The final chunk of my complicated reflections on the lives of a Christian and an occult practitioner.
Anyone who prays accepts that part of the business of prayer is the effect it has on the one who does it: thus Christians say that prayer is less about telling God what you want than about listening to him, learning to align one's will with his. This is of course nothing less than the truth; but putting all the emphasis in this direction turns away in some discomfort, perhaps, from those Scriptural insistences that prayer is also supposed to make very concrete things happen, or at least play a role in them happening. ‘The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective', says St James, ‘the prayer will make the sick person well.’ ‘If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer’, says Jesus quite baldly. Generations of Christians have been driven to angst and anguish by trying to reconcile such statements with the apparent deafness of Heaven to what they pray themselves.
People, by and large, want to help, want to be able to do something practical for others. What originally propelled Dion Fortune towards occultism – strange though this might seem to those of us with a rationalist frame of mind – was the feeling that the psychotherapeutic techniques in which she was trained were actually inadequate to help her patients, and something was needed which took a rounder view of the human person and its mental components. Throughout the history of the Society of the Inner Light there was a persistent desire, never fulfilled, to develop something along the lines of an occult healing centre that would combine a variety of therapeutic techniques to heal, and that sometimes this would include physical as well as mental disorders. One of the Higher Plane teachers who regularly contacted the Society, known as ‘the Master of Medicine’, would occasionally remind the members of this aspect of the work. Dion Fortune and some of the adepts did indeed deal with individuals and their problems on this basis, but the plan for a more corporate healing centre never materialised. For Agnes Sanford, the whole impetus of her ministry came from the experience of healing and being healed.
The similarities between the two – the focus on visualisation and mental training, for instance – are striking. Furthermore, although the occultist may seem to concentrate more on an internal journey towards adept-ship which doesn't necessarily have any obvious purpose beyond the person concerned, it’s clear that Dion Fortune, at least, intended the purified soul to be more useful to their fellow beings rather than just enjoying some individualistic communion with eternal reality. Agnes Sanford’s teaching, obviously, was even more concentrated on discovering ways, often very old ways, of ‘clearing’ the human will to be more open to the will and power of God.
If both spiritual disciplines do seem able, at some level, to help prayer produce sensible effects, an important question arises for Christians: what’s happening? The fact that Dion Fortune’s first mentor in the occult world, Theodore Moriarty, was an accomplished exorcist, raises the issue in a rather acute form. Remember how Jesus is challenged about this very matter, accused of ‘casting out demons by the prince of demons’, and responds to the religious authorities, ‘then by whom do your sons cast them out?’ pointing out further that if Satan is casting out devils his end can’t be far away.
Christians who might want to
argue that good supernormal works wrought by non- (or heterodox) Christians are in fact delusions of dark spiritual
powers have to cope with the Church’s ancient and Biblical insistence that
those powers cannot do anything wholesome and good, except by accident. You
can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring, states St James; by their fruits
you shall recognise them, says Jesus.
Assuming this is not all the purest nonsense, there seem to be two possibilities. First, that there is some sort of innate spiritual power in human beings which can be activated and energised by certain techniques, whether they are framed within a Christian or an occult context, or something entirely different. Second, that God responds with generosity to prayers offered to him with compassion, without necessarily insisting very much on the person offering them having the correct belief structure. The first omits God and can never form the basis of a Christian approach to the matter; the second leaves the initiative with God; but still unsettles Christian assumptions about their own specialness. It would make God more open-minded, perhaps, than we might be comfortable with, or can afford to be.