Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Oriental religions


The Occult: Shining Light on Satan’s Shadow

(From a 2-part broadcast of the Ancient Faith Radio site)


In this two-part series, Illumined Heart host Kevin Allen speaks with Eastern Orthodox priest and occult-specialist Father George Aquaro about the attractions and dangers of the metaphysics and practices of what is called the occult - from seemingly benign astrology to ghost-chasing - and Father George speaks extensively about these practices and what is behind them from the Orthodox Christian perspective. Do ghosts and apparitions exist, or are they necessarily demonic? This and other questions will be addressed in this fascinating two-part series you will not want to miss.

Part 1

Kevin Allen: Welcome to this edition of The Illumined Heart on Ancient Faith Radio. Our current cultural climate has been called neo-pagan, with the resurgence of many ancient heresies and traditions claiming new adherents, many of whom are unfamiliar with the teachings of traditional Christianity, and the occult and so-called occult arts and magic are having a resurgence in popularity, too. We see this in the media, with movies like the Twilight series, TV programs like Ghost Whisperers, and reality shows about ghost hunters, not to mention the all-popular Harry Potter series of books and movies, which more youth have read than the Bible itself.

In this program today, we will be discussing the resurgent neo-occult movement. My guest on the program has studied this movement extensively, and has written a paper on the subject, for the purpose of helping clergy to understand what the demonic arts are. My guest is Fr. George Aquaro. Fr. George is the pastor of St. Matthew Antiochian Orthodox Church in Torrance, California. I am pleased to be speaking with him in the studio today. Fr. George, it’s great to have you. Welcome to The Illumined Heart.

Fr. George Aquaro: Thank you very much for having me.

Kevin: How did your interest in and concern about the occult begin?

Fr. George: I grew up in Los Angeles, and it’s a hard topic to avoid. L.A. has always been known—I guess the whole West Coast, sometimes called the “Left Coast”—as full of all kinds of crazy religious movements. Both of my parents left the Catholic Church in their early days and my mother took an interest in it, so I was actually raised around the topic throughout my childhood. It came up periodically throughout my life. At one point I lived in Japan. Japanese culture breaks down into Buddhism on one side, and Shinto on the other. Shinto is very much what we would consider a shamanistic religious system, so there were lots of things with the demonic and ghosts. So it’s kind of come up. Then later on, becoming a Christian, I tried to avoid all of that, but discovered that it’s not something that we can really get away from that, actually; it’s a topic that is all around us.

Kevin: I didn’t know that was your background. Interesting. Very, very interesting. Can you give us an overview, Fr. George Aquaro, of what the occult is, how you would define it, and what some of its best-known practices and methods are?

Fr. George: The meaning of the word really is “what is hidden.” The idea of the occult is that there are energies, forces, powers, that exist in the world—be they spiritual energies that are bodiless forces, or things in plants, trees, objects. These energies can be harnessed. What occult practices are about are harnessing energies, or in more advanced practices, harnessing beings, for the purpose of enhancing our self-will—getting what we want out of things.

Kevin: You write in your piece, “There are depersonalized energies free in the universe which may be harnessed, either through natural abilities, or mechanical means. In this view, those that practice it see God either as a generalized energy force, or a disinterested party to their activities.” That’s the underlying assumption, then, of those involved in the occult, that there is not a personal creator God, and that these energies are just floating out there ready for you to harness?

Fr. George: Right, because if you had a personal God, there would be a natural question, which is: What are you doing tampering with his stuff? But the idea is that the world has no ownership; there isn’t anybody who is really, really in charge, there are forces that sort of battle for territory. You can either have a mentality that it’s a feudal system, where there are forces fighting for power, or that it’s the wide open frontier, that anything that you can get is yours.

When we speak of different practices of the occult, we tend to have three general categories that one can use. The first one is what we would consider to be psychical abilities. These are people that have natural talents, let’s say. You find these in people who are folk healers, or people who are psychics, certain types of mediums, who are people who speak to the dead—and these are considered to have natural-born abilities.

Then on the opposite extreme is what we would consider to be wizardry. You don’t have any natural talents to be a wizard; it’s somebody who finds a book. For example, in medieval Europe there were books called “grimoires.” They were basically instructions on how to harness these occult forces in the universe, and it’s strictly a cookbook, you know, the eye-of-newt, bubbling-cauldron practices.

Then somewhere in between is what we would consider to be classical witchcraft, which is someone that has natural, let’s say, magical abilities, on the one hand, but then they also learn how to harness them, how to use them—the classic case of Hogwarts, right? They bring little children in that have these abilities, and then they teach them more stuff, all of this occult knowledge, to enhance the abilities, or even given them new ones, but they have to at least have the potential to be able to use them, in themselves.

Kevin: I want to come back and ask you about Harry Potter in just a minute, but sticking on this track that we are on, this underlying assumption of depersonalized energies free in the universe, obviously conflicts very directly and specifically with traditional Christian teaching?

Fr. George: Absolutely.

Kevin: Would it be safe to say, Fr. George Aquaro, that there is really no spiritual vacuum out there in the unseen world?

Fr. George: Yes, when you take the biblical perspective; God makes everything, and the creation is His, and He doesn’t give it up. That’s why, even in the Fall, the world is not lost to God. He’s still here. It is still our world, in that He has given it to us, we are to tend it, but it is still His. The forces of Satan, the fallen spirits and everything else, are squatters. The created realm is not for them; it’s for us.

This is the first thing that we learn as Christians: it’s that, if you are talking about energies of God, or powers, you have to ask, “Where do they come from?” God does not bless something, and allow it, with his blessing, to be used for evil. Our definition in the Church of “sin” is something that is good that is turned against its purpose. These things, if they are taken, are stolen. That means the original owner still owns them. When we are trying to tamper with these forces, we have to ask, “Where do they come from?”

The Church teaches us something very different, and that is that there aren’t depersonalized forces. Everything is attached to a person. Let’s say, for example, you are engaged in some type of occult practice. You are casting a spell; you think, “I am getting this energy, and I am using it.”

What the Church teaches is no, no, no, no, no. Somebody is giving you the appearance that you are doing something, but really, what it is is it’s a force, you’ve gained its attention by your incantation, your magic act, and whether it introduces itself or not, it’s the one doing these things. This is the start of that demonic temptation. You see, the demonic temptation is: yes, there are these depersonalized energies and they are just out there for you to grab…

Kevin: Neutral energies, if you want to call it that.

Fr. George: Yes, “neutral” forces that are just out there, and you can do whatever you want, and there’s no repercussions, and there’s no payment due. That is the beginning of— when you talk about a vacuum, remember, a vacuum pulls stuff toward itself. The real vacuum, spiritually speaking, is that initially we get drawn into magical practices, just thinking, “This is all for free, there is no cost to this.” But we discover later on there is a cost, because there is somebody that we are indebting ourselves to.

Kevin: It is so interesting to me, Fr. George, when you think about these “impersonal” and “depersonalized” energy theories, that you get sometimes in some forms, not all forms, of Buddhism, and so on, really, when you come down to it, and correct me where you think I am wrong, there’s no such thing. The idea of an impersonal anything is just an idea. We are persons. There is no way to think impersonally. There is no concept of “impersonal.”

Fr. George: Exactly.

Kevin: Except some maybe apophatic, opposite-of personhood, which isn’t an idea. It is the thought that you’re contradicting the only thing you know. This idea of impersonal forces and impersonal states of being—what is it? It is really kind of a false notion, no?

Fr. George: It is, because it’s a notion where God is divorced from the universe. Let’s say you see a river, and you want to dam up the river and make a lake. Well, it’s just a river, and nobody owns this, and it’s just out there for me to grab, so I dam up this river and I make this little lake. Well, somebody is going to come and say, “Hey, this is my property. What are you doing damming up my river?” “Well, you weren’t here, I didn’t see you.” But the ownership is still there, and the owner says, “Well, now that you’ve done this, you owe me. You owe me something.”

