“It is difficult to point to a more disastrous, dangerous, and destructive practice in modern spiritual warfare theology than that of engaging in ‘territorial spirits.” Jim Osman
The Latin phrase hic sunt dracones, or “Here Be Dragons,” while perhaps popular in seafaring mythology, seems to have had minimal actual usage in ancient cartography. The Hunt-Lenox globe is the oldest known post-Columbian globe and is only one of a few discovered maps that include the ancient maritime warning. Hunt-Lenox locates such a zone just off the eastern coast of Asia. While its usage in that case may have referenced the novel creatures of the Asian continent, such as the Kimodo dragons of Indonesia, Here Be Dragons came to be seen as a warning of dangerous or unexplored territories. Mariners should beware. Danger could lay ahead.
The warning-tagged Hunt-Lenox globe, dated circa 1510, arrived at the inception of what would become the scientific age. Less than a decade later, another age, one with far greater impact in humanity’s pursuit of truth, would also be ignited on the European continent. With Luther’s tinder nailed to the doors of the Wittenburg Castle in 1517, the blaze of the Reformation was alit, providentially accompanied by the explosion of God’s Word being vigorously translated and distributed. Truth, of a divine source and of eternal consequence, was set loose like never before. Men could now have their own copy of God’s Word.
Fast forward from those dawning days of the early 16th century to the 21st century. Here Be Monsters is a laughable tocsin that hearkens back to days of superstitious lore. The world has become increasingly smaller and more fully understood because of scientific study, exploration, and technology, and the reality of fearsome, unknown monsters is an amusement now relinquished to the confines of video games and Hollywood imaginations. Science has delivered to us certain truths about our world and anecdotal warnings of the unknown have been, for the most part, relegated to the status of fairy tale.
As for Scripture, the sad reality is that the fervor with which the Reformation produced translations into the vernacular of the commoner – most often illegally and always at great peril from an overbearing apostate Roman church eager to persecute and slaughter its translators or possessors – Scripture, too, has been almost equally relegated to a fond remembrance of things past as has been the Here Be Dragons beacon on maps. Scripture, once a page by page, manual production endeavor, has today become readily available through mass printings and immeasurable quantities of digital ink. But in its seeming ubiquity, Scripture has become often invisible and frequently ignored.
It is here – now – at the turn of the 20th into the 21st century where an illicit collision of cartography and Scripture has occurred. Map-making has been spiritualized and the maneuver is being justified through the erroneous application of mishandled Scripture. Sadly, because Scripture, though widely available, is yet so greatly ignored, this illicit new teaching is not being recognized by many Christians as “disastrous, dangerous, and destructive,” as Jim Osman calls it.
What has come to fruition with the fusion of Scripture and mapping is heretical, and it is extremely fluid in its transmission from the unbiblical charismatic fringes where it was created and into the more mainstream evangelical church. (Prayer-walking is one example of how this false teaching is creeping into the mainstream church.) It goes by many names … spiritual mapping, territorial spirits, strategic-level spiritual warfare, or simply, mapping.
Pastor and author Jim Osman joined Justin Peters on the Justin Peters Program to discuss mapping, what he calls the “most dangerous and disastrous of any” of the many practices of the false spiritual warfare teachers. “It comes very close to divination and communications with the spirit realm which we are forbidden,” he says.
Writing the introductory chapter to C. Peter Wagner’s book, Breaking Spiritual Strongholds In Your City – originally published in 1993 but revised and reissued in 2015 – George Otis, Jr., the man who introduced this nomenclature to the church, defined the technique.
“In 1990, I coined a term for this new way of seeing – ‘spiritual mapping’ – now the central theme of this book. It involves, as I have suggested, ‘Superimposing our understanding of forces and events in the spiritual domain onto places and circumstances in the material world.” George Otis, Jr.
“Be assured, there is nothing new in theology except that which is false.” Charles Spurgeon
Otis is pointed to as the pioneer of spiritual mapping with his book The Last of The Giants being cited as instrumental in developing the “field of spiritual mapping,” according to Wagner. Otis’ explanation of this new practice may carry an impressive academic veneer that implies some validity as a Christian maneuver, but his description is woefully lacking the details about what the process really entails.
Osman, in his book Truth Or Territory: A Biblical Approach to Spiritual Warfare, explains it with greater clarity, and exposes the practice as thoroughly unbiblical.
“Strategic-level spiritual warfare is the practice of engaging in intercessory prayer for different geographical locations to overcome and dislodge supposed demonic strongholds in those locations,” he writes. The teaching promotes the idea “that there is an extensive demonic hierarchy over geographical areas which must be actively overcome through intercessory prayer and repentance before effective gospel ministry will be possible.”
These territorial demons, explains Osman, “must be confronted, bound, and removed before the gospel can effectively penetrate.” The “mapping” comes into play because it is necessary to know these demons, by geography and by hierarchy, in order to then restrict them with yet other illicit means of spiritual warfare.
