EduTech Research Project
From the unreleased files of
Dr. Robert W. Brockway
ESOTERICISM AND THE OCCULT
IN THE WESTERN WORLD
Robert W. Brockway, PhD.
Professor Emeritus of Religion
Brandon University, Brandon, Manitoba, Canada
The text is the result of the author’s reading and research over the course of many years. His research in both the old European witchcraft phenomena and Wicca includes that done a number of years ago at the British Museum and the Bodleian in Oxford University, assisted by a grant from the British Council.
Robert Brockway died on December 17, 2001. This book is dedicated to his memory.
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.
|THE ROOTS OF NEW AGE:
ESOTERICISM AND THE OCCULT
The Italian Renaissance 21
CHAPTER TWO: SHAMANS 29
PREHISTORIC SHAMANISM 29
THE PROPHETS 32
NATIVE NORTH AMERICAN SHAMANS 34
MODERN SHAMANISM IN RUSSIA 37
THE MEDIUM AS SHAMAN 38
CHAPTER THREE: THE OLD PAGANS 39
SHAMANS AND PRIESTS 39
MYTH AND RITUAL 40
THE PRIESTLY SACRAMENT 41
THEORIES OF ARCHAIC CULTURE AND RELIGION 43
THE THEORY OF THE MOTHER-GODDESS RELIGION 49
DIFFUSIONISM AND THE MOTHER-GODDESS
RELIGION CHALLENGED 51
|CHAPTER FOUR: THE CLASSICAL AGE 53
THE ORIGINS OF THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITION 53
THE HELLENISTIC AGE (323-30 B.C.E.) 53
Hellenistic Philosophy, Religion, and Esotericism 55
Hermeticism and Gnosticism 56
The Gnostic Cosmos 62
Gnosticism, Judaism, and Christianity 64
THE RISE OF CHRISTIANITY 65
Jesus as Exorcist 66
Demonology and Satanism 67
SATANISM TODAY 68
CHAPTER FIVE: RISE OF MODERN SCIENCE, & GNOSTICISM 70
THE GEOCENTRIC COSMOS 70
THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION 74
THE ENLIGHTENMENT 75
THE REDISCOVERY OF GNOSTICISM 78
GNOSTICISM AND THE TAROT 78
THE DECLINE OF CHRISTIANITY 79
THE EASTERN RELIGIONS 81
HELENA BLAVATSKY AND THEOSOPHY 83
ALEISTER CROWLEY AND DO WHAT THOU WILT 84
THE MEDIUMS AND SPIRITUALISM 87
THE FIN DE SIÉCLE 88
CHAPTER SIX: THE OCCULT IN THE 20th CENTURY 90
WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY? 90
The Varieties of Religious Experience 90
Hippie Spirituality 92
German Neo-Paganism 95
Neo-Paganism Reconstructed 97
WICCA’S ORIGINS 97
MURRAY, LELAND, AND GARDNER 98
GERALD GARDNER’S INVENTION 101
CHAPTER SEVEN: NEW AGE IN THE PRESENT 104
ATLANTIS, LEMURIA, AND MU 106
Edgar Cayce, Jane Roberts 109
The Books of Seth 109
David and Ann Ramala, and Shirley McLaine 110
UFO CULTS 110
NEW AGE COSMOLOGY 113
NEW AGE METAPHYSICS 113
THE NEW AGE, CHRISTIANITY, AND HISTORY 115
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN? 116
Most university Religion departments offer first year courses with titles such as “World Religions.” These usually present lectures about Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the three major Western Religions; and Hinduism and Buddhism, the principal religions of the East. Why are there only courses in these, and not others discussing the roughly 8000 religions said to flourish in the world today?
The term “world religions,” to be sure, refers to the fact that certain religions such as Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, though of specific ethnic origins, are now globally widespread. These are “missionary religions,” that is to say, religions which engage in proselytizing. Judaism and Hinduism, on the other hand, are ethnic, and while both also occasionally engage in missionary activity, this is very limited. However, because these five so-called “world religions” (inaccurately including Judaism and Hinduism) claim the overwhelming majority of the world population, they are appropriately the religions of choice in first-year, general courses offered by Religion departments.
