, or spiritual context.” 9
My focus here is broader than the church, even though it is primarily for the church I write. This is why I look closely at the surrounding culture, its practices and testimonies. It is in the midst of this culture we live!
Some people are into “God” or “Christ consciousness”, and others are into lusts of various sorts—food, sex, entertainment, etc—and others into the arts, or reading, or nature, whatever your poison is: one “high” fits all!
The social discourse gets filled with “conversations” and their content, that being the heart of the speakers, and if their hearts are into marijuana or the other “entheogens” then the very air—psychically speaking—will be thick with influence from the demonic realm. Can you not see or sense it? How easy it is nowadays to curse God and Christ, revile their followers, cast aspersion on their Book as hate-filled, hate all authority, lift up and magnify all sorts of perverse and indecent things, and relish violence toward those you don’t like.
It’s the “air” of our culture I am talking about, and so many are like the proverbial frog in the slowly-heating pot, not noticing the change about you till you’re almost cooked, and at that point too late.
To speak of Christ then, in this culture’s psychically charged air, is to enter what has become the open occult warfare, as what was formerly hidden in the recesses of Hell and wicked men’s hearts is now out in the open, the brave new zeitgeist of the “little season” of Satan’s full and final loosing upon the earth (Revelation 20:3,7), just now opening in a neighborhood near you, even in the civilized West.
And speak of Christ we must, to all Americans (in other nations the same) regardless of sexual orientation, gender, religion, creed, or ethnicity, for the great floodgates of eternal salvation, mercy, and unmerited favor in God’s eyes are flung wide, that all who desire forgiveness of sin, eternal life, and intimate communion with God through Christ, may drink the living waters that give eternal youth and joy.
Not all will receive it, but there it is.
This is the meaning—the reality—of sorcery, when John the apostle in Revelation 9:21 says that men refused to repent of their sorceries, murders, thefts, and immorality, after the pounding calamities of warning and judgment upon their lives and lands—this is that.
Ignorance is not bliss, neither is rebellion, and few there are like “the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). Whoso has understanding, and ears, let him hear. The time is short (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). When sorcery is as commonplace in our national conversation and behavior as grass in the fields, know that certain times are upon us, and prophecies being fulfilled.
A special section: what about the so-called medicinal use of marijuana? Why is that considered illegitimate for the Christian? This is a more nuanced topic than the world realizes, as it does not have spiritual discernment. But we who are Christ’s should have it.
It is understood that a person psychically “elevated” by marijuana may experience a sense of detachment from the bodily source of pain, and thus a decrease in the sensation of its intensity; still, the very action that detaches from the pain will open one to other aspects of the “high” such as consciousness in a dimension not usually entered in the normal state of mind, the dimension spirits inhabit. Even were I (speaking personally) in extreme pain I would not opt for marijuana relief, as the “cure” would be far worse for me as a Christian than the ailment: making myself vulnerable to demonic activity—deception, depression, oppression, delusion, attack, etc. The web page noted earlier in this article (with link provided below), Spiritual Use of Cannabis, showing its use for shamanistic and psychic activity in a number of pagan spiritual paths, and the accompanying discussion, clearly demonstrate its effectiveness and power as a means of enhancing contact with the spirit world and its occupants. Does one think that by force of will—or “good intentions” —one can hold off demons one has opened one’s consciousness and heart to? One can surely hold them off by the word and Spirit of Christ, but if in disobedience—even if done unwittingly—opening wide the door to their entrance through sorcerous drugs, they will take advantage of that and either enter or exercise their influence under cover of deception. The folks who say, “I’m only using it for simple enjoyment; but for ‘sorcery’—be it far from me!”, deceive themselves thinking they can avoid the consequences of entering the dimension of satanic presence, even if they do not believe it.
Let me posit a possible situation in an area where grass is legal for medicinal use. What would one think of a pastor, say in New Jersey, New York, or California where medicinal grass is legal under prescription for pain (or Colorado, Washington state, or the country Holland where it is simply legal), who, having smoked before the service, ministers while high? Or where a number in the church are (legally) high in the service? Would you assert that, if they’ve done it in moderation (or for pain relief), this is fully in accord with the word of God? Does using a Biblically forbidden substance for pain relief exempt one from obedience to God’s law? Did God have a good reason for forbidding pharmakeia drugs? (Note again: this is not forbidding standard analgesics, even medicinal opiates, or other legitimate medicines. Psychedelics—pharmakeia substances—are a class unto themselves.)
