New Age
The New Age movement was a revivalist movement that
swept through metaphysical New Thought churches and Spiritualist
and occult organizations in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result,
many people accepted either a metaphysical or Spiritualist
perspective and both communities grew significantly. The New
Age idea of replacing the present society with a coming of the
golden age of peace and love for the next generation transformed
both communities. By the mid-1990s, the idea of a New
Age had largely died out but had left the psychic community
permanently changed.
Roots of the New Age Movement
A noticeable New Age vision, the triumph of the hopes and
ideals to which occultists gave their allegiance, was given a certain
limited expression throughout the twentieth century.
Often that hope was seen in the arrival of what was termed the
Aquarian Age. In astrology, an ‘‘age’’ is defined by the location
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of the sun at the moment of the spring equinox each year. Because
of the tilt of the Earth’s axis, that sign changes approximately
every 2,160 years. Depending upon the astrological system
one uses, the sun is making the transition from the sign of
Pisces to that of Aquarius sometime in this century.
Pisces, the fish sign, is often associated with Christianity, in
which the fish is frequently used as a symbol of Jesus; in Greek
the word for fish, ichthus, was a acronym for the phrase ‘‘Jesus
Christ, God’s son and Saviour.’’ The passing of the Earth to a
new astrological age would bring a new religion or spiritual
perspective to dominance. However, during the last half of the
twentieth century, as a new millennium loomed on the horizon,
a variety of occult groups predicted the coming new age at the
same time as the new millennium.
Among the early groups predicting the New Age was the
London-based Universal Link, which originated in the contact
of Richard Grave of Worthing, England, with a spirit entity who
came to be known only as ‘‘Limitless Love.’’ This entity first appeared
in 1961 and gave Grave a variety of messages on the impending
return of Christ in the midst of the seemingly destructive
course of action being followed by the human race.
Publicity given Grave’s messages in a Spiritualist newspaper
and his subsequent meeting with Spiritualist artist Libby Pugh
led to the development of a network of interested individuals.
Crucial to the message was a prediction that by Christmas
morning of 1967 Christ would reveal himself through the medium
of nuclear evolution. That prediction brought many into
the network, including Sir Anthony Brooke, the former ruler
of the Indonesian island of Sarawak, who spent his retirement
years traveling the world spreading the message.
When no visible event occurred to coincide with the predicted
nuclear event, the most dedicated of the Universal Link
members concluded that the event was an invisible one. Nellie
Cane, founder of the Spiritual Research Society, and a key
American figure spreading the Universal Link message, suggested
that the event was the completion of the international
linking of groups and individuals who need to join in a common
effort to radiate God’s light to the world.
Among the groups linked in the 1960s was the Findhorn
Foundation, a communal association in northern Scotland in
large part held together by channeling. Channeling is similar
to mediumships in Spiritualism— the ability to contact spirit
entities. However, in Spiritualism, a mediumship had concentrated
upon the communication with a large number of spirit
entities bringing greetings or messages to their still-living relatives
with the aim of proving their continued existence after the
transition of bodily death. Channeling, in contrast, assumed
the existence of a spiritual world with which contact could be
made for the purpose of learning about the nature of the world
and receiving guidance on how to live. Mediumship was seen
as the special prerogative of a few special individuals, while
channeling was seen as possible for almost anyone.
A medium usually had a control, one or a few individual
spirit entities who facilitated contact with the deceased relatives
of the sitter(s). The channel usually contacted one or a few master
teachers who regularly delivered philosophical discourses.
The entities channeled, while usually the spirits of longdeceased
individuals, could also be creatures from other planets,
angelic beings, nature spirits, the channels’ own higher self,
or even Christ or God. The theosophical tradition had been
built from the initial channelings of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
from the Masters or Mahatmas. While little channeling activity
took place in the post-Blavatsky Theosophical Society,
numerous splinter groups emerged around a new channel,
sometimes referred to as a Messenger. Most prominent of these
subsequent channels were Alice A. Bailey of the Arcane School
and Guy W. Ballard, founder of the I Am Movement. The
practice of channeling was given a tremendous boost in the
1970s by the publication of the material channeled by Jane
Roberts from an entity known as ‘‘Seth.’’
Findhorn had been sustained through the 1960s, its developing
years, by the channeling activity of Eileen Caddy. In the
early 1970s, it was joined by a young student of the Alice Bailey
teachings, David Spangler, who channeled material from an
entity called ‘‘John.’’ Spangler would, during his three years at
Findhorn, construct a vision of the New Age as a time when important
new energies from the cosmos were available to the
human race. If these energies were accepted and worked with
over the next generation, a New Age could be brought to pass.
According to Spangler, the coming of the New Age was dependent
upon the dedicated spiritual work of the people. He published
his views first in a small book published by Findhorn, The
New Age Vision (1973), upon which he expanded in his widely
circulated volumes Revelation The Birth of a New Age (1976) and
Towards a Planetary Vision (1977).
Through the 1970s the New Age vision as articulated by
Spangler spread through the groups and individuals that had
constituted the network created by the Universal Link and
spread far beyond it. The basic ideas were quite simple There
is a New Age coming and this present generation is the transition
generation, though most will live to see and enjoy the imminent
new society of peace and love. As society goes through
the birth pangs of the new society and the turmoil and displacement
it will bring, individuals can experience a foretaste of the
social transformation in an immediate and personal transformation
occasioned by a healing, a new personal insight, or the
realization of a spiritual truth. Facilitating the personal transformation
were a number of New Age transformative tools
channeling, crystals, divinatory techniques (tarot cards, astrology,
etc.) and a whole range of holistic health practices. Responsibility
for bringing in the New Age is in the hands of individuals
who must take responsibility for their lives and the direction
of society.
