Inquirer: Father Cleopa, what is witchcraft and how many types of it are there?
Elder Cleopa: By the word witchcraft we understand the invocation of demonic powers – instead of God – in order to help people to fulfil human wishes. Witchcraft used to be practiced both among the Jews of the Old Testament, and among the New Testament Christians, until today. In the Old Testament, the one who asked for the devil’s help, by resorting to witches, was King Saul, and he was severely punished by God. Both Barlaam and the three Magi, who practiced astrology, were wizards.
According to St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite’s teachings, witchcraft is divided into several categories; namely:
Witchcraft per se, which involves calling upon the devils to disclose hidden treasures, lost items, and other such things.
Divination, the second type of witchcraft, through which certain people tell fortunes by palm reading – otherwise called chiromancy – and reading into other objects (maize kernels, playing cards, coffee, etc).
Enchantments, spiritism – that is, calling upon devils in dark rooms or nearby tombs, to punish living persons. Enchanters claim that they call the dead people’s souls from hell, like fortune-tellers during the times of Prophet Samuel (I Kings 21:3), in order to find out future events or take revenge on someone. Nowadays, the enchantment that is practiced among some Christians consists in things like extinguishing coal, uttering certain words in combination with prayers, for sick people whom they claim to have been “charmed”, etc.
“Ghitia” [in Romanian], or fortune-telling by using holy things, such as the Psalm book; fortune-telling by using church items, such as scraps of clerical garments; the church key; censer ashes; writing names on the tocsin, bells, or church walls or introducing them inside the icon lamp, etc.
Spellcasting, in other words, charming young people to marry each other or separate them from one another, by calling in the devil’s help, otherwise called “fate-spelling” by the populace.
Fortune-telling by reading into animal entrails, otherwise called“iconoscopy”. This type of witchcraft also includes dreams, zodiacal signs, good and bad “hours”.
Fortune-telling by the body parts – also called “presaging” (ear-ringing, eyelid-twitching, palm-itching).
Stringing, which involves wearing satanic symbols such as threads, keys, objects (amulets) or dyed fabric, either on one’s hand or chest, with a view to protect the person from illness, danger, and harm, after having previously invoked upon them the devils’ power.
The devil callers (“clindons”) are the ones who foretell the future with the devils’ aid. Among them are the people who make fires in front of houses and jump through them.
Entrail readers; ventriloquist fortune-tellers, as well as the ones practicing entrail reading or render livestock unproductive – a kind of witchcraft which is still practiced in our times.
Astrology is a type of witchcraft that has been practiced since ancient times. It consists in foretelling things by the movements of stars, planets, winds, clouds, and other elements. Astrologers claim that each person has his/her own star.
These are a few of the most current types of witchcraft – some that are almost forgotten, others still practiced in our days, which we combat and of which we must run away, as they are devilish fabrications which mislead and deceive many Christians, much to their perdition.
Inq.: Can the devil really help people through witchcraft, more than the power and grace of God?
EC: Let us make it clear that devils have no power whatsoever to heal someone, neither can they help to disclose damages or their perpetrators. They can never work genuine miracles, but it is only through illusions that they deceive the unfaithful and the ones of weak faith. St. John Chrysostom shows us this truth, when he says:
“Can’t you see how the devils weren’t even able to heal the wizards and charmers who served them, of the blisters and abscesses given by Moses in Egypt – and do you think they will heal you? (Exodus 9:11). And if the devils don’t take pity on your soul, how will they grow sad over the pain of your body?
If the devils do their best to push you out of God’s Kingdom, how will they save you from illness? This is mere reason for laughter and fairy tales. Therefore, do not fool yourself, Christian, as the wolf can never turn into sheep, nor can the devil ever turn into a doctor. It is rather easier for fire to cause freezing and for snow to provide warmth, than it is for the devil to heal you for real.”
Therefore, whenever we fall ill or have any problem or are unjustly treated, or suffer from some damage, or have marriageable sons or daughters – or any other family issues, let us not resort to the help of the devil and his servants – the wizards and the fortune-tellers – but to the Church and Priests, to fasting and praying, and we will instantly receive help from our Good Father, Who made us and has mercy on us.
Inq.: What are the consequences of the sin of witchcraft?
EC: Those who practice witchcraft and go to witches commit a great sin against the Holy Spirit, as they leave God and ask for the devils’ help. They relinquish Christ’s servants – the holy Priests – and go to Satan’s servants. That is, they abandon the Living Water – the priest – and the Church’s grace and, for the sake of their passionate and human interests, they call in the help of Christ’s enemies – the wizards and witches. They cast off the Truth and instead, they receive lying, as all the wizards’ words are nothing but devilish lies and deception. Such a great sin that those guilty of it commit against the Holy Spirit aren’t forgiven – neither during the current age, nor in the next age, as Christ Himself says, unless they repent throughout their lives. All sorts of misfortunes and dangers befall those guilty of such sin, those who resort to charmers. First of all, one will face the remorse of one’s own conscience for having abandoned God and called for the help of God’s enemy.