In the past, many “comparative religions” textbooks had beginning chapters entitled “Primitive Religions” which dealt with the traditions of native peoples throughout the world under broad headings such as “totemism,” “animism,” “polytheism,”and “magic.” Sometimes all such religions were lumped into a single category labelled “Paganism.” These categories were based on the pioneer studies of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century ethnologists such as E. B. Tylor and James George Frazer who were among those who invented these categories. The notion of “primitive” religion has been long since discarded, as have terms such as “primitive” itself, as well as “savage” and “barbarian.” These early terms were highly pejorative and were based on the racist bigotry of the times. They were also highly inaccurate, and reflected a superficial acquaintance with the religions concerned. Anyone who has attended a Dakota sun dance, has any acquaintance with Hopi kachinas, or has studied the Hawaiian creation myth called the Kumulipo discovers that such religions can be fully as profound and complex as Christianity or Hinduism. The deeper one penetrates into the depths of any one religious tradition, the more one is impressed by its subtlety and spirituality.
During the twentieth century, such discoveries by scholars specializing in the study of religion impressed them with the universality of religions. All faiths seemed to be ways to the center, paths to salvation which, at heart, were similar. Therefore, all religions were concerived to be “true” religions when properly understood. While this attitude of appreciation is enhanced today, scholars in more recent years once more tend to be impressed with the differences among the world religions, the uniqueness of each. As a consequence, the term “comparative religions” gave way a number of years ago to “the history of religions,” emphasizing the precise study of particular faiths based on close examination of their sacred texts and oral traditions.
What is popularly called “the occult” has not yet received much attention by scholars in the field of religion. Those of us interested in this phenomenon, from the perspective of religious studies, are impressed by its relevance to the field. One encounters in New Age most features of what we study in other religious traditions. Whether or not New Age should be classed as one of the world religions remains an open question, however.
Some popular approaches to the study of religion are very helpful, especially those of Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell. Both were mavericks who were not held in high regard by the academic community. Neither, for example, had a doctorate. Both were generalists and popularizers. Both were prolific writers, and Campbell was a popular lecturer as well. Both were generalists rather than specialists, and essentially followed their own interests wherever they led, oblivious to professionalism. While both taught for many years in reputable universities, neither produced scholarly articles for learned journals and Campbell, in particular, was hostile to those who did. Both have been rightly faulted for errors in their data, and insights based on only a superficial acquaintance with many of the subjects they dealt with. Neither were good writers; they were prone to rambling and muddled thinking. Indeed, had they not published when they did, it is doubtful that either of them would ever have been published at all since the standards demanded by today’s editors are far more exacting than they were during the 1950s and 1960s, when Eliade and Campbell produced their most insightful books. However, despite their many serious limitations, both were highly stimulating because of the boldness of their ideas.
Of Rumanian origins, Mircea Eliade had an unusual background in religious studies, including a sojourn in India where he practiced yoga. During the 1930s, he became involved with the Rumanian fascist movement, the Iron Guard, and, in various subtle (and sometimes not so subtle ) ways this orientation affected his thinking concerning religion. For instance, he has also been accused of anti-semitism. He spent the war years as cultural attache to the Rumanian embassy in Lisbon, and after the war, lived for a time in Paris. There he wrote Mythes, Réves et Mysteres (1957) which was later translated as Myths, Dreams and Mysteries (1960). An invitation to give a series of lectures at the University of Chicago led to his being appointed as a professor of religion at that institution. He remained there until his death in 1986. During the course of these years, Eliade produced a great number of books such as The Myth of the Eternal Return: Or, Cosmos and History, (1954) , The Sacred & The Profane: The Nature of Religion (1957), Patterns in Comparative Religion (1958), Myth and Reality (1963), and Shamanism:Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1964). His critics take him to task for superficiality, over-generalization, and frequent errors of fact. He is often too slick and dogmatic. A study of his sources reveals his excessive dependence on early twentieth century studies. His admirers, however, are intrigued by his insights. He makes interesting comments about myth, for example, defining it as sacred history.
