ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
There are also channeling, a New Age term for spiritualism involving both communication with souls of the departed and with supernatural beings, astral projection, a twentieth-century occultist term for out-of-the-body soul travel, the study of auras or psychic discernment of supposed color patterns surrounding a person which, when interpreted, disclose that person’s inner nature, automatic writing which is revelatory, and psychic healing, one of the major forms of esotericism and the occult today.
While the foregoing do not by any means exhaust the variety of magical and esoteric beliefs and practices, they do illustrate what we have in mind by the term “occult.” (Many psychics, incidentally, object to words such as “occult” because they have negative connotations. This, however, leaves us with problems of definition where the whole area is concerned, and, for that reason, I shall continue to use the terms occult and esoteric here.)
Today, Native American, Chinese, Tibetan, Indian, and other forms of esotericism are widely adopted in the West. For instance, many Europeans and non-Native North Americans are fascinated by aboriginal beliefs such as Gitchi Manitou or Wakantanka, terms for the divine, and in practises like the sweat lodge. There is much current interest in the I King, the ancient Chinese text with its parallelograms which can be interpreted by tossing coins or straws, and in Feng Shui (wind and water); Chinese folk beliefs, mainly associated with Taoism, which are based on the channeling of occult power called ch’i. In the West, Feng Shui has been of particular interest to gardeners, landscape designers, and architects.
Various forms of Hindu mysticism and religious practice also flourish in the West, such as Kundalini, the doctrine of chakras or the psychophysical zones of the human body. There has long been interest in Vedanta, that school of Hinduism which emphasizes cosmic soul or Brahm-atman, as well as in texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Song Celestial, a portion of the Mahabharatha, an extremely long Indian epic which plays a very important role in the Vaishnavite form of Hinduism, in which the divine is interpreted in terms of Vishnu as Supreme Being and his avatars, or modalities, such as Krishna. The rival Saivite form of Hinduism, based on the worship of the Siva as Supreme Being, has contributed yoga (“yoke”) to the West, a discipline of breath control and psychophysical discipline.
Many Westerners have been intrigued by Zen Buddhism, a Japanese sect introduced to the West by S. Suzuki, who collaborated with Erich Fromm, a Neo-Freudian psychologist whose many writings were very popular during the 1950s and 1960s. Today many Feng Shui “masters,” gurus (Hindu teachers), and Islamic Sufis make their way to North America, especially to California, the Mecca of cults and new religions. They, in turn, stimulate the emergence of North American forms of Eastern Religions as Westernized religious phenomena. Many esotericists now derive their beliefs and practices from these, as, indeed, they have done since the founding of Theosophy, one of the most important movements in American esotericism, originated by Madame Helena Blavartsky during the late nineteenth century.