Wineskins Archive

December 21, 2013

Delivered! Memories of My Occult Family Christmases (Sept-Dec 2009)

Filed under: — @ 10:08 pm and

by Shirley Pope Waite
September – October, 2009

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses…

I thrust my trembling fingers hard against my ears. As the strains of “In The Garden” waft from the choir loft, I squeeze tighter and tighter, trying to block out the hymn which, for 60 years, has brought back painful memories. Why should a song so uplifting to others cause me to shudder?

My thoughts are transported to a séance, and I see myself as an adolescent sitting in a circle of family members in a semi-dark room. Granddad stands in the middle of the room, and I focus on his handlebar mustache. Several hymns are sung, but at every séance, one prevails. We sing all three verses:

He speaks and the sound of his voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing…
I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling…

Even now, decades later, the pit of my stomach tightens as I write these words.


A family séance was part of our Christmas afternoon. My parents, younger brother, and I always drove into the city from our country home early in the day to join the aunts, uncles, and cousins at my grandparents’ home. The excitement of opening gifts took most of the morning. I can still see myself sitting in my own “space” by the foot of the stairs where I piled my “loot,” which invariably included a book or two.

The year I received a complete set of Charles Dickens especially stands out in my mind. After a wonderful Christmas dinner, it was time for our yearly séance. I quivered with both excitement and fear as I followed the other family members into the séance room. I remembered the previous Christmas when Granddad brought the messages “from the other side.” He’d foretold that a family member would marry within the year. I gazed lovingly at my favorite aunt holding her new husband’s hand. Maybe the spirit guides would have a “word” about my future mate.

As Granddad stood in the center of the crowded room, he turned slightly from one person to the next. Soon he came to me, cupped his hand over his eyes, and remained motionless for what seemed an eternity.

“Charles Dickens is your guide.” I was surprised because most spirit guides were identified only as “he” or “she.” And disappointed too. Did Granddad know I’d received the set of Dickens that morning? Is that why he mentioned the English author’s name? What kind of revelation was that? But he added, “Charles Dickens will help you become a writer.”

I gasped. Nobody in the whole wide world knew how much I yearned to become a writer, to see my name in print, to make my mark in the publishing world. And Charles Dickens himself would be my guide!

With such an exciting message, why then did I fear this room? Perhaps it stemmed back to one day the previous summer when I took care of my crippled grandmother when her live-in helper was on vacation. Although Granddad had cautioned me not to go into the séance room, my curiosity was too great. So when Grandma was napping, I decided to take a peek.

It was the same ordinary room with the circle of chairs I had seen each Christmas, with one difference. A corner table held objects which looked like cheerleaders’ megaphones. What in the world were they doing here?

I was afraid to ask my parents, but found out a few days later when I overheard them talking about a “trumpet” circle. Apparently, these “trumpets” floated around the room, and voices of dead relatives and friends were magnified through them. I shuddered as I heard them discussing an aunt who had died a few months before. My dad asked, “Why was Mary’s voice so weak?” My mother replied, “She hasn’t been on the other side very long.”


High school days sped by, and I soon found myself attending the University. A girl I met in a sociology class invited me to attend a church youth meeting. It was my first direct exposure to true Christianity, and I lapped it up, eventually becoming an officer in the group. Whenever anyone asked about my faith, I stated I was a Protestant. A boyfriend in whom I had confided became fascinated, and I simply explained that spiritualism just “continued where other Christians left off.” That seemed to satisfy him.

One Sunday evening during a special worship service put on by the college youth, an organ prelude included a medley of old hymns. Suddenly I heard “In the Garden” and it was like someone had tossed a bucket of cold water into my brain.


God graciously brought a Christian man into my life. After we were married, we began going to church. I thought as long as I lived a good moral life, and attended services on a regular basis, I was a Christian too. I didn’t tell my husband about my occult background, and he concluded that I’d come from an unchurched family. It never occurred to me to talk any of this over with my pastor.

Then a friend invited me to an interdenominational Bible study, and I embarked on a new spiritual journey, I shall never forget the day God’s Word jolted me in a most unexpected way. I was studying Deuteronomy when a verse in the 18th chapter caught my immediate attention. “Let no one be found among you…who is a medium, spiritist, or who consults the dead.” (verses 10, 11) The word “medium” brought a picture of Granddad standing before me in the séance room. Verse 12 goes on to say, “Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord…” My grandfather detestable?

I searched further with the help of a concordance. I found these words in Isaiah: “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists…should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?” (Isaiah 8:19 NIV)

I was confused. Hadn’t many of Granddad’s predictions been accurate? I decided to talk it over with my Bible study leader. She explained that God’s gifts, including prophecy, can be counterfeited. We read together 2 Corinthians 11:14:
“…for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.”

When I got home, I had to face the fact that I was not a Christian at all. I had embraced false beliefs disguised as the truth. I knelt and renounced every occult influence in my past and asked God to forgive me. Then I asked for HIS divine wisdom for the future. I went through the house like a Jew at Passover time looking for yeast, destroying an ouija board and other occult-related games and books. I realized that any success I had attained as a writer was inspired—not by Charles Dickens—but by Almighty God.

Even after all these years, I still react to that precious hymn about Jesus in the garden. But now, in spite of the bad memories, God uses these words to assure me that the Lord indeed

…walks with me and talks with me,
And tells me I am His own…

God is turning darkness into light.New Wineskins

Shirley Pope Waite

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