According to Eliade, “myth tells how, through the deeds of Supernatural Beings, a reality came into existence, be it the whole of reality, the Cosmos, or only a fragment of reality—an island, a species of plant, a particular kind of human behavior, an institution. Myth, then, is always an account of a “creation.” Thus, for Eliade, all myths concern origins, how things began. In The Myth of Eternal Return he discusses, among much else, the idea of axis mundi, or the center of the world, which is sometimes a sacred mountain, symbolized as a palace or temple, or a sacred city which is conceived as the place where heaven, earth, and hell meet. In Myths, Dreams, and Mysteries he discusses sacred history as “transhuman revelation which took place at the dawn of Great Time, in the holy time of the beginnings (in illo tempore)” and that “Being real and sacred, the myth becomes exemplary, and consequently repeatable, for it serves as a model, and by the same token as a justification, for all human action.” In Patterns of Religion he discusses such topics as the distinctions between “sacred” and “profane” and coined the term hierophanies from the Greek (“sacred disclosure”) meaning a “modality of the divine.” He argues that anything whatsoever can be a hierophany.
The late Joseph Campbell was born in New York in 1904. He did undergraduate and graduate work in literature at Columbia University during the 1920s, then went to Europe, where he studied first at the Sorbonne in Paris and then at the University of Munich in Germany. Having completely lost interest in his doctoral thesis, he abandoned the project and focused his studies on Sanskrit and German literature. Later, he became an expert on the works of both Thomas Mann and the Irish author James Joyce.
The family fortunes evaporated during the Great Depression. Campbell spent an itinerant youth: a year in a cabin in Connecticut where he did nothing but read, another year hitchhiking around the United States, another year in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska working with a biologist. During the late 1930s, he was appointed to the faculty of Sarah Lawrence College for Women near New York, and taught there for thirty-eight years. In 1947, Princeton University Press published his Hero With a Thousand Faces, based on his lecture notes. Although this is a badly-organized book, difficult to read, it became a runaway bestseller, and is still one of the most significant studies of myth. However, Campbell was never highly regarded in academic circles.
Campbell later wrote a tetrology entitled The Masks of God, four volumes dealing with the history of world myth from prehistoric times to the present. He wrote most of these studies after his retirement. He also went on the lecture circuit, and continued until he was well into his eighties. During this time, he published many other books and was sometimes called the “guru of myth.” He died in 1987.
The author’s thinking concerning religion was chiefly influenced by Eliade and Campbell, as well as by Carl G.Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology based on his concept of impersonal psyche or the archetypes of the collective unconscious.
Karl Gustav Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was born in 1875, at Kesswill near Lake Constance in Switzerland. His father was a Swiss Reformed minister and Carl grew up in parsonages in the Rhenish villages which his father served. Most of his childhood years were spent at Klein-Hünigen which is now an industrial suburb of Basel. As he tells us in his memoir, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1962) he had several early childhood dreams and fantasies that had great impact on him throughout his life. One of the earliest of these was a dream at the age of four, when the family was at the parsonage at the Falls of the Rhine. He dreamt that he was roaming a nearby field and discovered stone steps leading to an underground chamber. There he found himself before a great, enthroned phallus with a single eye staring at the ceiling. He awoke, screaming. (About that time, he also fled in terror from a Catholic priest in his black cassock, whom he saw coming down the road.) It has been suggested that the dream may have been inspired by an incident involving sex abuse, but to Jung, even in old age, it was a revelation of an underground deity. Other childhood experiences included one in which he awoke in the night to see ghostly faces emerge from his mother’s bedroom, one blending into another. When he was around ten, he found a curiously shaped stone on the banks of the Rhine which he painted black and white and deposited in a pencil box in which he also placed a little black manikin he carved from the end of a ruler. He put a message in with the manikin, and hid the pencil box in the attic.
When he was thirteen, Jung was pushed by a schoolmate onto the cobblestones in front of Basel Cathedral, and was stunned. He was kept out of school for several months, during which he roamed the countryside, deeply engrossing himself in nature. He finally forced himself back to his studies and to school. Not long after, he experienced a fantasy in which he saw God enthroned high above Basel Cathedral. In the fantasy, a turd fell from the divine throne and shattered the roof of the cathedral. This image haunted him for many days after, and led to a religious conversion experience.
Although he would have preferred to become an archeologist or, if not that, a research biologist, Jung went to medical school. As he later said, he had no interest in becoming a healer but medicine was as near as he could come to science and still have a vocation enabling him to make a living. While he was a medical student, he became fascinated with a young teenage cousin, Helly Preiswek, who seemed to have remarkable psychic talents. She held family séances in which she brought spirit messages from various deceased members of the household. Jung did not believe that she was actually receiving such messages, but did think that she entered an altered state of consciousness during the séances. On one occasion, while in trance, she drew a very complex round design which she explained as a cosmic pattern. Jung was fascinated by her ability to produce this, since Helly was not a particularly bright young woman and had received little education. This, indeed, later furnished him with the subject matter for his doctoral dissertation.