Then there is the penance, over several years, from taking the Holy Eucharist, which can last from 7 to 15 years, or even 20. Then the ones who believe in, and resort to, charmers chase God’s grace from their hearts and bring the devil’s spirit into their house and heart. Then, people who cast spells and believe in them cast off Christ and unite with the devil. Then, people who cast spells and resort to such people that perform them are no longer entitled to the name of Christians, but of apostates. Then, the ones who are guilty of such a serious sin are punished by God with severe and unrecoverable illnesses, with suffering in their families, damage, conflicts, poverty, and terrible death. And if they don’t confess to a priest and do not repent for their sin, with tears, all their lives, they cannot be saved.
If they do not abandon their practices and do not repent, wizards and people who believe in them and who resort to the devil’s help “abandon the Church completely”; that is, they separate from Christ and give themselves willingly into the hands of the enemy, and if they die in that sin, they will not even be allowed to have a priest at their funeral; but rather, just as pagans and the fallen from faith, they will be sent into the toils of Hell for their eternal punishment. These are the terrible consequences of witchcraft.
Inq.: What canons do the Holy Fathers give to wizards and to people who resort to them?
EC: St. Basil the Great lays down the most severe punishments for wizards. This is what he says in Canon 72: “The person who entrusts himself to charmers or anyone similar shall be punished with the Canon that applies to murderers” (St. Basil, 72; St. Gregory of Nyssa, 3; Laodicea, 36). He places wizards among people-killers and the ones who have been cast off by God; that is, he stops them from taking the Holy Mysteries for a period of 10 to 20 years. In Canon 65, the same St. Basil the Great says: “Any woman who will cast spells on strangers or on her own people (is to be forbidden to take the Holy Mysteries) for 9 years and she is also to genuflect 500 times a day.”
Canon 61 of the 6th Ecumenical Synod withholds the Holy Eucharist for six years from those who frequent fortune-tellers, card-readers and other such people, in order to find out future events. And “if they persist in such things and do not stay away from these soul-losing and pagan crafts, we decide that they be abandoned completely by the Church, as the Holy Canons teach, too.” St. John the Faster shortens the canon for wizards and people resorting to witchcraft to only 3 years of Eucharist interdiction, if they confess their sins, give it up completely, fast every day until three in the afternoon, and do 250 genuflections a day.
But even the Holy Scripture indicates how hard God’s punishment is to the people who resorted to wizards, as it reads: ”Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18). And it also says: “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death; they shall stone them with stones; their blood shall be upon them” (Leviticus 20:27). And also: “And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people” (Leviticus 20:6).
We see that Emperor Manasseh was punished by God with bitter and heavy captivity in Babylon, for having “caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom; also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger” (II Chronicles 33:6). Emperor Saul was punished by God with the loss of his kingdom and a disgraceful death, for having abandoned God and having resorted to a ventriloquist woman and followed her divination practices (I Kings 28:7) and Emperor Ahaziah was the object of great wrath by God, for having sent envoys to ask questions to the witch of Ekron.
Inq.: Please tell us more about the sin of foretelling based on holy books, or, as they are commonly called, “the opening of the Law”, which is usual nowadays among believers.
EC: Magic with holy items and books is the fourth type of witchcraft and is called “ghitia”. These wizards mix their witchcraft with prayers, psalms, and other holy words, addressed to the Mother of God and the Saints, so that they can fool those of weak faith more easily. Such witchcraft is common especially among ill-meaning, the old, as well as Gypsy women, and is aimed at deceiving those who have a weak mind.
This is what St. John the Chrysostom says about this:
“You say that that old woman is a Christian, and that man is a Christian diviner, and when they enchant or open the Book, they neither say, nor write any other names than those of Christ, the Holy Theotokos and the Saints; so what harm do they do? To this, I answer you that for such acts it is right to hate that bad woman and that evil charmer and book diviner even more, as they use God’s name in a shameful and dishonourable way.
Even if they are Christian, they work like pagans. Because even devils themselves, despite naming the name of God, are still devils. Some, wishing to justify themselves, say that the enchanter woman is Christian and that she says nothing else but the name of God. It is precisely for that reason that I hate her and turn away from her even more, because she uses God’s name in a shameful manner. Despite calling herself Christian, she shows herself to be working the pagans’ work.”
The ones who tell fortunes by opening the Psalm book and other holy books are forbidden to take the Eucharist for up to 7 years, because the Psalm book is holy and contains many prophecies, it has been inspired by the Holy Spirit, and is aimed for prayers and not for divination and profit-making, to one’s eternal punishment. The same sin is perpetrated by some priests, who “open the book”, as they call it colloquially, and thus fall under heavy punishment, along with those who ask them to open the Holy Gospel.
Inq.: Why have some Christians fallen into the sin of witchcraft?
EC: Because their faith and fear of God have gone weak; because today’s Christians don’t pray enough to fulfill their demands through prayer and not divination; because they don’t read the Holy Scriptures to see the kind of punishment that awaits wizards, and because they don’t go to Church regularly, do not confess during the four main Lents and don’t ask for the advice and prayers of their Priests when they need something. Some Christians also resort to divination because they have forgotten the promises they made to Christ during Holy Baptism, when they said: “I cast thee off, Satan, and all of your things, and all his service…” Also, Christians resort to the devil when the Church does not fulfill their demands or because they forget about death and Christ’s Judgement Day.