As the New Age movement emerged through the 1970s, it
had a social vision that saw the merging of New Age vision to
older movements centered upon world peace, environmentalism,
and multiethnic cooperation. Healing became an important
metaphor of the New Age and the holistic health perspective
provided an alternative program to the common scientific
medicine built upon drugs and surgery. It suggested an emphasis
upon preventive medicine and the eradication of disease
through a natural (and frequently vegetarian) diet, healthful
practices (exercise, hatha yoga, living in a nonpolluted environment),
and attention to clearing problems by developing
spiritually and cleansing the emotions. The various forms of
body work (chiropractic, massage, and related practices) have
been immensely popular in New Age circles.
Rise and Fall of the New Age
The New Age movement grew through the 1970s and by
1980s had become a recognizable social phenomena. In that
year Marilyn Ferguson would describe it as The Aquarian Conspiracy,
a decentralized network of people who have forsaken
the past for a coming new world. They are bonded by their experience
of inner transformation and their common work for
the coming transformed society. Through the next decade
channeling became a well-known phenomenon, the use of crystals
(the effect of which was described in great detail by channeler
Frank Alper) spread, the publication of metaphysical and
occult books burgeoned, and hundreds of thousands of people
in Europe, North America, and urban centers around the world
were swept up into the movement. An estimated four million
adherents could be found in the United States alone.
The movement seemed to peak in the late 1980s following
the airing in 1987 of Out on a Limb, a television movie based
upon the New Age awakening of actress Shirley MacLaine.
MacLaine had written a series of popular New Age books and
publicly identified with the movement, in which she developed
an avocation as a teacher. In 1989 she released a video, Shirley
MacLaine’s Inner Workout.
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However, through the 1980s, the New Age movement received
a significant amount of criticism, the most telling accusing
it of being a shallow spiritual vision built upon the questionable
practices of channeling and crystals and a naive (and false)
hope of a significant systemic change in society. Internally, New
Age leaders began to reexamine the movement. The first of an
important set of redefining articles by David Spangler began to
appear in 1988. Over the next few years, prominent leaders of
the movement announced their abandonment of the New Age
vision of a transformed society and publicly distanced themselves
from channeling and crystals. They suggested that the
heart of the movement had always been the personal transformations
experienced by individuals and the spiritual perspective
on life it gave to people. The social vision was abandoned
and the people left in the movement reoriented entirely
around personal development and improvement.
By the early 1990s, it was obvious that the New Age movement
was dying. The passing of the New Age movement did not
leave the metaphysical, Spiritualist, and occult communities
unchanged. The hundreds of thousands of individuals brought
into the communities by the New Age did not leave. Hundreds
of New Age bookstores still dot the landscape, and New Age
publishing remains a healthy concern. Most importantly, the
concept of ‘‘New Age,’’ which largely replaced ‘‘occult’’ in popular
parlance, gave occultism a positive image in popular culture,
the lack of which was a major barrier to its growth. The
New Age movement left the occult community in a most robust
state.
During the nineties the New Age has shifted from its premillennialist
stance where an ‘‘overnight’’ scenario was expected
to occur to a more postmillennial outlook where each person
is expected to create their own heaven on earth by personal
spiritual transformation over time. This evolution can be seen
in the progression of books by James Redfield starting with The
Celestine Prophecy and continuing with many sequels. The new
emphasis has been on the issue of ascension, but with no crystallized
consensus from the many authors that promote it. Such
authors grace the pages of Sedona Journal of Emergence with an
eclectic mix of views. Another huge archive of New Age information
is the SpiritWeb Internet site.
Sources
Anderson, Walter Truett. The Upstart Spring Esalen & the
American Awakening. Reading, Mass. Addison-Wesley, 1983.
Basil, Robert, ed. Not Necessarily the New Age. Buffalo, N.Y.
Prometheus Books, 1988.
Celestine Vision. httpwww.celestinevision.commain.html.
April 10, 2000.
Ferguson, Marilyn. The Aquarian Conspiracy Personal and Social
Transformation in Our Time. New York St. Martin’s Press,
1980.
Lewis, James R., and J. Gordon Melton, eds. Perspectives on
the New Age. Albany, N.Y. State University Press of New York,
1992.
MacLaine, Shirley. Out on a Limb. New York Bantam Books,
1983.
Melton, J. Gordon, Jerome Clark, and Aidan Kelly, eds. New
Age Encyclopedia. Detroit Gale Research, 1990.
Mystic Planet and New Age Directory of Planet Earth. http
www.mysticplanet.com. April 10, 2000.
New Age Reading Room. httpwww.wholeagain.com
news.html. April 10, 2000.
New Age Web Works. httpwww.newageinfo.com. April 10,
2000.
New Age On-line Australia. httpwww.newage.com.au.
April 10, 2000.
Schultz, Ted. The Fringes of Reason A Whole Earth Catalog.
New York Harmony Books, 1989.
Sedona Journal of Emergence. httpwww.sedonajo.com
sje. April 10, 2000.
Spangler, David. Revelation The Birth of a New Age. San Francisco
Rainbow Bridge, 1976.
Spangler, David, and William Irwin Thompson. Reimagination
of the World A Critique of the New Age, Science, and Popular
Culture. Sante Fe, N.Mex. Bear and Company Publishing,
1991.
Spiritual Consciousness on WWW. httpwww.spiritweb.org.
April 10, 2000.
Wilson, Robert Anton. The New Inquisition Irrational Rationalism
and the Citadel of Science. Las Vegas Falcon Press, 1986.