New Age describes a broad movement of late twentieth century and contemporary Western culture characterised by an individual eclectic approach to spiritual exploration. It has some attributes of a new, emerging religion but is currently a loose network of spiritual seekers, teachers, healers and other participants. The name "New Age" also refers to the market segment in which goods and services are sold to people in the movement.
Rather than follow the lead of an organised religion, "New Agers" typically construct their own spiritual journey based on material taken as needed from the mystical traditions of all the world's religions as well as shamanism, neopaganism and occultism. Participants are likely to dip into many diverse teachings and practises, some mainstream and some fringe, and formulate their own beliefs and practices based on their experiences in each. No clear membership or rigid boundaries actually exist. The movement is most visible where its ideas are traded--for example in specialist bookshops, music stores, and fairs.
Most New Age activity may be characterized as a form of alternative spirituality. Even apparent exceptions (such as alternative health practices) often turn out to have some spiritual dimension (for example, the integration of mind, body, and spirit). "Alternative" here means, with respect to the dominant Western Judeo-Christian culture. It is no accident that most New Age ideas and practices seem to contain implicit critiques of mainstream Christianity in particular. An emphasis on meditation suggests that ordinary prayer is insufficient; belief in reincarnation (which not all New Age followers accept) challenges familiar Christian doctrines of the afterlife.
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The name New Age was popularized by the American mass media during the late 1980s,to describe the alternative spiritual subculture interested in such things as meditation, channeling, reincarnation, crystals, psychic experience, holistic health, environmentalism, and various “unsolved mysteries” such as UFOs, Earth mysteries and Crop circles. Typical activities of this subculture include participation in study or meditation groups, attendance at lectures and fairs; the purchase of books, music, and other products such as crystals or incense; patronage of fortune-tellers, healers and spiritual counselors.
The New Age subculture already existed in the 1970s, and arguably continued themes from the 1960s counterculture. Earlier generations would have recognized some, but not all, of the New Age's constituent elements under the practices of Spiritualism, Theosophy, or some forms of New Thought / the Metaphysical movement, all of which date back to the nineteenth century, as does alternative health. These movements in turn have roots in Transcendentalism, Mesmerism, Swedenborgianism, and various earlier Western esoteric or occult traditions, such as the Hermetic arts of astrology, magic, alchemy, and cabbala.
In the English-speaking world, we should make special mention of study groups devoted to American trance-diagnostician Edgar Cayce, who inspired many of today's channelers. The British neo-Theosophist Alice Bailey's writings may have supplied the term New Age (or New Era). The Findhorn Foundation, an early intentional New Age community in northern Scotland founded in 1962 played a significant role. The movement in Russia has been heavily influenced by the legacy of Nicholas Roerich and Helena Roerich, who taught in the Theosophical tradition. Another former Theosophist, Rudolf Steiner and his anthroposophical movement, is a major influence, especially upon German-speaking New Agers. In Brazil, followers of Spiritualist writer Allan Kardec blend with the Africanized folk traditions of Candomblé and Umbanda.
Key moments in raising public awareness of this subculture include the Harmonic Convergence organized by Jose Arguelles in Sedona, Arizona in 1987; and the wave of interest in the broadcast of Shirley MacLaine's television mini-series Out on a Limb (also 1987). This was an autobiographical account of her mid-life spiritual exploration. Also influential are the claims of channelers such as Jane Roberts (Seth) and J.Z. Knight (Ramtha), as well as revealed writings such as A Course In Miracles (Helen Schucman), The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield), Mutant Message Down Under (Marlo Morgan), and Conversations with God (Neale Donald Walsch).
The question of which contemporary cultural elements ought to be included under the name of "New Age" is quite vexed. New Age channelers have many points of similarity with Spiritualist mediums. Many spiritual movements, such as neo-paganism and transpersonal psychology partially overlap with it. Many groups prefer to distance themselves from the possible negative connotations of the "New Age" name such as the media hoopla, commercialism, and perhaps hucksterism. For example, key individuals in the New Thought movement, such as Ernest Holmes, have focused on a more scientific approach and do not share New Age beliefs in reincarnation, magic, or channeling. Major attempts to present the New Age as a values-based sociopolitical movement included Mark Satin's New Age Politics (orig. 1976), Theodore Roszak's Person/Planet (1978), and Marilyn Ferguson's Aquarian Conspiracy (1980). The New Age is a wide menu of ideas and activities, from which participants in the subculture select their own preferred streams to patronise or identify with.