Kevin: Now are you speaking of God in this sense? Or are you speaking of the unseen forces that may also feel that they have ownership?

Fr. George: Both. When we talk about the demonic, and their powers that they have— all of us are given, by God, in our creation, certain powers. We, as human beings, we have the power to use our senses, to think. We have reasoning; we have talents. We are given certain things. It’s the same thing with spiritual beings, and when you hear about “a third of the heavenly host fell,” they retained their abilities, and they can do stuff. The demonic still retain all of their forces, because these are the forces that God created them with. They can go out and do these things, but what has happened is, what witchcraft and magic really involve, in their core, is obedience. Whom do you obey?

When you pick up a magic book, and you are doing these incantations, you are obeying the author of the book. The question is: Who told the author that these things work? Who is it who has passed down this supposed knowledge, this information? We are put in a place where we begin to obey these beings. The being says, “I will come if you do this. I will come if you draw this particular circle and you put these inscriptions around it, and you burn these colored candles. I will come, and I will do what you want me to do.”

But it always begins with our obedience to their instructions; you have to follow the instructions. And you start obeying these things, you see, and now you have put yourself under them. Eventually, when you have put yourself on this path of obeying them, there is a point where that obedience is no longer reversible, where you’ve gone a bit too far, and now you want to come out, and they say, “No, no, no, no, you see, you should’ve asked, ‘How do I get out of this?’ before you started.” Literally, it is a spiritual version of “Let the buyer beware.”

Kevin: Wow. You wrote in your article that the occult really boils down to obedience, either to God, or to our own desires. I was struck by that, and thinking of the famous, or infamous, rather, Alistair Crowley, the great Satanist. One of his famous quotes—I don’t recall the book now, he did not write that many, maybe the one book that he wrote—the quote was, “Do what thou wilt.” This was his congealing, if you will, of all of the information and knowledge that he claims that he got. “Do what thou wilt,” speaking of self-will.

I also want to defer a little bit to a conversation I would like to have with you about how the modern self-actualization, self-realization movements may tie into this, and let’s get to that in a minute.

So the root of the occult is, then, in all cases, the demonic?

Fr. George: Yes. In all cases, where we see unseen powers at work, we always ask the question, “Who is doing this?” One situation that I worked with in the past had to do with a person who went to a witch. Now, this person was from an Orthodox country, so it was an Orthodox witch. Now, what does that mean? Well, this person knows the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, but this person is talking to angels, and the angels are giving this person these incantations and rituals to do. So you ask, “Why wasn’t this done in the Church?” That’s where you get the silence, and “Well, you know, the priests, they don’t do these things the way that I do them.”

Kevin: This is a real blending of “religion and the shamanistic,” or “native-istic.”

Fr. George: Yes. Let’s say you go to church, you are really concerned, let’s say you get sick, or your child gets sick. “Oh, my child, I have to do something.” And I go to the church, and I ask the priest, “Pray for my child, and anoint him with the holy oil.” We see lots of examples where the priest is clearly not a healer, because he goes and visits everybody and not everybody recovers.

Kevin: Or he prays and the child doesn’t get healed.

Fr. George: Right, so the parents say, “But I really want my child to be healed.” Well, what’s the next stage? Well, there is this person over here, and this one says she can heal, and there is a temptation, “Maybe God has blessed her to say these incantations and do all of this stuff.” But, the question that remains is: why is she operating outside of the Church? Why is it that she’s doing this on her own?

All of the services in the Orthodox Church are acts of obedience to God. This is one thing I want to really emphasize: there is a difference between the obedience in the Church and the obedience to the self. When you pick up a magic book, you’re going through this thing saying, “I want to do this, I want to do that, oh, and here’s these things that’ll help me do it.” In the Church, we obey God, in that we have a system where we have been called to serve the services, not because we feel like doing them, but because we have to do them, we have been called to obedience.

The priest does not say on Sunday morning, “You know, I just do not feel like doing this whole Liturgy thing.” Well, some of us are tempted to do that, (laughter) but we don’t. You still get up out of bed, and you get dressed, and you go to the church, and do the service. Why? Because you are commanded to do it. This is what you must do. We, as priests, when somebody comes to us and says, “I am sick,” we are commanded, you go to this page of the book, and this is the service that you do.

Kevin: And it is God’s will.

Fr. George: What happens past that point is up to him, but we do it; we’ve been called to obedience. Throughout the Scriptures, for example, Elisha worked great miracles, and yet, he was afflicted. He died with diseases, that easily, if it had been somebody else, he could have healed them, but it was not for him to use the powers for himself, you see. He was called to obey God, and do what God called him to do.

The services of the Church are an obedience to God, in which the self-will is removed as much as possible. That’s why there are standards for when you use these things, how you use these things, and it’s always for the benefit of another.

Kevin: And for the salvation of our souls.

Fr. George: Absolutely.

Kevin: Without entering into danger.

Fr. George: Right, because our wills are broken. That’s what the fallen nature is, that our human will is broken, and so we don’t perceive things properly, we don’t get all of these things.

Kevin: Interesting.

Fr. George: So it is always to another person. That is why I do not hear my own confessions. I can only hear somebody else’s confession.

Kevin: Interesting.

Fr. George: It is a check on our will, so the will does not remain in the self.

Kevin: The fallen will is within the realm of the fallen man.

Fr. George: Absolutely.

Kevin: So when you are depending upon it, you’re dealing in the realm of that which is fallen, as opposed to that which is divine.

Fr. George: Right.

Kevin: How interesting. A question, though, about that, Fr. George Aquaro: Is there a distinction that can be made between what we’ve been discussing and what others might call the “paranormal” and the “occult”? Or is it the view of the Church that all, and anything, that would be within “paranormal,” is necessarily occult and demonic?

I ask the question, and just let me make a very brief question follow-up, because it seems to me that sometimes we operate at such a low level of normal consciousness that perhaps some of what might be called the paranormal is nothing more than the widening of the parameters of what God has given us, in terms of human consciousness. Am I off-base there?

Fr. George: No, the question isn’t really, “Do these things exist?” It’s: “Who’s doing them?” In the Church, we believe in miracles. When you come on Sunday, we say, “Bread and wine: Body and Blood”—how’d that happen? And it goes on from there. If you talk about, for example, the idea of ghosts, well, if you go back to the desert Fathers, you see where there’ve been apparitions of the dead. When the witch of Endor raises Samuel, Samuel actually appears.

Kevin: Was that an apparition, or was that a demonic being masquerading as an apparition, and where are we on ghosts?

Fr. George: Well, there are numerous examples of the dead asking the saints, the living saints for prayer. This isn’t really a disputed issue in the Church. Samuel appears in a type of appearance that one could call an angel of sorts. The root “angelos,” is “messenger,” and in fact, some of the early saints said that when we die and we are of Christ, that we go to school and literally become types of angels.

That doesn’t mean that we become bodiless powers; that’s a different category. The dead can bring messages for the living, but it’s under very restricted cases, and these are cases where, number one, there isn’t any necromancy going on. Necromancy is raising the dead.

If you pull our Ouija board out, you will not get Grandma Ethel. She is not going to come to your Ouija board, because that’s not what God has the communication between the living and dead for. It’s not to find out what your lottery number is. These are set cases where God may, in certain circumstances, allow the dead to contact the living for either the request of prayers, so that their souls may go to rest, or to deliver a particular message. This is sometimes called a psychopomp. A pomp is a procession. It’s somebody escorts the soul to the place of rest. For example, you’re dying, and you are holding onto this life, because you are afraid of dying, and God will send someone that you know to come and say, “Hey, look, it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. I’ll be with you, to go through this process. Yes, it is scary, but …” You know, God is very merciful.

