New Agers believe they are holistic adventurers on a cosmic highway travelling freely through galaxies of irrationality towards the Age of Aquarius…with no particular approach to spirituality but a commitment to healing through a kaleidoscope of natural alternative therapies and practises.
South Eastern Australia is where I experienced the New Age Movement as the small business owner of a shop which opened its doors five and a half days a week for very little profit. Despite the meagre cash-flow, what I found deeply rewarding was the local community support, especially their creation of a spiritual tapestry stitched together with the best intentions that came in many colours and shapes.
Our customers were an eclectic bunch, full of spiritual possibilities born from different ideas and cultures. Angel lovers were as equally keen to explore Zen, Zeus, Tao, Lao-Tzu or Alan Watts and Roger Crowley in a rich brew of exchanges with those into the Mayan, Wiccan white magic, or the fall of the American Indian Nation as it is described in Bury My Heart on Bended Knee. Now you’re probably beginning to get the type of business it was – everything metaphysical was on the menu.
I made certain the shelves were kept well stocked with the essential tools for practises associated with New Age consciousness. Our most popular items were crystals, incense sticks, scented candles, essential oils, massage oils, dream-catchers and angel card divination packs. Being in the spiritual business was busy with plenty to do as spiritual seekers constantly came in, even when I thought they would stay indoors to avoid the caning chilly Southern Ocean winds that regularly belted the South East coast.
I saw my customers as the city’s spiritual warriors, rainbow dreamers, cloud readers, tree huggers, crystal gazers, star gazers, fortune tellers, sun worshippers, UFO abductees, ghost hunters, mediums, wizards and witches.
New Age spirituality in the city was vibrant, despite strong opposition from a few fundamentalist church leaders who would’ve happily burnt me and my customers at the stake “for aligning ourselves with the Devil.” Yes, laughable as it sounded at the start of the 21st century, according to many of the local megachurch folk, crystals, incense sticks and dream catchers amount to devil worship. Well, that’s the way it was perceived and it caused some of these pastors to preach hard-on about these products from their pulpits on a Sunday morning. The same group of ultra-conservative Christians also blatted on over the local theatre’s screening of the first Harry Potter movie (as “black magic and influenced by the devil.”) and claimed my shop was a recruitment office for Satan, a place riddled with evil spirits. Albeit for one threat which I did take seriously, I mostly took their comments light-heartedly.
My understanding and relationship with God (he, she, it, whatever) was and still is strong, I view ultimate reality (God) through a different lens than those who hold to traditional religious belief systems. It was the celebrated theological scholar Paul Tillich who once remarked that God was beyond any system and I’d supported that idea since I was a teenager.
Like all New Age shops, the range of items for sale was eclectic. Along with over the counter products, I also hired out consultation rooms to practitioners who offered natural therapies and services such as: different forms of massage, ear candle waxing, Reiki healing, Psychic readings, Tarot card readings and Astrology readings. New Age spiritual assistance was made ready for those who wanted rejuvenation, healing and mental inspiration – our mission – to bring joy and satisfy the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions of life. In other words, it was entirely about the New Age experience with its mish-mash of ideas and practises to a tee.
Our market was about embracing attitudes and opening up one’s feelings, about one’s place in nature, about God, gods and goddesses… and about attuning oneself to an inner-self-realisation and worthiness that rejects many western rationalistic views, restrictive dogmas and strict overbearing doctrines.
Before continuing with my story I want to side-track briefly to make a point about the continual badgering dished out to people who have any religious or spiritual leaning. This mostly comes from a new brand of atheist/liberal thinkers, who highlight reason as the only way to understand life… and pride themselves on some shaky alliance with science. Due to this irrational relationship (which gives birth to scientism, a kind of secular belief system) they are not backward in hurling ridicule and accusing New Agers (and others similar) of being short on reason and therefore, naïve and childish. But let me say this about reason, I think it is put up as something far more important to the advancement of humanity than what it actually is. Here’s my take on it:
- Reason has been used to develop weapons of mass destruction – nuclear and chemical.
- Reason thus far hasn’t helped us to reach a point of resignation concerning the destruction of the planet.
- Reason has not produced an economic system that makes any kind of fairness possible.
- Reason has not developed a peaceful world.
- Reason which piggy-backs Liberal democracy – believes it is peaceful and rational, but the great political philosophy still polices its borders with bloodshed and commits torture and rape.
