With the Mind Body Spirit Festival on again in Sydney the weekend after next I thought it would be interesting to write a few brief thoughts on spiritual consumerism and religious eclecticism in the wake of the New Age Movement of the 80s and 90s.
Surely it is significant that, for a festival that was once known as the premier “New Age” festival in Australia, there is not a single mention of “New Age” on the entire Mind Body Spirit Festival information site, or in their festival guide, even though the festival continues.
You’ll still find references to holistic health, self-development practices, yoga, alternative therapies, meditation music, aura images, gemstones and crystals. None of that has changed. You’ll still find references to ascended masters like Ramtha. You just won’t find references to New Age. So what gives?
One article that I keep coming back to is J Gordon Melton’s “New Age Transformed” in which he correctly identifies that there was little that was truly new or unifying about the New Age Movement apart from its positive progressive millennialism; its prophecies of a coming paradigm shift that would usher in a golden age of perennial wisdom:
“It offered to the larger occult community the hope that early in the 21st century, a new society dominated by occult wisdom would arise. It is this single idea that gave the movement its name and proved powerful enough to energize previously existing Spiritualist, New Thought and Theosophical adherents to work together [as] groups, and to bring large numbers of people with no previous relationship to the occult to their cause.”
With the collapse of these millennial expectations in the 90s, the New Age label progressively fell into disuse, to the point were we now rarely see it used at all. But while the prophecy died, the tsunami of spiritual consumerism it triggered lived on.
One of the things I find interesting about Melton’s analysis is his comparison of the morphing in the New Age movement to the evolution of the Millerite movement of the 1900s.
“In the wake of the disappointment of the non-appearance of the New Age, through the 1990s, we can see the same two reactions to the disappointment that occurred among the Millerites in the 1840s … They did not simply abandon their faith, but looked for ways to cope … They appeared quite willing to fall back into older occult metaphysical systems that utilized more spatial metaphors rather than evolutionary historical ones.”
I think Melton analysis is overly simplistic. I think he errs in not exploring the ways in which robust occult traditions that previously welcomed the broad canopy that New Age afforded, progressively developed allergies to it and took many new people with them, effecting the breakup. I think he also errs in not exploring the ways in which many just dropped the overarching meta-narrative and continued to consuming away as we find in the Mind Body Spirit Festivals.
But I nevertheless find his comments on shifts from earth change language to ascension language amongst the more eclectic groups and gurus is worthy of some attention. Where you do find groups still using “New Age” and “channeling” the words ascension, ascended masters and light working are often close by. I think I might close off by compiling a list of ascension groups and new age information sites which can be expanded over time:
PS. Despite all this, the language changes and all, I am still rather bemused whenever I hear Christians say secular spirituality has nothing to do with New Age.