New Age Spirituality: a.k.a. Self-Spirituality, New Spirituality, Mind-Body-Spirit

Introduction:

The New Age Movement is in a class by itself. Unlike most formal religions, it has no holy text, central organization, formal membership, ordained clergy, geographic center, dogma, creed, etc. They often use mutually exclusive definitions for some of their terms. The New Age is in fact a free-flowing, decentralized, spiritual movement — a network of believers and practitioners who share somewhat similar beliefs and practices, which many add on to whichever formal religion that they follow. Their book publishers take the place of a central organization. Seminars, conventions, books and informal groups replace of sermons and religious services.

Quoting John Naisbitt:

“In turbulent times, in times of great change, people head for the two extremes: fundamentalism and personal, spiritual experience…With no membership lists or even a coherent philosophy or dogma, it is difficult to define or measure the unorganized New Age movement. But in every major U.S. and European city, thousands who seek insight and personal growth cluster around a metaphysical bookstore, a spiritual teacher, or an education center.” 

The New Age is definitely a heterogeneous movement of individuals; most graft some new age beliefs onto their regular religious affiliation. Recent surveys of US adults indicate that many Americans hold at least some new age beliefs:

  • 8% believe in astrology as a method of foretelling the future.
  • 7% believe that crystals are a source of healing or energizing power
  • 9% believe that Tarot Cards are a reliable base for life decisions

About 1 in 4 believe in a non-traditional concept of the nature of God which are often associated with New Age thinking:

  • 11% believe that God is “a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach”
  • 8% define God as “the total realization of personal, human potential”
  • 3% believe that each person is God.

The group of surveys cited above classify religious beliefs into 7 faith groups. Starting with the largest, they are: Cultural (Christmas & Easter) Christianity, Conventional Christianity, New Age Practitioner, Biblical (Fundamentalist, Evangelical) Christianity, Atheist/Agnostic, Other, and Jewish, A longitudinal study from 1991 to 1995 shows that New Agers represent a steady 20% of the population, and are consistently the third largest religious group.

History of the New Age movement:

New Age teachings became popular during the 1970’s as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of Christianity and the failure of Secular Humanism to provide spiritual and ethical guidance for the future. Its roots are traceable to many sources: Astrology, Channeling, Hinduism, Gnostic traditions, Spiritualism, Taoism, Theosophy, Wicca and other Neo-pagan traditions, etc. The movement started in England in the 1960’s where many of these elements were well established. Small groups, such as the Findhorn Community in Inverness and the Wrekin Trust formed. The movement quickly became international. Early New Age mileposts in North America were a “New Age Seminar” run by the Association for Research and Enlightenment, and the establishment of the East-West Journal in 1971. Actress Shirley MacLaine is perhaps their most famous current figure.

During the 1980’s and 90’s, the movement came under criticism from a variety of groups. Channeling was ridiculed; seminar and group leaders were criticized for the fortunes that they made from New Agers. Their uncritical belief in the “scientific” properties of crystals was exposed as groundless. But the movement has become established and become a stable, major force in North American religion during the past generation. The new age appears to be in good shape in the first decade of the 21st century with a very wide following.

The one version of the “New Age” that does not exist:

Major confusion about the New Age has been generated by academics, counter-cult groups, fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians and traditional Muslim groups, etc. Some examples are:

Many of the above groups have dismissed Tasawwuf (Sufiism) as a New Age cult. In reality, Sufiism has historically been an established mystical movement within Islam, which has always existing in a state of tension with the more legalistic divisions within Islam. It has no actual connection with the New Age.

Some conservative Christians have believed that a massive, underground, highly coordinated New Age organization exists that is infiltrating government, media, schools and churches. No such entity exists.

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, some conservative Christians do not differentiate among the Occult, Satanism, Wicca, other Neopagan religions. Many seemed to regard all as forms of Satanism who perform horrendous criminal acts on children. Others viewed The New Age, Neopagan religions, Tarot card reading, rune readings, channeling, work with crystal energy, etc. as merely recruiting programs for Satanism. In fact, the Occult, Satanism, Neo-pagan religions are very different phenomena, and essentially unrelated.