Kevin: So the answer is, and do not let me put words in your mouth, there are some apparitions who are truly those of our departed, but this is under the operation of, if you will, the mercy and the economia of God, not self-will and not magical forces?

Fr. George: Right, right.

Kevin: Did I understand you correctly to say that there are some paranormal activities, maybe, that we might call “clairvoyance,” or whatever, that could be within the realm of the natural, just an extension of it? Maybe some of us are sleepwalking half the time and we are not tapping our natural God-given resources? Or are they always occult?

Fr. George: Well, there are examples of saints who appeared to have what we would consider paranormal abilities.

Kevin: Yes, out-of-body clairvoyance, bilocation healings, foreknowledge, etc., etc.

Fr. George: Right, and those are things that God blessed those people with. Who are we to say whom God is going to bless and whom he isn’t? But again, you have to look at what does that person do with those things, under what circumstances? In the case of these saints who had these powers, they were very holy people. They were very well-healed people, so they weren’t going to use these things to— “Hey, watch this, I am going to really spook my cousin. Watch me, I am going to levitate across the room.”

Kevin: Or, “Look how holy and wonderful I am because of these powers that I have,” i.e., pride.

Fr. George: Exactly, these powers aren’t unheard of. In one case I dealt with someone who claimed to have a lot of psychic abilities—precognition, the ability to have visions of the future that were coming true, lots and lots of activity, but there were some mixed things that were happening along with it, and that is always a bad sign, where some of these beings appeared to be rather sinister in how they were acting. My advice to his person was: “Pray against these things, reject them,” and as soon as this person started to reject these powers, all kinds of things started to happen in their house…

Kevin: Negative things?

Fr. George: Very negative things.

Kevin: They didn’t like being rejected, they weren’t going to be rejected.

Fr. George: Exactly. All of a sudden this apparent “personal gift” that this person had— all of a sudden the gift disappears, and suddenly it became this highway for these demons to start attacking the family and the household.

Kevin: Scary, scary. Father, let me ask you this question. Most of the occult practices that you outline in your paper are ancient. We’ve talked about magic, necromancy, the use of so-called “natural powers,” foreknowledge, and so on, but you have said that these practices and their magical symbols are also alive today in our culture, even having resurgence in popularity. Why do you think that is? Why are they having a resurgence in popularity today, and can you give us some examples of some of these ancient methodologies that we can see around us, even if we don’t realize that they are occult?

Fr. George: I think one of the reasons why these things are becoming more popular is that our society, as a whole, has lost its spiritual strain. We, as human beings— we’re body, soul, and spirit. Part of us has that spiritual thirst for God, and a lot of this phenomenon is going on around us. How many people have said, “Oh, that house down the street is haunted”? Or they’ll go to someone’s house late at night and they decide, “Hey, let’s get out the Ouija board.”

But we now have an utterly materialistic philosophy in our modern culture. We have sort of bought into Marx’s dialectic materialism—“There is only the material, this is all that there is”—and people are naturally hungry for something more, something profound.

This is the problem with the boredom of modern Christianity. It’s boring. That is why everything now has become about entertainment—the televangelist, or the rock band in your church. It has to make it exciting because it’s so boring. It’s banal. “Okay, well, I have said the magic incantation, I am now saved, Jesus is going to give me everlasting life, because I said this certain prayer that somebody gave me.”

Kevin:” What do I do now?”

Fr. George: Yes. “Is that all there is?” I remember before I converted to Christianity, one of the reasons that I swore that I would never become a Christian was: there was a story about this young man who had murdered his family, and there was some boneheaded pastor who said, “Well, you know, a week earlier he gave his heart to Jesus, and I know that he killed his family, and then ended up killing himself, but I know that he’s in heaven right now, because he gave his heart to the Lord.” And I said, “Wait a second! He gave his heart to the Lord one day, and the next day he does this horrible act.” And I think to myself, “What is going on here? Is God that stupid?

Kevin: Bad doctrine.

Fr. George: It was horrific, and because we are surrounded by, as you put it, “bad doctrine,” people get this stuff in their mind, but they know that there is something more out there, and they start looking for it on their own, because these figures that they look to who are supposedly “their church,” are not giving them the whole story of the world and how it really is.

Kevin: “Devoid of true wisdom,” let’s say.

Fr. George: Absolutely.

Kevin: Devoid of true wisdom. Can you give us some examples of modern extensions? I was fascinated, by the way, in your article, to read about the Starbucks logo. I have to ask you about that.

Fr. George: (laughter)

Kevin: I almost want to stop drinking… I am sorry Starbucks, I know, whatever, but, please…

Fr. George: If you look at the history of the Starbucks logo, originally they had a rather graphic portrayal of a mermaid with two tails, and it is an old fertility symbol. Now, as Starbucks has gotten gradually more corporatized and [has] cleaned up its graphics, now it is just sort of a lady, and sort of a little bit of her hair, and all that, but it’s an old fertility image. This image was also used to ward off the evil eye.

There is a type of image that this is sort of based on which is called a “sheela-na-gig,” which was usually a picture of a woman giving birth. It was a type of fertility image that was used to contradict infertility, thus bad luck. So it’s an old lucky charm, let’s say. It is the same as a horseshoe over your doorway. It’s a symbol, but it’s slapped on a cup of coffee, and when I tell people, particularly young people that are not really interested in having children right now, that, yes, there is a fertility logo on your half-caff latte, you should see how quickly they put it down! (laughter)

Kevin: I wonder why they went with that. Was it because they picked that character from Moby Dick, and he was into all that sort of stuff?

Fr. George: I’ve never really looked into why they picked it, but it gets into something that you brought up a little bit earlier, and that is: the occult is very aesthetically pleasing, because that is part of how it attracts our interest.

Kevin: And we are naturally drawn to the transcendent.

Fr. George: Absolutely, and when you have an appealing image, when you take a look at, for example, the power of the Nazi art, and how it drew Germans in: the swastika—well, the swastika is an image from Hinduism that goes back 4000-5000 years, and it’s such a powerful image that you see it in Native-American art, you see it in Greek art: the tetra-gamma, the four gammas that come together to make that swastika pattern—that graphic image has such an effect on us that it pops up in unrelated cultures. This is what the power of the occult is, that it harnesses our natural attractions to things, and turns them against us. It is a romance.

Kevin: And we are visual, we are auditory, and we smell, and so all of these sensual prompts, maybe, can lead us in those directions. I shop at health food stores, and I am interested in evangelizing to the New Agers and all that kind of stuff. What about Reiki?

Fr. George: Well, that’s, again, a very old idea that the body has these energies that are out of balance, and you have to bring them back into balance, and it’s a kissing-cousin to the idea of, “Your humors are off balance, and you have too much blood, and so we need to bleed you.”

Kevin: Is that just bad science, or is that occult?

Fr. George: In the case of Reiki, it really goes into the occult. This idea that I can come up to another person and pull energies out of them with my hand…

Kevin: Messing with “the auras” and all that sort of business?

Fr. George: Yes, you are right to pull out the idea if this is bad science. Well, it is absolutely bad science, but, at the same time, it also gets into these impersonalized energies. The question is, if you are sick, where is God in your illness?

Kevin: Yes, okay, I get that. Also, too, we learn all about, in our culture, certain yogas and chakras, and all of this, meditation practices, and so on. We will talk a little bit more about that, as well. Father, I see that we are coming up to the time limit on our first program, so let me close with this question. Take what time you need, then we will close and come back later, because I realize this is going to be two parts, and I am extraordinarily interested in this. I’m sure our listeners will be, too, so I don’t want to rush us.

