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Where the “New Age” Goes Wrong

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on September 21, 2012 | Comments (11)

According to Thelemites, followers of the beliefs of Aleister Crowley, we entered the new age (or more accurately, New Aeon), in 1904.

According to astrologers, we are either at the cusp or beginning of the new Age of Aquarius.

Some say that this new age is an era of invention and universal brotherhood. Others say it is an age of advanced spirituality where love will be part of all levels of life. Soon we’ll all live together in peace with our human brothers and sisters, our animal brothers and sisters, and extraterrestrial brothers and sisters.

Life is on the way to becoming beautiful and we’re all going to live in an impressive Garden of Eden that is both natural and futuristic.

I just have one question: Have you seen any of that?

Sure, we’ve got our iPhones and Androids and iPods and iPads, and in a couple of years they’ll all be obsolete and we’ll need new ones. So I don’t think all that creativity means much. And as for universal brotherhood, well, I haven’t seen too much of that at all. People are still consumed with their own lives and think, “Me! Me! Me!” rather than, “Us.” Some people may think that “us” or “we” sounds like “evil” socialism or communism or some other evil -ism, but I always like to point out that, “There is no ‘we’ without ‘me.’”

But what about individuality and Darwin and “survival of the fittest?” It’s the strongest of us who will get ahead.

Of course, while it’s true that the fittest will survive, it is old aeon thinking that this means the strongest and most aggressive. As Michael Le Page wrote in New Scientist:

…in reality the word “fittest” seldom means the strongest or the most aggressive. On the contrary, it can mean anything from the best camouflaged or the most fecund to the cleverest or the most cooperative. Forget Rambo, think Einstein or Gandhi.

What we see in the wild is not every animal for itself. Cooperation is an incredibly successful survival strategy. Indeed it has been the basis of all the most dramatic steps in the history of life. Complex cells evolved from cooperating simple cells. Multicellular organisms are made up of cooperating complex cells. Superorganisms such as bee or ant colonies consist of cooperating individuals.

But if cooperation is a sign of the New Age, and is also a successful survival strategy, where is it? Sure, it exists in small situations, but why isn’t society adopting it?

Old Age Wolf in New Age Sheep’s Clothing

There are, I believe, two major reasons that the New Age either isn’t manifesting or is doing so at a glacially slow speed. The first problem is the same as an old problem. It’s just given a new appearance. That problem: avarice. The New Age doesn’t become a societal change, it simply becomes a new market for snake oil salesmen. They have no desire to actually help people spiritually evolve, their only goal is to help people lose weight: the weight of their hard-earned money.

I was disgustedly reminded of this today when I received the program guide for a large, New Age fair upcoming in Los Angeles. I regret to say this, but I’ve rarely seen so much hogwash in one place. There is so much avarice. It seems like some of the people simply take a few scientific sounding words, cram them together, and are selling a new product or service that supposedly uses the new discovery.

But why do people fall for this hucksterism? I think it’s because the New Age teeters on what I call the edge of science. If something sounds like it might be scientific, it’s worth supporting. But the problem is that it’s teetering. If it eventually falls into the scientific realm it will be accepted. If it falls the other way it will be forgotten. Unfortunately, some people want to accept what is riding the edge rather than acknowledging that it’s on the edge.

Several years ago I attended a similar large fair where one vendor was selling “tachyons.” What they were selling consisted of tiny pieces of colorful plastic for outrageous prices. Seeing this program guide today reminded me of this and I did a brief web search, discovering that one company selling tachyons was attacking seventeen other companies for selling fake tachyons. By the way, real tachyons, according to Wikipedia, are “hypothetical particle[s] that always moves faster than light.” Since they are hypothetical, they don’t exist. So this is like one company that sells a questionable product denouncing other companies for selling their questionable products.

Why? Because they all want our money. So the first problem is that some people are too willing to accept the questionable as valuable if it has the “New Age” label slapped on it. People sell these things either because they cynically see consumers who consider themselves New Agers as sheep ready to be shorn of their money or because they’re honest and sincere but self-deluded. They believe something is real not because it is, but because they want it to be real.

This also indicates a difference between some people who consider themselves “New Age” and others who consider themselves more traditional occultists. Occult tradition is to approach something new with an objective and open mind, but then examine its reality. For example, if you think a ritual or spell won’t work while you’re performing the rite, chances are you’re going to be right. This isn’t because magick is simply all in your mind, but because a positive attitude about magick is an important aspect of magickal technique. Otherwise, you’re like a scientist performing an experiment that uses water without using test tubes or beakers and wondering why the water keeps flowing away.

After the magick is completed, magicians keep a record of their ritual in the same way a scientist will keep a record of their experiments. Finally—and especially when the experiment/ritual produces positive results—the magician/scientist examines his or her experiment/ritual in order to determine if there was a flaw and if there is some way other than as a result of the experiment/magick that the desired outcome could have occurred. This follows the famous methodology described by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (himself an ardent Spiritualist and believer in communication with the dead) in a tale of his most famous character, Sherlock Holmes (in “The Sign of the Four”):

…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

This is the path of the detective, the scientist, the alchemist, the magician, and the occultist. I believe that for the New Age to become more than just a long-lasting fad, New Agers will have to adopt this attitude, too.

