Here I’ll look to the update on Faivre provided by his student Wouter Hanegraaff’s New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, published in 1998 by SUNY.
This book brings our “prefigurement” up to the 1990s with a detailed study of the “New Age:” its roots in the Renaissance esotericism characterized by Faivre; the response to the progressive secularization of society since the Enlightenment beginning in the late 17th Century; and the important ways that esotericism changed as it looked “in the mirror” of “progress,” Romanticism, occultism, the study of religions, evolution, and psychology.
I’ve never before encountered such a readable but thoroughly erudite and detailled study of the historical roots of my own “marginal” mind.
In what follows, I will only briefly outline how Hanegraaff has clearly, carefully, and fully spelled out how the New Age Movement developed and how, in my view, it prefigures the Yoga Science.
I wont detail the care with which Hanegraaff “demarcates the field” of study, calls out his “empirical method,” and develops his argument via overview, exposition, and interpretation.
This is an elegant piece of scholarship, beautifully, impartially, and clearly presented.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll jump right to the conclusions that I feel are key for my purposes:
“Western esotericism” has already been characterized by Faivre, and the following presupposes his analysis. So, if you haven’t already, please read Part 1 of this consideration in the previous blog post.
Hanegraaff identifies one of the key things that occurred following the Enlightement was the temporalization of esotericism – what had been a largely atemporal esoteric cosmology was reframed in response to the idea of progress and the eventual certain establishment of evolution as a fundamental organizing principle in science.
This temporalization is clearly central to the TimeScale scheme I have proposed for the Yoga Science.
However, as I came to discover earlier this year, once framed in this rather obvious scientific way, historical time itself becomes paradoxically delimited, and all of our cosmic, cultural, and personal history, even this very “moment” of experience, is revealed, if you will, as a collection of Planckian instants that are themselves simultaneous (or “synchronic”) configurations of the entire cosmos including the totality of lived experience – a view of things strongly reminiscent of the original atemporal formulations of esotericism.
The other key thing that Hanegraaff identifies having occurred since the Enlightenment is the progressive secularization of our world. Thus our New Age ideas are less and less explicitly “religious” and more and more couched in secular terms.
This “ambiguity” is clearly a mixed blessing since ignoring the experience of the sacred dimension threatens to eliminate the heart of feeling, compassion, and connectedness. It also creates a deep vulnerability to the rip tide of commercialism that threatens to destroy the natural world upon which our very lives depend.
Hanegraaff concludes his presentation with a summary chapter in which he spells out how the New Age represents a “third option” between those of conventional religious belief (based on “faith”) and conventional scientific rationality (based on “reason”) — an option based instead on a secularized version of esotericism (based on “gnosis”).
This implicit “higher synthesis” is made explicit in the Yoga Science.
He closes with reflections on how the New Age movement became conscious of itself as such only in the 1970s and how it remains an open question as to whether this “third option” will gain the traction necessary to prevent our world being torn apart by the murderously angry twins religion and science.
Yoga Science proposes to put that “third option” on a new footing, the “New Stage” I suggested here ten days ago.
Meanwhile, a potentially most relevant and important development has just come into view, the E8 proposal for a “Theory of Everything” by Garrett Lisi which, as far as I can tell on a quick initial scan, is a) based on octonionic math and b) generates a geometric form that looks to me could be also the “total tigle” (from the Dzogchen tradition) of a most profound esoteric science.
I’m sure I’ll be exploring this in another post soon.