You said something interesting in your article that I’d like you to close on. You claim that the failure of modernism that came out of the European Enlightenment, and which set the stage for post-modernism—where we don’t trust anything absolute, and we’ve lost our hope, if you will, in some of these postulates of modernism—post-modernism provided the cultural, philosophical environment within which modern magic can flourish: can you explain what you mean, as we close on that? How does post-modernism allow for modern magic to flourish?

Fr. George: In an earlier part of this interview we talked a little bit about the human yearning for the spiritual, and modernism is a very depersonalized, very mechanical approach to the world. It’s utterly materialistic. People are searching for these spiritual truths, these spiritual realities. Post-modernism jumps in as a response to it, because those needs, those desires, were never quite fulfilled.

The failure of Marxism has always been that you give people everything that they are supposed to have, you give everybody an equal share, and they’re still unhappy. Human beings have a need to be happy far beyond a roof over our heads or foods in our tummies. Post-modernism, then, in rejecting the absolutes of the modernist ideal, says, “Now you need to look after your own happiness yourself. You need to find whatever your own truth is.” Modernism produces a technocratic system that’s supposed to make everything right.

Kevin: Which fails and failed.

Fr. George: It failed, and so now, you cannot depend on anybody else. No church…

Kevin: Got you: a rejection of everything absolute, a rejection of everything historically traditional?

Fr. George: Well, what you can do then, is you can take all of those little traditions and pick out what you like. “I like Byzantine icons, so I put Byzantine icons on my wall, but you know, I kind of like some of that Hinduism, it is really neat with the yoga, so I am going to do yoga in front of my Byzantine icon, but you know, the Byzantine music, it’s a little spooky, I kind of still like my Christian rock, so I will listen to that.” That is what happens: you pick up the things that you like.

Kevin: Or, “I like their angel thing, I’m going to pray to the angels.”

Fr. George: Sure. I remember there was a TV show about, supposedly, these women who were angels, and my question always was, “Well, who runs the show there, are the angels just doing things on their own, or do they have a boss? With Charlie’s Angels, you’ve got Charlie, but on this TV show, who’s your boss?” “Well, we don’t want to talk about that.” It is interesting that angels are not controversial, but God is.

Kevin: Yes, that is very, very interesting. The point is that post-modernism opened the door to this kind of eclecticism, if you want to say it that way, and the search for one’s personal spirituality.

Fr. George: Yes, the locus of truth in modernism was always the scientific fact. Science has never been able to really produce human happiness. This is the failure of pharmacology, this is the failure of psychology, it’s the failure of even the marketing approach to business. All of these things ultimately fail, so then the post-modernist says, “I am going to reject the systems, I am going to reject the facts, and I am just going to look for what makes me happy,” and this flings the door open.

You see, modernism tries to destroy the Church by rejecting the spiritual, and making everything about business, and then post-modernism tries to keep the Church from standing up, by saying, “You don’t have to follow a system, you don’t have to follow an institution, you don’t have to listen to anybody else, just do what your heart guides you to,” and you are right back to self-will.

Kevin: With that, Fr. George Aquaro, let’s end Part I. My guest has been Fr. George Aquaro. He’s the pastor of St. Matthew Antiochian Orthodox Church in Torrance, California. We have been speaking about the resurgence of occultism in the neo-occult movement. Fr. George, a fascinating, wonderful part one. I am really looking forward to part two. Thanks for being my guest.

Fr. George: Thank you very much.


Part 2


Kevin Allen: Welcome to this part two edition of The Illumined Hearton Ancient Faith Radio. My guest is Fr. George Aquaro. We are on the subject of the neo-occult movement. Fr. George is the pastor of St. Matthew Antiochian Orthodox Church in Torrance, California. He is an expert and a specialist on the neo-occult and the occult movement in our culture. I am with him in studio today. Fr. George, welcome back for what will be a very fascinating part two.

Fr. George Aquaro: Thank you very much.

Kevin: My pleasure. For those of you listening, I highly recommend that you start with part 1, because we have been talking about the increasing attraction of the occult in our culture, and we reference the Twilight series, Ghost Whisperers on TV, Ghost Hunters, and in literature, the Harry Potter books.

Father, my first question in this part 2—and I do not want to lead us down a rabbit-hole here, because we could probably spend a whole interview on Harry Potter—but briefly, where do you come out on the Harry Potter literature? You are a father of younger children. Do you see the use of witchcraft simply as literary metaphor in the so-called Christian traditions of Tolkien and Lewis, or do you see it as an overt attempt to popularize the occult?

Fr. George: I think it depends upon what you do with it. People read Greek mythology all the time in school, and we do not see an outbreak of Zeus worship. My daughter is right now reading the last book in the series, and we’ve talked about it, and I think that’s the most important thing as a parent, when your children are reading things, or they’re learning things, to discuss with them what they are learning and what are they getting out of it.

There is a certain attractiveness to the ideas that are in there, as far as: “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if I could just sort of wave a wand and make a bowl of soup when I’m hungry?” The one thing that the Harry Potter series, I guess, has going for it, is that it is, in many ways, so surreal; it’s so far from where we’re at. I think the more outlandish something is, the less likely it’s going to have some kind of a subconscious effect.

Kevin: So it’s not so easily confused with metaphor when it’s so outlandish. It’s easier to not confuse it with some reality. That’s a good answer. I remember when we were raising our kids, we were kind of fundamentalists and would not let our oldest daughter watch "Bewitched" because it was about a witch, and she still talks about how terrible Mom and Dad were that we wouldn’t let her watch benign Bewitched. (laughter)

Fr. George: I want to emphasize that I think that there are certain lines that we as parents have to draw with our children. I think that, for example, if you’re a parent of a teenager, and you find your kids are— it’s one thing if your kids are watching the Twilight series. They twinkle or something, I don’t know.

Kevin: It’s a very attractive imagery.

Fr. George: It’s one thing if your kids watch that TV show or movie or whatever it is. It’s different if you then come home and you find your kids are reading books like How to Become a Vampire, or they start modifying their behavior, their clothing, they get into being— it’s something beyond goth. There are people that are what I refer to as “amateur vampires.” They actually will say, “I am a vampire”; they will drink human blood. Or the ones that are a little queasy on that, they will drain psychical powers from other people, I’ve heard of that. Then you’ve got a problem, because you are now divorced…

Kevin: You’ve crossed the line.

Fr. George: Right. Exactly. It is the same thing with people who go to Renaissance fairs. You can go to a Renaissance fair and dress up in a costume and put on a funny accent for a weekend; it’s a little different when you start doing that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and you really are Sir James of Compton, you know.

Kevin: Except in the case of the occult, you may be entering into waters, if you will, in the unseen, that are different from being a little nutty with the Renaissance fair business.

Fr. George: Right.

Kevin: I think we have spoken to this, but maybe you could amplify a little bit. Are you encountering people, Fr. George Aquaro, in your pastoral ministry, as an Orthodox priest, who have come to the Church for help with demonic oppression and/or possession, and did they begin by dabbling in the occult?

Fr. George: Yes, and yes. Not all the cases that I’ve dealt with have come through necessarily overt occult activity, but it is there and it is a problem. A lot of our people—and by “our people,” I mean “Orthodox”—are very afraid to talk to their priest about this topic. For example, in our Archdiocese, roughly 70% of the clergy are converts from religious backgrounds that don’t have a spiritual element. Even if you do go to seminary, they don’t cover a lot of this, really, in seminary, at all, so it’s very easy to have the attitude that I had going into this, the first time as a priest I was asked—and this was after a number of years, it wasn’t right off the bat—when I was asked to deal with a situation that appeared to be a haunting.

