Blurred Lines: Christian spiritual warfare practices and the occult

This is a blog series I’ve wanted to write for a while: one that examines whether the approach to spiritual warfare popularised by NAR and third wave charismatic movements actually reflects the way God wants us to approach the battle between good and evil. It’s taken me a year to do it because it’s confronting, even for me. It’s confronting because the place I found the reason for my internal disquiet was a conversation with a beautiful friend of mine.

An exvangelical witch – a person who has been on both sides.

Dear Christian friend, you have to read this.

 It turns out, in embracing what the big names in Christianity call “spiritual warfare” we may actually be performing rituals that are very similar to occult practices, but doing it in a less intentional, informed, or self-aware way than some of our occult counterparts. If that statement made your hackles rise, then strap on your seatbelt. We have some important ground to cover.

The Biblical Picture:

I’ll preface this by saying I believe in prayer. There is some personal ground I need to cover (and will blog on) when it comes to prayer and predestination. But for now what I do know is this: when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He gave them a good formula. He gave us “The Lords Prayer.”

It glorified God, focused on His will and His Kingdom. Asked for provision, forgiveness and help avoiding temptation. Then it came back to glorifying God. The end. But that’s not “spiritual warfare” per se.  That’s prayer.

There are three common references in the Bible that seem to combine prayer and warfare. The first is in Ephesians 6 where we are told to put on the whole armour of God. It tells us we don’t wrestle with flesh and blood but with principalities and powers. It then tells us to stand in truth and righteousness, to stand in peace, to use faith and salvation as our protection, and to use the Word of God as the sword of the spirit. It then tells us to pray. By and large, these “weapons” mentioned are weapons of peace, with the exception of the Word of God which can go both ways.

Why the lack of offensive weapons? I believe the answer lies solely and completely in John 19. It is finished. Jesus took the keys of death and Hell. He triumphed over sin and death. It was all done. Finito. That’s why later in Ephesians, the majority of the armour of God is simply standing in what has already been done and given, and using what God has already said. Nothing further is required.

Later in 2 Corinthians 10:4, we see another rationale for spiritual warfare: “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God for the pulling down of strongholds.” I do see how people have read this as a spiritual call to arms. However, the rest of the chapter goes on to explain these strongholds and lofty things are thoughts of the heart that exalt themselves against God. So basically, this is an internal work of sanctification to remove the enemies lies from our hearts and minds. It is not an exhortation towards Christians engaging in warfare against external demons. (I won’t talk about exorcisms and deliverance today. That area is too big and too troublesome!)

The Old Testament, being a different era, provides us with a slightly different picture, but in truth it’s not too different. While yes, the Kings and Judges in the Bible did take part in wars, the big stories show God, not mankind, intervening.

  • The parting of the Red Sea as the Israelites fled Egypt.
  • The walls of Jericho falling down without a single weapon used.
  • God Himself destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and flooding the Earth when wickedness had become so rife that only Noah and his family were found to be righteous.
  • Even in the book of Daniel, which is the third reference to spiritual warfare when Daniel fasted for two weeks as he prayed for an answer, it was the angel that wrestled with the big demon. It wasn’t Daniel himself. Daniel was just skipping meals and devoting himself to prayer.

By and large, God’s methodology seems to be this: protect the ones who pray and obey, but don’t make them do the heavy lifting when it comes to fighting supernatural evil. In the New Testament era especially, Jesus has done the work and won the war. It’s a little different from what we see nowadays in spiritual warfare practice.

Spiritual Warfare, the Post-1990 Edition and the Occult Link:

I know I’ve talked about C Peter Wagner a bit lately. He might be a nice guy and I’m sure he loves Jesus, but his theology has swept across the NAR and third wave movements and I have to say a lot of looks a little dicey when you weigh it up against the Word of God. In the 1990’s, C Peter Wagner began introducing a new type of spiritual warfare into Christian practice (at least it seems to be credited to him a lot, along with names like Cindy Jacobs, John Wimber and others. Wagner is just the most often quoted.).

