All of the spirituality and religion of that time was largely in response to the industrial revolution and the rising of scientific materialism. Mesmerism was one of those attempts to bridge the gap between spirituality and science. This is partly why New Agers are so focused on material manifestations of spirituality such as healing and wealth, and why they’re interested in quasi-scientific theories about quantum physics and such. New Thought ideas are getting some actual scientific backing from books written by people such as Lynne McTaggart who is a reporter on consciousness studies.
There is also an intriguing connection between the New Age and phenomena such as UFOs and conspiracies. They’re two sides of the same thing. UFOs and conspiracies, like much of New Age, is seeking rational explanations for the non-rational.
The basic connection is that there is much crossover between those interested in New Age and those interested in UFOs, conspiracy theories, and whatever else. New Age types tend to be open-minded and curious about life in general (and some more extreme New Agers have a naive gullibility that allows them to believe in almost anything). I mentioned that the early origins of New Age include spiritualism and Theosophy. The occult in general is sort of the shadow of mainstream New Age, and the occult is mixed up with UFOs and conspiracy theories.
I was reading a book by Vallee who is a UFO investigator and was one of the first people to make a connection between alien abductions and traditional folklore. In the intro to one of his books, he mentioned that he had studied Teilhard de Chardin and appreciated his view. Teilhard de Chardin is a name that comes up in both New Age and Integral discussions. BTW there is much crossover between New Age and Integral in general to the chagrin of Ken Wilber.
If you go to the alternative section of a bookstore, you’ll find books on New Age, books on such things UFOs and conspiracy theories, and books on Integralism. Also, you’ll find books on New Thought Christianity and all other aspects of Christianity that aren’t deemed suitable for a normal Christian viewing public.
There is another common element to all of these besides the type of person who is open-minded and curious. Nearly all of these subjects have some connection to Jung and depth psychology. Jung proposed the theory of archetypes that has become popular in the New Age, in certain sectors of Christianity, and in subjects such as tarot and kabbalah. The idea of archetypes does come up in books about UFOs and the occult and Jung comes up a lot in Integral circles. Jung was influenced by some writers of the occult, Jung wrote a book about UFOs, and Jung was a direct inspiration of Alcoholics Anonymous which was one of the earliest self-help groups. Jung had wide interests and many New Agers share this trait. Also, shadow work is becoming an increasingly popular topic in the New Age. Of course, the belief in synchronicity has been a mainstay of the New Age for quite a while now. Plus, the MBTI was based on Jung’s theory of personality, and the MBTI has become a big player in the self-help field.
There is another even more interesting side to all of this. Intentional communities and Gurus are very popular amongst New Agers, but there is a dark side to this with Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and Heaven’s Gate. Heaven’s Gate is an especially good example. They were a UFO cult that was very New Agey in their interest in pop culture utopianism and their beliefs in alien/angels that would come to save them. Many people who have alien abduction experiences are given messages by their captors. They are made to feel special and that they have a mission to accomplish. They are often told that the world is ailing or even dying, and that the aliens have come to save the planet or the aliens have come to save an elect few. You can find similar messages in New Age channeled writings.
Basically, there is a very diverse connection between the New Age and various subjects that don’t seem very New Agey. Even so, these connections go back to the beginning of the New Age. Part of the problem here is that its nearly impossible to define what the New Age is. It includes so much. And if you follow the trail of connections, it can lead you in many different directions. Its good to keep in mind that the New Age has slowly been co-opted by the mainstream (eg Oprah and Tolle, and The Secret), but the New Age originated in the unrespectable fringes of society. Just as its useful to distinguish between New Thought and New Age, its also useful to distinguish between the early beginnnings of New Age and the contempory popularization thereof. The New Age that is becoming popularized right now is in some ways a whole new phenomena.