Kevin: In someone’s home?

Fr. George: It was in a building, it wasn’t actually the home, but the first question I had was, “Do we believe in ghosts?” I starting rooting through the typical Orthodox literature and I couldn’t find anything on it, so then I called my bishop, and I called a number of other people, and asked, “What do I do?” And they said, “Well, we are not exactly sure.”

It took a while for me to gather the information together. And part of it is because these things are, number one, is they’re rare, and, number two, in most cases they’re not really connected to our own personal repentance and our salvation. That’s one of the reasons why the Church doesn’t really get into demonology and angelology the same way that you find in, let’s say, pagan spirituality. It’s really not there because our primary focus as Orthodox Christians is repentance and conversion, and these things only come up in relation to our repentance and conversion.

In the case of this manifestation, I went in and said, “Well, this must be a demonic apparition; I need to go do the exorcism prayers,” and I did the exorcism prayers, and I was throwing holy water at it, and nothing’s happening. This thing was still manifesting. It happened in front of me, and we had a number of witnesses who heard it.

Kevin: Really?

Fr. George: It was not like it was actually heard, it wasn’t a visual apparition, but it was the sound of someone walking around. What eventually happened was that I talked to an abbess and she said, “Oh, we had this problem years ago, and the bishop told the priest to serve a moleben for the dead, and just pray for their salvation and everything will be okay.”

So I said, “Okay, I can do that.” I discovered that we do have services for the dead who are not at rest, and I did the service, and it was really remarkable, because as I’m praying, the person who was there, who was manifesting themself, was knocking in agreement to the prayers, indicating…

Kevin: “This is what I need.”

Fr. George: “This is what I need, thank you.” After that it stopped.

Kevin: Really? Never another manifestation?

Fr. George: Well, what happened was that I regularly, routinely did the prayers there, and it all stopped. Then what happened was that I got caught up in other things and I got lazy. Then different apparitions started happening in other areas in the building, different from the one that originally happened, and I said, “Okay, what do I do now, because now it’s like it’s magnified?”

In talking to people who are the ones that I turn to for advice—clergy, and also some lay people that have knowledge in this area—they said, “Well, when you start praying for the dead, particularly when you do not have names and you are offering general prayers, others will come.” This gets into the idea of “Where are the dead?” It’s not like they are wandering around, but they’re allowed to manifest. So what it was was a manifestation: “No, Father, you need to keep doing this because there are others who need prayer, as well.”

Now we have a routine to do that in that place, to continue to pray for the dead, because for whatever reason, that’s what God wants going on there, and so we do it. There was one time when a person who didn’t know about what was going on went into the building, they didn’t know what was happening, and they got spooked because an apparition manifested, and I had to come in there and say, “Okay, listen, this is our building, this is not your building, so we make the rules here, and the rule is: you can’t manifest. We promise, we’re going to pray for you, but you have to stop doing this because you’re scaring people.” And it stopped, and that was it.

Kevin: Wow. My word.

Fr. George: So it continues to this day, but it’s a benefit, a blessing for me and those who come and pray, because we are doing something good for someone else who cannot help themselves.

Kevin: The Roman Catholics have a long tradition of the office of exorcist, and training, and so on. I know we have prayers for exorcism, as you have pointed out. Briefly, what about the Eastern Orthodox tradition in this area? Can priests be trained to do this work?

Fr. George: I’ve been blessed to know several Catholic exorcists, and they’re very, very knowledgeable in this, and they’re dealing with this topic on a routine basis. In fact, they’re working to build cooperation with the Orthodox Church, primarily the Russian Orthodox Church, and there’s been a lot of, let’s say, cross-pollination between the two churches.

We do not have an office of exorcist, in the same sense. In the Orthodox Church, every priest has the duty to conduct exorcism prayers, as necessary. In major cases, you always would want to communicate with your bishop as far as what’s going on. However, it isn’t like in the Catholic Church, for example, every diocese has to have a designated exorcist, and he has to have a letter from the bishop that says that he’s allowed to do them. We do not have that kind of formal system in that sense. However, our exorcism prayers are from St. Basil the Great and St. John Chrysostom. They’re very ancient, and in fact the Catholic exorcists can, with the right permissions, actually use those prayers, because they go back so far.

Kevin: First millennium, before the Schism.

Fr. George: Right.

Kevin: Moving to a slightly different subject, but one I did want to follow up on, Fr. George Aquaro. I interviewed, on this program, a couple of years ago, a former Wicca practitioner, actually a priestess. She is now Eastern Orthodox, in Canada, outside of Toronto. She made the distinction between white and black magic. What do you make of that distinction?

Fr. George: Well, I think they are deceptions. I mean, there is an intention that people get into witchcraft, and say, “Well, I am just trying to do this for good, and not for bad. I am not trying to cause problems.”

Kevin: Not conjure the demons, and so on.

Fr. George: Right. But it is really a type of deception to say, “Well, my magic is white and not black,” because it’s all still based on this self-will, and trying to do what you want to do. When we look at magic, itself, there’s a number of different types of magic.

Kevin: In the paper, you mention I talk about the different “stages” of magic, and it starts with the most benign, which is healing. Healing can sound like it is a positive thing, but the question is, what’s the source of the healing, and why aren’t you going to the Church, and why aren’t you putting your faith in God, rather than putting your faith in the practitioner?

Fr. George: This is part of the problem with witchcraft, and this can be true of clergy and people in the Church, where people start putting more of their faith in a person than they do in God. We never want to, as clergy, seem to have so much of a blessing that we’re any more than any other priest. We all share the same priesthood, the same ministry.

Getting back to the degrees of magic, it can start off looking very white, benevolent, because, “Oh well, I am healing.” Or the next stage is the alleviation of curses, removing curses or hexes from people. That’s like the evil-eye kind of stuff. Then the next step is, “I make amulets that give you good luck or keep away bad luck. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? That sounds very nice, I am doing something nice for you. Look, I am just giving you this little trinket and this is going to keep away bad things.” Well, again, where is God in that?

Kevin: Again, this gets back to the channeling or harnessing of depersonalized forces, of which there are really none.

Fr. George: Exactly, and this is why the making of talismans and amulets is condemned in the canons of the Church. It’s condemned in the Old Testament, and then it’s condemned yet again in the canons of the Church, even if they are supposedly for beneficial use.

St. John Chrysostom actually wrote that Christians should only bear two things on their body—one is the cross, and the other are the Scriptures. People would carry small pieces of the Scriptures on them, and that actually comes down from Judaism—the phylacteries which they wore on the forehead and the hand.

Kevin: A mezuzah—when you come into the home, there’s a little piece of the Torah in there and you kiss the thing that it’s in.

Fr. George: Right. A more modern, recent practice has been the carrying of blessed incense. People go to Greece, and they will take little pieces of the galloon fabric from the priest’s vestment and they’ll put a little bit of the incense in there. If you read in the Book of Needs there’s actually a blessing for that—we’re supposed to bless our incense. I have to admit that I’ve only been doing it recently, since I got the new Book of Needs; it has all those prayers in there. The blessing of incense actually mentions that people can carry it with them and it is bringing that blessing with it. We have holy water.

Kevin: Holy oil.

Fr. George: The holy oil. Usually the holy oil we don’t necessarily carry with us, usually only priests will carry that. But holy water, people are given it. Recently I had a liturgical question, somebody had noticed that on the calendar it said, “Blessing of waters,” and it wasn’t during Theophany. Normally in our churches we bless the water at Theophany and everybody gets those little teeny squeeze bottles, and it seems to sit in your icon corner and you never use it. I said, “Why do you have this blessing of water in the middle of the year?” The priest told me, “Well, it’s because you’ve run out.” And I am trying to think, I have been around a while, I’ve never heard of a church running out…

Kevin: I have six years’ worth of bottles on my altar.

