The New Age is an old phenomenon. As soon as humanity began to measure the passage of time using the seasons and celestial movements, significance was assigned to the ticks of nature’s clocks. Supernatural and cultural events were scheduled to occur based on those ticks of nature’s clocks. We became accustomed to significant human events corresponding to those tick’s of nature’s clocks. And shortly thereafter, we began to predict that more supernatural and cultural events would occur in the same fashion. We created the pattern that some individuals believe is inherent in nature simply because it correlates with natural events. Not content with the idea that nature’s clocks are useful arbitrary indicators of entropy’s implacable advance, we continue to assign supernatural and cultural meanings to the progress of our planet’s regular orbit around our stellar source of energy.
Hence the New Age movement, operating under the guise of an inevitable cultural phenomenon tied to the movements of the heavens, misappropriating the label of the Age of Aquarius. The movement started with the best of intentions, and is carried on with the best of intentions today, as cultural movements tend to be. In the New Age, mysticism is the new frontier, unchained from the burdens of the weighty moral commitments and disciplines of traditional religions prevalent in the Western world, freed of those pesky rituals and ancient scriptures that were holding us back from learning the truth about ourselves and about our world. In the New Age, science and mysticism are intertwined, leaving quantum mechanics entangled with personal spirituality. In the New Age, spirituality is a grand cafeteria in which we can fill our plates with a delightful mix of philosophies and theologies, resulting in a tasty stew comprised of Buddhism, Kabbalah, pop psychology, Gnosticism, extra-terrestrials and whatever else seems as if it might disrupt the sensibilities of their parent’s generation.
The most interesting thing about the New Age movement is how little about it is at all new or interesting. It draws heavily on Eastern religious traditions, indigenous spirituality, and Gnosticism, all of which only seem new and interesting if you don’t know much about them. And some of them are in fact more old and more heavily ritualistic and more burdened with ancient scriptures than the religions with which New Age adherents were familiar. Even the pop psychology and ancient alien speculations are old news. Pop psychology was done better by Dr. Freud than Dr. Phil, and the Sumerians had a better story about extra-terrestrials than our modern conspiracy theorists, although Scientology might give the Sumerians a run for their money. Even the practice of taking disparate belief systems and creating a syncretic religion is an ancient practice.
Hence the New Age movement is mostly a movement of the rejection of the familiar and an embrace of the unfamiliar, a movement of abandoning family and creating new families, a movement of deserting ancient desert religions in favor of other ancient desert religions, a movement to trade in our chains for another set of chains that looks different.
Here’s hoping that for the New Year, we can stop concerning ourselves about what is old and what is new, and even what is old news. And that we begin to concern ourselves primarily with what is good, what is just, and what is loving.