In the West, acupuncture teetered on the edge of science. Today at least some aspects of acupuncture have fallen to the side of accepted scientific reality, even if the exact methods by which it works are not accepted. Cold fusion, on the other hand, teetered on the edge of science and seems to have fallen to the side of “not real,” although some people are still investigating it.

Before moving on, I have to add that there are many people who identify themselves as New Agers who are both open to the unusual but do not blindly accept anything that is claimed to be “new Age” as valid. I would hope that New Agers with this approach will step up and replace the “leaders” who seem to think that anything with “New Age” attached to it cannot be questioned or investigated and must simply be accepted.

It Worked for Me. Therefore…

The second issue that I think is preventing the New Age from fully manifesting comes from the logical fallacy that can be described as “It worked for me so it must work for you.” It’s the idea that something that specifically applies to you or works for you must work for everyone else. This could be called moving from the specific to the general without cause. Unfortunately, this is a leap in logic that cannot be made without evidence to support it.

If I were to create a ritual and shared it with others, saying that it worked for me, I would be behaving ethically. If I presented the same ritual and simply wrote that “It will work for you” based on my assumption that because it worked for me it should work for others, I feel I’d be presenting it as unethically as if I had never even performed/tested the ritual.

People use traditional books of magick because the rituals, techniques, spells, methods, etc. have been tested by many people over years. Even so, such books (including mine!) should be considered guides, pointing a way to your goals, not the ten commandments, written in stone and never meant to be changed.

Merely because something works for you doesn’t mean it will work for others. However, it is quite possible that if something works for you either that method or something similar may very well work for others. If it is shared in that light, that’s great. If you share what you’ve learned for others to try and, if necessary, change as needed, that too is great. Similarly, if someone shares something they’ve developed and that works for them so you can try it out and perhaps modify it so it will work for you, that’s excellent.

Problems develop when someone believes that because something worked for them it must work for everyone and can only be done the way they want it. That entire approach, in my opinion, runs counter to the very concept of the New Age. And yet there are people for whom something worked who market their “discovery” claiming it will work for others. They have no evidence to support it, but since it’s “New Age” it must be true, right? And if you buy the product or service and it doesn’t work for you, the fault isn’t that the seller moved from the specific (it works for me) to the general (it should work for you) without any reason to do so. No, it’s because you, the consumer, aren’t spiritually advanced enough to make it work.

Enough!

Originally, the founders of Chaos Magick called it “Results Magick” as they wanted to make the concepts and techniques based on what could be easily checked and verified, including that the results were caused by the magick. In my opinion New Age ideas and practices should follow this same, sound, sensible, concept.

I say let the New Age fully manifest. Let it rise and shine! But beware of accepting what isn’t true simply because someone called it “New Age.” Become aware of when someone is promoting the specific to general fallacy. And be alert to the avaricious who use the words “New Age” much as makers of toilet cleaners use the words, “new and improved.”

Otherwise, you’ll end up buying little bits of overpriced plastic that are questionably called “tachyons.”

Reader Comments

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#1 
Written By Phaedra Bonewits
on September 21st, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

People often asked Isaac and me why we didn’t try to repackage our work to make it more appealing to the New Age circuit so we’d make more money. We just could not figure out a way to do our thing in a way that would appeal to tachyon purchasers. Couldn’t do it.

Funny, though, that what is arguably our most “New Age” book, Real Energy, does sell some in that market despite the fact that we had actual physicists vet the work comment on it! So all is not lost (merely wandering, I guess).

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#2 
Written By Sandy
on September 21st, 2012 @ 8:44 pm

Thank you for this article. I was wondering if I was alone in thinking that “New Age” was for sale. Personally, anymore, I cringe when I hear something is “New Age” for all the reasons you stated above.

My Favorite Quote:

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

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#3 
Written By Arthur Freeheart
on September 21st, 2012 @ 8:53 pm

Thanks for an excellent article.
I do question whether the majority of occultists approach their workings with open-minded objectivity.
That is definitely a great ideal to strive for though.(I’ve self-identified as an occultist for forty years.)
Most true believers, of whatever persuasion,believe that their tenets and techniques are superior to those of others. I don’t think indulging in that pattern is necessary in the critical analysis of cultural trends.
I’ve met and interacted with hundreds of ”New Age” practitioners and business people. None of them were in it for the money. The numerous news reports of practitioners whose sense of judgement has been compromised by avarice, greed, and egotism
show that those qualities are common occupational hazards.
The idea
of Chaos Magick as Result Magick is fascinating.