The following are some common — though by no means universal — beliefs found among New Agers:
- All humanity—indeed all life, everything in the universe—is spiritually interconnected, participating in the same energy. “God” is one name for this energy.
- Spiritual beings (e.g. angels, ascended masters, elementals, ghosts, and/or space aliens) exist, and will guide us, if we open ourselves to their guidance.
- The human mind has deep levels and vast powers, which are capable even of overriding physical reality. “You create your own reality.”
- Nevertheless, this is subject to certain spiritual laws, such as the principle of cause and effect (karma).
- The individual has a purpose here on earth, in the present surroundings, because there is a lesson to learn. The most important lesson is love.
- Death is not the end. There is only life in different forms. What some refer to as an afterlife does not punish us but teaches us, perhaps through the mechanisms of reincarnation or near-death experiences.
- Science and spirituality are ultimately harmonious. New discoveries in science (evolution, quantum mechanics), rightly understood, point to spiritual principles.
- It shares with many major world religions the idea that Intuition or "divine guidance" is a more appropriate guide than rationalism, skepticism, or the scientific method. Western science wrongly neglects such things as parapsychology, meditation, and holistic health.
- There exists a mystical core within all religions, Eastern and Western. Dogma and religious identity are not so important.
- The Bible is a wise and holy book. Many important truths are found in the Bible, or are referred to only very obliquely. Some say that Jesus was an Essene, or that he traveled to India in his youth to study Eastern religions. Others say that Jesus was a later, more advanced avatar of Buddha.
- Feminine forms of spirituality, including feminine images of the divine, such as the female Aeon Sophia in Gnosticism, are viewed as having been subordinated, masked, or obliterated by patriarchal movements that were widely practiced when sacred teachings were first committed to writing. A renaissance of the feminine is particularly appropriate at this time.
- Ancient civilizations such as Atlantis may truly have existed, leaving behind certain relics and monuments (the Great Pyramid, Stonehenge) whose true nature has not been discovered by mainstream historians.
- There are no coincidences. Everything around you has spiritual meaning, and spiritual lessons to teach you. You are meant to be here, and are always exactly where you need to be to learn from what confronts you.
- The mind has hidden powers and abilities, which have a spiritual significance. Dreams and psychic experiences are ways in which our souls express themselves.
- Meditation, yoga, t'ai chi, and other Eastern practices are valuable and worthwhile.
- Ultimately every interpersonal relationship has the potential to be a helpful experience in terms of our own growth.
- We learn about ourselves through our relationships with other people by getting to see what we need to work on ourselves and what strengths we bring to the other party in order to help them in their life.
- All our relationships are destined to be repeated until they are healed, if necessary over many lifetimes.
- As Souls seeking wholeness, our goal is eventually to learn to love everyone we come in contact with.
In Experiential Spirituality and Contemporary Gnosis (http://www.dianebrandon.com/index_files/page0022.htm) Diane Brandon writes:
- "And this emphasis on spirituality and consciousness reflects an acknowledgment that we are, in essence, spiritual beings - and beings of pure energy, as consciousness is a form of energy - even though we are "in the body."
As Wayne Dyer says,
- "We are spiritual beings having a human experience." This is a paraphrase of an idea first developed by Christian theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
As Deepak Chopra says,
- "...our bodies are contained within our consciousness, not our consciousness contained within our bodies."
Judging by its name, the New Age movement ought to involve millenarian claims, perhaps of a glorious future age which is about to begin. As such it could theoretically be traced back to the time of Zoroaster, or to biblical apocalypticism. While such expectations are encountered often enough—e.g., the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, pole shifts and paradigm shifts, the imminent end of the Mayan calendar—the predominant themes of the New Age are mystical rather than apocalyptic. Hence the widespread interest within this subculture in the mystical traditions within the world’s various religions, especially Vedanta, Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Sufism, Taoism, Shamanism, Kabbalah, Gnosticism, and mystical forms of Christianity.
