ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
Esotericism and the occult always have been of interest to the people of the counter-culture. We speak here of an authentic tradition of great antiquity. The New Agers of our own time are heirs to the achievements of the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s, to the hippies, while they, in turn built on the foundations laid by the bohemians of the “lost generation.”
As we have said, during the late twentieth century, traditional, mainstream Christianity continued to decline while Evangelical Protestantism enjoyed an upsurge, especially among people who found scientific materialism emotionally unsatisfying and who yearned for simple absolutes. One alternative was to attempt to restore the old religions.
The prehistory of Europe does not appear to have been as interesting as we once thought, and furthermore, makes a far more bleak commentary on human nature than early researchers constructed. However, this is precisely the point. We are prone to wishful thinking, to believing what we want to believe.
Neo-Paganism has nothing to with the old religions as they actually were. Scholars such as Hutton insist that Neo-Paganism is a late twentieth-century invention. To appreciate this point, it is worthwhile to say something about the pre-Christian religions of Europe, especially those of the Germanic and Celtic peoples, and how these religions fared when Christianity appeared during late classical and early medieval periods.
During the eighth and ninth centuries B.C.E., hunter-gatherer societies gave way to settled communities of animal herders and farmers in parts of Europe, the Near East, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. Religious practices and ideas underwent transformation, resulting in the emergence of what some scholars call “Paganism” for want of a better label. While this term formerly had pejorative connotations, it has been “sanitized,” so to speak, by archaeologists such as Ronald Hutton in Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles (1991). He uses the term “Pagan” to identify the highly localized folk religions of prehistoric villagers, the people who left a legacy of standing stones, stone circles, and other monuments which the visitor may see virtually everywhere in the British Isles. While we know very little about these religions, they are of importance in modern esotericism because of the attempts to revive them. These reconstructions, however, as we have said, bear little if any resemblance to the old religions of the Celts and their unknown Neolithic predecessors in the British Isles.
The last country in Europe to embrace Christianity was Lithuania, then a huge grand duchy which embraced not only the country so named today, but eastern Poland, Belo-Russia, and western Ukraine. The Grand Duke of Lithuania was pagan as late as 1390. Thereafter, the grand dukes embraced Christianity, but the old paganism persisted long after in the countryside, and, to some extent, still does today. Indeed, there has been a revival of paganism in Lithuania since that country regained its independence.