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.
11 thoughts on “Mind Body Spirit Festival”
Matthew, Please find some paragraphs from a recent essay by my Spiritual Master which are particularly relevant to consumerist “religion”–which includes all of the emerging church phenomenon.
‘”Religion” is a form of pious, but, nonetheless, childish consumerism—full of posturing, bargain-hunting, haggling, and deceitful practices of all kinds—whereby the separate “self”, or the client-like ego-“I”, whether as an individual or as a socially-defined cultural collective, seeks to acquire what, from the egoic “point of view”, is desired that can satisfy the wanting-demandind ego-“I” itself.
The “religious” form of the consumer ego wants and seeks—as if in a marketplace—what it can beg, take, somehow earn, or otherwise acquire from the presumed storeowning-shopkeeper “god”.
The consumer ego uses “religious” means to seek and demand what the parent-like “god” can do for the alternately childish and otherwise adolescent ego-“I” in the midst of its vulnerable and inherently unsatisfactory conditions of life.
The “religious” ego-“I” does not want Real God, but instead wants “god” to be merely the presumed executive-supplier, manager, middleman, and sometimes hoarder of the commodity of never ending “goods”.”
‘ All “religion” is a theatrically-conceived magic-show of suggestive ideas and make-believe performances, specifically intended to divert, entertain, and (either with or without mutual agreement and consent) deceive—although the “institutionalized justification” for the playful deception is the “compassion-rationalization” that it makes people FEEL better.
All illusionists voluntarily and strategically deceive others, and even themselves, on the basis of a culturally-ingrained acceptance of the principle,and a categorical presumption of the inherent moral rightness, of the “compassion-rationalization”—such that they are willing and able to believe and act AS IF doing FALSELY is doing GOOD.
The psychological purpose of such “religious” illusions is anxiety- reduction by supplying a comforting sense of answeredness and certainty of belief. They provide a psychological illusion of eternity, changelessness, permanence and deathlessness. Whereas in reality the presumed “separate” self and “objective” world are a ceaseless flux of time-bound change, brevity and deathic urgency.”
John, you comments strike me as somewhat curious. Most adherents of the New Age I ever met described themselves as ‘spiritual, not religious’. What is more, many consumers of spirituality these days continue to describe themselves in such terms.
Under this definition it is you who is following the “religious” path, since you have moved beyond the nebulous “sense of something greater than oneself” and embraced a specific teacher and dedicated yourself to his emerging tradition.
So when you say “all religion is a theatrically-conceived magic-show of suggestive ideas and make-believe performances” I wonder if you realize how self confessional it sounds? I don’t know how you can condemn all religion without condemning your own path.
That’s a very cool observation about another letdown in the changing of the world.
Where does this ‘instant change’ thinking come from? Is it from Christian expectations, or do other religions also subscribe to the ‘shazam’ theory of societal change?
Interesting blog post- and comments here Matt- I must say that what is happening in the UK broadly echoes what you are saying… the ” instant fix” thinking that Sun Warrior alludes to- I believe shows up in many places where consumerist expectations of sudden change are encouraged be they Christian or what5 is loosely termed ” secular spirituality”….
Right now I am thinking on what you have said- and will try to formulate a coherent response as I recognise I am starting to waffle!!!
Sun Warrior, well the path I am talking about here is largely non-Christian, so yes. Though the New Age did draw on Christianity as much as Buddhism and Hinduism for inspiration, its expectations were more grounded in Astrology and the prophecies of Edgar Cayce, Bailey and Nostradamus than in the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic expectations are hardly unique to Christianity. Consider what Buddhists have to say about Maitreya, what Muslims have to say about the Mahdi, what the John Frum cult has to say about Prince Phillip.
Thanks for creating such an interesting blog. One I will definitely be coming back to. I wonder what you make of phenomenon like “The Secret” and “What the Bleep” which also seem to sit “in between” old categories? They seem to be tapping into a fairly secular market. As a Christian who is also interested in exploring the spaces “in between” I have been intrigued by these films and have learned from them, though I am disturbed by the “use spirituality to get rich” tone of “The Secret”. Is this all part of a new spiritual consumerism or is it part of a New Age paradigm-shift?
Mike, I haven’t exactly rushed out to see “What the Bleep” or “The Secret” as I’m somewhat jaded by that sort of stuff to be honest. Quantum spirituality was hot back in the eighties but I rarely hear it discussed within alternate spirituality circles these days. “What the Bleep” strikes me as 20 years behind the times. The film obviously had some traction but I don’t know how much of a lasting impact it will have.
It should be noted the film was based on the teachings of Ramtha and that three of the movie directors were Ramtha devotees. Ramtha is an entity channeled by J Z Knight, a medium who gained significant popularity within the New Age Movement in the 80s. He was featured in Shirley MacLaine’s book Dancing in the Light, which should give you some idea of what vintage we are talking about. He is supposedly a Lemurian warrior who fought the Atlanteans over 35,000 years ago before achieving spiritual mastery and ascending.
If you want to dig deeper though, read Fritjof Capra’s “Tao of Physics” which was also a popular quantum spirituality text back many moons ago. And by the way, you will find an amusing spoof of The Secret at Puppetji
Thanks Matt. In the 80s I was just discovering Christianity so this is all fairly new territory for me.
What is different now to my recollections of the 80s is that back then this would have seemed very wacky, alternative even dangerous stuff – whereas now it is mainstream. It may seem boring to people who have been exploring these themes for years, but I think of various friends who are wowed by these films for whom it is a first door into spiritual exploration. It seems to me that there is something significant happening here.
PS I forgot to thank you for introducing me to Puppetji. I think I have at last found my guru.
I find it interesting that the (former) New Age movement doesn’t believe that there won’t be any ‘discomfort’ for anyone in this coming Age.
Seems to me, every other Age went through some pretty hard times transforming. It took Christianity 2000 years of hard work to get us to our ‘pain relief’ culture.
Speaks loads of its connection with God, in my opinion. God is always full of surprises for those caught in the conventional.
very good post