Globalisation was and still is an important social phenomenon of the 20th and early 21st centuries, with religious syncretism inevitably being one consequence. New Age religious developments are eclectic, hence multifarious. Some synthesize Christian ideas with beliefs involving many gods or goddesses, pantheism, include aliens, reincarnation, or the use of drugs, together with other spiritual beliefs from different parts of the world. Likewise, the movement may incorporate differing beliefs about, or attempts to practice, magic.
Though many New Age terms are associated with Eastern religions, they should not be considered as being identical with the concepts and practices of those religions. Ancient traditions such as Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism can hardly be referred to as New Age religions. It just so happens that the New Age movement has 'adopted' many of the ideas of eastern religions, incorporated them into their own beliefs and practices. The gnostic approach of experiential insight and revelation of truth may be closest to the New Age methodology of prayers and spirituality.
In keeping with a relativist stance, New Agers believe they do not contradict traditional belief systems, but rather some of them say that they are concerned with the ultimate truths contained within those systems, separating these truths from false tradition and dogma. On the other hand, adherents of other religions often claim that the New Age movement has a vague or superficial understanding of these religious concepts, leaving out that which may seem "negative" or contradict contemporary Western values and that New Age attempts at religious syncretism are vague and self-contradictory. Some people within the New Age movement claim a particular interest in Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, and Taoism — however eclectic or in-depth such an interest may be depends arbitrarily upon each individual's pursuit and focus.
New Age is syncretic in nature and has roots as a counter-cultural phenomenon. Thus New Age adherents tend to emphasize a relativist approach to truth, often referring to the Vedic statement of "one truth, but many paths," the mainstay of Hinduism, which idea is also found in the later Zen Buddhist spiritual dictum of "many paths, one mountain". This belief is not only an assertion of personal choice in spiritual matters, but also an assertion that truth itself is defined by the individual and his or her experience of it.
This relativism is not merely a spiritual relativism, but also extends to physical theories. Reality is considered largely from an experiential and subjective mode. Many New Age phenomena are not expected to be repeatable in the scientific sense, since they are presumed to be apparent only to the receptive mind; for example, telepathy may not be achievable by a skeptical mind, since a skeptical mind is not pre-conditioned to expect the phenomenon to exist.
The New Age worldview typically involves a mysticism-based (rather than experiment-and-theory-based) view of describing and controlling the external world; for example, one might believe that tarot card reading works because of the "interconnectedness principle", rather than regarding the success (or failure) of tarot card reading as evidence of the interconnectedness principle. The various New Age vitalist theories of health and disease provide further examples.
Some New Age practices and beliefs could make use of what British anthropologist Sir James George Frazer termed magical thinking, in The Golden Bough (1890). Common examples are the principle that objects once in contact maintain a practical link, or that objects that have similar properties exert an effect on each other.
In contrast to the scientific method, the failure of some practice to achieve expected results is not considered as a failure of the underlying theory, but as a lack of knowledge about (hidden) extenuating circumstances. This stance has led some skeptics to pronounce the New Age movement to be primarily anti-intellectual in nature.
The emphasis on subjective knowledge and experience is a connection between New Age beliefs and postmodernism. The shift to a feeling of control over one's expression of spirituality reflects a trend towards personal responsibility, as well as personal empowerment. Its populist origins help characterize the New Age approach. This emphasizes an individual's choice in spiritual matters; the role of personal intuition and experience over societally sanctioned expert opinion and an experiential definition of reality.
Critiques of the New Age
Major critiques of the New Age have emerged from rational philosophical and scientific views that seek to understand the nature of New Age notions. These often highlight the discrepancies between New Age's seemingly irreconcilable mix of occultism and acceptance of the laws of physics. Rather more extreme views have emerged from evangelical Christians who reject all forms of occultism; from skeptics suspicious of paranormal claims and woolly beliefs in general; and from New Agers themselves. Some, including neo-pagans, who are frequently labeled as New Age, might find the term inappropriate since it appears to link them with beliefs and practices they do not espouse. Others think that the classification of beliefs and movements under New Age has little added value due to the vagueness of the term. Instead, they prefer to refer directly to the individual beliefs and movements. Indeed, use by religious conservatives, scientists and others has caused the term "New Age" to sometimes have a derogatory connotation.
Many adherents of traditional disciplines from cultures such as India, China, and elsewhere; a number of orthodox schools of Yoga, Qigong, Chinese Medicine, and martial arts (the traditional Taijiquan families, for example), groups with histories reaching back many centuries in some cases, eschew the Western label New Age, seeing the movement it represents as either not fully understanding or deliberately trivializing their disciplines.
New Age detractors also say that a true understanding of reason and empiricism produces just as rich an experience as the New Agers claim for themselves, but with emotions and feelings based on thinking and logic instead of the other way around. They also point out that the definition of empiricism is: "the view that experience, especially of the senses, is the only source of knowledge."
Much of the strongest criticism of New Age eclecticism has come from Native American writers and communities. The Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality  (http://puffin.creighton.edu/lakota/war.html) is one of the strongest statements of disapprobrium from traditional tribal religious leaders. Other Natives who have issued statements against "white shamanism" include Wendy Rose, Leslie Marmon Silko and Geary Hobson. The Native argument is that New Age shamans profit from tribal beliefs in a way that is fundamentally inconsistent with those beliefs, while ignoring the communal aspects of tribal religious belief and practise.
New Age Communities
Significant New Age communities exist in the following places:
- Arcosanti, Arizona, USA
- Auroville, Tamil Nadu, India
- Boulder, Colorado, USA
- Byron Bay, Australia
- Free State of Christiania, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Federation of Damanhur, Italy
- Dornach, Switzerland
- Esalen at Big Sur, California
- Findhorn Foundation, near Forres, Scotland
- Glastonbury, Somerset, England
- Monte Verità near Ascona, Switzerland
- Mount Shasta, California, USA
- Sedona, Arizona, USA
- Totnes, Devon, England
Academic Study of the New Age
- Albanese, Catherine L. (1990) Nature Religion in America; From the Algonkian Indians to the New Age, University of Chicago Press, Chicago & London.
- Barna, George , (1996) The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators, Word Publishing, Dallas TX.
- Bloch, Jon P., (1998) New Spirituality, Self, and Belonging: How New Agers and Neo-Pagans Talk About Themselves, Praeger, Westport, Connceticut & London.
- Drane, John, (1999) What is the New Age Still Saying to the Church? Marshall Pickering, London.
- Ferguson, Marilyn (1982) The Aquarian Conspiracy, Paladin, London.
- Godwin, Joscelyn, (1994) The Theosophical Enlightenment, State University of New York Press, New York.
- Hanegraaff, Wouter J., (1998) New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York.
- Heelas, Paul, (1996) The New Age Movement, Blackwell, Oxford.
- Heelas, Paul and Linda Woodhead (2004) The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion is Giving Way to Spirituality, Blackwell, Oxford.
- Kemp, Daren, (2004) New Age: A Guide. Alternative Spiritualities from Aquarian Conspiracy to Next Age, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
- Kohn, Rachael, (2003) The New Believers: Re-Imagining God, HarperCollins, Sydney.
- What Is “New Age?” (http://www.csj.org/rg/rgessays/rgessay_newage.htm) Retrieved 26 Aug 2005
- Lewis, James R. and J. Gordon Melton (eds). (1992) Perspectives on the New Age, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York.
- Melton, J.Gordon , (1995) Whither the New Age? Chapter 35 of T. Miller's , America's Alternative Religions, SUNY Press, Albany, NY .
- Naisbitt J. & Aburdene P., (1990) Megatrends 2000, William Morrow & Company, New York, NY.
- Pike, Sarah M., (2004) New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, Columbia University Press, New York.
- Roof, Wade Clark (1999) Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion, Princeton University Press, Princeton.
- Rothstein, Mikael (ed). (2001) New Age Religion and Globalization, Aarhus University Press, Aarhus, Denmark.
- Saliba, John A., (1999) Christian Responses to the New Age Movement: A Critical Assessment, Geoffrey Chapman, London.
- Sutcliffe, Steven & Marion Bowman (eds). (2000) Beyond New Age: Exploring Alternative Spirituality, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
- Sutcliffe, Steven J., (2003) Children of the New Age: A History of Spiritual Practices, Routledge, London and New York.
- York, Michael, (1995) The Emerging Network: A Sociology fo the New Age and Neo-Pagan Movements, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland.