Or if the assistant pastor—who teaches the teenage Bible study—has pain from a sports injury, and smokes (with a prescription) beforehand, is that okay? Though surely there will be teenagers—as well as adults—who, knowing their pastors are smoking marijuana (under medical license) for pain relief, will say, “Well, if they can do it for pain—and are okay mentally, and also accepted by the church—why can’t I do it as well for fun, or spiritual depth? We can see it’s not harmful if used reasonably.”
Besides the corruption of morals of others, children included, let me say what the Scripture view of this would be. A pastor has smoked his grass (ostensibly for pain) and expanded his consciousness by opening himself to the spiritual realm—much as the Hindus do to contact their spirit entities—and he is now open to energies and influences or thoughts that come to him from he-knows-not-where. But they seem to be godly and in accord with the Bible, and he has a new depth of feeling for the subject he is speaking on, and sharp insight, and he powerfully feels what he believes to be the presence and love of God. Has this man increased his godliness and anointing through the drug? Scripture says he has taken a drug (pharmakon) . . . known to induce magic spells, and to encourage the presence of spirits at magical ceremonies. Well, one wouldn’t call a church service a “magical ceremony” someone might respond! Unfortunately, using a sorcerous drug of the pharmakeia-class would turn that church service into a magic ceremony, replete with demonic agency operating through the minister intoxicated by it.
A few years ago (May 16, 2012) in the NYTimes online OP/ED section, an article appeared by a sitting New York State Supreme Court Justice, Gustin L. Reichbach, titled, “A Judge’s Plea for Medical Marijuana”, and is one of the most compelling, heartwrenching cries for the allowing of medical marijuana I have heard (and I’m sure those reading can come up with like cases they know of).10 Read it and see. Justice Reichbach is a for-real candidate for this medical use. Which better allows me to make my point: As far as the world is concerned, allowing this man medical marijuana—and as he puts it, the “inhaled” kind, not the synthetic—is simply a human right, a humane medical treatment. But spiritually, what is the cost? Now Justice Reichbach is not—to my knowledge—a disciple of Christ, but for a disciple what would the issues be? It would be opening the heart and mind to demonic activity. Let me put myself in his place: without some grass—inhaled—I cannot eat (my appetite has failed), and cannot sleep, both of which I need to sustain my life. But with it, I could do both. Would it be worth it to me? To the world this dilemma is false, delusional, and cruel! To the spiritual man or woman it is vital and actual: would I allow my communion with Christ and communion with other disciples in spirit to be open to influence or infiltration by demonic beings? Just for the ability to eat something, or sleep, or to relieve pain? Put another way, would I, under torture—being starved, subjected to sleep deprivation, and inflicted with pain—betray my Lord and my friends? With God’s help I would not. Why, given the same conditions of affliction, would I voluntarily sin, if I would refuse to in the other case? No, God giving me strength I will retain my integrity of being before Him and my friends. I would refuse to smoke the “medicinal” marijuana for the sake of keeping my spiritual health and integrity. Especially if I were in terrible pain with advanced, terminal cancer, I would not use marijuana for relief. Would anyone in their right mind, when on the very brink of death, open their hearts and minds to demonic influence? That would be sheer destructive madness!
[There is a scenario, however, where a derivative from marijuana may be used; a chemical termed CBD has shown itself useful in some cases in preventing seizures in children; but this has been extracted from the plant without the THC which is the psychoactive agent producing the “high”, and so in this form the extracted chemical is not in the pharmakeia class. There is an article on it linked to below.11]
More on the topic: “New Insights in Amillennial Eschatology” 12
1 The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol 2, p. 558 [emphasis added]
2 Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Revelation, p. 302 [emphasis in original]
3 The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, (pp. 1437, 1438)
4 The updated 1994 edition, ISBN: 089107788X.
5 “Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning In Again” <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/12/science/12psychedelics.html?_r=1>. LSD is once again being used (under special license) by the therapeutic community, there being a resurgence now of this supposed “therapeutic” use, per (among other sources) the NY Times of Apr 11, 2010.
6 The NYTimes again: “Can Mushrooms Treat Depression?” <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/30/opinion/sunday/can-mushrooms-treat-depression.html?src=xps>