“Mapping is the related principle of determining the exact boundaries of territorial spirits assigned to different regions, nations, or cities.”
The process, as it’s employed and promoted, is based on the unbliblical assumption of a Satanic hierarchy that controls particular geographies and restricts the Gospel. False prophetess Cindy Jacobs, another contributor to Wagner’s re-released book, writes that spiritual mapping, “is the researching of a city to discover any inroads Satan has made which prevent the spread of the gospel and the evangelization of a city for Christ.” (Pg. 76).
Jacobs continues to define a stronghold as “a fortified place that Satan builds to exalt himself against the knowledge and plans of God.” She outlines nine such strongholds including personal strongholds, strongholds of the mind, ideological strongholds, occultic strongholds, social strongholds, strongholds between city and church, “seats of Satan,” sectarian strongholds, and strongholds of iniquities.
Throughout her explanation of these strongholds, Jacobs’ teaching is thoroughly unbiblical. For example, the “strongholds of iniquities” reflects the erroneous teaching of generational curses. These strongholds, she says, “come from the sins of the fathers that produce iniquities or weaknesses toward certain types of sin in succeeding generations.” (Pg.90) (Osman and Peters discussed and dispelled this false teaching HERE.)
But once these strongholds are identified, intense intercessory prayer must ensue, along with repentance for the historic sins of the particular city, a technique for which Wagner cites John Dawson who calls it “identificational repentance.” The particular demon over the geography in question or the particular “spirit” of the prevalent sin of that geography, once identified, must then be engaged, bound, and rebuked … BEFORE the Gospel may be effectively proclaimed.
As Harold Caballeros, also a contributor to Wagner’s text, writes “We do two basic things: 1) We pierce the cover of darkness through strategic-level intercession, casting it down with the Word of God and the name of Jesus, 2) We move in with evangelistic efforts.”
The presumed logic of this approach may seem apparent and appealing. It’s easy enough to identify particular sins with particular geographic areas, with particular cities. San Francisco is known for homosexuality. Las Vegas is known for gambling. New Orleans is often associated with voo-doo. Manhattan can be viewed as an epicenter of greed. (In fact, a recent list of cities ranks them by their sin.)
But beyond the unbiblical notion that we are to repent for the historic sins of our geographic forebears as a prerequisite for effective Gospel proclamation, the glaring danger with this technique is that it requires the believer to go beyond the visible and, presumably, into the invisible, spiritual realm. For maximum impact, it requires knowledge of specific demons behind the current, and historic, sins of an area. It necessitates direct interaction of believers with demons.
Osman cites Wagner from his book Wrestling With Dark Angels.
“Another Latin American, Rita Cabezas, has done considerable research on the names of the highest levels of the hierarchy of Satan … She has discovered that directly under Satan are six worldwide principalities, named (allowing that this was done in Spanish) Damian, Asmodeo, Menguelesh, Arios, Beelzebub, and Nosferasteus. Under each, she reports, are six governors over each nation. For example, those over Costa Rica are Shiebo, Quiebo, Ameneo, Mephistopheles, Nostradamus, and Azazel. Those over the U.S.A. are Ralphes, Anoritho, Manchester, Apolion, Deviltook, and one unnamed.”
Such specific identification of the supernatural, demonic realm comes from either of two sources, according to proponents of strategic-level spiritual warfare. Sometimes the knowledge of the hierarchy is claimed to be, as Osman writes, “the result of personalized revelation from the Holy Spirit in prayer.” The other source of information is, like the Cabezas case cited in the Wagner quote above, gained from “direct interaction with demons during deliverance sessions (exorcisms).”
This requirement of “conversing with the demonic realm” should, says Osman, cause “every true, born-again Christian to shudder.” The further obvious absurdity of the technique is “taking anything they [demons] say seriously if you did converse with the demonic realm.”
Peters concurs. “It amazes me. A lot of people just check their brains at the door when it comes to this. Why would you want to talk to demons and, if you did, why would you believe anything they tell you?”
As for biblical support proffered by the proponents of this clandestine maneuver, the primary text given in support is Daniel 10:13 in which a reference is made to “the prince of Persia.” George Otis, Jr., writing in Wagner’s Breaking Spiritual Strongholds in Your City, cites this as the foundational Scriptural impetus for spiritual mapping. “The most cited instance is the prince of Persia in Daniel 10,” he writes. “Here we have a well-defined case of an evil spiritual being ruling over an area with explicitly described boundaries.” (Pg. 38)
The “well-defined case” according to Otis, is, even to the superficial reader of Scripture, actually not so well-defined. As Osman makes clear, “A look at this passage in its context reveals that this veiled and scant reference does not support these practices at all.”
In fact, the information about a demonic “prince of Persia” was delivered to Daniel by an angelic messenger. He was not instructed, once armed with this information, to then go to battle with the demon. Daniel wasn’t told to pray against them, to interview them in a “power encounter” from which he was to ascertain the full geographic Satanic hierarchy or, in the “name and blood of Jesus,” to bind them, rebuke them, cast them down, or remove them. “Daniel was,” says Osman, “completely unaware … until the angel revealed it to him.”
