Two weeks ago, in my homily for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, I spoke about the relevancy of the Bible today. It was the Sunday of the Word of God and I used Deuteronomy 18:10-12a as an example of a passage in the Bible that may be forgotten but has relevancy today. I spoke then of how some people see things like Ouija boards and fortune tellers as fun and games.
Independent of that, I wrote an article recently here, “We Need to Look Into Our Hearts”, on how superficial we can be. I wrote this article two days after my homily mentioned above. At that time I did not see a connection between the two but as I begin to write today’s article, I see a connection. If we live superficial lives, things don’t matter as much. Things like Ouija boards and fortune telling might seem like just fun and games. However, they are not just fun and games.
God knows this. He also knows that we always understand this. That’s why God tells us, “Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire, or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the Lord, and because of such abominations the Lord, your God, is dispossessing them before you” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12a). He knows these things are not good for us. He loves us. That’s why He tells us not to do them.
Deuteronomy 18:10-12a is not the only passage in the Bible that speaks against these practices. We think of King David as the first great King of Israel. We must remember there was King Saul before him. Saul had faith but he gave into his weaknesses at times. As a man of faith, in 1 Samuel 3c, he “had driven mediums and diviners out of the land.” He did this because he knew God prohibited this things. Yet, Saul was weak. In 1 Samuel 28:6, Saul consulted the Lord for help but when he did not get an immediate answer, against his own prohibition, Saul consulted a medium (read the whole chapter 1 Samuel 28 for the whole story). Going against the prohibition of Deuteronomy 18:10-12a, Saul requested a medium to conjure up the spirit of Samuel who had been a great prophet. The second half of 1 Samuel 28 speaks of Saul’s doom for this. (For other passages against such practices see Leviticus 19:31, Leviticus 20:6, and Leviticus 20:27).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of “Divination and magic” in paragraphs 2115-2117 as part of its instruction on the First Commandment. In paragraph 2115 it speaks of how, at times, God chooses to reveal the future through prophets. However, consulting fortune tellers comes from an “unhealthy curiosity” about the future. We need to trust the future to the Lord.
Paragraph 2116 speaks of “conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to unveil the future” as well as consulting horoscopes and other related practices. It says, “They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we to God alone.”
Paragraph 2117 speaks of “attempts to tame occult powers.” This is what mediums do. This is what a Ouija board is designed for. We are consulting powers that we do not understand and cannot control.
We might feel we have good reason and intent in our actions. For example, one may see Reiki as an attempt for healing from physical and/or emotional pain. The person’s intent for healing is good but the ends do not justify the means.
In researching Catholic understanding of Reiki, I found an article by Laura Locke, “The Dangers of Reiki”, (Catholic Answers, 11/1/2012, online at https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-dangers-of-reiki). It tells the story of Beth Anderson (fictitious name – real person) who experienced significant health challenges in college. Unfortunately, she was directed to Reiki by a Catholic nun. From Reiki sessions she begin “to experience deep relaxation” which, in turn, helped her to pray and bring her pain to God. It seems good but it was over time that she would come to see the problems with Reiki.
It is not simply a technique for relaxation, meditation, or physical healing. It is not just a technique in that a power is “transferred to the student by a Reiki master (see Locke’s article). Locke quotes another author, William Rand who is a Reiki practitioner, who writes, “The Reiki energies will begin flowing automatically. Reiki has its own intelligence and knows exactly where to go and what to do.” The fact that Reiki is described as having “its own intelligence” speaks volumes to us. It clearly is more than just a technique for relaxation and/or physical healing. One who uses Reiki is dabbling with forces that we do not understand.
Throughout her use of Reiki, Beth Anderson saw a Catholic priest for spiritual direction (let us pray that this priest and nun have come to see the problems with Reiki). Over time, even as the Reiki “helped”, she began to realize it might not be a good practice and that she had filtered out the parts of Reiki that more clearly went against her faith. She realized she had gone down a slippery slope that went against her faith. She abandoned her practice of Reiki.
In 2009, recognizing the problems of Reiki the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) wrote “Guidelines For Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy.” They wrote not to condemn or judge Reiki. They wrote with pastoral care for those who did not see the contradiction of Reiki with our faith. They wrote out of their responsibility to address the ignorance many have about Reiki (USCCB, Guidelines, 6).
It’s the same reason I write this article. I am not an expert in divination, fortune telling, or Reiki. I write to help point readers to what our Catholic faith says about such practices.
In their document on Reiki, the USCCB writes “The Church recognizes two kinds of healing: healing by divine grace and healing that utilizes the powers of nature” (1). The first is the work of God in miracles and grace. The second, using the powers of nature” is medical healing that health care workers provide through their God given gifts.
The USCCB identifies Reiki as having its origin in 19th century Japan as they write, “According to Reiki teaching, illness is caused by some kind of disruption or imbalance in one’s “life energy” (2). It involves the “flow of Reiki, the “universal life energy,” from the Reiki practitioner to the patient” (2). I don’t know about you, but the phrase “universal life energy” raises major flags for me. How is this in line with our faith given to us by God?
Reiki practitioners say that Reiki is not a religion of its own yet they use the terms “god” or “goddess” at times while others, perhaps to soften the conflict between Reiki and Christianity, say this universal life energy is directed by god as a higher intelligence (USCCB, 3).
Other proponents of Reiki “attempt to approach Reiki as a natural means of healing” (USCCB, 3) but no evidence of this has been found (USCCB, 4).
The USCCB writes, “Some people have attempted to identify Reiki with the divine healing known to Christians. They are mistaken. The radical difference can be immediately seen in the fact that for the Reiki practitioner the healing power is at human disposal” (USCCB, 4). In Christianity, we pray for healing from God. However, we leave it in God’s hands if and how to do the healing. Reiki goes beyond this trust we place in God.
Now retired Archbishop Wuerl was a member of the USCCB committee that produced this document. In May 2011 he wrote an article “Reiki Poses Theological Problems” in Ethics & Medics: A Commentary of the National Catholic Bioethics Center on Health Care and the Life Sciences (May 2011, Volume 36, number 5, accessed online 2/7/23 through the USCCB at https://www.usccb.org/resources/Reiki–Cardinal%20Wuerl%20article%20in%20Ethics%20Medics%20May%202011_0.pdf).
Archbishop Wuerl writes better than I can on how Reiki understands the healing to be under the “control of the Reiki practitioner” (1). He later goes onto speak of how Reiki might be appealing to those who identify as spiritual but not religious. He describes it as “supra-religious” (3).
I hope this has helped you understand why God prohibits fortune telling and the conjuring of spirits. Please read the articles that I have provided for more complete explanations. If you have general questions, I welcome your comments using the “comment” link that follows this article. I am not an expert but I do want to help you understand.