NEW AGE MOVEMENT (NAM) (Religious Movement)

New Age is an umbrella term applied to a vast array of groups, communities, and networks that are engaged in the process of a transformation of consciousness that will give rise to the Age of Aquarius, the period of history when the Sun will be in the sign of Aquarius at the Spring equinox. For some New Age practitioners this has already happened; for others it is still some three hundred years off.

History of New Age ideas

While united by this common belief in transformation the New Age Movement embraces a vast range of ideas including the belief that the Self (see Self-religion, the Self, and Self), to be distinguished from the ego, is divine, evil is an illusion of the mind and Jesus is a ‘Way-shower’. The sources of New Age opinions include the writings of Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) (see Swedenborg, Emmanuel) on the spiritual sense of the Scriptures and his ‘science of correspondences’, Franz Mesmer’s (1734-1815) theory of healing by means of a mysterious cosmic force which came to be known as ‘animal magnetism’, and to the idealism of the New England Transcendentalist (see Transcendentalism), Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) (see Emerson, Ralph Waldo). Emerson, along with Emma Curtis Hopkins (1853-1925) and Phineas Parkhurst Quimby (1802-66) provided New Thought, a late nineteenth century forerunner of the modern New Age Movement, with its core idealistic perspective which contends that the highest reality and the basis of existence itself is mental.

Ideas such as these were to spread far and wide, and their influence can be seen not only in the idealism of New Thought but also in the development of twentieth-century Japanese spiritual and esoteric teachings such as those found in the writings of Masaharu Taniguchi (1893-1985) who, in 1930 founded the Japanese movement Seich-no-Ie (the home of infinite life, abundance and wisdom), and in those of Mokichi Okada (18811958) founder in 1935 of Sekai Kyusei Kyo (Church of World Messianity). By the 1980s there had emerged a convergence of New Thought and New Age movements each appropriating the literature, therapies, rituals and music of the other.

It is usual to think of the New Age as having several overlapping dimensions one of the most important of which is its occult wing which owes much to the co-founder of Theosophy, the Ukranian born Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-91) (see Blavatsky, Helena). At first a spiritualist who was pr eoccupied with communication with the dead, Blavatsky turned to receiving messages, written mostly on pieces of paper, from the mahatmas or masters of the Great White Brotherhood, the spiritual hierarchy that mediates between the human and divine realms. Blavatsky’s goal was to ensure that the plans of these masters were fulfilled in preparation for the coming of the Lord or Bodhisattva Maitreya, the Future Buddha, whom she identified with the Christ of the Second Advent. Annie Besant (1847-1933) who, after Blavatsky’s death became the international president of the Theosophical Society, founded the Order of the Star of the East as the vehicle for launching Jidhu Krishnamurti as the Lord Maitreya, who, it was expected, would initiate a new cycle in human evolution, the New Age.

Another integral part of the esoteric/ Christian dimension of the New Age is the Association for Research and Enlightenment, Inc. (ARE) founded in 1931 by Edgar Cayce (1877-1945). The ARE, an open, unstructured movement characteristic of the New Age as a whole, has its headquarters in Virginia, which networks with several hundred inclusive, non-denominational, study groups throughout the United States. There are no prescribed rituals nor is there a prescribed set of beliefs. There is, on the other hand, a common text in the form of A Search for God (Books I and II) that proclaims the supreme ideal of love of God and love of neighbour. Personal transformation through the Christ-within can only be obtained by meditating on this ideal and acting accordingly. In a state of self-induced hypnosis, which explains why he is known as the Sleeping Prophet, Cayce produced his readings, invariably Christ-centred and expressive of what might be termed New Age Christianity or the Christian New Age.

Another important New Age thinker is the English-born Theosophist Alice Bailey, the stenographer of the Tibetan ascended master Djwhal Khul who dictated through her nineteen lengthy volumes, the most widely read being The Reappearance of Christ (1948). Alice and her husband established various organizations including the Lucis Trust (1922), the Arcane School (1923), the New Group of World Servers (1932), the Men of Goodwill, known since 1950 as World Goodwill, and Triangles, all with the purpose of bringing people of goodwill together.

Bailey’s teachings speak of a ‘divine evolutionary plan motivated by love’ that can only work out through the efforts of human beings, of a World Teacher whom Christians call Christ, and others by other names including Imam Mahdi and Lord Maitreya. She also believed strongly in reincarnation, in karma, and in a spiritual hierarchy of mahatmas.

Many of the above ideas are found in the writings of more contemporary representatives of New Age thought including those of Ruth Montgomery (see Montgomery, Ruth). Several of Montgomery’s New Age books including Companions Along the Way (1974) and Strangers Among Us: Enlightened Beings from a World to Come (1979) that explore the core New Age themes of Atlantis, Lemuria and reincarnation have resulted from conversations with the medium Arthur Ford, cofounder of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship that speaks of the infinite capacity within every individual for growth grounded on altruism, and of karma and reincarnation. Montgomery also developed the concept of walk-ins which became popular in New Age and UFO literature (see UFOs).

Other formative New Age concepts include the Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock (see Lovelock, James) according to which the planet earth is a complete and self-regulating system, and along with its inhabitants comprises a single, living organism. This supposition forms the basis of New Age holism (see Holistic Health Movement). The ideas of Teilhard de Chardin on the evolution of the cosmos have greatly influenced New Age thinking.