Dr. Carl Raschke, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Denver described New Age practices as:

“… the spiritual version of AIDS; it destroys the ability of people to cope and function. … [it is] essentially, the marketing end of the political packaging of occultism…a breeding ground for a new American form of fascism.”

Some New Age beliefs:

A number of fundamental beliefs are held by many — but certainly not all — New Age followers. Individuals are encouraged to “shop” for the beliefs and practices that they feel most comfortable with:

  • Monism: All that exists is derived from a single source of divine energy.
  • Pantheism: All that exists is God; God is all that exists. This leads naturally to the concept of the divinity of the individual, that we are all Gods. They do not seek God as revealed in a sacred text or as exists in a remote heaven; they seek God within the self and throughout the entire universe.
  • Panentheism: God is all that exists. God is at once the entire universe, and transcends the universe as well.
  • Reincarnation: After death, we are literally reborn and live another life as a human. This cycle repeats itself many times. This belief is similar to the concept of transmigration of the soul in Hinduism.
  • Karma: The good and bad deeds that we do adds and subtracts from our accumulated record, our karma. At the end of our life, we are rewarded or punished according to our karma by being reincarnated into either a painful or good new life. This belief is linked to that of reincarnation and is also derived from Hinduism
  • An Aura is believed to be an energy field radiated by the body. Invisible to most people, it can be detected by some as a shimmering, multi-colored field surrounding the body. Those skilled in detecting and interpreting auras believe that they can diagnose an individual’s state of mind, and their spiritual and physical health.
  • Personal Transformation: A profoundly intense mystical experience will lead to the acceptance and use of New Age beliefs and practices. Guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, and (sometimes) the use of hallucinogenic drugs are useful to bring about and enhance this transformation. Believers hope to develop new potentials within themselves: the ability to heal oneself and others, psychic powers, a new understanding of the workings of the universe, etc. Later, when sufficient numbers of people have achieved these powers, they expect that a major spiritual, physical, psychological and cultural planet-wide transformation will happen.
  • Ecological Responsibility: A belief in the importance of uniting to preserve the health of the earth, which is often looked upon as Gaia, (Mother Earth) a living entity.
  • Universal Religion: Since all is God, then only one reality exists, and all religions are simply different paths to that ultimate reality. The universal religion can be visualized as a mountain, with many sadhanas (spiritual paths) to the summit. Some are hard; others easy. There is no one correct path. All paths eventually reach the top. They anticipate that a new universal religion which contains elements of all current faiths will evolve and become generally accepted worldwide.
  • New World Order As the Age of Aquarius unfolds, a New Age will increase in membership and influence. This will be a utopia in which there is world government, and end to wars, disease, hunger, pollution, and poverty. Gender, racial, religious and other forms of discrimination will cease. People’s allegiance to their tribe or nation will be replaced by a concern for the entire world and its people.

About the “Age of Aquarius:”

The Age of Aquarius is a reference to the precession of the zodiac. The earth passes into a new sign of the zodiac approximately every 2,000 years. Some believe that the earth entered the constellation Aquarius in the late 19th Century, so that the present era is the dawning of the age of Aquarius. Others believe that it occured at the end of the 20th century. It is interesting to note that the previous constellation changes were:

  • from Aries to Pisces the fish circa the 1st century CE. This happened at a time when Christianity was an emerging religion, and many individuals changed from animal sacrifice in the Jewish temple to embracing the teachings of Christianity. The church’s main symbol at the time was the fish. The cross came later.
  • from Taurus to Aries the ram circa 2,000 BCE. This happened at a time when the Jews engaged in widespread ritual sacrifice of sheep and other animals in the Temple.
  • from Gemini to Taurus the bull circa 4,000 BCE. During that sign, worshiping of the golden calf was common in the Middle East.

