ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
prefer sharply-focused topics requiring close analysis, many of them based on the interpretation of religious texts or on phenomenology, the study of specific forms of religious behavior. Continental European scholars tend to be more open than North American ones to speculative topics such as the origins and meaning of religion in very broad terms. (The author attended just such a conference in an Alpine village in northern Italy many years ago, a session of the Society for the Study of Prehistoric and Ethnic Religion presided over by the archaeologist Emmanuel Anati.
In the course of this discussion, one group dealing with the origins of religion concluded that the underlying reason for it was the fear of death. There is much to be said for this suggestion, even though it is impossible to prove. Our oldest possible evidences include certain Neanderthal graves in which the discovery of artefacts such as food bowls and stone implements at least suggests belief in life after death. This brings to mind an oft-quoted monkish tale from England which goes back to the seventh century when missionaries were introducing Christianity to the Saxons:
A monk by the name of Paulinus came to King Edwin, ruler of a northern kingdom in what is now England, and urged him to convert his people to Christianity. There was debate among the king’s counselors. One stood and said: “Your Majesty, on a winter night like this, it sometimes happens that a little bird flies in that far window, to enjoy the warmth and light of our fire. After a short while it passes out again, returning to the dark and the cold. As I see it, our human life is much the same. We have but a brief time between two great darknesses. If this monk can show us warmth and light, we should follow him.”
No doubt the tale was designed to show that the pagan king and his people walked in the darkness, were idolators who worshipped false gods, and, above all, that they did not have any belief in life after death. From the little we know of the pre-Christian religions of ancient Britain, this probably was not true. The long barrows which abound in the British Isles are the tombs of ancient chieftains who were buried with their grave goods, indicating belief in life beyond death in some form, very probably reincarnation. However, the story does show the universal apprehension and anxiety which we all have about death. It also shows the importance of the spiritual dimension in life, the non-utilitarian concerns of our inwardness regardless of creed and doctrine. Ever since humanity emerged from our four million or so years of evolution from our East African ancestors, we have been engaged in a quest like the knights of the Holy Grail. We have traveled many roads by many means, some of them very strange indeed. All such quests have been in search of meaning, inner assurance that life is something more than an accidental chemical phenomenon.
Both religion and the occult begin with individuals who, because of deep inner needs, set out on their own respective roads like the knights of Camelot, each of whom left in search of the Holy Grail by plunging into a deep wood. Like the founders of the world religions, the occultists seek deep spiritual truths and finally may make inner discoveries which they seek to impart. There, however, the parallels stop. The occultists do not usually found movements. If they do,