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#4 
Written By Blackbird "BB"
on September 21st, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

BB re:
.
Phaedra,
Real Magick was one of my first Magickal books, one of the doors that lead to this Pagan Path I have been on for 30 years; If I may thank you, and Issac through you, he is still very much missed. Blessings BB.
.
Donald,

If I may,
As to your Question about a new era of cooperation, and Cooperation; Society is a Communal thing, a Market is a communal thing, we are moving into The Age of Aquarius, and while I would agree with you the meaning of that Age is misunderstood; and likely will be misunderstood for sometime; my guess is that the debate you quoted. The debate between the Community and the Individual and the proper balance between the two will mark much of it; it certainly marks this opening act, this overture if you will; At the risk of being to political I would even venture to say ‘The Tea Party’ is the first Aquarian Political Party (at least in our country.) and the Occupy Movement likely the 2nd and a Response – while I seriously doubt either endures even 100 years; I expect the perspectives they champion will be at odds for a very long time; just as the debate between science and faith dominated the Age of Pisces.
.
As to your more specific Criticism of the fair you attended.
.
I think your painting with a bit wide of a brush my friend, not to deny the flyer you found in your hand was a invitation to a Hucksters ball; I’m sure it was after all it is the nature of the world we live in today. This unfortunate era of merchandising, and branding; where I cannot go twenty minutes without my television reminding me that I am basically helpless; could not think my way out of a paper bag; but wait the Ronko…. is just the little thing I need to save me from my idiot self.
.
So it’s no surprise people are looking for Uncle Don’s Minute Magick Rice, and Uncle Jacks Magick Beans. Rather than bashing people for being Silly People, in a Silly time.
.
Personally I think it best to remind people, nothing of value comes without Time, Discipline and consistent practice. Not in Magick; not in Life. Indeed I think the biggest disappointment a lot of people searching for a Magick Bullet to fix their Lives is in finding, Magick is not Magickal in that way. It is not a short cut around life’s difficulties, it is instead; (and correct me if you think I am wrong.) An approach to life, and resolving life’s problems, that will not necessarily require less time or energy than a more mundane path, nor necessarily achieve greater results; but does offer what I do believe an opportunity to listen for ones intent, better align oneself to that path; and live a potentially more balanced more satisfying life, if not always a more prosperous one.
.
This is a ‘hard sell’ in this mercantile era where happiness is presented as one and the same thing as a fatter ‘bottom line.’ Indeed the merchant class have sooo penetrated our thoughts and polluted our language that it is hard to communicate that this was not always so, that a persons mettle was not measured in gold; that a persons worth was once coequal with his Honor, not his bank account.
.
I would not wish to be seen as presenting all Merchants as Hucksters, of course they are not; Merchants of Honor like Carl Llewellyn and my friend Tamar strive to bring products and information of value to those seeking them; it is the taking of the Merchantile ethic to its extreme, that as one should expect, distorts our social fabric.
.
I don’t know you personally, but I know you well enough through your writing to know your life; like any well lived life; teaches these long lessons by example, if anyone cares to look; we must hope some do, there-in lays the path forward, as it always has; sadly most classrooms are filled with pupils, with very few actual students; but the students must be encourage to step forward; to seek out the Teachers (Like yourself and Issac) and side step the Hucksters. Who sadly will always be with us. Blessings BB.

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#5 
Written By Jah
on September 22nd, 2012 @ 8:24 am

This is a good subject. While looking for a place to advertise a music project I received a 2010 media kit for a new age type magazine. According to the information the Consciousness Consumer Market is a $227 billion market!!! $227 BILLION!!!

Its no wonder people can sell bits of plastic. There are plenty of sheep to fleece out there (I am probably a sheep at times too).

Your article is a good warning for us all to be careful, and I would add even with in the occult community.

Thank you.

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#6 
Written By MArk Nelson
on September 22nd, 2012 @ 1:55 pm

As to the ego/greed getting in the way, one need look no further than Carlos Castenada. As for the ‘New Age;’ I tend to prefer books written by writers who established themselves prior to 1970 or there about, like W. Gray, Dion Fortune, Alan Richardson, Ed Peach (Ophiel), some of Crowley’s books and Israel Regardie of course. This is not to day that there are no good books done after that time. It does say that the proportion of bad to good has changed favoring the ‘bad.’ This all is IMHO of course.

However, just to be fair, I know some have read some of the ‘bad,’ or ‘fluffy bunny’ books only to go on to bigger and better things. So who am I to judge?

Link to an article about Carlos Castenada:
http://www.salon.com/2007/04/12/castaneda/

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#7 
Written By Blackbird "BB"
on September 23rd, 2012 @ 4:27 am

I would not throw Carlos’ baby out with his bath water; while I have no doubt Don Juan is or was a fiction, perhaps a composite of various shaman; and less doubt Carlos himself lost himself to his ego, I do believe there is real value in his work.

I personally consider The Power of Silence, and a Separate Reality two of the most important works I’ve read in my life. The first for introducing me to the concept of intent; the 2nd of cracking the cosmic egg; but like Lynn Andrews; I view Carlos’ work as spiritual fiction; and while his work should be read with a dose of salt; it is IMHO worth reading. BB.

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