New Age practices:

Many practices are found among New Agers. A typical practitioner is active in only a few areas:

  • Channeling: This is a method similar to that used by Spiritists in which a spirit of a long dead individual is conjured up. However, while Spiritists generally believe that one’s soul remains relatively unchanged after death, most channelers believe that the soul evolves to higher planes of existence. Channelers usually try to make contact with a single, spiritually evolved being. That being’s consciousness is channeled through the medium and relays guidance and information to the group, through the use of the medium’s voice. Channeling has existed since the 1850’s and many groups consider themselves independent of the New Age movement. Perhaps the most famous channeling event is the popular A Course in Miracles. It was channeled through a Columbia University psychologist, Dr. Helen Schucman, (1909-1981), during the interval 1956-1972. She was an Atheist, and in no way regarded herself as a New Age believer. However, she took great care in recording accurately the words that she received.
  • Crystals: Crystals are materials which have their molecules arranged in a specific, highly ordered internal pattern. This pattern is reflected in the crystal’s external structure which typically has symmetrical planar surfaces. Many common substances, from salt to sugar, from diamonds to quartz form crystals. They can be shaped so that they will vibrate at a specific frequency and are widely used in radio communications and computing devices. Many New Agers believe that crystals possess healing energy.
  • Meditating: A process of blanking out the mind and releasing oneself from conscious thinking. This is often aided by repetitive chanting of a mantra, or focusing on an object.
  • New Age Music: A gentle, melodic, inspirational music form involving the human voice, harp, lute, flute, etc. It is used as an aid in healing, massage therapy and general relaxation.
  • Divination: The use of various techniques to foretell the future, including I Ching, Pendulum movements, Runes, Scrying, Tarot Cards, etc.
  • Astrology: The belief that the orientation of the planets at the time of one’s birth, and the location of their birth predicts the individual’s future and personality. Belief in astrology is common amongst New Agers, but definitely not limited to them.
  • Holistic Health: This is a collection of healing techniques which have diverged from the traditional medical model. It attempts to cure disorders in mind, body and spirit and to promote wholeness and balance in the individual. Examples are acupuncture, crystal healing, homeopathy, iridology, massage, various meditation methods, polarity therapy, psychic healing, therapeutic touch, reflexology, etc.
  • Human Potential Movement (a.k.a. Emotional Growth Movement) This is a collection of therapeutic methods involving both individualized and group working, using both mental and physical techniques. The goal is to help individuals to advance spiritually. Examples are Esalen Growth Center programs, EST, Gestalt TherapyPrimal Scream TherapyTransactional AnalysisTranscendental Meditation and Yoga.

Numbers of practitioners of the New Age:

This is essentially impossible to estimate.

The Canadian Census (1991) recorded only 1,200 people (0.005% of the total Canadian population) who identify their religion as being New Age. However, this in no way indicates the influence of new age ideas in the country. Many people identify with Christianity and other religions, but incorporate many new age concepts into their faith.

According to Wikipedia:

“In the mid-1990s, it was asserted that the New Age movement was primarily found in the United States and Canada, Western Europe, and Australia and New Zealand. It is problematic ascertaining the number of New Agers because many individuals involved in the movement don’t explicitly identify themselves as such. 

[Religious studies scholar Paul] Heelas highlighted the range of attempts to establish the number of New Age participants in the U.S. during this period, noting that estimates ranged from 20,000 to 6 million. He believed that the higher ranges of these estimates were greatly inflated by, for instance, an erroneous assumption that all Americans who believed in reincarnation were parts of the movement. He nevertheless suggested that over 10 million people in the U.S. had had some contact with New Age practices or ideas.”

“Indigo Children”

Some within the New Age movement believe that children with special powers and indigo colored auras have been born in recent decades. According to Nancy Ann Tappe, this is a global phenomenon affecting over 95% of newborns since 1995. She writes:

“As small children, Indigos are easy to recognize by their unusually large, clear eyes. Extremely bright, precocious children with an amazing memory and a strong desire to live instinctively, these children of the next millennium are sensitive, gifted souls with an evolved consciousness who have come here to help change the vibrations of our lives and create one land, one globe and one species. They are our bridge to the future.”

Some New Agers feel that the special personality factors among Indigo Children result in them being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD by therapists who do not understand their special qualities and needs.


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