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Wackos, Charlatans & Hippies with Crystals?

Why YOU may be a New Ager without realising it

An outside view of the “Precession of the Ages”

Image: Wikimedia Commons


It's a hot summer's day and my parents are having a barbecue party in our garden. One of the guests and I have been discussing the failings of organised religion and I’ve just asked: “So are you an atheist?”


To my surprise, given both their vehement denunciations of organised religion and the fact that my parents aren't generally into theists, they answer, “no, I believe in God”.


My next question – “What religion are you?” – elicits a response I’ve never heard before:


“I don't follow one religion; I'm a New Ager,” they reply.


“What's that?”


“Well, in the Old Age people belonged to one religion and learned about God and divine truths through organised religions and men of God – for example, churches and priests if you were Christian, mosques and imams if you were Muslim.


“New Agers believe that humanity is entering – or has entered – new era, hence the name. Humanity has evolved to a stage where we don't have to follow one religion and don't need anyone between us and God; we can look at different spiritual traditions and sources of wisdom from around the world and find our own truths, our own path to the divine and the divine within us. And as we do this we'll learn that religions have more in common with each other than what divides them, hopefully bringing an end to the wars of religion we've seen so much in the past and still see today.”


Although I now have no idea who this guest was, nor exactly how old I was, the substance of the conversation resounded with me so much it's still clear in my memory today. I'm guessing I was about twelve or thirteen and was starting to try and make sense of the world – and my place in it. The concept of the New Age, in which we leave primitive and divisive ideas about God and religion behind and are confident enough to explore the world of spirituality on our own, come to our own conclusions and discover our own belief systems, made complete sense to me. The thing is, I soon found out that the term New Age meant something different to lots of other people...


There's a theory that, whenever an attractive idea that challenges the status quo comes along, the powerful redefine it, often making it mean the complete opposite of what it originally meant. The first example of this that always springs to my to mind is Political Correctness (PC). A very progressive lesbian woman introduced the concept to my family in the late 80s as a cleaning up of language to remove sexist, racist, homophobic and other bigoted hangovers from less enlightened ages. Sometime later I read an article in the (right-wing) Daily Mail – it was someone else's copy! – that had a headline to the effect of: “Political correctness – the new form of thought control coming your way soon.” Instead of being about changing language to create a kinder, less hierarchical and more modern world, it was now being made to mean a left-wing plot to create a nastier, nannying world by closing down freedom of thought and expression. Later, with the widespread use of the term “political correctness gone mad” to describe the overzealous application of political correctness, such as renaming blackboards 'chalkboards' and Christmas 'winterval' (never mind that this particular example never really happened – don't let the facts get in the way of a good story!) a concept that its originators saw as designed to address increasing human intelligence and sensitivity became synonymous, in some media and minds at least, with bureaucratic stupidity and insensitivity.


I once explained this theory of redefinition to a friend and they said “Ah – like the word Hippie?”


“What do you mean?” I asked.


“Well, if you asked a hippie what the word meant in the ‘60s, they’d say someone who believes in peace, love and building a better world by rejecting old-fashioned, middle-class values. If you ask someone today they’d probably think of a lazy druggy with far-fetched, unrealistic ideas and ideals.”


The same has happened to the term New Age – it now has connotations of wackos, charlatans and bingly-bongly hippies with crystals and no understanding of science. Yet you could argue that it could be applied to a large segment of the UK population today – possibly more than any other spiritual label – at least in the sense I originally heard about it.


You may have heard of the Age of Aquarius, but are you aware it's another (more ancient) term for the New Age, or that it's an astronomical phenomenon as much as an astrological one? There's a great explanation of this on Nasa's website in the From Stargazers to Starships section: in brief, around 130 BC a Greek astronomer called Hipparchus of Nicea realised that “the axis around which the heavens seemed to rotate shifted gradually, though very slowly.” This shift – the ‘Precession of the Ages’ – goes around the zodiac in 26,000-year cycles; each period in one of the signs of the zodiac is called a Great Age. As there are no clear markers in the sky between zodiacal signs, it's impossible to say when one has ended and the next begun – hence the lack of clarity as to whether we are actually in the Age of Aquarius...


Now it's one thing to acknowledge an astronomical phenomenon; quite another to claim it as evidence for an astrological one. New Agers like to point out coincidences including that the great age that precedes Aquarius, the Age of Pisces (the fish), coincides with the age of Christianity, which used the fish as a symbol in its early years; the Age of Aries (the Ram) saw lots of names containing the similarities to 'ram': Ra, Ram, Rama, Brahman, Brahma, Abram/Abraham, Amon Ra, and Ramesses and ended with the arrival of the 'Lamb of God'; and the preceding Age of Taurus (the bull) saw the worship of a bull deity in Egypt, the myth of the Minotaur (half-man, half-bull) in Crete and ended with Moses destroying a golden calf. However, even some astrologers cast doubts on this interpretation of the world. In the end, like so much else, it comes down to the individual and their beliefs.


