New Age? What “New Age?”
I’ve been haunting the now-decrepit byways of the “New Age” phenomenon since shortly after its beginning — that’s me as an art student in Central Park in 1967, the day I marched down New York City’s 5th Avenue in an anti-war parade with the Hare Krishna people in their saffron robes and shaved pates, chanting “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare . . .”) It was what I call the “post-dawn” era, since I understand the whole thing got underway at a commune in Findhorn, Scotland in the early ’60s. But we could always ask David Spangler, who is still around (https://lorian.org/).
There is a thread on the Astrologers’ Community forum titled “Is Anyone Else Tired of Waiting for the Age of Aquarius to Take Effect?” Consensus among the numerous commenters is that the poor, benighted OP missed the boat somewhere. Personally, I’m not so sure. I understand that, sidereally, the Age of Aquarius will begin around 2150, so I’ve been calling the tattered New Age epiphany of the ’60s the “Piscean Pipe Dream” and the “False Spring.” Much of what I’ve seen in the realm of putative social progress seems more like Piscean confusion than Aquarian clarity of vision. Having lived through the New Age from near its inception and having begun esoteric study and practice in 1970, I’m convinced that as a cultural wave of the future it has lost its mojo.
With age and disillusionment, the heady innocence of the hippie generation has hardened into egocentric pragmatism and cynicism — or worse, commercialism — and the naive fairy-tale of an Aquarian nirvana seems to have just about run its course; as a student of human nature I can draw no other conclusion. My interest in arcane studies may have paralleled the rise of the pop-culture fascination with gurus and ashrams and other such non-Western spiritual ways, but I never really partook of that movement. (Full disclosure: I did like sandalwood incense, water-buffalo-hide sandals and Ravi Shankar!) Metaphysically I was always more drawn to late 19th-Century British mysticism, having connected with the work of Aleister Crowley and the British occultists in my early 20’s, so I was probably out-of-step with it all along anyway. I never even owned a Ouija Board or a Magic 8-Ball!
Frankly, I think the utopian promise of the New Age died with the hippies and we just don’t know it yet (some of us are caught in a time warp, waiting vainly for the spiritual emancipation of humanity that Israel Regardie argued isn’t an entitlement and will only come to us as individuals if we actively strive for it). It was hijacked by the “money men” and the “self-help” crowd. So much of what we now see being offered as a novel approach to self-empowerment is just a rehash of earlier ideas. Take the “Law of Attraction:” it is essentially “old wine in new bottles,” and I simply don’t believe the Universe works that way. It has it’s roots in the New Thought movement of the early 20th Century that in turn was an outgrowth of the 18th-Century work of Franz Mesmer, father of modern hypnosis and hypnotherapy. In 1952, Norman Vincent Peale brought this self-help model to the general public in his brand of auto-hypnotism as promoted in The Power of Positive Thinking, which apparently had disastrous consequences for many of its practitioners. As has often been said, “There ain’t no free lunch.”
I’ve often expressed my growing lack of enthusiasm for all things “New Age” due to its gradual decline into commercialism and faddish superficiality, although it’s probably fair to say that very few people still use the definition. And yet, while I’ve gone so far as to say that more than a few modern mystics have succumbed to “starry-eyed self-hypnosis” and are guilty of “being adrift in their own heads,” I’m an absolute piker compared to the vitriol of British esoteric writer Gerald Suster; his rhetoric could peel paint. As a public service, I’m quoting the pertinent excerpt from his 1996 tarot publication here. We might see echoes of what he’s talking about even today in the sense that “What goes around comes around” and “There is nothing new under the sun.”
Gerald Suster’s New Age Rant:
“The Three of Wands is called Virtue. This is a word which has been grossly debased. It is a word exalted by a very popular but very feeble movement called the New Age. One sighs in despair over its fatuity.
