New age spirituality refers to spiritual beliefs that become popular during the 1970s and 1980s. Spirituality refers to a sense that there is something more in life than what we perceive with our sense organs. It involves trying to find a connection to something in the universe that is higher than humans. Religious people who follow a religious faith tend to equate spirituality with the relationship between human beings and God. Spirituality is a word that evolved from the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit. Spirituality has always been related to religion.
The New age spirituality may not be necessarily religious in nature. It focuses more on the spiritual aspect of mind, body, and spirit. Followers of the new age movement do not insist that followers should adhere to religious practices but instead should experience the concept of spirituality. The new age movement does not believe in a particular God or a religious credo. Instead, it recognizes a concept of a divine being that encompasses the entire universe. It also believes in spiritual beings like departed souls who maybe angels or masters and communicate with humans.
The origins of new age spirituality lie in the works of eminent spiritualists like Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century spiritualist who claimed to communicate with spirits and other entities. The works of Franz Mesmer (known as the father of hypnotism) also influenced this movement. Madame Blavatsky, who founded the Theosophical Society, was another key person whose beliefs influenced the new age movement. Spiritualist Edgar Cayce, psychologist Carl Jung, and Indian philosopher Swami Vivekananda were others whose works and teaching influenced this movement.
Werner Erhard was among the pioneers who laid the foundation for this movement in the early 1970s through a series of training courses. Theosophist David Spanger outlined the initial concept. His books on the new age spirituality movement helped to make this movement popular. Various other events that contributed to this movement were the publishing of Linda Goodman’s famous books on astrology and the Seth series written by Jane Roberts. The belief in gender and racial equality, world peace, and sexual freedom helped drive this movement.
The New age beliefs
There are various concepts or beliefs associated with new age spirituality. These concepts are a blend of Western spiritual thoughts with ancient Eastern beliefs. The principles of Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religious beliefs have been adopted new age spiritualists. The basic concept is that there is a divine entity that governs the lives of humans. A human being is not merely a body formed of cells but has a soul or spirit that has been created from the universal being.
Spirits progress or evolve based on their actions in life. Some spirits become angels who communicate with humans to help and guide them. There are also masters who are accomplished spirits that have progressed to the highest levels. They are known as ‘Mahatmas’ and are beings who are almost God-like in nature. They are evolved spirits who are believed to reside in the fifth dimension. Jesus, Buddha, St. Paul are some of those considered as the ascended masters.
Some beliefs in new age spirituality are:
- Freedom for individuals to follow the religious practices and beliefs of their choices. Many new age followers are atheists but believe in these concepts and follow them.
- New age movement followers consider themselves as believers in science. They believe that science has an explanation for all that they consider is a part of their belief system. They believe alternative theories of science that explain spiritualist concepts.
- New age spiritualists consider God as a Universal entity that resides within each individual. New age believers see God in every living being and in nature. This makes new age practitioners close to nature, and they believe in environmental protection.
- More than considering God as a divine being, they believe it is a force that spans the entire Universe. They believe that all living entities arise from this force.
- They believe that humans have an element of the divine being referred to as the spirit within them. On death, the spirit leaves the body and moves to the spirit world where it spends time evolving before it comes back to the Earth in another body (reincarnation).
- New age spiritualists aim to evolve themselves by trying focus on their spiritual inner being. This, according to them, helps to connect to the God within them. For this, they follow various practices that they believe will help evolve spiritually. A few of the top practices followed are:
- Yoga, which helps them improve physical, mental, and spiritual well being by following various practices including physical activities, meditation, and through breathing exercises.
- Channeling is a method that allows people to connect with the spirit world to communicate with spirits that have departed the world. The belief is that the spirits impart knowledge. They act as a bridge between humans and the divine force.
- Just like they believe in alternative science, new age spiritualists believe in alternative medicine. They follow practices that not just treats diseases but heals the mind, body, and the spirit. Traditional and alternative medical practices like Ayurveda, homeopathy, crystal healing, aura cleaning, acupuncture, Reiki, and past life regression.
- New age followers state that evil and sin occurs due to the thinking and action of humans. They believe that the human mind can be used to get rid of evil and suffering in the world.
- They believe in the Eastern concept of Maya and Karma. Maya is illusion and it is believed that the illusory nature of the world can be overcome through meditation and other practices.
- Karma is a key belief among new age spiritualists. They believe that the actions done on this world leads to counter action that is experienced in this life or in a future life. Karma is the cause of all good things and sufferings experienced by people. Good karma can help evolve the spirit that ultimate leads to achieving oneness with the divine being.
- The Hindu belief of Brahman, the universal consciousness is followed where people believe that good Karma and evolving their spirit can help merge their spirit into Brahman to achieve Mukti.
- Some believe in the Buddhist concept of Nirvana, which talks of the dissolution of the soul where there is no birth, death, and rebirth. It is a state of no self where there is no suffering or no feeling of desire or self-sense.
- Until the spirit is evolved to reach the state of Mukti or Nirvana, the spirit has to keep evolving and for this, the spirit is reborn on Earth. The cycle of birth-death-rebirth gives a chance to spirits to evolve. When a spirit does not evolve and indulges in physical pleasures, then the cycle of birth and rebirth will continue.
- New agers believe that places like Mt. Shasta, Sedona, Stonehenge, Machu Pichu, and Giza are sacred places. They believe that these places have higher energy levels that can help them to progress.
- Rites and worship are left to the individuals and the new age movement has no specified norms. Practitioners follows traditional practices like Yoga, meditation, Reiki, shamanic rites, and even tantric sex as rites.
- New agers prefer to follow natural practices and believe in following veganism or vegetarianism.
- New age practitioners adopt symbols like the Hindu Om, The Yin Yang of Chinese culture, dream catchers, and other such traditional symbols.
History and progress of the movement
The new age movement took off in the UK from the late 60s before it spread to the US where it became extremely popular. New age spirituality spread across the American continent and in Europe. The movement grew through the 80s and 90s. From the 90s, there has been a slow decline in the movement. The incorporation of Eastern practices led to opposition from the church. In the late 90s and the 2000s, new age healing has become popular with people like Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Andrew Weil practicing spiritual healing, even though they had a medical degree.
The present trend is that while the formal movement may not be as popular as before, the beliefs and practices of this movement are still popular and followed by many. Studies on the acceptance of these beliefs among Americans were carried out by Pew Research Center in 2017. The findings of this study were interesting:
- One out of six Americans accepted at least one of the beliefs of the new age movement
- One-third of Americans believe in reincarnation of the spirit.
- 29% of Americans believe in astrology and its effect on lives.
- Seven out of ten women accept new age beliefs as compared to around five of ten men.
- People who reject religion and spirituality are more likely to accept new age beliefs.
New age spirituality is the belief in a universal force and human spirits and their interaction. This popular belief system is considered scientific by its followers who strive to achieve their goal of oneness with the universe.