The New Age and Neo-Paganism

Parallels exist not only between New Age and New Thought but also between New Age and Neo-paganism. Both emphasize that human beings are potentially divine or godlike, and both are loosely structured. Neo-paganism, however, is more Goddess centred (see Goddess Movement) than New Age and criticizes what it sees as the patriarchal character found in some of its ideas and expressions. Moreover, the New Age belief that ‘darkness’ is evil and to be eradicated conflicts with the Neo-pagan view that it is necessary for life. Neo-paganism is also critical of what it sees as New Age rejection of this world, of matter and of its concentration on the discarnate, the pure, that which has been unsullied by matter. Ironically, it is New Age immanentism that has prompted conservative Christianity to attack the movement as a form of Satanism. Its beliefs in reincarnation, the portrayal of Jesus as a Way-shower and not as a Saviour, and the occult and psychic emphasis found among some branches of the New Age movement have likewise come under attack from the same source.

Exemplary centres of New Age thought

Although the New Age is not a Church or Community with a central bureaucracy and authoritative set of beliefs and rituals, a number of New Age communities have come to be recognized as exemplary centres of New Age thought and activity. Two of the longest established, most reputable and most widely known are Esalen in Big Sur California and the Findhorn Community in North-east Scotland. Other widely known New Age centres are the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, Interface in Newton, Massachusetts, Holy Hock Farm near Vancouver in Canada, the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck New York, the Wrekin Trust in Malvern, Worcestershire, England, and the Skyros Centre on the Greek island of the same name. These centres offer a varied range of courses from ‘Crystals, Magnets and Vibrational Healing’, ‘Cooking and Spiritual Practice’, Kabbalistic Astrology’, ‘Aromatherapy’, ‘The joy of Self-Loving’, to ‘Know Your Car: Basic Automobile Preventive Maintenance’.

New Age communities

In line with the generally held New Age view that co-operation is to be preferred to competition, a number of communal organizations have grown up including the Lama Foundation of New Mexico, and the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT), formerly known as the Summit Lighthouse, founded by Mark Prophet in 1958. The last mentioned is one of the more controversial of the New Age communities. Much of its teaching derives from Theosophy and the I AM movement and includes such New Age beliefs as reincarnation, the role of ‘ascended masters’, the idea of a divine spark within every individual, and the goal of uniting this divine element of the individual with the Divine source of all and everything. As the end of the second millennium approached CUT became stridently apocalyptic and unambiguously millenarian, predicting that Armageddon would occur on earth sometime between 1989 and 2000. To ensure the survival of its members the community under its leader Mrs Prophet, known by followers as Guru Ma or Mother, authorized the building of underground shelters at its Inner Retreat centre in Montana and elsewhere.

It would be misleading to equate New Age with liberalism in every sphere. CUT, for example, is strongly conservative on many moral and ethical questions: it opposes abortion, the consumption of alcohol, smoking, drug use, and extramarital sex. On the other hand, one would expect to find New Age participants deeply committed to conservation of the environment and opposed to nuclear warfare.

New Age communities appear to be driven more by a concern for individual spiritual growth than by collective concerns. A majority focus on teaching the various techniques for improving the quality of one’s life and greater effectiveness by kindling the divine spark within. Transcendental meditation, the Self-religions (see Self-religion, The Self, and self) including The Forum, formerly est, Insight, The Life Training, the Silva Method of Mind Control, based largely on New Thought, Mind Dynamics, an offshoot of Silva Mind Control fall into this category. Silva Mind Control gives examples of how its courses changed for the better the attitudes and outlook of top executives, scientists, researchers, laboratory assistance, personnel managers, and secretaries of such companies as the giant pharmaceutical manufacturers Hoffmann-La Roche.

The New Age as a vision

The New Age Movement taken as a whole is more a vision than a coherent system of beliefs and practices. As a movement it is acephalous though, as we have seen, the opinions of a number of its exponents, among them those of Baba Ram Das (Richard Alpert), are widely respected and have acquired a form of scriptural authority. What more than anything else gives a degree of unity to the New Age Movement is the goal aspired to by all participants which is transformation of consciousness.

Such a transformation will, it is believed, provide the trigger for a quantum leap of collective consciousness that will usher in the New Age. Thus, New Age salvation or liberation comes through the discovery of the transformative power of consciousness. In order to achieve this salvation much recourse is had to channelling—the process by which information is accessed and expressed by a source that is other than one’s own ordinary consciousness—and to alternative therapeutic techniques such as acupuncture, acupressure (shiatsu), iridology, and reflexology. Alternative and/or complementary medicine is part of the bedrock of the New Age culture (see Holistic Health Movement and Gaia).

Ferguson (1980) uses the concept of the paradigm shift to describe the way in which individual consciousness will arrive at a totally new way of thinking about old problems. The present time is the most opportune age for this shift to occur. First of all, it is an age of unprecedented stress which motivates people to seek for a new paradigm. It is also the age that has access to more liberating technologies than any other. Never before, Ferguson believes, has there been such an opportunity to explore the innate human capacity for mystical experience and never before has this occurred on such a large scale. A vast variety of aids or psycho-technologies exist to facilitate this exploration, among them, yoga, meditation and the martial arts, and there exists the material freedom to make use of these.

These are the principal reasons why the present age is unique and why it is seen as the foundation for the cataclysmic, mystical revolution in consciousness that is shortly to occur. Although they may use different techniques New Age participants believe they draw on the same source of spiritual power which will unite the world in the same understanding.

Next post:

Previous post: