ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
“O God. . . at whose name every idol takes flight and every demon and every unclean power: now let the demon that is here take flight at thy name. . .” And while John was saying this, of a sudden the altar of Artemis split in many pieces. . . and half the temple fell down. Then the assembled Ephesians cried out ‘[There is but] one God, [the God] of John!. . .We are converted, now that we have seen thy marvelous works! Have mercy on us, O God, according to thy will, and save us from our great error!’ And some of them lay on their faces ; some tore theirclothes and wept, and others tried to take flight.”(Acts 1:9).
The remarkable success of the apostles and early Christian church fathers was largely because of such alleged demonstrations, though usually not as dramatic as this. Justin, for instance, asserted “many persons possessed by demons, everywhere in the world and in our own city, have been exorcized by many of our Christian men.” Irenaeus asserted that “some people incontestably and truly drive out demons, so that those very persons often become believers.”
Esotericism persisted throughout medieval times as an underground phenomenon in some quarters, and in heretical religious movements such as the Cathari in Italy and the Albigensians in Provence. It also persisted very openly, and without suffering suppression, in the form of alchemy, astrology, theurgy, and other such practices which were tolerated by the Catholic Church in the West and Greek Orthodoxy in the East.
Esotericism surfaced in northern Italy during the Renaissance, chiefly through the discovery and translation into Latin of the Corpus Hermeticum, a collection of writings initially believed to be revealed texts older than the Bible, discussed earlier. This has been explained quite well by the historian of religion Mircea Eliade in an essay entitled “The Occult in the Modern World” a journal article but republished along with others in Occultism, Witchcraft, and Cultural Fashions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976). According to Eliade, the modern quest for spiritual certainty began in 1460 in Florence, Italy, where Cosimo di Medici founded a Platonic Academy. There was much interest in Greek texts in general, and Plato in particular, at this time. This literature had been largely lost to the West, along with knowledge of the Greek language, and was only being revived following the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453 which resulted in the flight of Greek scholars to Italy and the acquisition of several Greek texts. One of these was the Corpus Hermeticum. As mentioned previously, Masilio Ficino had been engaged to translate these works into Latin. Both Ficino and di Medici were excited by the Hermetic text, which they mistakenly took to be an ancient Egyptian scripture, revealed through Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom. Thoth was known as Hermes Trismegisthus or “Thrice Great Hermes,” a product of synthesis since Hermes was the Greek deity who most closely resembled Thoth.
As mentioned previously, The Corpus Hermeticum was made up of fifteen texts of which the most important and most interesting was the Poimandres. It told the myth of Anthropos Primal Man, a deity who became overly fascinated with the lower world and stumbled into it by becoming incarnate in a human