In 1997 Wouter J. Hanegraaf produced one of the more interesting studies of the so- called New Age movement. In it he proposed that the new age was directly and intimately related to witchcraft, at least the Western incarnation of that socio-religious phenomena.
The New Age movement, however, is very difficult to define. As Hanegraaf says:
“Whatever the nature of the New Age movement will turn out to be, the absence of generally recognized leaders and organizations, normative doctrines and common practices effectively distinguishes it as a whole from the many movements which do have these characteristics. However, it cannot be doubted that there exist many clearly organized movements with leaders, specific doctrines and practices which do describe themselves explicitly as 'New Age', side by side with movements which are often associated with New Age by others although they refer to themselves by more specific designations (for instance Transcendental Meditation, Hare Krishna, Rajneeshism).”1
In America at least, we know the New Age stereotypes mostly through pop-culture. The stereotype of the new ager is a pyschedelic indulging, positive thinking, vision boarding, crystal loving, strange neo-shaman feminist hippie. Said new ager seems to love everything relating to nature worship, non-duality and Buddhism—all the while not exactly committing to anyone one particular trend or tradition, and usually tiring (in the ADD sense) of any one trend or spiritual practice...eventually.
Thus, in America we typically the subject of spirituality and many other new current ageisms take the form of an all you can eat buffet, where you’re free to pick and choose amongst various callings of world religion, all the while saying they are equal and yet never fully subscribing to any of it. The business of profiting by selling lifestyle trends—not the least of them being crystals—often acts simply as a means of distracting themselves from what could be seen as more archaic forms of traditional witchcraft.
Many scholars have also pointed out that the New Age is intimately intertwined with the dawn of the oft mentioned Aquarian Age, popularized by occultist Aleister Crowley and signifying an unprecedented interest from Westerners who seem to be honing in on what are essentially Eastern practices, occult powers, and yes, a very potentially real non-Harry Potter form of witchcraft.
Of course, nothing in the New Age Movement is actually “new” per se, and nearly all its tenants have roots in these very old traditions. In order to accurately assess the New Age, it is pertinent to examine one of the most prominent tenets; positive thinking, and how that has impacted 21st century psychology in America.
Positive Thinking Movement
The popularity of the law of attraction and manifesting reality according to positive thinking peaked with the book and DVD The Secret, itself sort of defining authors and speakers who were interested in quantum mysticism. While some have swore by it's apparent psychological effectiveness (the oft repeated you 'like attracts like' saying comes to mind) others have scoffed at it, and have deemed The Secret to be nothing more than superficial pseudoscience.
The roots and history of this movement have been explored thoroughly by scholar Mitch Horowitz. In America at least, Horowitz locates the origin of the New Thought movement in the work of William James, Immanuel Swedenborg, and Ralph Waldo Emerson—writers who are admittedly sometimes seen as protohippies due to their inclination for curiosity about altered states (in the case of James) and pantheism or the deification of nature (in the case of Emerson).
“The term 'positive thinking,'...has permeated American culture to such an extent that it is difficult to overestimate its influence.”2
William James once infamously remarked that the “religion of healthymindedness,” was to be the most prominent new form of American religion, and in some ways it does seem that he was right in that prediction.3
Horowitz also covers the life of William Walker Atkinson, who under the moniker of the three initiates, published The Kybalion, an occult text that claims to understand the science of vibration, how vibrations can magnetize and manifest (the infamous Law of Attraction), and the higher, metaphysical aspects of the mind.4
The Kybalion details that while many of us remain focused on what Thomas B Roberts has called the default states of consciousness, there are two other planes of mind known as the astral and causal planes respectively. The Kybalion also hints at the ancient hermetic doctrine (itself a labythian web of scholarship, but thought to be orginated from ancient Greece rather than Egypt as Atkinson would claim)5.
Atkinson it turns out, is also a sort of microcosmic swirl of all the current new age subjects. He was rather into Hinduism and the mysterious paranormal power of yogis, so much so that he even began to write under the pseudonym Yogi Ramacharaka. A fellow collaborator and mentalist C. Alexander, called the The Crystal Seer by his colleagues, shared a love for crystals to rival any such neo-hippy.
Where Atkinson really went potentially wrong though, is associating the purity of vibration and magnetism directly with business and capitalism. Under the pseudonym of Theron Q. Dumont, he often wrote about how to use the power of Personal Magnetism for the power of manipulating others into one’s own financial will.
While Westerners are often swept away by the power and potential of capitalizing using occult powers, Yogis would be the first to say that any such personal gain and ego gratification would be a direct obstacle to a spiritual path of meditation that would traditionally be attempting to seek detachment, rather than direct manipulation, over the material plane. Western witchcraft is decidedly more lenient on the subject, but still frowns upon the use of magic for lower goals like wealth, rather than higher ones like ascension and communication with the gods.
It is in this way that we see the contrast between the yogic and magickal view of life. Yogis do not believe in allowing oneself to be swept away by the desires of the world, while Witches (white and black magic) belief that the manifestation of wealth and personal empowerment is well within the realm of still maintaining spiritual integrity.
We are not seeking here to define what is spiritually 'correct' by any means, but it is necessary to contrast these two ideologies in order to come to a better understanding of the New Age itself.
1 New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought by Wouter J. Hanegraaff p. 13
2. One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life and Occult America by Mitch Horowitz. p. 15
3 Ibid p. 14
4 Ibid. pp. 20-23
5 The Quest for Hermes Trismegistus: From Ancient Egypt to the Modern World by Gary Lachman.
- Quote paper
- Sarah Lopes (Author), 2015, Positive Thinking & Witchcraft. A Brief History of the New Age Movement, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/306547