The New Age (also referred to as the New Age Movement, New Age spirituality, and Cosmic Humanism) is a decentralized Western social and spiritual movement that seeks "Universal Truth" and the attainment of the highest individual human potential. It includes aspects of astrology, esotericism, metaphysics, alternative medicine, music, collectivism, sustainability, and nature. New Age spirituality is characterized by an individual approach to spiritual practices and philosophies, and the rejection of religious doctrine and dogma.
The New Age Movement includes elements of older spiritual and religious traditions ranging from atheism and monotheism through classical pantheism, naturalistic pantheism, and panentheism to polytheism combined with science and Gaia philosophy: particularly archaeoastronomy, astronomy, ecology, environmentalism, the Gaia hypothesis, psychology, and physics. New Age practices and philosophies sometimes draw inspiration from major world religions: Buddhism, Chinese folk religion, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism; with particularly strong influences from East Asian religions, Gnosticism, Neopaganism, New Thought, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Universalism, and Western esotericism. Additional terms for the movement include All is One and Mind-Body-Spirit.
The modern New Age Movement emerged in a distinct form in the late 1960s and early 1970s, although its roots can be traced back to the 19th and early 20th centuries. It gained momentum in the 1980s and strengthened with the Harmonic Convergence event in 1987. Diverse individuals from around the world practice New Age spirituality.
The term New Age was used as early as 1809 by William Blake who described a belief in a spiritual and artistic "New Age" in hi preface to Milton: a Poem.
Some of the New Age Movement's constituent elements appeared initially in 19th century metaphysical movements: Spiritualism, Theosophy, and New Thought; also, alternative medicine movements chiropractic and naturopathy. These movements in turn have roots in Transcendentalism, Mesmerism, Swedenborgianism, and various earlier Western esoteric or occult traditions, such as the hermetic arts of astrology, magic, alchemy, and Kabbalah. The term New Age was used in this context in Madame Blavatsky's book The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888.
A weekly journal of Christian liberalism and socialism titled The New Age was published as early as 1894; it was sold to a group of socialist writers headed by Alfred Richard Orage and Holbrook Jackson in 1907. Other historical personalities were involved: H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and William Butler Yeats; the magazine became a forum for politics, literature, and the arts. Between 1908 and 1914, it was instrumental in pioneering the British avant-garde from vorticism to imagism. After 1914, publisher Orage met P. D. Ouspensky, a follower of G. I. Gurdjieff, and began correspondence with Harry Houdini, becoming less interested in literature and art, with an increased focus on mysticism and other spiritual topics; the magazine was sold in 1921. According to Brown University, The New Age "... helped to shape modernism in literature and the arts from 1907 to 1922."
Popularisation behind these ideas has roots in the work of early 20th century writers such as D. H. Lawrence and William Butler Yeats. In the early to middle 1900s, American mystic, theologian, and founder of the Association for Research and Enlightenment Edgar Cayce was a seminal influence on what later would be termed the New Age Movement; he was known in particular for the practice some refer to as channeling. Former Theosophist Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophical Movement are a major influence. Neo-Theosophist Alice Bailey published the book Discipleship in the New Age (1944), which used the term New Age in reference to the transition from the Astrological Age of Pisces to Aquarius. While claims of racial bias in the writings of Rudolf Steiner and Alice Bailey were made, Steiner emphasized racial equality as a principle central to anthroposophical thought and humanity's progress. Any racial elements from these influences have not remained part of the Anthroposophical Society as contemporary adherents of the society have either not adopted or repudiated these beliefs. Another early usage of the term, was by the American artist, mystic, and philosopher Walter Russell, who spoke of "... this New Age philosophy of the spiritual re-awakening of man ..." in his essay "Power Through Knowledge", which was also published in 1944.
Carl Gustav Jung was an early articulator of the concept of the Age of Aquarius. In a letter to H. G. Baynes, dated 12 August 1940, he wrote in a passage concerning the destruction of the temple of Karnak by an earthquake in 26 BC: "1940 is the year when we approach the meridian of the first star in Aquarius. It is the premonitory earthquake of the New Age."
The subculture that would later be called New Age already existed in the early 1970s, based on and adopting ideas originally present in the counterculture of the 1960s. The Findhorn Foundation – an intentional community near Findhorn, Moray, Scotland founded in 1962 – played an instrumental role during the early growth period of the New Age Movement; it continues to operate the Findhorn Ecovillage.