Which is why the Holy Fathers urge us to run only to God, only to the Church and to the Priests, and not to the devils and their servants. And St. John Chrysostom advises us: “I entreat you, stay clear of such deceit… and every time you step out of your house, say this first: I cast thee off, Satan, and your honoring, and your service, and I unite with you, Christ! Never step out of your house without this thought. May this be your walking cane, your weapon, your defense fortress, and while saying these words, also do the sign of the cross on your forehead. Thus armed everywhere, were you to encounter not only man, but even the devil himself, they will not be able to do you any harm”.
Inq.: How can Christians keep away from witchcraft and all the other kinds of magic that the devil produces?
EC: Whoever has a firm belief in God, who prays to God incessantly, and goes to the Holy Church regularly, will never resort to devils and wizards for help, as they are the enemies of God.
So, those who have steadfast faith in God should ask Him for His help at all times. And the ones who have weak faith, who have resorted to wizards, if they wish to be saved, first of all they must confess their sin and then ask for a canon (penance). Then they should never resort to Satan’s help any more, no matter what need they might have – but only to God’s help. Then, they should pray as much as possible, with prayers and tears that come from the heart (Deuteronomy 4:29; Psalm 119:58; Jeremiah 29:13) and thus, with patience and faith, they will be saved from witchcraft and will receive the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Inq.: What are dreams and sightings, what is the difference between them and of how many types are they?
EC: I shall answer you with the words of St. John of the Ladder, who says: “Dreaming is the movement of one’s mind during the stillness of the body. And apparitions (fake sightings) are the illusion of the eyes, when thinking is asleep. Apparitions are the mind’s exit when the body is awake. Apparitions are the sighting of something without hypostasis (not real)”. So this is what dreams and sightings are. They are of two kinds: good and bad – dreams and visions. The difference between them is this: the good dreams and visions are from God, and they reveal His great will, but only to those who are completely accomplished and saintly and who obey His commandments. Such a person was Joseph, to whom Archangel Gabriel showed himself in his dream, ordering him to flee with the Infant Jesus and Virgin Mary to Egypt. Good dreams come from the angels and remind us of death and punishment and after we wake up, they drive us to prayer and repentance. On the contrary, bad dreams and sightings are from the devils, who take the form of angels of light or saints and deceive us while we sleep and make us believe that we are good and worthy of entering Heaven; and after we wake up, “we sink into pride and joy”.
Inq.: Is it sinful for Christians to believe in dreams and visions?
EC: St. John of the Ladder says that “whoever believes in dreams is like the one who chases one’s own shadow and tries to catch it”. He also says that “the devils of empty glory (vanity) are prophets, in one’s dreams. They shrewdly invent images of future things and tell us about them in advance. And if the sightings come true, we wonder at them and take pride in that, as if we had the gift of foreseeing (prophecy). Those who listen to the devil have often turned into fake prophets”. And he continues: “Devils know nothing about future things based on prior knowledge, since doctors, too, can tell us that we will die, beforehand.” Then he concludes, by saying: “The moment we start to believe the devils’ dreams, they begin to mock us even when we are awake. Whoever believes in dreams and sleep visions is completely inexperienced. And the one who doesn’t believe either is a philosopher.”
So, it is a sin to believe in dreams and visions, because it is through such things that devils deceive us very easily and throw us into the terrible sin of pride and vanity, to the point where man ends up trusting himself more than the word of God. With this tempting contrivance, the devil has deceived many Christians and monks, eventually throwing them into the pit of perdition. And if, however, someone doubts one’s dream or visions, one should confess to one’s Priest and ask for his advice, as it is through one’s spiritual Father that God speaks.
Inq.: How many reasons are there for people to deceive themselves by empty visions and dreams?
EC: There are seven reasons for which Christians are deceived by visions and dreams into believing that they are from God: pride; vanity – which is the first daughter of pride; a weak and inexperienced mind; the thoughtless zeal of some Christians, who pray and fast a lot so that they can have visions, and of whom St. Isaac the Syrian says: “It is from great illness that the one who has false zeal suffers.” The fifth reason for deception through visions and dreams is failure to listen to one’s Spiritual Father and the stubbornness of some believers – especially the proud ones – which makes them easy pray to the devil; the sixth reason has to do with people failing to disclose all their personal lives (inaccurate confession) to the Priest. The last reason for Christians’ deception through dreams and false visions is failure to know oneself and to read the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers.
Wise Sirach talks about these matters also, when he says: “Divinations and omens and dreams are folly, […] for dreams have deceived many, and those who put their hope in them have failed” (Sirach 34:1-7). May the ones who believe in dreams and visions easily, without much searching and advice, receive penance, just as the ones who resort to magic and enchantments – namely, may they be stopped from taking the Holy Eucharist for up to seven years.