Yoga and Tarot and Ouija, Oh My!

A common question we get in campus ministry is, “Is it OK for Catholics to participate in X?” where “X” is some sort of New Age or occult related activity. This might be tarot cards, Ouija boards, crystals, or burning sage. It’s not normally something students are looking to get deeply into, but maybe they were at a party and someone brought out a Ouija board “for fun,” or maybe their roommate is into “healing crystals” and they wonder if they are OK to have in the room with them. One practice we get asked about a lot is Yoga.

Given that these things all have certain elements in common, I thought it would be helpful to write an article that articulated some of the general principles involved, and then look to see how they applied in some specific cases.


The first thing to know is that Christians are not meant to be superstitious. To be superstitious is to believe something without rational basis; i.e. that a rabbit’s foot will bring good luck, breaking a mirror will bring seven year’s bad luck, or a black cat walking across your path will curse you. These are common superstitions some people have, but there is absolutely no reason to believe that any of these things are true. The Catechism calls superstition “a perverse excess of religion” (CCC 2110) because whereas religion requires faith to believe in things that are above reason (i.e. the Trinity), superstition means believing things that go against reason (i.e. the number 13 is unlucky).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about superstition:

Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.

CCC 2111

When it comes to carrying a rabbit’s foot, burning sage, or having pretty crystals sitting in your windowsill, there is certainly nothing wrong with doing any of these things per se. What is wrong is the attribution of supernatural qualities to them. That’s a superstition that is forbidden by the Church.

The Catechism points out that we can be superstitious even about legitimate sacramentals if we attribute their effects to external performance rather than our internal disposition. For example, wearing a crucifix as a necklace is meant to help us remember the sacrifice of Christ and therefore increase our devotion to Him. It is not a “good luck charm.” If we think wearing the crucifix alone is going to benefit us or offer certain protection regardless of our internal piety, then we have made a superstition out of an otherwise good and legitimate religious practice.

The Church forbids superstition because superstition is false belief. Christ is Truth and in Christ, we have been set free from false belief so that we might embrace true belief and religious practice.


Idolatry refers to the worship of false gods. Similar to superstition, Christ has set us free from falsehood so that we might worship the One True God in spirit and in truth. Any worship offered to false gods contradicts that and represents a break with our covenant with the One True God. This is not limited to actual direct worship of those gods (i.e. offering a sacrifice in a temple of Zeus), but also includes any deference of respect, honor or regard that we ought to have for God alone.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. It remains a constant temptation to faith. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc..

CCC 2113

Superstition can easily lead to idolatry if we look to occult practices or magical charms to save us, guide us, or protect us, instead of relying upon God for these things.


Finally, the Catechism has this to say about divination (attempts to acquire knowledge through occult practices) and magic.

All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to ‘unveil’ the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others — even if this were for the sake of restoring their health — are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.

CCC 2116-2117

There is a lot to unpack in the above two paragraphs. Some of the reasons the Church has for condemning such attempts to control nature and predict the future via supernatural means are the same reasons why superstition is condemned: because it is a false belief. Other reasons have more to do with idolatry: we are looking to other supernatural powers (including demonic ones) for things that we ought to be trusting in God to help us with.

For example, in the book of Deuteronomy, which contains God’s law for Israel, Moses prohibits divination and consulting oracles.

Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire, or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead. Anyone who does such things is an abomination to the LORD.

Deut 18:10-12a

Moses’ reason for doing so is that the people are to look to God, and not these other sources, to provide any guidance and information they need to know about the future. Later in that same passage, Moses says:

A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you from among your own kindred; that is the one to whom you shall listen.

Deut 18:15

It’s all about trusting in the Lord and not in other powers, real or imagined.

With all that as background, we can now see how these teachings apply to the three things mentioned in the title of this article.


It is always important to define our terms. Yoga originated as a spiritual practice in the Hindu religion. So if you are asking if it’s OK for Catholics to participate in Hindu religious practices, the answer is clearly “no” as that would be a form of idolatry.

But what most Americans refer to as “yoga” today has very little, if anything, to do with Hinduism. We often use “yoga” as a generic name for stretching exercise. So if you are asking if it’s OK for Catholics to engage in stretching exercises, the answer is clearly “yes.”

The problem lies in the fact that many so-called yoga classes involve more than just stretching exercises. They can also involve a good bit of New Age spiritualism that would amount to superstition and/or idolatry and therefore be contrary to the faith. If your yoga instructor is talking to you about aligning your energy, or awakening the god or goddess within you, or anything similar, this is false, superstitious belief that you’d be better not to expose yourself to. Find some way to get your exercise that is less spiritually problematic.


