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Spirituality

Spirituality

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Beliefs and Practices

Ethics and Afterlife

According to Hanegraaff, the question of death and afterlife is not a “pressing problem requiring an answer” in the New Age movement. A belief in reincarnation is very common, being viewed as part of humanity’s “progressive spiritual evolution”. In New Age literature the reality of reincarnation is usually treated as self-evident, with no explanation as to why practitioners embrace this afterlife belief over others, although New Agers endorse it in the belief that it ensures cosmic justice. Many New Agers adopt a belief in karma, treating it as a law of cause and effect which assures cosmic balance, although in some cases they stress that it is not a system that enforces punishment for past actions. In much New Age literature discussing reincarnation, there is the claim that part of the human soil, that which carries the personality, perishes with the death of the body, while the Higher Self – that which connects with divinity – survives in order to be reborn into another body. It is believed that the Higher Self chooses the body and circumstances into which it will be born, in order to use it as a vessel through which to learn new lessons and thus advance its own spiritual evolution. Some prominent New Age writers such as Shakti Gawain and Louise Hay have thus expressed the view that humans are therefore totally responsible for the events that happen to them during their life, an idea that many New Agers characterise as empowering. At times, past life regression are employed within the New Age movement in order to reveal a Higher Soul’s previous incarnations, usually with an explicit healing purpose.

Luc Paquin

Beliefs and Practices

Ethics and Afterlife

The central ethical tenet of the New Age movement is to cultivate one’s own divine potential. Given that the movement’s holistic interpretation of the universe prohibits a belief in a dualistic good and evil, negative events that happen are interpreted not as the result of evil but as lessons designed to teach an individual and enable them to advance spiritually. It rejects the Christian emphasis on sin and guilt, believing that these generate fear and thus negativity, which then hinder spiritual evolution. It also typically criticises the blaming and judging of others for their actions, believing that if an individual adopts these negative attitudes it harms their own spiritual evolution. Instead the movement emphasizes positive thinking, although beliefs regarding the power behind such thoughts vary within New Age literature. Common New Age examples of how to generate such positive thinking include the repeated recitation of mantras and statements carrying positive messages, and the visualisation of a white light.

Luc Paquin

Beliefs and Practices

“New Age Science”

However, most of the academic and scientific establishments dismiss “New Age science” as pseudo-science, or at best existing in part on the fringes of genuine scientific research. Hanegraaff identified “New Age science” as a form of Naturphilosophie. In this, the movement is interested in developing unified world views to discover the nature of the divine and establish a scientific basis for religious belief.

Figures in the New Age movement – most notably Fritjof Capra in his The Tao of Physics (1975) – have drawn parallels between theories in the New Physics and traditional forms of mysticism, thus arguing that ancient religious ideas are now being proven by contemporary science. Many New Agers have adopted James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis that the Earth acts akin to a single living organism, although have expanded this idea to include the idea that the Earth has consciousness and intelligence.

Luc Paquin

Beliefs and Practices

“New Age Science”

According to Drury, the New Age movement attempts to create “a worldview that includes both science and spirituality”. Although it typically rejects rationalism, the scientific method, and the academic establishment, at times those active in the movement employ terminology and concepts borrowed from science and particularly from the New Physics. Moreover, a number of prominent influences on New Age movement, such as David Bohm and Ilya Prigogine, came from backgrounds as professional scientists. Instead it typically expresses the view that its own understandings of the universe will come to replace those of the academic establishment in a paradigm shift.

Luc Paquin

Beliefs and Practices

Healing and Alternative Medicine

Hanegraaff identified the second main healing current in the New Age movement as being holistic health. This emerged in the 1970s out of the free clinic movement of the 1960s, and has various connections with the Human Potential Movement. It emphasises the idea that the human individual is a holistic, interdependent relationship between mind, body, and spirit, and that healing is a process in which an individual becomes whole by integrating with the powers of the universe. A very wide array of methods are utilised within the holistic health movement, with some of the most common including acupuncture, biofeedback, chiropractic, yoga, kinesiology, homeopathy, iridology, massage and other forms of bodywork, meditation and visualisation, nutritional therapy, psychic healing, herbal medicine, healing using crystals, metals, music, chromotherapy, and reincarnation therapy. The use of crystal healing has become a particularly prominent visual trope in the movement. The mainstreaming of the Holistic Health movement in the UK is discussed by Maria Tighe. The inter-relation of holistic health with the New Age movement is illustrated in Jenny Butler’s ethnographic description of “Angel therapy” in Ireland.

Luc Paquin

Beliefs and Practices

Healing and Alternative Medicine

The healing elements of the movement are difficult to classify given that a variety of terms are used, with some New Age authors using different terms to refer to the same trends, while others use the same term to refer to different things. However, Hanegraaff developed a set of categories into which the forms of New Age healing could be roughly categorised. The first of these was the Human Potential Movement, which argues that contemporary Western society suppresses much human potential, and which accordingly professes to offer a path through which individuals can access those parts of themselves that they have alienated and suppressed, thus enabling them to reach their full potential and live a meaningful life. Hanegraaff described transpersonal psychology as the “theoretical wing” of this Human Potential Movement; in contrast to other schools of psychological thought, transpersonal psychology takes religious and mystical experiences seriously by exploring the uses of altered states of consciousness. Closely connected to this is the shamanic consciousness current, which argues that the shaman was a specialist in altered states of consciousness and which seeks to adopt and imitate traditional shamanic techniques as a form of personal healing and growth.

