ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
perhaps angels or spiritual masters, or perhaps emissaries from extraterrestrial civilizations whose spacecraft are UFOs,” a New Age is being born rooted in the “metaphysical-occult community.”
Generally, it emerged when, by the late 1970s, increasing numbers of people began to perceive a broad similarity between various “alternative” ideas. It has a very strong American flavor; to be more specific, the flavor of the California counter-culture of the Bay area and Greater Los Angeles. There one encounters many individuals in popular culture and science fiction conferences (the Trekkies for instance) who combine wearing costumes with “metaphysics” and “New Thought,” as religious ideas are variously termed. As Hanegraff puts it: “At first sight, it might seem that the quest for a New Paradigm which should replace the old one is a variation of the quest for a New Age of Light which should follow the present age of darkness.” But this is a partial and superficial impression. It is apocalyptic, but the search takes many diverse forms.
Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu
As mentioned earlier, diffusionism prevailed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There was a widespread notion that all of human civilization had to have originated in one particular place, and, from there, been disseminated throughout the world. Some late nineteenth-century occultists insisted that this place of origin was the lost continent of Atlantis. All theories and ideas about Atlantis are based on passages in Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, in which, to make a point in the course of an argument, the philosopher asserts that there was once a great civilization which vanished beneath the waves in a single night. He says little else, and also does not say where Atlantis was. It was presumably a story which Plato had heard about. However, it is mentioned nowhere else.
Plato was presumed to be above anything so crass as having fabricated the legend, and it was widely supposed that he knew of the Atlantis story as a record of something which actually had happened. Little attention was given the whole matter until the late nineteenth century, when some speculated that Atlantis had been a great, flourishing civilization beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. As it sank, refugees fled in all directions. Those who reached the shores of Africa made their way east to the Nile, where they founded Egyptian Civilization. Others fled west to the Americas to found the civilizations of Mexico and Peru. Still others founded the civilizations of Mesopotamia, Greece, Persia, India, and China. The people of Atlantis had many mysterious teachings, and these gave rise, in distorted form, to the world religions. Needless to say, there has never been the slightest bit of empirical evidence to support these claims.
During the late nineteenth century, Blavatsky added her own wrinkle to the diffusionist theory by confidently proclaiming that, in addition to Atlantis, there had been another great civilization which had sunk beneath the waves, leaving refugees who founded world cultures. This was Lemuria, named for the lemurs of Madagascar, primates called Prosimians. Lemuria gave rise to the civilizations of India and other cultures of southern Asia. Finally, the many fanciful theories