Occult practices abound today in every culture around the world. On the roof garden of a fashionable Istanbul hotel, wealthy businessmen (who also regularly pray in Islam’s time-honored way) consult a spiritualist at their monthly meeting, while at home their wives “read” the coffee grounds left in their breakfast cups. Both practices are forbidden by Islam. In Romania, former top Communist officials who in Iron Curtain days had Indian yogis brought into the country as part of a circus to be secretly consulted can now practice occultism openly. In Beverly Hills, an attorney and his college professor guest and their wives rest their fingers lightly on an empty, overturned wineglass after dinner and watch expectantly as it is impelled across the table by some unseen power to provide amazing answers to their earnest questions. In New York, driven by the same compulsion, a successful Wall Street trader consults his astrologer to determine when to buy or sell.
In Kenya, after ritual dancing and drumbeating, a Luo tribe witch doctor, with the approval of the United Nations World Health Organization, listens as ancestral spirits speak through patients in deep trance. At the same time, on Long Island, an Episcopal priest and several of his parishioners hold a séance to communicate with dead relatives in order to seek advice from those who had little wisdom upon earth but have somehow become all-knowing since reaching “the other side.” In the steamy town of Recife in northern Brazil, Orisha gods and goddesses, imported from Nigeria and Dahomey, and now called by the names of Catholic saints, take violent “possession” of participants in a macumba ceremony.
Meanwhile, at faraway Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a Ph.D. candidate in solid state electronics with an open I Ching book on his lap solemnly drops 12 yarrow sticks and studies the resultant pattern. He is seeking guidance for a major decision in his life. Nearby at Harvard, a chemistry professor meditates beneath a mail-order pyramid. And deep I the Amazon jungle, natives drinking yage prepared from the banisteria caapi vine slip into an altered state of consciousness and begin to describe events taking place in a distant village. The gods, proven to be accurate the next day when a visitor comes from that village, have thus gained the confidence of their followers and thereafter can speak convincingly about the “next life.”
In Tibet, lamas exercise ancient secret practices now forbidden by the Chinese Communists: spirit mediums transmit the messages of gods, demons, and the dead, while the naljorpa feast on corpses of the enlightened in order to increase their own psychic powers, or engage dead bodies in a mystic dance climaxed by sexual intercourse with the demonically animated corpses. On the Island of Hawaii, a kahuna engages in a secret huna ritual to gain control over “life energy” for a wealthy client who carefully keeps his connection with native religion hidden from his business associates and pays the kahuna to put curses on his enemies. And in Hollywood, California, in an occult bookstore, a pair of teenage girls, whose parents take them each Sunday to fundamentalist Christian churches, browse among the parentally forbidden witchcraft volumes, eager to discover for themselves the promised powers they became intrigued with through a recent PG-rated movie.