A few months ago I was visiting a church when a woman dropped something and mumbled under her breath, “ugh…retrograde.”

Recently, a pastor I know mentioned she keeps her strength fighting for social justice by going in for regular Reiki visits to keep evil sprits/energy away.

A past co-worker at a seminary used to tell me about the astrological signs with which he always got along.

I can’t count how many homes of conservative Christians I’ve been welcomed in to, only to discover crystals or Himalayan salt lamps in a corner or on a shelf.

I have had many LDS mention that their loved ones have shown more influence in their spiritual lives after their death more so than while they were alive.

Now that I’m looking for it, it seems to be everywhere–rarely a whole belief system, but more of an added “flavor” to an already established Abrahamic theology.

Apparently this shouldn’t be news to me.

Americans Christians, and the public as a whole, maintain belief systems in what is academically labeled “occult” whether anyone wants to admit it or not. According to a PEW study from 2009:

    25% of the public overall, and 23% of Christians, believe in astrology
  • 49% of the public claim to have had a mystical experience (twice as high–22%–as in a 1963 Gallup survey)
  • In fact, religious and mystical experiences were more common in 2009 among those who were unaffiliated with any particular religion (30%) than they were in the 1960s among the public as whole (22%)
  • 32% of black Protestants believe in the “evil eye”
  • 39% of liberals expressed the belief of yoga as a spiritual practice (compared with 15% of conservatives)
  • 37% of black Protestants, 35% of white Catholics, 31% of the unaffiliated, and 29% of white mainline Protestants saying they have felt in touch with someone who has died
  • Having been in touch with a dead person is more common among women than men (33% vs. 26%)
  • Upwards of six-in-ten adults (65%) express belief in or report having experience with diverse supernatural phenomena

This was all reported about a decade ago with a startling projection of increased numbers from the 1960s on. Which leads me to conclude that these numbers have probably increased by a good number.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this. As a missionary kid, I grew up with the people around me having a very deep and devoted spiritual/mystical belief system … surprisingly known and some aspects accepted by the church universal (ancestor veneration, for example). But in the U.S. the numbers seem low in comparison–people whisper or apologize for their encounters while society at large (religious and secular) openly mock these experiences.

I know the Reformation, Enlightenment, the Salem witch trials, colonialism, and a long ingrained hatred of women are to blame for this disdain. But it obviously didn’t make it go away. It just sent it underground or to the fringes, passed around and adopted as popular religion or in addition to more accepted faiths.

Or is that even correct?

Some of these beliefs are very biblical. Mothers and fathers of the faith would feel far more at home with an active spiritual world than with what we live in in the United States.

Where exactly is the line between occult/pagan/witchcraft and a world with thin veils and interactive experiences with the non-physical world? I think one of the problems is that people think this line is strong and in black and white. Or that this is an issue for the uneducated or mentally unstable. The numbers, however, show that this world is real for at least a quarter of people in a church pew. That’s millions of people with no answers or safe places to discuss something very real to them.

To be perfectly honest, I have never experienced anything even close to the mystical or supernatural, but many people I love and trust have and it’s just one question I would like to continue to explore here.

As always, dialogue partners, it is my interactions with you that make my questions and exploring so much more rich. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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