Magician Turned Catholic Recalls Bizarre New Age Experiences
Apologist Matthew Arnold was involved in the occult when he met a priest who brought him into the Catholic Church
Catholic apologist and convert Matthew Arnold has a unique background which includes years of working as a professional magician, including serving as a consultant to prominent actors and performers (e.g., singer Michael Jackson) and warming up studio audiences for hit television programs. His Hollywood background also includes exposure to the New Age movement, of which, today, he warns audiences to steer clear.
Matthew grew up in North Hollywood in a non-denominational Protestant family that seldom attended church. As a teenager, years before becoming Catholic, he became involved in the New Age movement, and was specifically interested in channeling (communication with spirits), reading tarot cards and astrology.
He had a particularly strange experience with a small group of friends as a young adult. The group would gather and one young woman, Karen, would fall into a trance and “begin speaking in the voices of disembodied spirits.” While Matthew believes that the vast majority of such mediums are hucksters, he is convinced that this communication was genuine, “and I’m someone who knows about magic and the art of illusion.”
The spirits would present themselves as advanced souls, and over a period of months make suggestions to group members on how to conduct their personal affairs. While they were not told to harm anyone or do anything clearly evil, the end result was that Matthew and the others became obsessed with their supernatural experiences. They neglected their personal duties and withdrew from those who were not part of their small group. Karen’s marriage, for example, fell apart and she eventually lost her sanity. Another group member’s business went under.
“What was really bizarre is that they couldn’t see that their lives were falling apart,” recalled Matthew.
He left the group and joined a rock band, and learned magic tricks as a hobby. He was sought after for his ability to read tarot cards, which date back to 14th-century Europe and are used to tell fortunes, although he knew it was a hoax. He believes it is part of man’s psychology to take a general statement (e.g. “you recently came into some money”) and apply it to his specific circumstances (“my friend paid me back the $50 he owed me last month”) if there is a creditable medium (the tarot cards). The same holds true for psychics, he continued, who make a variety of vague statements which many listeners interpret to apply to their own situations.
“People who go to fortune tellers don’t want answers to their problems — answers which would compel them to change their lives — but verification that the direction in which they’re going is correct.”
After one failed marriage, he met his wife, Betty, a practicing Catholic. She helped him develop an interest in the Catholic faith. They married, moved to Garden Grove, California, and began attending a nearby parish, St. Callistus. One Sunday, after hearing associate pastor, Father Benjamin Fama, preach, he remarked to his wife, “Now there’s someone who really believes what he’s saying rather than just going through the motions.”
They called the parish office and, sure enough, Father Fama was beginning an RCIA class the following week. He took the class and was impressed by Church history, the Fathers and martyrs, and became convinced when he studied the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist (“This was the slam dunk. The evidence is right there in Scripture, as well as in the writings of the early Church Fathers.”)
He decided to become Catholic, although he found it difficult swallowing his pride and admitting that some of his earlier beliefs were false. Also, he had to reject many invitations to read tarot cards, which seemed to all come at once when he began Catholic instruction.
Father Fama recalled, “Matthew has a good mind. Once he got away from that Hollywood environment inundated with New Age thinking, morality and spirituality, he was able to see the truth of Catholicism.”
Safely within the bosom of the Church, Matthew is concerned about the extent to which society is imbued with New Age philosophy. This includes the often-heard belief that “you can look into yourself and solve all your problems, as if you were God.”
Wicca (modern witchcraft) and some eastern meditation techniques, he noted, are prime examples of this philosophy. He believes society has come to accept the black arts, and gives as an example movies such as The Craft, which attempts to “de-Satanize” witchcraft.
Today, Matthew is active as a speaker and broadcaster. He has a radio program, No Nonsense Catholic, which airs on internet radio. He concluded, “The best way to avoid the occult is to know your own religion.”