This new approach has spread a lot in 30 odd years, and seeded many different approaches that don’t necessarily come from Wagner. There are many churches that don’t practice it (including my current church), but there are also many that do. It involves spiritual mapping, where participants pray until they feel God revealing the location of spiritual forces. Those forces are then opposed or warred against using various spiritual warfare ‘technologies.’ (These technologies are techniques, rather than gadgets that let you track down demons. Although, side-note, I’m told demon hunters and such gadgets do exist. The world is weird).

I’m not sure what Wagner wrote in his books about spiritual warfare technologies. But in my experience, and from a brief trip around the internet looking for what other people do, here’s a list of what may be called “spiritual warfare technologies.” Nearly all of them are things I have come across in one way or another during my own walk through evangelicalism. They include:

  • Extended periods of praying in tongues, warfare worship, prophetic declaration or “strategic” prayer.
  • Identifying (through subjective methods) repressed memories or generational curses.
  • Discerning, naming, renouncing or addressing demons and territorial spirits.
  • Vicarious repentance (i.e. repenting for the sins of previous generations).
  • Prayer journeys in which participants go to specific places and use various methods to ‘displace’ demons found during spiritual mapping exercises.
  • Burning CD’s, posters, t-shirts or any memorabilia that might be tangible links to demonic forces.
  • Grave soaking where participants, largely of the Bethel ilk, lie on the graves of great Christians to soak up their anointing.

It’s not an exhaustive list. Spiritual Warfare practitioners may use any, all, some, or other techniques. Perhaps the most concerning thing about all of these “technologies” lies in the origin: They aren’t necessarily Biblical.  An article from Charisma Magazine on the topic of the Spiritual Warfare Network said, “Their insights on the subject of spiritual warfare were not derived solely through Bible study, but also through personal experiences of challenging the forces of darkness [1].”

This is extra-Biblical revelation at its finest. Yet scripture warned against adding to or taking away from the Word of God. This particular line of extra-biblical revelation has spawned a great many books, cost spiritual warfare travellers a lot of money, made a lot of money for the authors who make up the spiritual warfare network and cost a lot of time, money, effort and potentially distress for those involved. And for what? So that mankind can feel a sense of power over things that cannot be seen or controlled? Over things that Jesus has already taken care of? But that’s just where it gets interesting. My witch friend Carrie Maya summed it up in this statement:

“Speaking from the basis of my own personal practice (I’m certainly not representative of everyone in the occult community), witchcraft is about power. It’s about learning how to wield power over my own mind, home, words, the kind of energy I bring to my relationships, and—ultimately—taking control over the direction of my life using intention, ritual, and entering into altered states of consciousness. I’m mostly a solitary practitioner. But there’s something to be said for a good community experience. My favourite: magic as a collective response to oppression.

Marginalised groups have done this for generations in and attempt to take their power back. There are many traditions where oppressed People of Colour have been dispossessed and stripped of our entire cultures (which, of course includes the our spiritual systems)—often resulting in classic symptoms of colonial regimes. Systemic abuse like slavery, poverty, high mortality and incarceration rates, discrimination and prejudice in the job market, etc. are just a few of the ways that People of Colour been made impotent.

Many slaves throughout history have cursed their colonisers. Many women throughout history have cursed  the men who have forced them to live in an inequitable world. I never felt comfortable with hexing but it’s still a concept I’m sifting through. At the same time I don’t judge anyone who’s felt they’ve needed to do it.

As someone who was a Christian far longer than I’ve been a witch, I honestly feel that Christianity (along with other religions) are inherently magical—even if that’s’ not how their adherents would describe their faith and practices (occult literally just means concealed and hidden). I look back at experiences I had in the Pentecostal church; when we had to scream at demons, dance for hours to go into battle with the Satanic forces that held our town captive, and pray in tongues until our throats hurt. In hindsight, it was like one big witchcraft cult!

