For the last couple of decades, our world has been awash with Ancient Wisdom. Everybody and his sister seems to think they’ve discovered the kickass cure for contemporary society in the texts and teachings of long, long ago. It’s only natural. In troubled times, people long for a simpler life and usually go looking for it in the shifting echoes of half-forgotten time. Whether it’s a paleo diet, aura energy, herbal remedies or smelly candles, we tend to believe that this “lost” knowledge will provide signposts on the road to enlightenment. I’m not saying it will or it won’t – honestly, I don’t know – however, we do need to remember a couple of things. First of all, by definition, ancient wisdom comes from a time of superstition and ignorance when germs were God’s punishment, life expectancy was 35 and you could die from a broken finger. Secondly, some of this ancient wisdom isn’t actually all that ancient. Here are a couple of blatant examples of ancient arts that aren’t!
Tarot cards – Everybody knows that the Tarot is as old as the sands of Egypt. It was the tool of soothsayers and astrologers who used its power to seek metaphysical guidance and, perhaps, glimpse into the future. And today, only a select few occult scholars have the wisdom to unlock its secrets. Nope! The truth is, Tarot cards were developed in the early Renaissance by a bunch of northern Italian gamblers. They used them to play games very similar to poker and gin rummy. That went on for about three centuries until the 1780s, when a popular French magician, Jean-Baptiste Alliette (whose stage name was Etteilla) began claiming the Tarot was full of psychic energy. On the verge of revolution, the Parisian upper classes were eager to grasp at spiritual straws, and the Tarot cards looked like a good one. Meanwhile, at the other end of the Rue de Fake News, a semi-intellectual, Antoine Court, wrote a history (without documentation, BTW) which traced the Tarot back to the pre-pyramid Nile. Since everyone already knew that anyway, it became (and still is) the accepted history of the Tarot. In fact, Tarot cards are actually younger than the ordinary “according to Hoyle” playing cards we use every day!
Wicca – For millions of its followers and most of the rest of us, Wicca comes from a time before history when Mother Nature spoke to her children from the rivers, mountains and meadows of the natural world. It is a religion of the Goddess whose power comes from the living Earth. A spirituality of standing stones, sacred trees and healing crystals that was suppressed for centuries by the Christian church and the woeful myopia of modern science. Guess again! Actually, Wicca (and all its various offshoots) was invented by Gerald Gardner, a retired British civil servant, sometime in the late 1940s. It’s basically a one-size-fits-all cauldron full of folklore, legend, superficial history and amateur anthropology — all stirred together with Aleister Crowley magic, make-believe rites and rituals, a Druid or two and nudity. When Gardner went public with his mystic concoction in 1954, the Cold War was chilly enough to attract a good number of devotees, but, when the Berlin Wall and the Cuban Missile crisis put the world into a deep freeze, people all over the West started seriously looking for a reasonable alternative to nuclear holocaust. During the late 60s and 70s, Wicca became the “religion de jour” to a host of bored students, disenchanted activists and aging hippies — each with their own interpretations, teachings and texts. These days, the many faces of Wicca are everywhere from occult bookstores to suburban diets — colleges teach its practices and rock stars wear its symbols. However, the painful truth is … Wicca is about the same age as Oprah Winfrey.