Channeling is a popular term used for communicating with spirit guides or with the spirits of those who have died. What does the Bible say about this practice?
Stories abound about those who, grieving the loss of a loved one, find comfort in communicating with the dead through channeling. Others delve into this practice out of curiosity or to try to see the future. Modern-day psychics—people who claim to have paranormal abilities that allow them to foresee the future and have conversations with deceased loved ones or with spirit guides—are often called channels or channelers.
Channeling is defined as “the practice of professedly entering a meditative or trancelike state in order to convey messages from a spiritual guide” (Dictionary.com).
Included in the practice of channeling is necromancy, defined as “a method of divination through alleged communication with the dead” (Dictionary.com).
An ancient practice
Written records of this practice of inquiring of spirit guides (also known as “familiar spirits”), or talking to the dead, date back to ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome. These attempts to contact a spiritual guide or communicate with the dead rose in popularity in Europe and the United States in the 19th century. Today this practice is gaining popularity again.
In psychic channeling sessions, the words and tone of familiar personalities are often reproduced with marvelous accuracy. But objective studies have shown that parlor tricks—illusions and deceptions—are usually at work in these sessions. Nevertheless, it seems that some psychics are actually engaging invisible intelligent spirit beings. The key questions are: Who are these spirit beings, and is this a harmless practice?
Who are these spirits?
God’s Word reveals truths about a spirit world that deserve careful consideration. The Bible explains that an evil spirit called Satan the devil “deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).
As we will soon see, one of the ways Satan and his demons deceive unwary people is by leading them to believe that their dead friends and family members are spirits, living on after death and able to communicate with them.
The Bible gives a classic example of the practice of channeling. King Saul was desperate to know whether he should lead Israel in a battle against their enemies. He said to the channeler (or “medium,” as such individuals are called in the Bible), “Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you” (1 Samuel 28:7-8). Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” (verse 11).
After asking the woman to bring up Samuel, “the king said to her, ‘Do not be afraid. What did you see?’ And the woman said to Saul, ‘I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.’ So he said to her, ‘What is his form?’ And she said, ‘An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.’ And Saul perceived that it was Samuel” (verses 13-14, emphasis added).
We’re only told that Saul perceived that it was the form and the voice of the prophet of God who had already gone to his grave. Was this really the spirit of Samuel that the medium called up?
God had already stopped answering Saul’s questions. Because Saul had persisted in rejecting God’s instructions, the privilege of receiving answers from God “by prophets [or] by dreams” was withdrawn from him (verses 15-16).
The voice that was heard could not have been the voice of the prophet of God. Instead, it was a demonic spirit manifestation. King David was inspired by God to declare that the dead have no thoughts nor memory, and therefore cannot even offer praise to God. He wrote, “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5).
Solomon added, “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing.” He also wrote, “There is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you [all humans] are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10).
People who engage in channeling sessions are being deceived by the manifestations and words that appear to be coming from those who have died. Through channeling, many who are sick or grieving, or just curious, are communicating with evil spirits.The preceding biblical passages show that the illusions a channeler may see are not really deceased people after all! From the account in 1 Samuel 28 we should also note that in this unusual case it seems God used the evil spirit to tell King Saul that because he had not obeyed God, he would soon die while fighting the Philistines (verses 18-19). This in no way indicates that God approves of channeling.
Is this a harmless practice?
The Bible is clear that the prophet Samuel was dead and there was no living spirit-consciousness that could be attributed to him. People who engage in channeling sessions are being deceived by the manifestations and words that appear to be coming from those who have died. Through channeling, many who are sick or grieving, or just curious, are communicating with evil spirits.
All who venture to do this are on dangerous ground according to God’s Word. Getting involved with evil spirits can lead to a relationship with them that is terribly mentally distressing and very difficult to recover from.
God cautioned His people, Israel, not to imitate the other nations around them, saying, “There shall not be found among you anyone who … practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12).
Note that this passage doesn’t confirm that the dead can truly be called up; it simply cautions God’s people not to be involved in such wicked attempts.
Again, through the prophet Isaiah, God warned His people against trying to speak to the dead or trying to learn the future through evil spirits. As God said through the prophet, “And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light [of truth] in them” (Isaiah 8:19-20).
God sternly warns mankind not to seek after demons through these kinds of activities (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9). We are not to be ignorant of Satan’s schemes and deceptions (2 Corinthians 2:11). And we are not to associate with those who conjure up demon spirits. As Paul wrote, we should “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11).
Why aren’t we to have anything to do with Satan and his demons? Because they relentlessly strive to lead us down the path to spiritual ruin and eternal destruction. Thankfully, God gives us the knowledge and the power to resist them. For additional information, please see our article “Are Demons Real?”
A growing phenomenon in the last days
Bible prophecies indicate that the strong appeal of inquiring of so-called spirit guides or trying to contact our deceased loved ones can lead to messages that will bring grand deceptions and false hope to humankind on a scale never before seen. There is a coming spiritual crisis for large numbers of people who have no appreciation for God’s Word but would rather believe lies.
The apostle Paul spoke of a time toward the end of this present age when a very influential world figure will gain an enormous following through counterfeit miracles. Paul recorded the prophecy for us, saying, “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10; see also Revelation 13:13; 19:20).
“Lying wonders” are counterfeit miracles wrought by demonic spirits.
Paul adds, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). For more information about the end-time personality who will deceive many, see the article “Antichrist.”
God wants us to understand that there are very powerful, invisible personalities in the spirit dimension who are constantly trying to deceive and harm humanity. At the end of this current age, these evil spirit influences will grow increasingly more active.
The Bible contains wonderful answers to many of life’s most puzzling questions, including those regarding the spirit world and what really happens after we die. These truths were given to humankind by God’s divine revelation in the Bible. For further study, be sure to read our article “Immortal Soul: What Is a Soul?” and download our online booklet The Last Enemy: What Really Happens After Death?