Luc Paquin

Beliefs and Practices

Healing and Alternative Medicine

Another core factor of the New Age movement is its emphasis on healing and the use of alternative medicine. The general ethos within the movement is that health is the natural state for the human being and that illness is a disruption of that natural balance. Hence, New Age therapies seek to heal “illness” as a general concept which includes physical, mental, and spiritual aspects; in doing so it critiques mainstream Western medicine for simply attempting to cure disease, and thus has an affinity with most forms of traditional medicine found around the world. The concept of “personal growth” is also greatly emphasised within the healing aspects of the New Age movement. The movement’s focus of self-spirituality has led to the emphasis of self-healing, although also present in the movement are ideas that focus on both healing others, and healing the Earth itself.

Luc Paquin

Beliefs and Practices

Astrological Cycles and the Age of Aquarius

A common belief among the New Age movement is that humanity has entered, or is coming to enter, a new age known as the Age of Aquarius, which Melton has characterised as a “New Age of love, joy, peace, abundance, and harmony[…] the Golden Age heretofore only dreamed about”. In accepting this belief in a coming new age, the movement has been described as “highly positive, celebratory, [and] utopian”, and has also been cited as an apocalyptic movement. Opinions about the nature of the coming New Age differ among New Agers. There are for instance differences in belief about its commencement, with New Age author David Spangler claiming that it began in 1967, while various practitioners placed its beginning with the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, with others claiming that it will not begin until several centuries into the third millennium. There are also differences in how this new age is envisioned. Those adhering to what Hanegraaff termed the “moderate” perspective believed that it would be marked by an improvement to current society, which affected both New Age concerns – through the convergence of science and mysticism and the global embrace of alternative medicine – to more general concerns, including an end to violence, crime and war, a healthier environment, and international co-operation. Other New Agers adopt a fully utopian vision, believing that the world will be wholly transformed into an “Age of Light”, with humans evolving into totally spiritual beings and experiencing unlimited love, bliss, and happiness.

The Age of Aquarius is not viewed as eternal, but it is instead believed that it will last for around two thousand years, before being replaced by a further age. There are various beliefs within the movement as to how this new age will come about, but most emphasise the idea that it will be established through human agency; others assert that it will be established with the aid of non-human forces such as spirits or extraterrastrials. Participants in the movement typically express the view that their own spiritual actions are helping to bring about the Age of Aquarius, with a common belief also being that there are higher powers in the universe that are helping to birth the new age.

Luc Paquin

Beliefs and Practices

Astrological Cycles and the Age of Aquarius

New Age thought typically envisions the world as developing through a series of large astronomical cycles which can be identified astrologically. Although the concept of distinct ages has older roots in Western esoteric thought, the New Age movement adopted it from Theosophy, despite the fact that such New Age conceptions of ages are often looser and more eclectic than those in Theosophical doctrine. New Age literature often claims that humanity once lived in an age of spiritual wisdom. In the writings of New Agers like Edgar Cayce, the ancient period of spiritual wisdom is associated with concepts of supremely-advanced societies living on lost continents such as Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu, as well as the idea that ancient societies like those of Ancient Egypt were far more technologically advanced than modern scholarship accepts. New Age literature often posits that the ancient period of spiritual wisdom ultimately gave way to an age of spiritual decline, sometimes termed the Age of Pisces. Although characterised as being a negative period for humanity, New Age literature views the Age of Pisces as an important learning experience for the species. Hanegraaff stated that New Age perceptions of history were “extremely sketchy” in their use of description, reflecting little interest in historiography and conflating history with myth. He also noted that they were highly ethnocentric in placing Western civilization at the centre of historical development.

Luc Paquin

Beliefs and Practices

Self-Spirituality and Channeling

Prominent examples of channeling in the New Age movement include Jane Roberts’ claims that she was contacted by an entity called Seth, and Helen Schucman’s claims to have channeled Jesus Christ. The academic Suzanne Riordan examined a variety of these New Age channeled messages, and noted that they typically “echoed each other in tone and content”, offering an analysis of the human condition and giving instructions or advice for how humanity can discover its true destiny.

For many New Agers, these channeled messages rival the scriptures of the main world religions as sources of spiritual authority, although often New Agers describe historical religious revelations as forms of “channeling” as well, thus attempting to legitimate and authenticate their own contemporary practices. Although the concept of channeling from discarnate spirit entities has links to Spiritualism and psychical research, in the New Age movement the Spiritualist emphasis on proving the existence of life after death is absent, as is the psychical research focus of testing mediums for consistency.

Luc Paquin

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