In his book, Osman explains in greater detail the proper exegesis of this Scripture. While the account in Daniel does give us Old Testament verification of the spiritual warfare that Paul writes about in Ephesians 6, the text gives us two foundational conclusions.
“First, there is a very real spiritual battle being waged which we are, for the most part [like Daniel was], completely oblivious,” Osman writes. “Second, there was a demon or evil spirit assigned to Persia and to Greece, whose primary goal was to oppose the plan and purpose of God in regards to those nations, and to oppose the people of God in those nations.”
This passage, then, gives believers nothing prescriptive as a guide that we should identify, name, confront, engage, or even pray against “demonic powers attached to various geographic locations,” but it does teach us something. “It teaches us that the battle is real and God is fighting it,” says Osman. “It teaches us that there are real demonic forces which oppose, resist, and seek the ruin of the people of God.”
“Error abounds once it is believed that the Holy Spirit is saying something different today from He said 2,000 years ago.” Jim Osman
While believers are to understand that authentic spiritual warfare is constantly being waged in the heavenlies, the technique of spiritual mapping by which we are presumably to inject ourselves into this battle is, as Osman writes, “fraught with problems.”
“First, it is without precedent or prescription in Scripture. The Bible is silent about this.” Indeed, the eisegetical contortions required to arrive at this teaching are abundant. The apostle Paul, notes Osman, “never had to name demons, spiritually map cities or engage in identificational repentance prior to taking the gospel into a new city.”
This point must not be missed. The Holy Spirit, through Paul in the letter to the Romans, confirms that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation.” (Romans 1:16) Spiritual mapping, while disregarding the sovereign and omnipotent attributes of God, also exhibits a lack of belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. As Peters notes, this practice “really diminishes the power of the gospel.”
But according to this teaching, in order to pave the way for the gospel, a number of things must be done. The target area must be researched, it must be repented for, and it must be the target of united prayer. Demonic and spirit strongholds must be identified and addressed, including addressing and commanding the demons and spirits themselves. They must be “rebuked, exorcised, and cast down in order to break the hold of Satan and make a way for the gospel,” explains Osman.
“The gospel spread from Jerusalem (Acts 1) to the farthest reaches of the Roman empire (Romans 15:17-25) in only thirty years. How did it do this without prayer walks, spiritual mapping, and praying through demonic strongholds?” Jim Osman
The failure to take God at His Word from His Word reflects a critical failure of spiritual mapping. “We are told that knowing these demons’ names, hierarchy, and geographical assignment is essential to effective spiritual warfare and the unhindered spread of the gospel. Yet, Scripture does not reveal that information.”
The practice is one in which Scripture is inherently viewed as insufficient, requiring believers to go beyond Scripture for information critical to the success of the endeavor. Proponents of this technique are effectively saying, “God has not revealed all that we need to know.” The apostle Peter, however, tells us otherwise … “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness …” (2 Peter 1:3)
The fallacious notion that the extra-biblical knowledge we need in spiritual warfare, according to mapping proponents, must often come from demons themselves is itself ludicrous. “To illustrate the absurdity,” says Peters of the power encounters in which demons are required to reveal the geographic demonic hierarchy, “once these demons realize their gig is up, why wouldn’t they just switch territories?” Osman suggests, “Don’t you think Satan would just shuffle his hierarchy around every few weeks just to keep us off balance?”
The teaching of spiritual mapping is “an entirely man-made, carnal, fleshly activity,” writes Osman. “We must let the Scriptures inform our methods of spiritual warfare.” This methodology wrongly emphasizes the need to seize spiritual territory rather than the commission given to every believer to proclaim the Truth. To presume that we need to go beyond Scripture in direct dealings with demons and that we should believe in the insufficiency of God’s power in His Gospel is to build a false theology of spiritual warfare designed around notions not taught to us by God.
“The great irony of this is that by exceeding biblical parameters by doing what Paul said not to do in 1 Corinthians 4:6 – ‘ do not go beyond what is written‘ – in doing that, these supposed spiritual warfare experts are exposing people to the very demonic deception that their teaching is supposed to protect them from.” Jim Osman
Perhaps it’s appropriate for the church to respond to the false teaching of spiritual mapping by hearkening back to the warning tocsin of those ancient mapmakers. Perhaps we should just point out these false teachers with the words … hic sunt dracones.
Here be dragons.
Avoid them! (Romans 16:17-18)
And always … always … abide in the Word (John 8:31) and … test everything! (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
Listen below to Justin Peters & Jim Osman from The Justin Peters Program.
Spiritual Warfare: Spiritual Mapping
See More From This Series With Justin Peters and Jim Osman:
For Jim Osman’s book, please go to TruthorTerritory.com.
[Contributed by Bud Ahlheim]