After his graduation from Basel School of Medicine, Jung accepted a post as alienist (psychiatrist) at the Burghölzli Mental Hosptal in Zürich. Here he worked under the supervision of one of the leading psychiatrists of the day, Eugen Bleuler. The latter believed that the delusions of psychotics were actually meaningful if one could but understand them. He convinced Jung of this, and, from then on, the latter also held the view that hallucinations had a logic of their own which, when interpreted, could be found to have meaning. While he was at the institute, Jung met and married a wealthy woman, Emma Rauschenbach, and, soon after, built a mansion at Küsnach near Zürich. Here he spent the rest of his life. His wife’s fortune enabled Jung to devote himself completely to his private practice. his research, and his writing. Between 1908 and 1913 he fell under the sway of Sigmund Freud, although he always had reservations about Freud’s sexual theories. In 1912, Jung published Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido (1912) translated into English as Psychology of the Unconscious (1916) and, in revised form, Symbols of Transformation. In this strange, rambling book, Jung repudiated Freud’s libido theory, which led to the shattering of their friendship. This book is also replete with occult symbols and esoteric discussions. Jung was strongly drawn to this area during these years and those that followed. He was convinced in the validity of the occult; that it was a symbolic way of expressing the same psychological concepts as he did.
During World War One, Jung worked out the basic principles of his analytical psychology, culminating in his basic theory of the impersonal psyche, or archetypes of the collective unconscious. This, in large measure, was based on his study of alchemy, Gnosticism, astrology, and other occult topics. After World War One, Jung continued his practice, wrote extensively, travelled in Africa and America, and rose from obscurity to fame. Most of the work of his later years involves an extension of that begun earlier. Where the occult is concerned, his most valuable contribution is his study of alchemy. He was also vitally interested in UFOs, which he regarded as the modern version of fairy tales.
Jung died in 1961 at the age of eighty-six. After his death, he attracted more interest than he had during his lifetime, but not among psychologists or psychiatrists. He was never accepted by colleagues in these fields, nor held in regard in academic circles. Instead, his chief impact was on people outside learned circles interested in myth, religious experience, esotericism, and the occult. He continues to have a strong following among these today.
In 1996, he was savagely attacked by the psychologist Richard Noll in two books, The Jung Cult (1994) and The Aryan Christ (1996). Noll asserted that Jung was a charlatan who set out to found a religion centering on himself. He has also been attacked because of his collaboration with the Nazis during the 1930s: he accepted an apppointment from them as president of the German Psychiatric Association (which he held until 1939), and the editorship of the German psychiatric journal. Apologists for Jung argue that he was politically naïve. Like Eliade and Campbell, he has also been accused of anti-semitism, although many Jews, including his secretary, Aniela Jaffé, vigorously denied this.
In all three men, there seems to have been a strange relationship between antisemitism and their views of the unconscious, myth, and mysteries. It is difficult to account for this, but it seems to have been somehow bound up with their romanticism.
Another generalist worthy of mention is Karl Jaspers, a Swiss philosopher of history. His The Origins and Goals of History (1953), a history of world religions, presents a useful temporal pattern for both the history of religion and that of esotericism and the occult. According to Jasper, the era of prehistoric religion was followed by the era of priestly religion from around 3000 to 1000 B.C.E. During the era between 1000 and 300 B.C.E., there was a world-wide spiritual revolution that he calls the Axial Age. During this time, prophets and reformers arose in China, India, and the Near East such as Confucius, Gotama Sakyamuni, Zoroaster, and the prophets of Israel. Thereafter, until the present day, the world has elaborated and drawn upon the great spiritual contributions of the Axial Age. (I have never understood why the Axial Age is not extended to around 1000 C.E. in order to include Jesus and the rise of Christianity, and Mohammed and Islam.) The Post-Axial Age extends from 300 B.C.E. to the present, and is characterized by consolidation and expansion. While Jasper’ schema is easily faulted for its simplicity, it is useful as a kind of shorthand view of world religion.
Read the entire 120 pages of text HERE
THE ROOTS OF NEW AGE:
ESOTERICISM AND THE OCCULT
IN THE WESTERN WORLD
by Robert W. Brockway
William G. Hillman
Assistant Professor ~ Brandon University
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