ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
Is New Age a religion? If it is, it is not an organized religion like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. There are no priests, rabbis, or imams. However, something very like shamanic, prophetic, and priestly roles are played by tarot card readers, mediums, and astrologers. There are psychics who are treated with awe by their followers. Some are much like the gurus of India, and indeed, a vast influx of swamis, gurus, Zen masters, and masters of Chinese Feng Shui have come to the West during recent years in ever increasing numbers. Each gathers circles of disciples and imparts Indian, Chinese, and Japanese religious teachings which they translate into Western terms. These philosophies reinforce Western esotericism. As in the ancient Hellenistic and Roman World, there has been both syncretism and synthesis. In the future, this East/West mystical synthesis may give rise to a new “universal” religion. The latter will probably be a revised Christianity in which there is more emphasis on spirituality.
Today there are shamans who call themselves by that term, and there are theosophists, or specialists in the “knowledge of God” or “gnosis” who are somewhat like rabbis and gurus because they are teachers. Thus, although contemporary occultists and esotericists speak of the “New Age,” they are actually carrying on an ancient heritage.
Is the Occult Nonsense?
Are occultists gullible and superstitious people of little education? Some are. However, many highly-educated and intelligent people are drawn to both the occult and the esoteric. Many scientists are inclined to mysticism. Albert Einstein was, as he confessed in his autobiographical Out of My Life and Thought. Sigmund Freud was keenly interested in the occult, though not as a believer; C. G. Jung, on the other hand, was deeply engrossed in such beliefs, and this, indeed, was a major reason for his break with Freud. Prominent persons drawn to the occult during the nineteenth century include William Gladstone, one of the greatest of British prime ministers, Abraham Lincoln, who constantly made mystical interpretation of his dreams, the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, the composer Hector Berlioz, and the psychologist and philosopher, William James. William Lyon Mackenzie King, who was Prime Minister of Canada for many more years than anyone else to hold that high office, was secretly a spiritualist. He regularly communicated both with the spirit of his deceased mother and a former dog. In other words, almost anyone might well be an occultist, or, at least, fascinated by the esoteric.
My own interest in the occult was roused in 1959, when my wife Katie and I lived in Hamilton, Ontario. By chance we paused in a downtown tea room one day where there was a tea-leaf reader who went by the name Andre. Just for fun, we decided to have our tea leaves read. Andre appeared at our table, a thin, grey-haired, somewhat effeminate man in his sixties. After we had drunk our tea, Andre told us to turn our cups upside down on the saucers, turn them around several times, then turn them up. He picked up our cups, each in turn. What he told us was something like this: