ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
figures which were probably images of goddesses suggests that there may have been priests and priestesses in at least some Neolithic village communities. The earliest evidence for this found thus far is in Çatal Hüyük, a site in what is now Turkey, where there are chambers with anthropomorphic figures identified as deities by James Melaart. If he is right, the chambers could have been temples where the deities were probably served by priests who enacted rituals actualizing myths. We have no idea what these myths were, but whatever they were, they were probably the basis of the spiritual beliefs of the people of this ancient Neolithic community which flourished around six thousand B.C.E.
In historical times, there were priests in all of the ancient civilizations: the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, Baltic, Iranian, Indian, Chinese, Mayan, and Inca. Priesthoods also prevail (or have prevailed) among the people of the Pacific islands, those of Australasia, the Americas, and Africa. In most cases, the priests are inextricably bound up with chiefs and kings, political and religious functions being closely related.
Occult priesthood, however, is not political, but usually confined to small groups without power. If and when the priests of esoteric fellowships do acquire power, these cease to be occult/esoteric and become religions. Officers who conduct initiations are priests. In many cases, they are called “masters,” as is the case with Chinese practitioners of feng shui. In large societies, such as Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, and the Sovereign Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, the orders are under the authority of a grandmaster. This is also true of Wicca.
Wicca is an example of what present-day occultists of the New Age sometimes call Neo-Paganism or simply Paganism. In their view, Wicca and other such cults are ancient orders with appropriate myths, rites, and symbols to which neophytes are initiated. They usually have degrees, or levels, as in Freemasonry, in which one may ultimately become a thirty-three-degree Mason, the highest rank. The adherents of these societies believe that they originated in illo tempore rather than historical time, that is to say, they are of metaphysical origins; that the myths, symbols, and rituals of these cults all emerged from this dimension of reality. On such grounds, Wiccans, modern Druids, and other neo-pagans scorn historians of religion who, on the basis of documentary evidence, assert that these cults were actually invented in recent times by persons like Gerald Gardner. These “inventions,” cultists claim, are incidental and irrelevant. The truth of Wicca, for example, is believed to have been orally transmitted from grandmothers to granddaughters or mothers to daughters from time immemorial, after the original transmission by supernatural beings.
During recent years, progress in archaeology, anthropology, and the history of religions has resulted in the appearance of scientific studies which usually are at variance with those of true believers, whether of religions or the occult. As a result, two forms of historical interpretation have arisen. That which we call “history” for example, in the academic sense of the term, is often referred to as “scientific historiography.” While, as with all social sciences and the humanities, no absolute claims can be made by historians, the methods used