New AgeWestern culture. This New Age movement is particularly concerned with spiritual exploration, holistic medicine, and mysticism, yet no rigid boundaries actually exist, making the term point to its own perspective on history, philosophy, religion, spirituality, medicine, music, science and lifestyle.
The term "New Age" at one time, perhaps in the late 1960s, referred to a movement started by the followers of Alice Bailey's ideas concerning the coming New Age. Since then New Age has broadened into its current meaning. No longer a single belief system, it is an aggregate of beliefs and practices (syncretism) which are drawn from earlier myths and religions. Inside this movement are individuals using a "do-it-yourself" approach, while other groups formulate coherent belief systems resembling traditional religion.
Some people, 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, overuse by religious conservatives has even caused the term New Age to take on a slightly derogatory connotation.
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8 See also
9 External links
Although the idea of a new age has clear precedents in Jewish apocalypticism, New Age people may derive their beliefs from religious and philosophical traditions originally outside the Western mainstream, including the occult and Hinduism and Taoism and Buddhism. Most of the phenomena listed below under See also can be traced to less common practices in Europe and North America over the past few centuries. For example the Theosophical Society of the late 19th century espoused many principles, whose roots may be linked to present time New Age ideas:
- gnostic approaches to spiritual matters
- spiritualism - modern channeling
- clairvoyance - modern remote viewing
- belief in healing powers of certain metals or crystals
- use of prayer and meditation as paths to enlightenment
At the onset of its most recent waxing, the New Age movement emerged as a disorganized coalition out of the 1960s counter-culture movement or "happening" in North America and Europe, perhaps only tangentially informed by Alice Bailey's neo-theosophy. In a manner similar to the grass-roots political and life-style movements of that time, New Agers dissatisfied with the then widely-accepted norms and beliefs of western society offered new interpretations from a spiritual viewpoint of science, history, and the religion of the Judeo-Christian establishment. An important center for the New Age movement during the twentieth century was the Findhorn Foundation in northern Scotland. These recent populist origins may indeed help characterize the New Age approach, which emphasizes an individual's choice in spiritual matters; the role of personal intuition and experience over societally sanctioned expert opinion; and an experiential, rather than primarily empirical, definition of reality. Thus, reality is considered to be illuminated by the infinite number of spectral hues emanating from an experiential, faith-driven, and subjective viewpoint; which leads us, finally, to a general principle: the New Age coexists and correlates within each individual's fundamental paradigm shift.
In astrology, a practice long associated with the New Age, a Solar Age is determined by the constellation in which the Sun appears during the vernal equinox. Since each sign on the zodiac belt shifts an average of one degree in 70 years, while 360/12 = 30, each solar age lasts 70 x 30 = 2,100 years. The solar age of Pisces coincided with the birth of Jesus Christ-- 0 C.E. approximately-- and is due to end some time in the 21st Century, to be replaced by the solar age of Aquarius. Incidentally, the New Age is often called the the Age of Aquarius.
Many adherents of belief systems characterised as New Age rely heavily on the use of metaphors to describe experiences deemed to be beyond the empirical. Consciously or unconsciously, New Agers tend to redefine vocabulary borrowed from various belief systems, which can cause some confusion as well as increase opposition from skeptics and the traditional religions. In particular, the adoption of terms from the parlance of science such as "energy", "energy fields", and various terms borrowed from quantum physics and psychology but not then applied to any of their subject matter, have served to confuse the dialog between science and spirituality, leading to derisive labels such as pseudoscience and psycho-babble. 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 practices.
This phenomenon is additionally compounded by the propensity of some New Agers to pretend to esoteric meanings for familiar terms; the New Age meaning of the esoteric term is typically quite different from the common use, and is often described as intentionally inaccessible to those not sufficiently trained in the area of their use. This is usually intended as a means of protection for the uninitiated against the danger inherent in the power of the underlying idea (as noted below).
While the term New Age covers a large number of beliefs and practices, certain modes of thought are fairly commonly held:
- The primacy of subjective experience. In keeping with its roots as a counter-cultural phenomenon and its syncretic nature, 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.
- Rejection of scientific physics. There is typically 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.
The emphasis on subjective knowledge and experience is a link between New Age beliefs and postmodernism.
Within this context of relativism, one still finds many commonalities regarding the nature of the world:
- Forces. It is commonly held that there exist certain forces, independent of spiritual beings or agencies, and also distinct from forces as defined by science (e.g., gravitation, electro-magnetism, etc.). These forces are elemental in nature; and are held to operate in an automatic fashion as part of the natural order (for example, the force which causes seeds to sprout, grow, and bloom). It is worth noting that this view is incompatible with contemporary science: the forces posited by physics are supposed to exhaustively describe the behaviour of the universe, so anything acting according to another force would have to break the laws of physics.
