What Is the New Age Movement?
IT IS not an organization, yet hundreds of organizations promote its teachings. It has no central leadership, yet its philosophers and masters probably number in the thousands. It does not have an official book of dogmas and beliefs, yet adherents can nurture their creed in virtually every public library throughout the world. It has no personal god to be worshiped, yet it often promotes the idea of a god that can be found everywhere and anywhere.
What is it? It is the New Age movement: a loose mix of religious, cultural, social, political, and scientific ideologies, combined with fascination for Eastern mysticism, the paranormal, the occult, and even some strains of modern psychology. The mix includes belief in astrology, reincarnation, extraterrestrial life, evolution, and life after death. Environmental and health concerns are also important ingredients.
Anyone can join this movement. There is no initiation rite or baptism. Nor do people have to give up their religious affiliations to belong to it. On the other hand, many resent being tagged with the “New Age” label simply because they believe in some of the concepts embraced by the New Age movement or enjoy some of the so-called New Age art or music.
Devotees seldom identify themselves as New Agers. Actually, the expression “New Age” is used mostly by the media. These days, New Age books, shops, seminars, and programs often avoid the term. The Library Journal explains that “media overexposure in the late 1980s created a backlash about New Age’s more fringe elements (UFOs, channeling, crystals, etc.); this is reflected in the fact that major publishing houses . . . and even New Age presses are increasingly discarding the term New Age.” Thus, many people may be under the influence of New Age thought without even realizing it.
What Is New About It?
The New Age movement is considered by many to be a modern phenomenon. According to Professor Carl Raschke of the University of Denver, New Age thinking is essentially “an afterglow of the counterculture of the Sixties.” Other analysts also point to the 1960’s, with the hippies’ search for freedom and truth, as the beginning of the New Age movement. Many former hippies, now in their 40’s and 50’s, are still searching for that elusive truth. But their search is no longer dismissed as the capricious whim of teenagers. Many of them are professionals in reputable fields of knowledge, are politically active, and are now viewed as sensible community members.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, they used their intellectual and financial resources to continue their search. The results? Their mixture of beliefs has received wide acceptance and respect. The media rapidly caught on, resulting in widespread awareness of New Age philosophy.
Actually, there is very little that is new about New Age beliefs. For example, its philosophy is based primarily on Eastern mysticism, which is thousands of years old. Consider just a few New Age ideas.
The New Age Hope
With the year 2000 just around the corner, the notion of a better future, a better millennium, is gaining popularity. A principal belief is that modern society as we know it will be replaced by a Utopian society.* According to New Age teachers, this will be accomplished by radically changing conventional thinking through mystical knowledge that has been hidden or ignored until recent years. They say that this new era of harmony will unleash human potential and will usher in universal spiritual peace.
This hope seems to be based primarily on the predictions of astrologers who point to our day as the threshold between the passing age of Pisces and the coming age of Aquarius. Proponents of this theory claim that the zodiacal sign of Pisces has had a negative effect on mankind for almost 2,000 years. They point the finger at Christendom as the principal culprit in the creation of a materialistic and backward society. Christendom is accused of hindering the progress of truth. But today that truth can purportedly be found in the occult and will be made clear during the impending age of Aquarius, the age of spiritual enlightenment, the new age.
New Agers are divided on whether this new society will be brought forth by impersonal cosmic forces or by human effort. One theory claims that “a race of mutant New Age Homo sapiens, emerging from genetic seeds planted by enlightened ancients 3,500 years ago, will soon flourish and save the world from greed.”—The Wall Street Journal, January 11, 1989.
Such a hope for a golden age, Utopia, or new world, however, is not new. The folklore of virtually every major culture includes the hope of a future Utopian society. Sumerian, Greek, Roman, and Scandinavian mythologies incorporated this belief. The Encyclopedia of Religion notes: “The yearning for a utopia where one is free from want and where peace and prosperity reign supreme has been very much an integral part of Chinese religion since pre-Ch‘in times (before 221 BCE).” The most ancient sacred book, the Bible, speaks of a millennium when mankind will be brought to perfection, and war, crime, pain, and death will be eliminated.—Revelation 21:1-4.