Similarly, Tarot cards have a history that is quite different from their modern usage. Historically, tarot cards originated in Italy in the 15th century as just another form of playing cards, used for games (like the 52-card deck of four suits we are most familiar with today).

However, by the 18th century they were also being used for divination purposes. This is not that surprising, as the more standard 52-card deck was also used for divination, as well as dice, and pretty much anything else you could use to generate a more-or-less randomized outcome that could, in theory, be analyzed for some hidden meaning (including patterns in tea leaves).

So on that basis, you could say that tarot cards are no more problematic than standard playing cards or drinking loose-leaf tea. Just because something can be used for divination doesn’t mean that it has to be.

The problem is that people still produce and use standard playing cards, dice, and tea for non-occult purposes, whereas no one (or hardly anyone) uses Tarot decks to play games. Most people who manufacture, market, and acquire Tarot decks today do so expressly for divination purposes. And that makes a difference. For example, their association with the occult has led to much of the artwork used on tarot decks having strong occult overtones. It’s more difficult, therefore, to disassociate tarot cards from their occult use than it is for ordinary playing cards.

It all boils down to why you have the cards and what you are using them for. If you are into playing historic card games, then having a tarot deck shouldn’t present a problem. If you are interested in tarot for the purposes of divination (predicting the future) or giving/receiving spiritual guidance, then that is strictly forbidden by the Church (as is divination using ordinary playing cards or anything else).

One reason is superstition — it is unreasonable to believe that the random outcome of dealing a hand of cards would provide reliable information about the future.

Another reason is idolatry — on the theory that it would be some kind of spiritual person or force that would guide the cards to predict the future, then the practice of divination would open you up to the influence of demons who are not trustworthy and do not have our best interest in mind.

If you have questions about the future or need guidance in making a decision, that’s exactly the sort of thing you ought to be taking to prayer.

Ouija Boards

Finally we come to Ouija boards, and once more it’s important to look at their actual origin as well as their common usage.

In essence, a Ouija board is simply a board with letters and numbers on it. And there is nothing spiritually problematic with having a board with letters and numbers on it (otherwise I couldn’t be typing this article on a keyboard). The problem is in what it is used for.

The Ouija board as we know it today is manufactured and marketed as a children’s game by Parker Brothers. But similar “talking boards” have been around for centuries, as has been the practice of “automatic writing” as a means of divination. The idea is that through the use of a planchette or something similar, the automatic movements of your hand can spell out words and phrases on the board. In the 19th century in particular such boards were commonly used by mediums and others in the spiritualist movement in their attempts to contact the dead and/or other spiritual beings.

As we have already read in the Catechism, attempts to contact the dead for the purposes of divination are strictly prohibited, as are attempts to contact demons. This is not principally because such attempts don’t work (although there are plenty of false mediums out there and much of what you see in this regard is a hoax). In fact, the Bible itself provides a clear example of an attempt to conjure the spirit of a dead person that did work. In 1 Samuel chapter 28, King Saul asks a medium to contact the spirit of the prophet Samuel to advise him. She does, and it works, even though it is forbidden by God’s law (and things don’t go well for Saul afterward).

Such divination practices are forbidden because God loves us and wants us to trust in Him for spiritual information. Demons are untrustworthy, and even if you are attempting to communicate with a departed loved one, and not a demon, when you make such attempts through unauthorized channels, you never know what spirit is going to be answering on the other end. Demons are liars and could easily pass themselves off as the spirit of a departed loved one.

If you want to reach out to a loved one who has died, you can pray to that person. That’s what we do when we pray to the saints. If you want assurance that they are OK, you can ask God to give you a message or allow them to send you a message. Those sorts of things are OK for us to do because they involve working with God and trusting in Him as our loving Father, and not going outside of God’s law and engaging in forbidden and potentially very dangerous spiritual practices. God will never deceive you.

And that’s really the bottom line for all of this. Through the new and eternal covenant in Jesus Christ, God has established each Christian in a very special relationship with Him. He is our God and we are His people. He is our Father and we are His beloved children. Whatever our spiritual needs are, He wants to meet them for us, and He is the only one who can meet them. So He invites us to trust in Him in all things, and not seek recourse in superstitious, idolatrous and spiritually dangerous practices.