Fr. George: Right. “People never run out, we end up pouring it in a designated spot to get rid of it at our church. What are you talking about?” He said, “Well, in a lot of villages the people will actually use enough holy water that the priest is blessing it almost monthly.” I said, “What? You are blessing water that much?” “Yes, people use it. There are some lay people that will routinely, on a weekly basis, bless their homes with their own holy water.” Again, this was part of my learning curve.

Kevin: It makes sense when you think that it is a blessed item, and we are a sacramental church, and there are forces around us, and why not purify your physical environment the way you try to purify yourself through prayer and fasting?

Fr. George: People ask, “Why don’t we see more manifestations? If we’re supposedly surrounded by all of these demons and angels and things like that, why don’t we notice them more often?” The way I was taught, and it makes an awful lot of sense to me, is part of their interest is to not be seen. Angels don’t have ego problems that they have to be noticed. They just do their business and that’s it. The forces of evil don’t want to walk around saying, “Hi, I am evil, and I’m here to do bad.” The most evil people that we run into, Ted Bundy for example, they aren’t advertising it; they look perfectly normal.

Kevin: Their purpose is to do the evil.

Fr. George: Right, and to look as absolutely harmless as possible. That’s why if you take a look at guys like Himmler or Heydrich, for example—you look at these guys and there was nothing particularly impressive about them: they wore snazzy uniforms, but they didn’t look like they were really snarling monsters, but they killed millions of people. They were horrible, horrible human beings.

Kevin: Yes. We read so much in New Age literature today, and we see this in the New Age and self-help movements about self-realization, self-actualization, and so on. I came across the book, Ritual Magic by Ian Butler, and I found something interesting in it and I would like you to comment on this. He writes, “The fundamental aim of all magic is to impose the human will on nature, man, and the supersensual world in order to master them.” So it’s really about self-deification, isn’t it?

Fr. George: Sure, it’s being god without God.

Kevin: Yes, there you go.

Fr. George: It goes back to what we were talking about in the first episode. We are trying to dodge being who we are.

Kevin: To promote ourselves.

Fr. George: To promote ourselves, yes. It’s trying to be more than who we really are. “I am not this person who is living a lowly life with only moderate amounts of success. I want to be famous; I want to be powerful.”

You see a great deal of that drive, and that’s one of the reasons why in classical culture, for example, who was accused of being a witch? It was the old, childless widow who lived on the edge of town, the most powerless person, the person who appeared to have the greatest amount of need, so that that is going to be the person that is going to be tempted to engage in powerful activities.

It is a very common accusation, but it’s not necessarily totally unfounded, because if you look in traditional cultures—my father’s family are Italians, there’s an awful lot of good Catholics, and there’s an awful lot of witchcraft going on, and a lot of times it actually lived up to the stereotype.

Kevin: That happens in Orthodox cultures, as you’ve mentioned, as well, in Russia and Slavic countries, as well as in Greece. I interviewed Kyriacos Markides, who wrote a couple of books on Daskalos, who was a man that was ultimately excommunicated by the Greek hierarchs for basically practicing magic and witchcraft, but he would argue that it was Orthodox Christianity, it was just that these narrow-minded priests and hierarchs didn’t get it.

Fr. George: Oh yeah, and there are even cases where some clergy got involved. For example, I guess in the Carpathian Church, you see the presence of what they called “black prayers.” The priests had books of curses that they could utter against people. For example, you’d go to your priest and say, “Yovanka down the street, she has two cows and I only have one; strike it dead,” and they would do it.

Kevin: Really.

Fr. George: Yes.

Kevin: That’s the tricky part of when shamanism starts to intersect with, if you will, Christianity. And I want to ask that question, but I want to build up to it a little bit, because it is kind of the tricky one we will end on.

On another subject, Fr. George Aquaro, I know that there are some Catholic theologians I have read recently that claim to recognize, at least the possibility of extraterrestrials and extraterrestrial life, non-human life on other planets, and so on, in the cosmos. On the other hand you have people like Fr. Seraphim Rose, in his book, Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future, that very clearly condemn all of this as being demonic, that these are demonic entities, there’s no such things as extraterrestrials. Does the Eastern Orthodox Church come out clearly on either side of this equation?

Fr. George: No, not that I am aware of. It certainly hasn’t been discussed in any of our councils. I am personally skeptical, as far as any of the things that I’ve heard or seen. I think that there are human forces at work. Some of these issues can look awful demonic; I don’t disagree with that conclusion, but on the whole with the UFO phenomenon and everything else I am personally skeptical, and I don’t see anyone in the Church in an official capacity saying, “This is absolutely the case.”

If you take a look at UFO phenomena, it seems to be following the same track as our technological developments, so I think a lot of it is misinterpreted other phenomena and people playing around. You have to remember that some of these governments have been playing around with some odd stuff for years. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow, at one point—I don’t know if it’s still to this day—but they actually had to cover the outside of the building with some sort of steel plates, or whatnot, because the Soviets were experimenting with beaming magnetic waves into the building to affect the personnel who were inside.

Kevin: Interesting.

Fr. George: In fact, something similar to that is now done with people who do these paranormal investigations, and I just want to say to people, if you’re thinking about ghost-hunting: “Don’t do it.” Maybe we can get into that later. Very small magnetic fields can have an affect on the human consciousness, and they were experimenting with that kind of stuff back in the ‘60s, so you can imagine where they are at now.

Kevin: Let me follow up on that. What about these ghost huntings and ghost sightings and reality shows which are particularly popular pursuits today on reality TV? We’ve talked a little bit about ghosts, but why would you be so discouraging of that, if, in fact, you acknowledge that apparitions that are non-demonic—departed souls, etc.—do, and can, manifest?

Fr. George: Well, this is where we get into that issue regarding obedience, and getting sucked into an obedient relationship with a demonic. What do demons want to do? They want to lead us towards them and away from Christ, and if they have to do that, impersonating a person, they are going to put on a good appearance.

Kevin: Their best face.

Fr. George: Yes, put your best foot forward. They are going to dress up like somebody else. Let’s say, for example, you get a Ouija board out, and: “I’m going to talk to the dead. I’m going to communicate with the dead in my living room.” And you open it up with an invitation, “Is there anybody here?” Well, now you’re opening the door to the spiritual realm in your living room, the comfort of your own home, right there. Then, you are inviting this spirit to touch objects that are in your house that you have your hands on.

Well, when they have done actual scientific experiments with Ouija boards and they’ve actually blindfolded the people, basically the puck just does a big figure-of-eight on the table; nothing happens. When they take the people who are blindfolded and they change the letters around on the board, it doesn’t come up with anything. In fact, there was a movement in the 19th century called the Spiritualist Movement, and people were involved in automatic writing. They collected thousands and thousands of reams of automatic writing, and you know what? It didn’t add anything to human knowledge; it didn’t improve the world; it didn’t save a life—it was just jibberish. But what we are doing when we ask something to take over our hand and write, or move the puck around on the board, or knock on the wall, is we are inviting spirits that we can’t see to interact with us.

Kevin: Can they only interact with us, Fr. George Aquaro, by our invitation? Or, as I think you mentioned in your article, can they can impose themselves, too?

Fr. George: There are limited cases where then can impose themselves, but usually what they do is, they wait for an invitation. I will give you a typical situation, where let’s say somebody plays with a Ouija board. A couple of days later they start hearing something in their closet—a classic example—there’s something in the attic, there’s something in the closet, there is something that is occupying the outer reaches of the home.

Kevin: Their physical environment.

