"Forget everything you think you know," Dr Stephen Strange is told early in Marvel’s latest superhero blockbuster, and the advice may as well be for those watching. Marvel’s seemingly bottomless franchise of planet-defending, alien-punching, smart-talking superheroes is firmly marketed at kids, which only adds to the shock of Dr Strange’s entire plot device: His power doesn’t come from a Nordic hammer, a patriotic shield, a suit of armour or a radioactive spider bite; it’s the mystical dark art of astral projection. Separating your soul from your body. And this is where a supposedly family-friendly fantasy movie becomes a Trojan horse promoting something very evil, very dangerous and very real.
Dr Strange began as a comic in the 1960’s, when Eastern theosophies hit the drugged-up mainstream culture; heck, even the Beatles headed off to an Indian ashram to try transcendental meditation. A college-aged generation threw off the constraints of their parents by experimenting with free love, LSD and esoteric religions, and writer Stan Lee leveraged their interest in black magic, mysticism and psychedelia by creating a superhero in a hallucinogenic landscape who performs powerful spells and twists dimensions. Dr Strange never had the type of following that many other Marvel characters had, but that was then, and this is now. Today, the fire engine-red Marvel logo on a movie poster means a built-in audience regardless of the character’s popularity; already the film has made almost $600 million.
Here’s the problem: Thor, Captain America, the Hulk, Spider-Man and Wolverine are all pure fantasy. It’s impossible to become like them, no matter how hard you try. (Most impossible of all: Having your tiny pants still stay on your body when you transform into a giant green monster.) You might think these guys are cool, but you can’t be like them; you cannot create a hammer from another planet or insert retractable adamantium claws into your hands. Astral projection, though, is not fantasy. Google turns up 1.69 million results about how to practice it, and there are hundreds of videos on YouTube explaining exactly how you can use meditation to leave your own body in the comfort of your own home. This is not some harmless, impossible superpower children can pretend to have; it’s a type of witchcraft, and the movie expressly says that it’s good, powerful and beneficial.
“Just surrender control,” a sorceress called The Ancient One tells Stephen Strange, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s come to her to be healed after being in a crippling accident, but she teaches him about the realm he can access through his mind by giving in and allowing the power to sweep him along like a river. "I pushed your astral form out of your spiritual form," she explains after physically hitting his soul out of his body, and then sends him flying through the universe. “Teach me,” he gasps after returning to his body. By the time he learns the art of astral projection, he’s gained stylish grey streaks on the side of is head. Why, exactly? Because he’s been enlightened; he’s now wise. He accesses the Eye of Agamotto, which gives him more power and allows him to bend time.
The rest of the storyline is standard stuff: Bad guy wants to destroy the planet; good guy needs to learn to use his powers to save it. It’s here that the biggest deception lies. In Marvel’s storyline, it’s a battle of good versus evil, light versus darkness; astral projection, witchcraft and sorcery are used as a means of fighting wickedness. But in the real world we live in, those things are evil themselves. God has forbidden them to be practiced; he has given human beings a boundary we must not cross, because it will be detrimental to us. “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead,” God said to His people in Deuteronomy 18. “Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you.” Paul lists witchcraft as an obvious sin of the flesh in Galatians 5, and states clearly that anyone who practices it will not inherit the kingdom of God.
In other words, sorcery should never, ever be encouraged or taught, and cannot ever be used for good. Scott Derrickson, director of the movie and a professing Christian, should know better. Indeed, he’s directed demonic horror movies before this one, casting serious doubt on his own understanding of the spiritual realm and Christian faith.
My advice: Leave this movie alone. Don’t waste your time on it. Don’t let your children watch it. It’s not just lighthearted action; it’s a tutorial on the occult for the younger generation, designed to spark interest in the power of witchcraft. Its message is dangerous, and it should not be viewed in the same way as the other family-friendly superhero films alongside it.
We cannot avoid evil on this earth, but we certainly don’t have to give it money, sit with a box of popcorn and let it tell us how good it is.