New Age Belief
- The Celestine Prophecy (http://www.celestinevision.com)
- A Course in Miracles (http://www.acim.org)
- Findhorn Roots, a history (http://www.findhornroots.com)
- The Michael Teachings (http://www.michaelteachings.com)
- Nag Hammadi Library (http://www.gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html)
- Neurolinguistic programming (http://www.nlp.com/)
- New Age of Aquarius (http://www.zyworld.com/jamus/NewAge.htm)
- Rosicrucian Age of Aquarius (http://www.rosicrucian.com/zineen/magen119.htm)
- Scientology (http://www.scientology.org/)
- Training in Power - Official Website (http://www.traininginpower.org/)
- What is the New Age? (http://www.spirithistory.com/newage.html)
- The Spirit's Book (http://www.spiritwritings.com/kardecspiritstoc.html), by Allan Kardec
- Anthony Robbins' Official website (http://www.anthonyrobbins.com)
- Carlos Castaneda official website (http://www.castaneda.com/)
- Enya official website (http://www.enya.com)
- Leonard Orr- Rebirthing (http://www.leonardorr.com/english.php)
- Marianne Williamson official website (http://www.marianne.com)
- The Age of Aquarius - Mataji Nirmala Devi (http://www.adishakti.org/age_of_aquarius.htm)
- Medwyn Goodall official website (http://www.medwyngoodall.com)
- New Age Children from Mataji Nirmala Devi (http://www.adishakti.org/new_age_children.htm)
- Divine Way of Spiritual Heart (http://swami-center.org/)
- New Age Politics (http://www.radicalmiddle.com/newagepolitics.htm)
- New World Alliance (http://www.radicalmiddle.com/new_world_all.htm)
Personal Websites by Individuals
A sample of the range of spiritual beliefs held by New Agers.
- A Path to Enlightenment (http://www.feeltheforce.org)
- Attracting Unlimited Abundance and Happiness Through Belief (http://www.abundance-and-happiness.com)
- Healing Mind, Body and Spirit : New Age, Old Concepts (http://www.starstuffs.com)
- Roots of New Age Movement - Dutch homesteader site (http://www.xs4all.nl/~wichm/newage3.html)
- New Age Spirituality (http://www.new-age-spirituality.com)
- New Age Perspectives- A Spiritual blog for the New Age (http://observationsnperspectives.blogspot.com)
- Spiritual Vision (http://www.muraqaba.netfirms.com/)
- Information on new age beliefs and ways of living (http://www.hippy-life.co.uk)
New Age Metaphysics
- Physics of Consciousness (http://www.starstuffs.com/physcon2/)
- Metaphysics for the New Age (http://www.users.bigpond.com/phdaley/)
- Possibilities and Gnosis for Metaphysics (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/gnosticist_since_20050101/)
- School of Global Ascension (http://www.ascensione.com)
New Age Critics
- A Catholic Christian Reflection on the New Age (http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20030203_new-age_en.html)
- The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine (http://www.sram.org/)
- Quackwatch (http://www.quackwatch.org)
- Christian Logos Brief Dictionary of New Age Terminology (http://logosresourcepages.org/Occult/na-dict.htm)
- Magical Thinking in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (http://www.csicop.org/si/2001-11/alternative.html)
- A New Ager's path to becoming a skeptic (http://www.csicop.org/si/2004-05/new-age.html)
- Dutch skeptic website with articles and links to criticism of a range of New Age topics (http://www.stelling.nl/simpos/simpoeng.htm)
- James Randi, skeptic debunker of New Age and occult claims. (http://www.randi.org/)
New Age academic studies
- “Who Buys New Age Materials? Exploring Sociodemographic, Religious, Network, and Contextual Correlates Of New Age Consumption” Mears and Ellison 2000 (http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0SOR/is_3_61/ai_66498057)
- "Beyond Millennialism: The New Age Transformed" Melton, Institute for the Study of American Religion (http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/newage.html)
- National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (http://nccam.nih.gov)
- Roots of New Age Movement, a history (http://www.xs4all.nl/~wichm/newage3.html)
- Religious Tolerance.org, has a list of academic references and survey sources (http://www.religioustolerance.org/newage.htm)
Large portions of this article came from: Wikipedia. (2005). New Age (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_age) entry retrieved on October 28, 2005 e.v.