- Power. The "forces", and everything else, are energized by a mystical power that exists in varying degrees in all things. Power is transferable, through physical contact, sensory perception, or mere proximity. Power may be accumulated or depleted in a person or object through a variety of mechanisms, including fate and esoteric practices. This power is held to be physically observable as "auras" and "psi energy"; and when encountered in great concentration, may even be dangerous.
- Energy. In some belief systems, "forces" and "power" may seem to merge; e.g., in the concept of "vital force" that exists in so many traditional belief systems, and finds its expression in New Age concepts such as the alleged "energies" in Therapeutic Touch and Reiki, and ideas of flowing streams of power in Earth, like "leylines" in Britain and Europe and earth energies addressed in the Chinese geomantic system of feng shui. The New Age use of the word "energy" should obviously not be confused with the scientific one.
- Spirit. All beings (particularly sentient beings) are accompanied by a specific, intentional "energy" which corresponds to their consciousness, but is in some way independent of their corporeal existence. This energy typically is more primary than the physical entity, in the sense that it remains in some form after the physical death of that being.
- Holism. A coherent, interconnected cosmos. Everything in the cosmos is actually or potentially interconnected, as if by invisible threads, not only in space but also across time. Further, it is held that every thing and every event that has happened, is happening, or will happen leaves a detectable record of itself in the cosmic "medium" such as the Akashic Records or the morphogenic field.
- Cosmic goal. There is typically a belief that all entities are (willingly or unwillingly) cooperating in some cosmic goal of achieving a "higher" or more complete coherence with a cosmic "consciousness" (or some other goal state of "goodness"), often described as an evolutionary process or simply to learn. This underlying cosmic goal gives direction to all events, reducing the concept of coincidence to one of ignorance of hidden meaning.
The New Age movement has evolved in the so called Western and industrialised countries, which have inherited a Judeo-Christian tradition. As such then Jesus has been reinvented by the New Age movement as a guru, a telling incorporation of a Hindu term.
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 rebirth together with other spiritual beliefs from different parts of the world. Likewise, the movement may incorporate differing beliefs about, or attempts to practice, magic.
However, in keeping with its relativist stance, New Agers believe they do not contradict traditional belief systems, but rather fulfill the ultimate truths contained within them, 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 superficial understanding of these religious concepts, leaving out that which may not 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 have shown a particular interest in Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism and Taoism-- however eclectic or in-depth arbitrarily depends on each individual's pursuit and focus.
Many individuals are responsible for the recent popularity of New Age spirituality, especially in the United States. James Redfield, author of The Celestine Prophecy and other New Age books, provides an open-ended, spirituality-based, life system derived from his own macrocosmic philosophy concerning mankind's state of spiritual evolution. Marianne Williamson updated A Course in Miracles when she penned her work A Return to Love. Another overview of the New Age is provided by Michael Sharp in The Book of Life: Ascension and the Divine World Order. The spirituality of the New Age coexists and correlates within each individual's fundamental paradigm shift.
The gnostic approach of experiential insight and revelation of truth may be closer to the New Age methodology of prayers and spirituality. Due to the personal individualist nature of revealed truth, New-Agers often walk down the old road of gnosis, paved with modernized eclectic stone. In Experiential Spirituality and Contemporary Gnosis 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."
- Or, as Deepak Chopra says, "our bodies are contained within our consciousness, not our consciousness contained within our bodies."
- Many people have attempted to compare traditional religion and metaphysics, often pitting one against the other, as if the two of them were mutually exclusive or antithetical. Interestingly, however, religion based on theism is, by definition, a part of metaphysics, as any concept of a deity in traditional Western religion is outside the purview of our three-dimensional reality.
- Which leads us to another interesting hallmark of contemporary metaphysics and the "New Age": that spirituality is experiential.
- Many have theorized that the current interest in spirituality and metaphysics may in part be viewed as a reaction against the Age of Reason and the perceived pursuant overemphasis on the strictly material and empirical - that there is a longing for the transcendently spiritual, instead of feeling bogged down in a strict immersion in the physical. i.e., after a couple of centuries of emphasis on the empirically provable and concrete, there is a longing for the spiritual as an antidote.
- Just as the Age of Reason spawned a golden age for science and intellect, Western religions became more oriented toward beliefs and religious practices that grew out of and drew upon the left brain – i.e., in religious beliefs and practices, we stayed in our heads.
- At the same time, Western religions have traditionally encouraged adherents to cede control to the church and its authority, rather than encouraging believers to take individual responsibility for their own spirituality.
- This approach worked for centuries until the advent of more public education and the resultant higher education of the populace. Education leads to empowerment. Small wonder, then, that New Agers and those into metaphysics want to experience their spirituality, so that they may feel it, rather than simply think it, and that they want to have some control over their practice or manifestation of it, rather than strictly going through an external intermediary. This shift to a feeling of control over one's expression of spirituality also reflects the trend towards personal responsibility, as well as personal empowerment.