The definition that most occultists (from Wiccans to Theistic Satanists) use for magic is “manifesting your intent”. What this means is to set your mind on a desired outcome and then bring that desired outcome to pass. For some people, that outcome might be to summon a demon. For others, it might be to lose weight. And for others still, it might be simply to have a daily meditation practice where the outcome is greater peace.”

Carries statement makes an interesting juxtaposition against the Lords Prayer: Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.”

Carrie remarks, “There is a difference between spellcraft and prayer. Prayer is a beseeching. It’s calling upon a force that you, essentially, see as more powerful than you are in some way, shape, or form. For a traditional Christian, that force is one or all aspects of the Trinity. For me, this includes praying to my Higher Self (the self that is connected to the collective consciousness of all beings on the planet), my ancestors, my spirit guides, and the god/goddess archetypes that I don’t necessarily see as real but use as tools in my own personal healing. And I definitely see the need for beseeching. I’m all for it. This is what I have in common with Christianity.

Where that commonality ends, though, is when spellcraft comes into it. Because while I certainly beseech my Higher Powers for blessings, comfort, strength, etc. I don’t pray “Thy will be done”. I pray for clarity to see what it is I truly believe is best for me. But my ultimate intention is “My will be done”.  

Carrie went on to describe instances she had heard of when Christians had “felt lead to curse” certain businesses and remarked that “That person was obviously trying to justify what they were saying by putting God’s name at the beginning of that statement. But whether God, Satan, or Queen RuPaul herself told you to curse someone, a curse is still a curse. A hex by any other name would smell just as hexy.”

It should make us stop and think. It should make us scrutinize our motives and methods, and it should absolutely make us reconsider the power of words and intent.

I wrote about the Christian pursuit of power in my series on dominionism (linked below). But here is the big flag and the great caution:

Before you even think about entering the minefield of spiritual warfare, you need to make sure that you are not entering based on extra-biblical revelation that could actually be false or misleading doctrine and not the will of God. And you better make sure you don’t have a shred of self-motivation. Otherwise, my friend, what is it that you are really doing?

Towards the end of my time in evangelicalism, I grew to question the correlation between the spiritual warfare practices I was engaged in and the Bible’s instruction towards us. The words “It is finished” echoed in my head over and over while I played keyboard as the backing track for my church’s spiritual warfare experiences. If it was finished, if we weren’t to worry about what we ate or drank or what tomorrow held, if Jesus took back the keys of death and Hell, then what were we yelling about? Psalm 23 echoed in my head. Surely obedience and devotion to God was our best protection, no matter what life threw at us? (And look, life has thrown me a bit of stuff, to be honest.)

In the end, it started to look a lot more like mankind needing to feel a sense of power. That’s why Carries statement, “Witchcraft is about power,” was confronting as heck to me. Today, I am working on making friends with powerlessness. Over some things, I will have power to act or react, or to intervene in some way. But in other areas, I’m coming back to Proverbs 3:5 and putting my trust in God to take care of the rest. After all, it is finished. He’s done it all.

A good many preachers have, over the years, criticized the slow infiltration of the church by humanism. Yet on their watch, it looks like we have been infiltrated by occultism too. Ironic, given it wasn’t so long ago that the church was hunting down witches and killing them in the name of the cross. Such an unjust incongruence it is when we inadvertently copy their methods.

Hey friend, if you read this, hate it, and decide I’m completely wrong, that’s cool. We all get to choose our belief system and bear responsibility for the eternal consequences of it. But the key message as always is this – know what you are up to, and know what you believe.

That’s part one, guys and gals. I hope you’ll tune in next week when I interview Carrie on the occult practices she sees in the modern version of Christian spiritual warfare. If you’ve ever been part of a burning party, where you destroy worldly memorabilia, you’ll want to read this one.


“The Devils, Demons & Spiritual Warfare,” in Charisma, February 1994, p. 52-57, as cited by Dave Hunt, Occult Invasion, Harvest House Publishers, 1998, p. 514

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