Fr. George: And what do we do when we hear something that is in the closet? We withdraw. We curl up in bed. Instead of going over there, opening the closet door, throwing around a lot of holy water, taking your cross and saying, “Get out of my house. You do not belong here,” we draw back. We fall back in fear. So then it says, “Well, you know, since they’re not telling me I can’t be in the closet, I guess I can stay here. And now I’m going to step out of the closet and step into the middle of the room.” And you withdraw, you pull back, and then pretty soon you’re sleeping on the couch in the living room. This happens with people, I’m not making this up.

Pretty soon, they have lost complete control of their house, because all this thing does is take one step forward, and you don’t challenge it, and it takes another step forward. It’s your home, you have the spiritual authority. We have spiritual authority over our homes, our place, because this belongs to us, and we belong to God, and that is the chain of ownership. These things don’t have an ownership in this world. This is not their world, but they encroach, and if we don’t react, like, for example, the little old ladies in the village with their holy water they’re sprinkling around, they’re not going to put up with anything! If something’s going to come in their house, they are going to make it pay. And they do that. They sprinkle their holy water, and they bless their homes, and they make their homes safe.

But when you start inviting these things to talk—for example, one of the ghost-hunting activities involves doing an EVP session. They get a recorder out and put it in the middle of the room and ask questions. Well, if you put a recorder out, and you start asking questions, you’re inviting things to talk. I tell people, if you want to start having a haunted house, start putting tape recorders out and look for interaction. Things will come and interact.

What do these things want? They want your attention. That’s what they are looking for—your attention.

Kevin: And ultimately, as you say, your obedience.

Fr. George: Your obedience, exactly. They will get your attention with objects that are beautiful. You will see something—“Ah, this is really going to get their attention.” But eventually, they want to develop an interpersonal relationship, and then eventually get you to obey, and they’re drawing you away from God, you see. Every time you start studying angels, you’re not reading the Scriptures, you’re not praying to God.

Kevin: And you are separating angelic beings from their natural order, the context of their natural order?

Fr. George: Right, exactly, and the natural order always leads back to God—so anything that is not leading us to repentance for our sins… This is another issue, you said, what if someone appears? You have to look at what is the fruit of that apparition? If the fruit of that apparition is that you are drawn closer to God, you repent of your sins, you do some sort of charitable act, then it’s a good thing, and we could say, apparently, that’s inspired by God.

There was a story about one of the Desert Fathers—the name escapes me—but he was in his cave praying and this angel appears and says, “Prepare yourself, because in three days there are people coming and they’re going to take you, and they’re going to make you a bishop.” He says, “Get out of my cell, in the name of Christ, get out of my cell, this is a lie. I’m just a monk; I’m just a poor sinner.”

So the next day, “Hurry up, the emissaries are two days away, you need to get ready; they’re going to make you a bishop.” “Get out of my cell, you are trying to tempt me to ego.”

Then the third time he comes: “They’re coming, they are coming to get you, they are going to make you a bishop.” He says, “I don’t believe this; I am a sinful monk.” The angel responds, “Yes, and they are sinful people, and so God is going to punish them by making you their bishop because you are such a sinful man.” So he says, “Okay, now I believe you,” and he packed his things, because it brought that message of repentance. That is where he kind of gets it.

So, when you say, “Why should I go ghost-hunting? Why? Because I’m curious?” Well, if somebody is manifesting in a home, they’re not at rest. Are you going there to help those people? If not, this is like going to the hospital and having a gloat over the patients who are in there. “Hey, doctor, can you show us somebody who is really sick? I want to go watch somebody who is ill. Is there somebody who’s got, like, a triple-amputation, and I can go in there and make fun of them?” Because that’s what you’re doing when you’re going into a haunted house, and there’s crying and voices. Why would you want to go to a house and listen to someone in pain?

Why not go there and say, “I’ve been asked to go check these things out,” but I don’t go with the idea, “Oh yeah, there definitely is a ghost here,” and then just go home. If somebody is manifesting there and they need help, I want to help them. So in the situation I mentioned in the previous episode where there was this manifestation, I wanted to change that person’s situation so that they would not manifest anymore, so they could go be at peace, be at rest. That is what all of the prayers of the Church are about, when we talk about dealing with human apparitions, is the idea that we are to give these people the prayer that they need to be reconciled with their consciences, so they can go be at rest with Christ.

Kevin: And again, as you’ve stated well, it comes down to obedience. Scripture and our canons say don’t do this, and if you decide to do it, you are obviously giving your obedience to something other than God, through the Scriptures and through the Holy Church.

Fr. George: Absolutely.

Kevin: We are starting to descend now on the second part of our interview, Fr. George Aquaro. This is going to take a bit of time, I don’t want to rush through this. There’s also a growth of pagan religions in our culture, as you know, and you have spoken about, many of which have clearly, although not always recognized by Western seekers, incorporated the occult into their rites, their metaphysics, and their world views.

We see this in forms of yogic, especially tantric, Hinduism, especially chakra enlightening—I don’t know what the word is—yoga, and so on, and especially in Tibetan Buddhism, but you mention, even in Islam. You wrote, “Both Buddhism and Islam have tracks that accept an interplay with the demonic.” Could you talk a bit about how the occult is an integral part of these religious traditions, specifically, and especially in Islam, where you don’t hear much about that?

Fr. George: Yes, if you ever want to make somebody really uncomfortable who is trying to teach you about Islam, have them discuss djinn.

Kevin: Spelled j-i-n-n?

Fr. George: Sometimes it is d-j-i-n-n, sometimes it’s just a /j/. Djinn are beings that are not angels. According to the Koran—if I’m not mistaken; it’s been a while since I have read up on all of this—they are made of fire. I think they said angels are made of air, and they are made of fire, or vice-versa, but, basically, they are a very powerful spiritual being that can be Muslim or not.

Kevin: Wow.

Fr. George: One of the beliefs in Islam, for example, is that the jinn eat the bones and leftovers of your food after you throw it away, so that is why they say the Muslim djinn will only eat your food if…

Kevin: If it’s not pork.

Fr. George: Yes, and if it’s been prayed over in the name of Allah, so they always say, make sure that you say your prayers over your food so that the djinn don’t starve.

Kevin: My word.

Fr. George: I’m not making this up, it’s kind of very odd. But what happens in certain tracks of Islam, a sheik will get a book with a series of invocations. Remember I mentioned in the first episode, we talked about grimoires, these magical books of medieval Europe? The Muslims have the same idea, and they will open the book and invoke a certain type of djinn, and then what you are supposed to do is read your Koran and the djinn kind of tries to distract you and pull you away, and then, after a certain point, the djinn gives up and you form an association with that djinn and it serves you.

The higher up that you go in this system, you read further in these invocations. A classmate of mine in seminary one time said that in the Middle East one time, a Muslim boy decided to buy one of these books in the market and he went home and he turned all the way to the back page, and read the last prayer that was in the book and instantly became possessed by this demon. It was so bad that eventually they could only find one sheik who had a djinn that was more powerful than this one and he was in North Africa, and they had to pay the guy a lot of money to go drive that one off of this kid. So there’s an exchange of money, which is always a bad sign, but also, what is it done for? It’s done to enhance: this spiritual being is supposed to serve the sheik who forms the association with the spirit.

Kevin: Almost like a genie.

Fr. George: Exactly, it’s a genie. “Okay, you let me out of the bottle, and you get three wishes.” That’s where the story comes from is that concept; it is found in Islam. They say that these djinn are not demons, but you have to look at the things that they do. Very often these are used to harm people, and the question is, why would a being that’s that powerful really want anything from a human being?

Kevin: Anything that’s of God, especially.

Fr. George: Yes.

Kevin: Even in forms of Judaism, in Kabbalah, they have integrated in forms of the occult. Isn’t that correct?