Many people have adopted alternative methods of medicine that incorporate New Age beliefs. Some of the techniques in this list are herbal medicine, Ayurveda, acupuncture, iridology, and the use of crystals in healing therapy. Users of these techniques find them helpful in treating illness; at the very least, their personal involvement in their own treatment increases. Some rely on New Age treatments exclusively, while others use them in combination with conventional medicine.
It should be noted that, when considered purely as medical techniques, most of these systems of treatment are viewed with extreme skepticism in scientific circles. When tested using the same types of regimens as those applied to pharamaceutical drugs and surgical techniques (for example, double blind clinical studies), these systems typically do not yield demonstrable improvements over standard techniques, and may even produce harm in a greater number of cases.
However, one benefit of New Age medicine's popularity, and its criticism of conventional medicine, has been to encourage many medical practitioners to pay closer attention to the entire patient's needs rather than just her or his specific disease . Such approaches, termed "holistic medicine", are now becoming more popular. Conventional medicine has recognised that a patient's state of mind can be crucial in determining the outcome of many diseases, and this perception has helped recast the roles of doctor and patient as more egalitarian.
While a broader understanding of the patient's health is clearly useful, this requires communication between patient and doctor: relying on New Age treatments exclusively carries the risk of neglecting a treatable condition until too late. Patients using herbs and other unconventional approaches need to be sure their doctors are aware of what they're doing. Herbal remedies can interact in a variety of ways with prescription drugs or mask symptoms of the underlying disease.
Critics of New Age medicine continue to point out that without some kind of testing procedure, there is no way of separating those techniques, medicinal herbs, and lifestyle changes which actually contribute to increased health from those which have no effect, or which are actually deleterious to one's health. Even seemingly "innocent" techniques such as Therapeutic Touch may potentially cause physical, spiritual, and religious harm. Yet some hospitals, such as St. Mary's Hospital in Amsterdam, New York, offer patients Healing Touch or Therapeutic Touch therapies which complement traditional medicine.
Some motion in this direction has occurred; for example, there is one noteworthy trial study in San Francisco on breast cancer in women , . Dr. Yeshe Donden, former physician to the Dalai Lama, prescribed Tibetan herbs for treatments in a double blind trial. The Phase I trial involving 11 patients closed November 2000. On March 13, 2002 Debu Tripathy, M.D., Director of the CAM program at UCSF Breast Care Center, commented on the study findings at a breast cancer research forum:
- The FDA would only approve 7 formulas. We only enrolled 11 patients of the hoped for 30. The result showed no safety problems. Of the 9 patients who were evaluated, we found one patient with a temporary response, the other 8 had progression of their cancer. Our next step is to do an expanded study with all the herbs and a much larger number of patients. This will probably have to be done outside the U.S.
Although more rock than new age in genre the 1967 successful musical Hair with its opening song "Aquarius" and the memorable line "This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius" brought the New age concept to the attention of a huge world wide audience.
A large percentage of music described as of New Age genre is instrumental, and electronic, although vocal arrangements are also common. Enya, who won a Grammy for her new age music, sings in a variety of languages, including Latin, in many of her works. Medwyn Goodall, not as widely known, relies mainly on electronic keyboard effects, and includes acoustic guitar as well. To understand this musical category may help shed light on the New Age perspective.
Arguably, this music has its roots in the 1970s with the works of such free-form jazz groups recording on the ECM label such as Oregon, the Paul Winter Group, and other pre-ambient bands; as well as ambient performers such as Brian Eno.
Music labeled New Age often has a vision of a better future, expresses an appreciation of goodness and beauty, even an anticipation, relevant to some event. Rarely does New Age music dwell on a problem with this world or its inhabitants; instead it offers a peaceful vision of a better world. Often the music is celestial, when the title names stars or deep space explorations. Ennio Morricone wrote the entire score for the movie Mission to Mars, and while the credits flash we hear All the Friends, New Age orchestral style.
The titles of New Age music are often illuminating, because the words used by the artists attempt to convey their version of truth, in a few short words. On listening to the music, one may understand the idea within the title. Examples of titles: Bond of Union, Sweet Wilderness, Shepherd Moons, Animus Anima.
The following subjective description of a New Age lifestyle illuminates the sociological dimension of the New Age movement. Note the references to the "inter-connectedness" of all things: "...people feeling somehow, mysteriously, they have met before or known each other from a distant time..." and an implicit cosmic goal "...two people meet and sense there may be a hidden meaning, or reason why...". Rather than reliance on social forms such as regular church attendance, New Agers "recognize" each other through their mutal perception of shared values, and the shibboleths of New Age terms and usages:
New Age communities
Significant New Age communities exist in the following places: