ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
Hermeticism, Gnosticism, and all other classical philosophies based on Plato. However, the classical philosophy was preserved in the Islamic world and reintroduced to the West during the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth century. Although the Church denounced it as heresy, it persisted as an underground alternative to Christian orthodoxy. Gnostic sects such as the Cathars of Italy, the Albigensians of Provence, and the Bogomils of Bosnia revived Gnostic Christianity. The first two were violently suppressed, while the Bogomils embraced Islam after the Turkish invasion of the Balkans. Certain mystics, such as Giardano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for heresy, and the German shoemaker Jacob Boehme, professed a kind of Gnosticism. During the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, there were some independently-minded people with mystical inclinations, such as Emmanuel Swedenborg, but Gnosticism was professed by very few until the late nineteenth century, when it suddenly underwent an explosive growth under various names among Europeans and Americans who were dissatisfied with both Christianity and mechanistic materialism. This continued through the twentieth century, culminating, at the present time, in the phenomenon known as The New Age.
In summary, therefore, the probability is that while Gnosticism and other parallel religio-philosophies died out during early medieval times, if not earlier, a number of gifted individuals rediscovered them during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. These persons revived interest in Gnosticism. Subsequently, during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, some, the occultists, founded circles or cults which adopted Gnosticism in modified forms. Among these are the Spiritualists, Theosophists, Anthroposophists, members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, Argenteum Astrum and Ordo Templi Orientis, and Wiccans. As well, tarot card readers, astrologers, alchemists, and those engaged in palmistry, crystal-ball gazing, and tea-leaf reading belong to the same tradition. While the vast majority of occultists are probably unaware of the origin of the esoteric doctrines which they profess, there is little doubt but that the ideas are related. They have been reinforced, in modified form, by elements of Chinese philosophical Taoism, especially the I Ching, the martial arts, t’ai chi, and very recently, Chinese magic or feng shui, and Indian phenomena such as the Tantric doctrines of Kundalini and the concept of chakras, plus esoteric readings of Indian texts such as the Bhagavad Gita. Occultists seldom interpret any of these Chinese and Indian texts in the way they are understood by Hindu and Taoist gurus and philosophers, nor as they are understood by scholars in the field of religion. Instead, all of these texts are manipulated in order to fit in to preconceived Western ideas which owe their origin to pioneer esotericists of the nineteenth century such as Blavatsky.