Widespread use of the term New Age began in the mid 1970s (reflected in the title of monthly periodical New Age Journal) and probably influenced several thousand small metaphysical book and gift stores that increasingly defined themselves as "New Age bookstores". As a result of the large-scale activities surrounding the Harmonic Convergence in the mid 1980s – the term was further popularised by the American mass media to describe the alternative spiritual subculture – including practices such as meditation, channeling, crystal healing, astral projection, psychic experience, holistic health, simple living, and environmentalism; or belief in phenomena such as Earth mysteries, ancient astronauts, extraterrestrial life, unidentified flying objects, crop circles, and reincarnation. A range of New Age publications appeared by the late 1980s such as Psychic Guide (later renamed Body, Mind & Spirit), Yoga Journal, New Age Voice, New Age Retailer, and NaPRA ReView by the New Age Publishing and Retailers Association.
There were several key moments in raising public awareness of this subculture: the publication of Linda Goodman's best selling astrology books Sun Signs (1968) and Love Signs (1978); Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical (1967) with the opening song "Aquarius" and its memorable line "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius" [emphasis added]; the broadcast of Shirley MacLaine's television mini-series Out on a Limb (1987); and the Harmonic Convergence (1987) organized by José Argüelles in Sedona, Arizona. Also influential were the claims of channelers Jane Roberts (the Seth Material) and J. Z. Knight (Ramtha), as well as revealed writings A Course in Miracles (1976) by Helen Schucman, The Celestine Prophecy (1993) by James Redfield, and Conversations with God (1995) by Neale Donald Walsch. Relevant works also include the writings of Eckhart Tolle, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, John Holland, Gary Zukav, and Wayne Dyer; also, The Secret (2006) by Rhonda Byrne, which was based on the writings of Esther Hicks and Jerry Hicks.
While authors J. Gordon Melton, Wouter Hanegraaff, and Paul Heelas have emphasised the mentioned personal aspects; Mark Satin, Theodore Roszak, Marilyn Ferguson, and Corinne McLaughlin have described New Age as a values-based sociopolitical movement.
While there is no unified belief system, many spiritual practices and philosophies are common among adherents of the New Age Movement.
Philosophy and cosmology
- There is a general and abstract idea of God, which can be understood in many ways; seen as a superseding of the need to anthropomorphize deity. Not to be confused with pantheism.
- Spiritual beings
- Gods, angels, Ascended Masters, elementals, ghosts, faeries, Spirit guides and extraterrestrials can spiritually guide a person, if they open themselves to their guidance.
- Consciousness persists after death as life in different forms; the afterlife exists for further learning through the form of a spirit, reincarnation and/or near-death experiences. There may be a belief in hell, but typically not in the traditional Christian sense or Islamic sense of eternal damnation. Universalist views of the afterlife are common.
- Age of Aquarius
- The current time period is claimed by some astrologers to be the dawning of the Age of Aquarius correlated to various changes in the world and some claim that the early 1960s was the actual beginning of the Age of Aquarius, though this claim is highly contentious. Common claims about the developments associated with the Age of Aquarius include, but are not limited to, human rights, democracy, innovative technology, electricity, computers, and aviation. Esoteric claims are that the Age of Aquarius will see a rise in consciousness.
- Horoscopes and the Zodiac are used in understanding, interpreting, and organizing information about personality, human affairs, and other terrestrial matters.
- Life has a purpose; this includes a belief in synchronicity—that coincidences have spiritual meaning and lessons to teach those who are open to them. Everything is universally connected through God and participates in the same energy. There is a cosmic goal and a belief that all entities are (knowingly or unknowingly) cooperating towards this goal.
- Indigo children
- Children are being born with a more highly developed spiritual power than earlier generations.
- Interpersonal relationships
- There are opportunities to learn about one's self and relationships are destined to be repeated until they are healthy.
- An important aspect of perception – offset by a somewhat strict rationalism – noted especially in the works of psychologist Carl Jung.
- Positive thinking supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything; this is based on the concept that Thought Creates. Therefore, as one begins focusing attention and consciousness on the positive, on the "half-filled" glass of water, reality starts shifting and materializing the positive intentions and aspects of life. A certain critical mass of people with a highly spiritual consciousness will bring about a sudden change in the whole population. Humans have a responsibility to take part in positive creative activity and to work to heal ourselves, each other and the planet.
- Human Potential Movement
- The human mind has much greater potential than that ascribed to it and is even capable of overriding physical reality.
- Spiritual healing
- Humans have potential healing powers, such as therapeutic touch, which can be developed to heal others through touch or at a distance.
Religion and science
- New Age writers argue people should follow their own individual path to spirituality instead of dogma.
