What is the origin of New Age beliefs?

Thanks for the A2A Pete.

Here is my somewhat formulaic take on this phenomenon…not scholarly, just subjective….

1. Take a fairly well-educated white person from a middle class background who is dissatisfied with just about every aspect of the status quo - politics, religion, medicine, cultural institutions, industrialization, technology, etc. - and who furthermore either lacks any strong sense of cultural identity and tradition, or who fundamentally questions the identity and traditions within which they were raised. Let’s call this person “the maleable rebel.”

2. Now introduce a populist-energized movement of social unrest, revolutionary spirit, counterculture and “anti-establishmentarianism” that seeks not only to reject the status quo, but replace its social mores, institutions, traditions and values with radically revised, socially liberal, egalitarian and much more “personally liberated” ones. This movement appeals directly to “the maleable rebel” and provides a unifying - albeit temporary - sense of purpose and shared community within an essentially individualistic frame. The movement has reactive cohesion - enough for artistic expression, political rallies, a shared narrative, etc. - but lacks a unified vision to manifest as sustained outcomes.

3. Then, as an outgrowth of conditions 1 and 2, offer “the maleable rebel” a spiritual-philosophical-transformational basis for a more enduring post-revolutionary vision. Begin with a foundation of anti-traditionalism, add some superficial elements of Eastern mysticism and a pinch of Western esotericism, sprinkle in alternative medicine and some psychoactive plants, add some spiritualism, then mix these with a liberal handful of Earth-friendly habits…and you’ve got most of the essential ingredients. However - and this is what leaves a bitter taste in the minds of Neopagans, Traditionalists or Perrenialists observing the New Age movement - retain as the final ingredient a large portion of the very same individualistic materialism against which “the maleable rebel” initially revolted (in its classist forms).

4. Now begin to systematize this new vision by establishing authorities, celebrities, orthodox practices, value hierarchies, communities, literature, geographic locations, language, semantics, lifestyles and so on that create both a map of what the New Age community is supposed to look like, and a recipe book for adherence and identity.

In this way the New Age helped well-educated, middle-class white folks in the U.S. and U.K. reform their identity, spiritual practices and sense of purpose. It reframed what it meant to be “enlightened,” with an emphasis on personal freedom, growth and potential. And, in truth, many of the practices and ideals that grew out of the New Age movement do have value IMHO. The challenge, as with so many “institutionalized” belief systems that came before it, is that the New Age firmly held on to the very destructive cultural meme that inspired its birth: individualistic materialism. Although quite often drawing upon an authentic spirit, the New Age all too soon became a commercialized imitation of itself, an elaborate and jingoistic “demand and supply” distortion of its original intent. Such is the corrosive power of capitalist culture that it subsumes all nuance and truth in a frenzy of consumerism, oversimplifying anything subtle or complex into a sales-pitch commodity.

My 2 cents.

After further discussion on Facebook, here are some additional resources on the details of how the New Age movement migrated from Germany, as perhaps inspired by a much older movement:





(Thanks Eric Pierce, Mark Niblack & Jennifer Grove!)


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