The difference between New Age and other more established religions is that it is not held under the same scrutiny. This may be partly because it is not particularly taken seriously by the establishment. Some quasi-religions like Scientology are made fun of rather a lot, but they are also rightly criticised by respected documentarians; New Age is not. Despite its anti-materialistic, countercultural preaching, it is capitalist in nature; it eats every culture in its path and knows no boundaries, and it will sell any old half-baked rubbish for a lot more than it’s worth.
Ironically, I think that’s what appeals to people about New Age; it is like a supermarket and one can wander down the aisles and take what one wants from it. It has elements of Buddhism, Druidism, Spiritualism, Native Americanism but none of the inconvenience. For instance, I know a few people who call themselves Buddhists, but seem to have no idea what Buddhism means; certainly their egos seem way too overdeveloped for such a faith, and their lifestyles are too self-indulgent. One paper-back book and a few Buddha ornaments do not a Buddhist make, I feel – no mortification of the flesh for this lot.
Capitalism has caused the breakdown of communities and part of a consequence of this is the loss of identity. Often people are drawn to religion to fill this hole. New Age seems to attract people who are disillusioned with organised religion, which is in crisis at the moment; most of the big faiths are either engaged in wars (or at least on the surface that appears to be the excuse) and/or up to their ears in bad publicity and litigation. New Age often claims to have some attachment to ancient faiths like Druidism which conveniently for New Agers has little or no core text to draw on. This effectively leaves a blank canvas for pseudo-‘Wiccans’ to write anything they like about it. And ‘Wicca’ has become big business; it has the commercial ‘Oirish’ element (how many Americans claim to be have Irish ancestry?), goth-appeal and magic. Furthermore, when people’s livelihoods are in crisis they look for hope; New Age’s constant claims of ‘find out your future’, ‘healing powers’ and ‘spells to attract luck’ obviously can seem very attractive. These often take the form of Tarot cards, plastic crystals and plastic rune-stones et al, and the problem is that it’s all-too-easy for people to become addicted to these over-priced artefacts. Like drugs the temptation is to search for a bigger and bigger ‘hit’ until one eventually finds oneself in the clutches of some charlatan posing as a medium, witch or wizard – then the cost can run into tens of thousands. They will tell their victims that they are under ‘psychic-attack’ – send me x amount so I can defend you’. If you think this sounds far-fetched, just check out the back-pages of any New Ageist magazine and you will find scores of these kinds of people.
The question is how do they get away with it? Perhaps the tendency is for people to think that it’s people’s own fault for being so gullible. However, every major newspaper – even The Observer – prints horoscopes, and however lightly we may view such things, many of us still read them. I’m not for one moment suggesting that such things should be banned or that they’re evil – that would be ludicrous and hearken back to the Spanish Inquisition, but I certainly think that there should be more of an element of responsibility and support for the victims of such scams.
At the moment there seems to be little genuine criticism of New Age and it seems to be getting more and more out-of-control. What’s more I wouldn’t be at all surprised if many of you out there know of at least one person who is hooked on some element of New Age – how many pubs advertise Tarot card readings for example? And don’t even get me started on New Age music…