- Feminine forms of spirituality, including feminine images of the divine, such as the female Aeon Sophia in Gnosticism, are deprecated by patriarchal religions.
- Ancient civilizations
- Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu, and other lost lands existed. Relics such as the crystal skulls and monuments such as Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza were left behind.
- Psychic perception
- Certain geographic locations emanate psychic energy (sometimes through ley lines) and were considered sacred in pagan religions throughout the world.
- Eastern world practices
- Meditation, Yoga, Tantra, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, martial arts, Tai chi chuan, Falun Gong, Qigong, Reflexology, Reiki, and other Eastern practices can assist in realizing one's potential.
- Food influences both the mind and body; it is generally preferable to practice vegetarianism by eating fresh organic food, which is locally grown and in season. Fasting can help achieve higher levels of consciousness.
- An appeal to the language of nature and mathematics, as evidenced by numerology, Kabbalah, Sacred geometry, and gnosticism to discern the nature of God.
- Quantum mechanics, parapsychology, and the Gaia hypothesis have been used in quantum mysticism to validate spiritual principles. Authors Deepak Chopra, Fritjof Capra, Fred Alan Wolf, and Gary Zukav have linked quantum mechanics to New Age spirituality, which is presented in the film What the Bleep Do We Know!? (2004); also, in connection with the Law of Attraction, which is related to New Thought and presented in the film The Secret (2006). They have interpreted the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, quantum entanglement, wave function collapse, or the many-worlds interpretation to mean that all objects in the Universe are one (monism), that possibility and existence are endless, and that the physical world is only what one believes it to be.
- In medicine, such practices as therapeutic touch, homeopathy, chiropractic, and naturopathy involve hypotheses and treatments that have not been accepted by the conventional, science-based medical community through the normal course of empirical testing.
New Age spirituality has led to a wide array of literature on the subject and an active niche market: books, music, crafts, and services in alternative medicine are available at New Age stores, fairs, and festivals.
People who practice New Age spirituality or embrace its lifestyle are included in the Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) demographic market segment, currently in a growth phase, related to sustainable living, green ecological initiatives, and generally composed of a relatively affluent and well-educated segment. The LOHAS market segment in 2006 was estimated at US$300 billion, approximately 30 percent of the United States consumer market. According to The New York Times, a study by the Natural Marketing Institute showed that in 2000, 68 million Americans were included within the LOHAS demographic. The sociologist Paul H. Ray, who coined the term Cultural Creatives in his book The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (2000), states, "What you're seeing is a demand for products of equal quality that are also virtuous."
Practitioners of New Age spirituality may use alternative medicine in addition to or in place of conventional medicine; while some conventional physicians have adopted aspects or the complete approach of holistic health.
New Age music is peaceful music of various styles, which is intended to create inspiration, relaxation, and positive feelings while listening. Studies have determined that New Age music can be an effective component of stress management. Some New Age music albums come with notes to encourage use in meditation.
This style began in the 1970s with the works of 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 music performer Brian Eno and classical avant-garde musician Daniel Kobialka. In the early 1970s, it was mostly instrumental with both acoustic and electronic styles. New Age music evolved to include a wide range of styles from electronic space music using synthesizers and acoustic instrumentals using Native American flutes and drums, singing bowls, and world music sounds to spiritual chanting from other cultures.
Activist Constance Cumbey offered the first major criticism of the New Age Movement from a Christian perspective in The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism (1983).
The author Ken Wilber posits that most New Age thought falls into what he termed the pre/trans fallacy. According to Wilber, human developmental psychology moves from the pre-personal, through the personal, then to the transpersonal (spiritually advanced or enlightened) level. He claims that 80 percent of New Age spirituality is pre-rational (pre-conventional) and relies primarily on mythic-magical thinking; this is in contrast to a post-rational (includes and transcends rational) genuine world-centric consciousness.
Indigenous peoples of the Americas
Some adherents of traditional disciplines such as the Lakota people, a tribe of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, reject the term New Age. They see the movement it represents as either not fully understanding, deliberately trivializing, or distorting their disciplines.
They have coined the term plastic shaman to describe individuals who identify themselves as shamans, holy people, or other traditional spiritual leaders, but who have no genuine connection to the traditions or cultures they claim to represent. The academic Ward Churchill has criticised the New Age Movement as an instrument of cultural imperialism that is exploitative of indigenous cultures by reducing it to a commodity to be traded. In Fantasies of the Master Race, he criticises the cultural appropriation of Native American culture and symbols in not only the New Age Movement, but also in art and popular culture.
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