All I can really go on is my experience; my interest in the New Age means I've heard lots of predictions for how it will be, many based on qualities traditionally associated with the zodiacal sign of Aquarius including freedom, emotional intelligence, logic and humanitarianism, and the main ones I remember seem to be coming true. The first prediction – that people of faith will increasingly be drawing upon more than one source for their spirituality – is borne out in a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life in 2009. According to a report in USA Today, it found “elements of Eastern faiths and New Age thinking have been widely adopted by 65% of U.S. adults, including many who call themselves Protestants and Catholics”. Whilst belief in God and religiosity are lower in the UK than the US (in 2011 British Religion in Numbers reported 44% of respondents believed in a personal God or gods or some higher spiritual power, and just 11% claimed to attend a religious service once a month or more) in the absence of comparable data for New Age beliefs, I can only go on my own experience and suggest something similar is happening here. People from all walks of life are taking up all sorts of 'New Age' meditation, yoga, different forms of healing including Reiki, chakra work, tapping/Emotional Freedom Technique and more.


The second prediction, and I have no idea where I heard this one, is that people will become increasingly bisexual in the New Age. It's hard to get accurate figures on this – people are so often in denial to themselves about their sexuality, how can we expect them to tell the truth to pollsters? – so again, all I can go on is my experience, and I've seen a shift, as has my friend Peter, who will be talking about this in an article later this month.


The third prediction for the New Age, source again unknown, is that it will see the convergence of science and spirituality. I won't go into my limited understanding of quantum science now but keep your eyes open – science/rationality and spirituality/religion are not as in opposition as you might think.


Nowadays I often find it harder to out myself as spiritual than as non-heterosexual. I've been about my unconventional sexuality for ages now; this seems to be the time to come out publicly as a New Ager.


My parents brought my brothers and me up without religion or beliefs and with open minds; however, in retrospect, I've often felt they threw out the spiritual baby with the religious bathwater. I've thought of myself as a New Ager for most of the time since I first heard of the idea, but I've only really started coming out of the 'spiritual closet' recently. Before you leap to conclusions about me, what I mean by this and what I believe, please hold an open mind and wait until my next article on this subject – there's so much more for me to write on this subject, and not enough time and space here now!


Talking about my spirituality can be uncomfortable for me – I'm a rationalist by upbringing and at heart – and yet it is important that we express ourselves and our truths, however uncomfortable we and others may be with them and the process. I'll and others – you? – be writing more about our spiritual experiences and beliefs in the future, and Impolite Conversation will be covering more of the New Age, especially as it's not a subject that many people know much about, even though they may be living a New Age life. We'll be approaching the subject of the New Age, and the possibilities for humanity it presents, with scientific rigour, open hearts and open minds and request you do the same because, if only as a self-fulfilling prophecy, things on this planet may be/are about to get so much more interesting and enlightened: scientific progress, if nothing else, assures that.


Please let us know what you think in the comments below.


Matthew Wherry, Founder & Editor


Future subjects we'll be discussing include:

  • Manifestation – the Law of Attraction
  • The Power of Now
  • Gnosticism – knowing for yourself, rather than being told; experiential learning
  • Healing
  • Light workers
  • What will the Second Coming look like, from a New Age point of view?
  • Discovering the divine within ourselves

Dan Brown – the secret of the Masons
David Icke


If you're interested in any of these subjects and would like to write about them, please contact us – thank you!

Matthew Wherry

About the Writer

Matthew is Impolite Conversation's editor.


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Matthew, I'm slightly perplexed by your saying that your parents "threw out the spiritual baby with the religious bathwater". I always regarded your mother as a reincarnation of Hildegard von Bingen, but that is just a subjective opinion. Your dear father, a wonderful man about whom I would not hear a bad word, was occupying a spiritual orbit out beyond jupiter and Tiny Tim by the time you were a teenager unless my memory is much impaired.

Disappointingly lacking in rigour dear boy.
One need not be an atheist to discount the idea of a god with which any kind of communication, mediated by religion or personal, is completely nutty.
That's my stance, but I suspect I'm spiritual because I listen to music composed by Arvo Part, Bach, Dunstable, etc.
I'm not sure that we are in an age when people of faith increasingly draw on more than one thingo. Have the two main brands of Islam ever been more antagonistic?
And are we becoming more bi-sexual? Obviously I'm too old to be sexual, but if sexuality is genetically inherent you're proposing something that doesn't obviously fit with standard models of evolution by natural selection.

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