A Religion of Self
In her autobiographical film Out on a Limb, famous actress and New Age author Shirley MacLaine stands on a windswept beach with her arms outstretched and exclaims: “I am God! I am God!” Like her, many New Agers promote the search for a higher self and the idea of a god within. They teach that humans need only raise their consciousness to find their divinity.
Once this is accomplished, they claim, the reality of a universal interconnectedness becomes clear—everything is god, and god is everything. This is by no means a new idea. Ancient religions of Mesopotamia and Egypt believed in the deity of animals, water, the wind, and the sky. More recently, Adolf Hitler allegedly encouraged others to embrace the “strong, heroic belief in God in Nature, God in our own people, in our destiny, in our blood.”
New Age culture is saturated with literature, seminars, and training programs dealing with self-potential and self-improvement. “Getting in touch with my inner self” is a popular logo. People are encouraged to try anything and everything that can help them unleash their own possibilities. As one writer put it in the magazine Wilson Quarterly, the “movement’s central teaching is ‘that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as it works for you.’”
Margot Adler, a New Age guru, explains that many of the women who join women’s New Age movements do it “for reasons that are very personal. . . . They hate their bodies, they hate themselves. They come into these groups which basically say to you, ‘You’re the Goddess, you’re wonderful.’”
New York magazine describes one group’s quest for the higher self: “A woman intones, ‘We are the teachers of the New Dawn. We are the Ones.’ Other participants, wearing horned headdresses, feathered masks, and wispy gowns, dance through the forest, grunting and gesticulating, keening and moaning.”
Some New Age concepts promote a new, sanitized view of the occult. Satanism is no longer associated with the occult in the minds of many New Agers. A writer in the magazine Free Inquiry states: “There are a growing number of practitioners of witchcraft, none of whom have any beliefs that embrace Satanism.”
A recent survey in Germany showed that there were 10,000 active witches in that country. Even children are being subtly attracted to the occult. The German book Der Griff nach unseren Kindern (The Grasp for Our Children) explains that through “children’s drama cassettes, children are getting accustomed to the new image of the witch as a normal woman who uses magic for good purposes.” The book adds: “The attention of even small children is thus attracted to a New Age way that can lead them to the supernatural.”
In her books, Shirley MacLaine promotes the idea that the occult is merely hidden knowledge and that its being hidden does not mean that it is not truth. This philosophy has lured countless people into experimenting with exotic spiritistic practices, such as divination, astrology, telepathy, and communication with the spirits. The latter has been known for thousands of years as spiritistic mediumship. But New Agers call it channeling. Their theory claims that the spirits of the dead select certain individuals to be their channels of communication with mankind.
These supposed human channelers can go into a trance at will and speak or write messages of “enlightenment,” purportedly from the dead or from extraterrestrial beings. Spirits of the dead are regarded as master sages awaiting the right time to reincarnate. In the meantime, they are allegedly guiding mankind into a new age.
Many New Agers meet regularly to listen to what these supposed masters have to say through their channelers. And believers have a choice of spirits to consult. Among those supposedly speaking today are the spirits of John Lennon and Elvis Presley, extraterrestrials with names like Attarro and Rakorczy, and a 35,000-year-old warrior from mythical Atlantis named Ramtha.
New Age and Health
A growing number of medical practitioners believe that patients should not be treated simply as broken machines and that consideration should be given to the individual’s mental and emotional health. This approach is known as holistic or wholistic medicine, from the word “whole,” and it is not necessarily connected with the New Age trend. However, many New Agers have eagerly embraced holistic medicine. The book The Cosmic Self explains that without necessarily rejecting the medical establishment, New Agers advocate treating the patient as a whole person, “a living organism replete with body, mind, and spirit.”
New Agers claim that good health can be found outside the realm of conventional medicine. “The place where most people first encounter New Age concepts is in the world of alternative medicine,” says the British newspaper The Herald. And the most unusual concepts are explored. For example, Australian veterinary surgeon and author Ian Gawler suggests that cancer may be cured with meditation. Other healing methods popularly labeled with the New Age tag include astrological diagnosis, aura analysis, hypnotherapy, psychic surgery, and past-lives therapy. These healing methods are often promoted in specialized magazines dealing with health, natural remedies, vitamins, exercise, and nutrition.
