ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
the prairies or in a desert, the sky appears to be a huge bowl or vault. The sun, moon, and planets obviously move around the earth which is quite evidently the center of things. The observer can easily conclude that the earth is either round or concave by noting how ships appear or disappear over the horizon if one is by the sea, or how a camel caravan might similarly appear or disappear if one is in the desert.
Aristotle, following the observations of his predecessors among Greek philosophers, also concluded that there were four elements of which all things were made: earth, air, water, and fire. He and other philosophers thought that matter is made up of mixtures of these elements, and that all material things partake of their qualities. This too, makes sense to the naïve observer. It is fairly close to what many of us would conclude if we did not know better.
Astrology made perfect sense in the geocentric (earth-centered) cosmos. If the heavenly bodies circle around the earth, it is by no means absurd to argue that they could somehow exert power. The mysterious conjunctions of the planets in addition to the familiar rising and setting of the sun and moon were all recognized as dynamic forces by the Sumerians of the fourth century B.C.E., a people of what is now lower Iraq, who were the first to invent writing. Their astrology concerned major events such as the fortunes of war, the rise and fall of dynasties, floods, hurricanes, and other great natural disasters. During Hellenistic times (330 B.C.E. – 30 C.E.), astrologers elaborated their theories into schemes which allowed them to cast horoscopes indicating the destiny of individuals on the basis of their birth signs, that is to say, the position of the sun, moon, and five visible planets at the time of a person’s birth. Virtually all people of Eurasia during ancient and medieval times embraced astrology, not only Europeans and peoples of the Near East, but Indians and Chinese as well. Early Christians embraced astrology as a matter of course, and it was considered a perfectly scientific approach throughout medieval and early modern times.
The same was true of alchemy, which, though not a science, was subscribed to by virtually all learned people from Hellenistic times until the beginning of the eighteenth century. It was based on Aristotle’s four elements. It is best kinown for the belief that through magical manipulation, base metals could be transmuted into gold. This, however, was only an incidental aspect of alchemy, which was actually a form of religious salvation of which the metallurgic aspects were chiefly significant as symbols. Christians embraced alchemy, including its symbolism, and it flourished from the Hellenistic era, when it arose, until early modern times.
The continuity between Gnosticism, Neo Platonism, Neo Pythagoreanism, Hermeticism (if it is counted as separate from Gnosticism), and other Late Classical mystical systems and the esotericism of the modern age is very difficult to establish. According to Jung, alchemy bridged the medieval gap, and the same could be said of astrology. However, both are problematical. The mystical religious systems such as Manichaenism, and the cults of the Bogomils, Cathars, and Albigensians discussed earlier probably had a Gnostic component. Virtually all, however, died during medieval times. There is one small religious community,