ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
about the Egyptian origin of secret doctrines expressed in the twenty-two trumps of the tarot deck. Another Frenchman, Gerard d’Encausse, developed these ideas in great detail during the late nineteenth century. These three, De Gebelin, Constans, and d’Encausse founded the Western Occult tradition which actually goes back no further than the late eighteenth century. They revived certain Late Classical philosophies such as Hermeticism and Gnosticism, attributing them to ancient Egypt and the Cult of Thoth.
During these same years, a civil servant of the British East India Company persuaded Brahmin priests to teach him Sanskrit. They did so by introducing him to the Bhagavad Gita or “Song Celestial,” the most beloved Hindu text known to Westerners. Thanks to Sanskrit studies, Europeans also became fascinated with Indian lore. There was great interest in Vedanta philosophy, in particular, which, like Gnosticism, Hermeticism, and Neo Platonism, is monistic, that is to say, based on the belief in a divine unity underlying all reality and manifest in various forms and dimensions. Everything is part of the One-All. The 33,000 gods of Vedantic Hinduism are modalities of Brahm. Atman is World Soul, as inwardly realized by specific beings. This being so, all gods, human beings, animals, and other forms of life are the outward forms of one spiritual reality which, in the words of Paul Tillich, is the Ground of Being. Thus reality is the World Soul in its great variations. The Hindu cosmos is vast and complex, being made up of innumerable dimensions. Souls pass from one stage to another in the course of an eternal process of birth and rebirth which occurs because of the law of karma or cause and effect. There is no beginning or end. Instead, the life of the universe is both cyclical and eternal, each stage in the process being a kalpa, each of which lasts thousands of years.
New Age owes much to the voluminous writings of Madame Helena Blavatsky (1833-1891), a Russian aristocrat who claimed to have travelled to Tibet in her youth and to have encountered immortals there whom she called the “adepts” or “mahatmas” who continued to teach her through an ongoing process of mystical communion. Blavatsky spent several years in India, and introduced a number of Hindu and Buddhist concepts to the West, such as the monistic doctrine of Brahm-atman, the law of karma, and yoga which were previously unknown to all but a very few. She concocted a philosophy of religion which she called Theosophy or “the wisdom of God” and proselytized it through theosophical lodges, the first of which she founded in New York in 1875.
Theosophy teaches a monistic, pantheistic, or holistic concept of the universe, the belief that God and the universe are one. The religions of India are based on this concept. This is very different from the dualistic Biblical view. According to the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1 KJV). Hindu/Buddhist and later, Chinese Taoist mystical ideas, much manipulated and transformed, have played important roles in Western esotericism and the occult. Europeans found many parallels between Hindu beliefs in Brahm-atman and the Gnostic/Hermetic/Neo Platonic doctrines