New Age and Crystals
One popular method of New Age healing involves the use of crystals and gemstones, such as quartz, amethyst, topaz, ruby, opal, and emerald. New Age jeweler Uma Silbey claims: “Throughout history you’ll find examples of cultures that believed quartz could magnify psychic energy and healing powers.” She adds: “Sumerians, Maya and other civilizations used quartz crystals for curative purposes.”
How are the crystals used? Crystal therapists claim that physical and mental ailments can be cured by laying quartz and other gemstones on specific areas of the body. Katrina Raphaell, a New Age crystal guru, explains that crystals “can be placed under the pillow during sleep to inspire lofty and prophetic dreams. They can be used in healing practices to stabilize erratic emotions, soothe troubled minds and help heal body imbalances. They can be held during the labor and birth process for added strength.”
New Age and the Environment
The New Age movement is “clean, it’s green, it’s the way to be seen,” so says TSBeat, a British magazine for teenagers. Active participation in the promoting of ecological awareness and environmental protection has contributed to a positive image for the New Age movement, and this environment-friendly message has attracted many to its teachings. However, the New Age concerns for the environment are often expressed as outright worship of nature, with rituals akin to primitive ceremonies dedicated to the earth goddess.
Is this modern expression of ancient mysticism the answer to our problems? Will the planet be saved by the wisdom of witches and extraterrestrials? Will a new age of peace and prosperity ever come?
Utopia: “An ideally perfect place, esp[ecially] in its social, political, and moral aspects.”—The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
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MacLaine, New Age, and Ramtha
“THE astral dimension was real even though we couldn’t see it or measure it in linear terms. There is a greater reality than our ‘perceived’ conscious reality. That is what has come to be called the new age of thought. A new age of awareness. . . .
“I visited accredited mediums who channeled spirit guides from the astral plane. I developed relationships with those ‘entities.’ . . . One was more profound than any of the others. His name was . . . Ramtha the Enlightened One. . . . He said he had had one incarnation during the Atlantean time period and had achieved total realization in that lifetime. . . . As I looked into the eyes of Ramtha, I heard myself say, ‘Were you my brother in your Atlantean incarnation?’
“. . . Tears spilled from his eyes. ‘Yes, my beloved,’ he said, ‘and you were my brother.’”
MacLaine goes on to say: “The point of his spiritual education was to impart the truth that we were God. We were as capable of knowledge as he.”—Dancing in the Light, by Shirley MacLaine.
Compare Genesis 3:5, where the Serpent (Satan) lyingly said to Eve: “God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.” Those desiring divine approval must avoid any involvement with wicked and deceptive spirit creatures. The Law of Moses stated: “Do not turn yourselves to the spirit mediums, and do not consult professional foretellers of events, so as to become unclean by them. I am Jehovah your God.”—Leviticus 19:31.
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“Another Drug in a Drug-Ridden Society”?
“THE New Age movement—the latest contribution to our long history of bizarre spiritual fads and panaceas—invites a mixture of ridicule and indignant alarm. Not just the degradation of piety but its blatant commercialization prompts the suspicion of large-scale religious fraud. . . .
“The New Age movement tries to combine meditation, positive thinking, faith healing, . . . mysticism, yoga, water cures, acupuncture, incense, astrology, Jungian psychology, biofeedback, extrasensory perception, spiritualism, . . . the theory of evolution, Reichian sex therapy, ancient mythologies, . . . hypnosis, and any number of other techniques designed to heighten awareness, including elements borrowed from the major religious traditions. . . .
“The New Age replacements for religion soothe the conscience instead of rubbing it the wrong way. Their central teaching is that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as it works for you. ‘It’s true if you believe it’: slogan of the New Age. . . .
“The question is not whether New Age therapies really work but whether religion ought to be reduced to therapy. If it offers nothing more than a spiritual high, religion becomes another drug in a drug-ridden society.”—“The New Age Movement: No Effort, No Truth, No Solutions, Notes on Gnosticism—Part V,” by Christopher Lasch, Watson Professor of History at the University of Rochester, New York, U.S.A.
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New Age cults experiment with astrology, telepathy, meditation, and crystals, among other things
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New Age healing methods include the use of crystals