This movement is essentially well-intentioned. However, in the critical times in which we live, good intentions alone are definitely not enough; actions must match words and there are few things more contemptible than fine words followed by shabby actions. The present writer is aware that he may have many New Age readers. He regards them as being honestly misguided at best. There is certainly no disgrace in being honestly misguided: it can happen to the best of us. However there is no excuse for not trying to do things better than before.
‘Virtue’ is a very New Age word. Where does it come from? It comes from the Latin Vir — a Man. The Roman Virtus therefore expresses healthy, natural male qualities. In these current, degenerate times — which the Hindus rightly call the Kali Yuga, the Dark Age — we find a feeble flop in the present comprehension of ‘virtue’. Would you rather meet a virtuous man or a virile man? The answer is obvious to all who have not been bemused, abused and confused by ludicrous notions of what it means to be ‘spiritual’, another New Age buzz word.
The word ‘spiritual’, which used to mean something important, has like ‘virtue’ degenerated into meaning something feeble, like a cup of scummy, lukewarm milk. Would you rather meet someone who is spiritual or someone who is spirited? Again, the question is as easy as the answer is obvious.
New Age readers are strongly urged to consider the following propositions, prompted by Virtue — the 3 of Wands in Binah (Understanding) — and certainly not inspired by the sordid motives which enable those with a little but not much occult knowledge or understanding to make money from pandering to the prejudices of said readers. The present writer hopes and trusts that the present reader is not a gullible dupe.
a — New Age is merely softened down and tarted up Christianity; an outmoded religion once adhered to by primitive mammalian primates based upon ludicrous notions of sin and guilt. Under Christianity, perfectly natural desires were called ‘sinful’. Under New Age, you still have to be guilty as sin for the same, for the words and phrases are ‘unspiritual’ — whatever that may mean — or ‘not virtuous’. Whatever words are used, people still end up feeling guilty over perfectly natural and honourable feelings like love, hate, lust, anger et al.
b — New Age is intellectually sloppy. If you are New Age, you can believe anything you like — as long as it doesn’t work.
c — New Age is horribly middle class. In common with any sensible individual, the present writer does not care if you are upper class, middle class or working class: it’s just that if you’re middle class, you should do something about it. In England , at any rate, the upper classes and the working classes share the same code of honour: observers are confused too often because the same code is expressed in different forms of the English language. Although there are — thank heavens! — exceptions, the average middle class individual has no code of honour. Anyone with no code of honour is a slave. It doesn’t matter if your chains are of gold or of plastic — you are still a slave. This is why one can all too often see crass examples such as those who bleat about changing the world, then freak out like a shell-shocked invalid on account of a cigarette being smoked with joy in a Glastonbury tea-room. This is why one can hear whingeing nonsense whenever there is a serious meditation practice from some New Age twits who whine to be excused on the quicksands of: ‘Oh — but we’re professional meditators.’ How is a ‘professional’ meditator to be distinguished from one who meditates? — apart from the obvious fact that they’re probably conning the gullible for money? No. This won’t do at all and it’s high time someone said so.
d — New Age is dishonest. The beliefs its adherents hold contradict one another. If you are New Age, you can be a Hindu and a Buddhist. Hindus believe there is a soul (atman). Buddhists believe there isn’t (annata). You can’t believe both at the same time. Yes, of course, it is said that above the Abyss, all contradictions resolve themselves. This is true — as the Tarot shows us — but the present writer doubts if there are currently more than 93 individuals on the globe capable of mating the contradictions in self-annihilation. Below the Abyss, Reason is King. Facts must be accurate and Logic must be coherent. Unless you get that right, you will get nothing right at all — and New Age doesn’t.
e — New Age consists of sentimental slop, catering to half-witted, panic stricken, middle class prejudice. The Universe is not like that. Let us remember, therefore, that the Master has spirit and vir — and vir applies exactly to an acknowledged female Master like Madame Blavatsky.”
The Truth About the Tarot: A Manual of Practice and Theory (1996)