Some little time ago the art of printing with movable types was developed, and this has meant in the end that everybody can know everything. There is no hidden knowledge. There is no longer any point in seeking out the venerable archimage behind the iron-studded door in some darkling alleyway of the old town. He has no secret doctrine; there are no more arcana; the ancient wisdom has all been reprinted. Prospero's book has been brought up from the depths and published in paperback, and the fatal treatise that led Faust to his damnation is edited with an introduction and notes and suggestions for further reading. In the High Street bookshop the occult section is settled comfortably beside gardening and cookery; and the only person who has not noticed is the Dean of Emmanuel College Cambridge, who recently gave six lectures on television about the decline of the supernatural. He spoke of 'The Sea of Faith', and found it to be at a very low ebb. Perhaps he should have looked a little farther. The water may be receding over the mudflats on his stretch of coast, but round the corner it is flooding strongly. The black tide that Freud was so afraid of in the early years of the century has been making a steady advance. When I was a boy no one knew the signs of the zodiac: now everyone does. Most people under forty seem to believe in reincarnation. In my own immediate family there are no less than five copies of the I Ching, and every village in England has its quota of resident yogins, astrologers and cabalists.
LRB 21 March 1985 | PDF Download