Concise Dictionary of the Occult and New Age

By Debra Lardie
Grand Rapids : Kregel (2000). 302 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
12.1 (Spring 2001) : 108-110

In the last few decades occultic and New Age terminology and symbolism have become so pervasive that they are essentially ubiquitous in modern society. Christians, as C. S. Lewis once pointed out, deal with such matters in one of two extremes, either complete ignorance or unhealthy preoccupation. Part of the problem for the average Christian or even seminary-educated pastor in dealing with these issues is a lack of understanding of the variations within what the editors call the “philosophical kaleidoscope” of occult and New Age manifestations. This being the case, the author and editors have prepared what they call a “unique and concise guide to help Christians navigate the confusing and potentially dangerous minefield of today’s occult and New Age thought” (rear cover).

This work appears in easily read type and a two-column format. The articles are concise, normally only two or three paragraphs, with numerous illustrations that are quite helpful for certain abstract symbols. Two appendices (“Knowing the Truth: God’s Word, Cults, and the Occult” and “Scripture Twisting”) are short, but helpful reminders. Apparently Lardie has written all of the articles, although that is never stated. The preface by Ingram explains the necessity of the work, but never details the role of the author, the consulting editors, or the methodology employed. This is a deficiency since the author, who has a degree in journalism with a stated interest in the subject, seems to lack the academic credentials for such an undertaking; especially when some articles are designed to “compare historic Christian doctrines with New Age teaching” (9). The work also suffers from the lack of indexes.

Though the volume has many helpful articles, it also has several noticeable weaknesses. Most serious is the lack of a bibliography or bibliographic references within the articles or within the work. One of the key functions of a reference work is not only to provide summations but also to provide some gateway to additional study or research. Lacking additional references, this volume fails on the second point. A set of sources would also be helpful because several of the articles betray a level of “conspiracy-theory” mentality common among some sensationalist literature (e.g., articles on the United Nations, Values Clarification, Unity in Diversity Council, Trilateral Commission). Reliable background literature would have been useful to dispel this impression. Some articles, such as the one on Quantum Physics, are so brief (and simplistic) that the reader is left with the impression that the entire scientific discipline is some kind of fraudulent invention of the New Age movement. The article on the String Theory, misnamed in the article as the Superstring Theory, suffers from the same problem. The headings on several articles are not well selected. For example the heading “Green” is useless and gives the reader no clue that the article is about the “Green Party,” a sociopolitical movement and political party active in many countries. Other examples suffering from this problem are the entries for “Peace,” “Drug,” and “Light.” Some articles simply lack detail, such as the failure to mention Louis Farrakan in the article on the Nation of Islam as the current leader of the movement and the main proponent of the ideas that the article criticizes. Some material, such as the entry on “Unicorn,” contains erroneous information.

On the positive side, the book has an abundance of “see also” references that gives the work a level of cohesion. The writing style is certainly clear, and there is undoubtedly a great deal of basic and useful information. However, the items noted above give this reviewer a level of concern about the thoroughness and accuracy in the work. The reader will have to look elsewhere to confirm and expand the information presented.