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This is a survey history of esotericism and the occult in the Western World, a phenomenon which is currently called New Age. The Age of Aquarius has just begun. The latter is an astrological reference to the new millennium which began in the year 2001. The astrological “Great Year” is a roughly 25,000-year temporal cycle subdivided into twelve 2000-year periods (apparently with an extra millennium for good measure). Each of these periods is identified by a constellation in the Zodiac. The Piscean Age, which began with the birth of Jesus, has just ended. It was, according to astrologers, an era of materialism and violence. The Age of Aquarius, in contrast, is to be an era of peace and spirituality.

Considering the ecological crisis, global warming, genocides in parts of Africa, epidemics, terrorism, and the constant parade of declared and undeclared wars, as well as the worsening conditions of the great mass of people throughout the world because of the avarice and ruthlessness of globalized corporate capitalism, I personally see little reason for optimism. However, the Age of Aquarius has just begun, and perhaps world conditions will improve in ways which are inconceivable to us today.

Archaeologists and historians are no less given to myth-making than anyone else. During the early twentieth century, generalists prevailed in the social sciences and liberal arts. There was much interest by archaeologists in constructing theories of origins and diffusion, and by historians like Arnold Toynbee in grand schemas such as that contained in his multi-volume historical work. This approach prevailed from the turn of the century until the 1960s, the watershed years of twentieth-century cultural history. At that time, it can perhaps be said that the modern gave way to what some scholars call the post-modern, the very era we are primarily discussing. The post-modern is distinguished by the movement called deconstruction which seems to involve repudiation of the Enlightenment and the general theories which came from it. Future historians may well regard deconstruction and the post-modern as wrinkles in the ongoing pattern rather than the actual beginnings of something new, but that is for them to say.

Today, thanks to the so-called “information explosion” and “globalization,” both of which are further post-modern developments, we are supposedly living in an era completely different from what preceded it. Having lived in both eras and studied both historically, I must confess to finding this claim very exaggerated and unconvincing. This, however, is a topic very germane to the New Age, which lays claim to being both a new movement and one rooted in the very ancient past.

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