ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
that of the Mandeans in Northern Iraq, which is of Gnostic origin.
During medieval times, European commerce in goods and ideas with the Near East had led to the introduction of alchemy, Hemeticism and Gnosticism into Latin Europe via Italy. At its height, Islamic Civilization was far in advance of Europe in learning, and the Moslems preserved Greek writings which did not become available to Europeans until the Italian Renaissance. As mentioned, around 1460 Masilio Ficino of the Florentine Platonic Academy translated the Corpus Hermeticum into Latin, thus making it available to Western European scholars. Earlier, during the thirteenth century, a German poet, Wolfram von Eschenbach, had composed a poem about the Quest for the Holy Grail, originally a monkish tale of Celtic origins. He synthesized this story with elements of Hermetic esotericism, a little of which had, by then, found its way to Europe thanks to the Crusades.
Gnosticism, which was suppressed by the early church as heresy, also found its way to the West during the Renaissance, and had an impact on alchemy. Still later, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Hermeticism had great impact on Freemasonry, especially that of the Scottist rite created at that time by masons who had been cathedral builders.
Today it is fashionable to denigrate Europeans as ruthless exploiters and spoilers of the rest of the world. A Canadian aboriginal visitor to Austria recently remarked, “It’s nice to see white people in their native habitat,” implying that they all should have stayed there. Marco Polo might well have said the same of the Chinese and Mongolians during the thirteenth century. Ever since the fifth century C. E., Europe had been subject to waves of Asiatic invaders, such as the Huns, Avars, Magyars, Tartars, and Turks, as well as the Moors from North Africa. Vast areas of Europe were under Asiatic rule until the Balkan War of 1912, when the Turks were expelled from the Balkans save for the corner of Thrace which is still part of the Turkish republic.
Throughout medieval times, Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabic, and Moorish civilizations were much more advanced in every area of culture and civilization than was backward Europe, which, in the parlance of today, was of the “third world.” Europeans owe a great debt to Islamic Civilization, in particular. For instance, it is thanks to the Arabs that what we have of Greek scientific, philosophical, and literary documents survived to be transmitted to Europeans and stimulate, by so doing, the Renaissance.
By the fifteenth century C. E., however, Islamic, Persian, Indian, and Chinese civilizations had reached a point of stasis. However, Europeans were then on the verge of a new era of outreach. Shall we blame Prince Henry the Navigator for being curious about the lands which lay beyond the horizon?
A number of years ago I spent a week in the town of Lagos on the southern coast of Portugal. Columbus was shipwrecked off this coast during his youth, and barely managed to make his way to the shore. At Lagos, one can take a tourist bus tour to Cabo São Vicente (Cape St. Vincent), the most southwesterly point of Europe where steep cliffs rise from the Atlantic. There, on