Further, in my opinion, the fashionable supporters of reason (the new liberal/atheists) need to take a good look at what their pushing because it’s not just insulting people in the West but millions within other cultures who still consider their spirituality as a way of life. For me, there is smell of racism born of intellectual snobbery in their attitudes. I could write further on this but I’ll stop there.
Now back to my story…
We brought the business to assist healing, teach and encourage creative spiritual practice, as well as give advice on well- being. Many times I found myself counselling the broken hearted, the addicted, the depressed lonely and abused. Others just wandered in to have a metaphysical rave.
Unlike some who pushed (unwisely in my opinion) the New Age barrow of natural remedies as a solution to healthcare, I always told people to only use our products in conjunction with professional medical advice. I knew many in the medical profession wouldn’t touch any form of treatment they considered to fall short of Western scientific scrutiny, yet to my surprise, many of our customers were from various fields within the medical profession – doctors, nurses, psychologists and physio-therapists. Some even incorporated New Age ideas into the treatment of their patients.
For me, many items sold were more beneficial from a mental health point of view than anything else. For example, crystals may aid meditation, calm a troubled soul, raise the spirits, encourage one to love and laugh again, or overcome grief. Whether I had a different slant wasn’t an issue, as I didn’t see it as my place to pass judgment on the spiritual path or form of transcendence people engaged with. As long as they were not harming themselves or anyone else,
I believed (and still do) that everyone is entitled to discover and explore their own personal beliefs and that is what the New Age Movement is about. It is a large umbrella under which a multitude of possibilities can assemble and find flight.
Even though the New Age Movement is described as and is often scorned for its “anything goes” approach – lacking substance or coherence it does have strong universal connections. Practises like colour therapy, palm reading, aromatherapy, astrology, holistic health, earth mysteries, I-Ching tarot card divination, Reki healing, Dolphin channelling, crystal healing, belief in past life hypnosis, rebirthing, contacting spirit guides and chakra balancing are found from New York to remote places like Alice Springs.
Some New Agers write bestselling books that sell into the millions, or develop divination skills (Astrology to use one example) that take them considerable time too master. Practitioners of alternative therapies also have to invest a great deal of time studying in the area they decide to specialise in – herbal medicine, auyvedic medicine, aromatherapy and all forms of body work require a large amount of knowledge as well as practical skills.
Being part of the New Age mindset can lead to uncanny situations too, like seeing ghostly apparitions or witnessing the transformation of a person into the channel of a superhuman being. Recalling past-life regression is practised with intense striking imagery. Most exercises are far less intense like a consultation with an astrologer, aromatherapist or Reki healer.
In “Theorising Emotions in New Age Practises: An Analyses of Feeling Rivers in Self-Religion”, Shu-Chuan Chew offers some useful points for understanding the New Age Movement:
- Emphasis on intuitive feelings.
- Altered states of consciousness. Hallucinatory experience like those accounts given by Aldous Huxley’s classic The Doors of Perception or Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Wan.
- Validation of a personal and individual quest based on personal experience not accepted doctrines.
- Distrust of formal and normative modes of rationality espoused by the institutional pillars of society – a preference for a more intuitive way – “if it feels right, it is.”
Chew’s points are all easily identified within the New Age Movement which in essence have given it the universal popularity it enjoys by millions around the world. It offers so many entry and exist points in so many forms of spirituality, some with, some without dogmas, rules and restrictions.
One can access and apply the teachings of the Siddhas, Bhagavad Gita, Jesus or the Delia Lama equally and comparatively to enrich life’s journey if they wish. It’s about a universal quest to discover different cultures and their approaches to wellbeing and spirituality. Jean Houston is right when she describes the great meeting of ideas and cultures in the global village as the dawning of a new consciousness.
That’s not to say there aren’t charlatans and those who don’t take advantage of others as they seek out these new forms of experience. There will be and are as many conjurers involved the New Age Movement as there are anywhere else. Nevertheless, the promotion of positivity and benefits derived far outweigh any obstacles for those not afraid to embark on the quest to explore the vast riches in self-discovery it offers.
Owning the shop was an enriching experience because I was able to see, simply by being a part of it, how much it helped so many people who passed through our door. As I mentioned above, it was well supported by most people and despite the few disgruntled church leaders and their parishioners who didn’t believe we had the right make people happy, we always felt otherwise, confident we gave some a little spiritual guidance and others the humanity and hope they were searching for.