ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
were suppressed by the Catholic Church during medieval times, fragments survived, as well as certain occult doctrines such as astrology, of which Thomas Aquinas strongly approved, and alchemy. According to C. G. Jung, the late classical philosophers anticipated his own theory of archetypes of the collective unconscious, and, indeed, Jung borrowed the term “archetype” (αρκέτυποσ) from the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, an ancient Christian mystic, Plotinus, and, indirectly, from Plato.
During medieval times, the Cathars (or Albigensians) flourished in Provence or Languedoc in southern France. This Christian sect, which was was Gnostic in doctrine, was ruthlessly stamped out during the Fourth Crusade in the thirteenth century on grounds of heresy. Other Cathars survived longer in Italy and Bosnia, but eventually disappeared. The Bogomils became converts to Islam when the Turks conquered the province during the fifteenth century.
Whether or not any aspects of Gnosticism survived intact and in continuity is open to question. Some scholars find traces of this doctrine in the secret beliefs of the Knights Templar. Jacques DeMolay, their last grand master, was put to death for heresy. During the seventeenth century, certain esoteric texts appeared which may have given rise to a secret society called the Rosicrucian (or “Rosy Cross”). These texts may have owed something to Gnosticism. However, for the most part, modern Gnostic beliefs, when they recur, are of recent origin. There is a strong resemblance between Gnosticism and the philosophy of the aforementioned Emmanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish mystic of the eighteenth century whose writing were widely read. Finally, at the end of that century, a British traveller in Egypt discovered two Gnostic texts, both in Greek, preserved by members of the Coptic Church, a Christian sect which had flourished in Egypt until the Moslem conquest and which still survives today. These texts revived interest in Gnosticism during the early nineteenth century.
Egypt captured the imagination of many Europeans during the late eighteenth century, especially after Napoleon’s occupation of the country during his early campaigns. One of his officers brought back the Rosetta Stone which a scholar by the name of Champollion translated. The stone had parallel inscriptions in Hieroglyphics, the Demotic script of ancient Egypt, and Greek, which Champollion could, of course, read. Thanks to this discovery, interest in ancient Egypt heightened.
One of the first to explore Egyptian lore was a French Reformed minister by the name of Court de Gebelin. He, apparently on the basis of nothing more substantial than a hunch, held that the Gypsies were custodians of ancient Egyptian lore. (This stemmed from the widespread mistaken belief at the time that the Roma, who actually originated in Northwest India, were originally from Egypt.) De Gebelin published a book entitled Le Monde Primitif in 1784 in which he expounded this view, arguing that tarot cards, which hitherto had simply been ordinary playing cards, conveyed secret wisdom from ancient Egypt. This idea was expanded upon by a French Catholic seminarian by the name of Constans who took the pseudonym Eliphas Lévi. He elaborated upon De Gebelin’s ideas