Fr. George: Yes.

Kevin: I always struggled with one of the canons where it said that Orthodox Christians should not go to Jewish doctors, and I thought, “Well, is this just anti-Semitism?” Then somebody explained to me that in the ancient days, medieval days, and so on, oftentimes physicians that were Jewish physicians incorporated some of these occult methodologies in their dispensing of alchemical drugs and different things like this. That was the reason. It’s not that they were anti-Semitic—maybe some of them were, but that’s not the reason why it wound up in our canons. They wanted to keep us from any occult interaction.

Fr. George: Yes, there are some fascinating books on Jewish magic. There was Christian magic, as well. They were all out of the same boat, but it was much more accepted in Judaism. Avoiding Jewish doctors had to do with two issues: abortion, because Jews were allowed to abort Gentile babies, but not Jewish babies.

Kevin: Oh!

Fr. George: That was one of them. The other had to do with the practice of Jewish magic, where there was a lot of formulas and incantations, and, in fact, there was a special writing system that they developed because you couldn’t use the Hebrew letters in magic. They understood that they were tampering with something, so they created a separate writing system to write the spells that were very often used by doctors. There’s nothing wrong with using, let’s say, herbs, or things like that. It’s where there is a non-physical element that is added to these things that we have to be very careful of.

If you take a look in the New Testament, for example, the Book of Acts where St. Paul, for example, says you can eat meat that’s been sacrificed in a pagan temple, but there’s an issue regarding [not eating] things that have been defiled. What does it mean to defile? It was a little bit more than simply offering up food in a pagan temple; there was something more powerful that was going on. We, as Christians, have a very old tradition of blessing our food, because you don’t know if you are going to be eating something that is defiled, which is something that an unclean presence has been attached to. That’s why we always bless our food, because you never know what’s going on in the background.

Kevin: Interesting.

Fr. George: This has been a problem with, for example, some young people and the use of narcotics. Remember, a lot of the narcotics groups now, particularly the Mexican drug cartels, are involved in the occult, be it the route through the Caribbean and people involved in voodoo, or now, for example, “Santa Muerta,” in the Mexican drug cartels, is kind of their patron saint. It’s “Holy Death.” If you go to a shop, for example, and you see what looks to be like a skeleton dressed in a kind of a blue cowl, carrying a sickle, the blue cowl is like the Virgin Mary’s robe, but it is not the Virgin Mary, it’s a skeleton—it’s kind of creepy. That’s “Santa Muerta,” and that’s a type of occult activity, and they do some of their rituals with the drugs being present, so things might be attaching to this kind of stuff.

Kevin: For demonic protection against the law, and other gangs, and who knows what.

Fr. George: Right.

Kevin: I just want to mention, you mentioned no problem with herbs and things, but I am assuming you’d say that if somebody wants to throw a crystal at you, then you know we’re crossing a line there. Some physical things are okay, but some other physical things may have a little resonance with the demonic…

Fr. George: Sure. You have to be very careful with these things. I tell people, “When you bring objects home, bless them. You have holy water—bless the object before you bring it into your house.” That is often enough. That is why we bless our food, anything that has been attached to it, because people can be, literally, spiritually poisoned.

People who’ve gone through severe demonic attack will often, when we are doing the prayers, they will kind of vomit, but nothing actually comes out, and it is actually the spirit—the person isn’t possessed, but the thing is attached and it came through something that they ate or ingested. It’s in their stomach and it has to come out.

We always have to be very careful with our objects. The Jewish custom is, for example, if you buy a really nice Buddha statue—you see a nice statue—the Jewish practice is you have to deface it in order to break its power. I had a friend when I lived in Japan—he and I lived there around the same time—who bought an object, kind of a wooden block that was blessed in a Shinto temple. Being sort of a Jew, as he said, “not of the kosher kind,” but still being a little bit worried about this stuff, he asked a rabbi what he should do with it. The rabbi said, “Take a chip out of it. Deface it, to show that you are not worried about its power, and then you could have it in your house.” And I think you have to be very cautious with these things and ask yourself, “Why do you have this in your house?”

Kevin: Why would I have a Buddhist statue in my home?

Fr. George: Right, right.

Kevin: As you state, as we are coming to a close here, and I will quote you, “Only Christianity stands up to the demons and their enticements, where other religious traditions, as we have said, sometimes incorporate them.”

I want to ask a final, somewhat tricky question, and maybe you can answer it. I had a listener recently send me a link to a site where the claim is being made that so-called “kundalini-awakening yogas,” the yogas that awaken the so-called eight chakra energy centers in the body—that these are actually influencing even modern Christian movements through various ecstatic holy laughter, prophesying, even healing movements. What do you make of this? Do you think it is possible for Christians, many of whom pray in the name of Jesus, for example, to be somehow bordering on, or crossing the line over to, occult methodologies, maybe without knowing it?

Fr. George: I think that it’s very problematic because these beings that we’re talking about here, these demons really do not care, necessarily, about what your overall intention is. They have their own agenda. There’s an old military saying, “The enemy gets a vote?” They get a vote in this, and if you start getting into their territory, you’re the one who is straying off the reservation. You’re the one going into the new territory.

When you’re trying to unleash inner powers or whatnot, the important thing to remember is the operation of the will. The funny thing about Buddhism, the conundrum of Buddhism is that you’re supposed to get to a point where you have no will, you achieve enlightenment, you’re perfectly harmonized with the universe, but you are doing it all through the actualization and refinement and perfection of your own will. That’s a problem.

Kevin: Overcoming the will through the will, isn’t that Pelagianism, or something like that?

Fr. George: It’s up there, or out there, I should say, but when you talk about these things you say, “To what end?” Is releasing the kundalini going to make you repent more? Is it going to draw you closer to God? Are you doing it to serve others? Why?

Kevin: With humility, etc.?

Fr. George: Instead, most people say, “Hey, because I want to feel great!” Well, at what cost? There is a wonderful book called something like, The Gurus, Elder Paisios…

Kevin: The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios, published by St. Herman Press.

Fr. George: A wonderful, wonderful book. I highly recommend it, because he explains these things very clearly. At times you can look at this young man and ask, “What were you thinking? You were in the presence of a saint and you kept running off to India and engaging in all this stuff,” but we do this all the time because we’re not satisfied with the mundanities. I think the reason most people get involved with this type of stuff is that they are bored.

Kevin: Or not seeing power, maybe, in their brand of Christianity.

Fr. George: Sure, but part of that is boredom. If you want something really dangerous for your spirituality, get bored, and see what you do. It’s dangerous for our kids, it’s dangerous for us, and when you are not living Christianity in its fullness and its wholeness, you can get bored and it leads to dissatisfaction and lack of gratitude, and that lack of gratitude leads to all kinds of problems.

Kevin: So am I getting a “yes,” that some of these movements can, perhaps, border on illicit spirituality?

Fr. George: Sure. There is nothing wrong with doing what we call yoga—physical postures. I have a bad back and I have to do some of those exercises so that I can stand through the Liturgy. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if somebody is saying, “Here, chant these energy-harnessing mantras”—to whom? People have been tricked where they’ve ended up going to these meditation conferences and somebody says, “Okay, now, here, put this fruit in the bowl here.” “Why?” “Well, it’s just part of what we do.”

Kevin: An offering.

Fr. George: You are making an offering.

Kevin: My guest on the program today has been Fr. George Aquaro. Fr. George, this has been fascinating. I’ve loved it, and I’m sure our listeners will. Thank you very much for being my guest.

Fr. George: It has been an honor to be with you, and thank you for your ministry. This is a wonderful ministry to the Church. God bless you.

Kevin: Thanks, Father.



Article published in English on: 4-5-2011.

Last update: 4-5-2011.