In Spirit of Equality, Steve A. Wiggins discusses the recent Ghostbusters movie. His focus is on spiritualism and gender. He writes that,
“A thoughtful piece in by Colin Dickey in New Republic points out some of the unusual dynamics at play here. Looking at the history of Spiritualism as the basis for the modern interest in ghosts, Dickey suggests that women have been involved in the long-term fascination with the dead from the beginning. Their motive, however, was generally communication. Women wanted to relate with ghosts to make a connection. The original Ghostbusters movie represented a male, rationalistic approach to ghosts. As Dickey points out, instead of communicating, the men hunt and trap rather than trance and rap.”
I’m familiar with the spiritualist tradition. It’s part of the milieu that formed the kind of religion I was raised in, Science of Mind and New Thought Christianity.
The main church I grew up in, Unity Church, was heavily influenced by women from when it began in the late 1800s. Its founding was inspired by Myrtle Fillmore’s spiritual healing, women were leaders early on in the church, and ministers officiated same sex marriage ceremonies at least as far back as when I was a kid. It’s not patriarchal religion and emphasizes the idea of having a direct and personal connection to the divine, such that you can manifest it in your life.
The gender differences mentioned by Wiggins are the type of thing that always interest me. There are clear differences, whatever are the causes. Psychological research has found variations in cognition and behavior, on average between the genders. This is seen in personality research. And brain research shows at least some of these differences are based in biology, i.e., women having on average a larger corpus callosum.
I’m not sure how these kinds of differences relate to something like spiritualism and the fictional portrayal of human interaction with ghosts/spirits. The two Ghostbusters movies do offer a fun way to think about it.
Reading Wiggin’s piece, I thought about an essay I just read this past week. It offers a different perspective on a related topic, that of hearing voice commands and the traditions that go along with it. The essay is “Evolution and Inspiration” by Judith Weissman (from Gods, Voices and the Bicameral Mind ed. Marcel Kuijsten).
She notes, “that all over the world, throughout history, most of the poets who hear voices have been male, and their poems are usually about the laws of the fathers.” She considers this likely relevant, although she doesn’t offer any certain conclusions about what it might mean.
In the context of what Wiggins brings up, it makes one wonder what separates the tradition of voice-hearing poets and spiritualists. I can think of one thing, from that same essay.
Weissman mentioned that command voices often tell people what to do. A famous example was Daniel Paul Schreber who, when hearing a voice telling him to defend his manhood, punched in the face an attendant working at the psychiatric institute. Interestingly, Schreber was a well educated, rationalistic, and non-religious man before he began hearing voices.
Command voices tell people, often men, what to do. It leads to action, sometimes rather masculine action. Few people hear such voices these days and, when they do, they are considered schizophrenic—crazier than even a spiritualist.
“Spiritualism also celebrated precisely those aspects of femininity that the rest of culture was busy pathologizing. Nervousness, erratic behavior, uncontrolled outbursts, flagrant sexuality—doctors and psychiatrists saw these all as symptoms of hysteria, that ever-elusive disease that mostly boiled down to women acting out. But these same unruly behaviors were qualities prized in an excellent medium, and women who exhibited these traits were routinely praised for their psychic sensitivity. Women who might have otherwise been institutionalized found celebrity through Spiritualism instead.”
That makes me wonder. Which is cause and which effect? How does spiritualism and other forms of spirituality get expressed in other kinds of societies?
I’m reminded of two other things. First, there was an interesting passage on hysteria from a book on Galen, The Prince of Medicine by Susan P. Mattern. In bicameral fashion, the woman’s uterus (Greek hystera) literally had a mind of its own and was presumed to move around causing problems. The second thing is another part from the the Weissman essay:
“The last priests died shortly after the Ik were forcibly moved, and only one person was left who could still hear commanding voices, Nagoli, the daughter of a priest. Because she was not allowed to become a priest herself, she was called mad.”
Spirituality, when it was part of the social order, was respectable. But when that male-oriented society broke down, the spiritual ability of that woman was then seen as madness. The men (and the other women) couldn’t hear the voices she heard. The voices that once were guidance had become a threat. If that voice-hearing daughter of a priest had lived in 19th century United States, she might have been diagnosed with hysteria or else have become a popular spiritualist. Or if her culture hadn’t fallen into disarray, she would have been no one special at all, perfectly normal.
What interests me the most is the time period in question is America’s Third Great Awakening which includes the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Populist Era… which set the stage for the Progressive Era. The book passages below are about the Populist Era when this Third Great Awakening became fully manifest as a movement.
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Postel, Charles (2009). The Populist Vision (Kindle Locations 5292-5356). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
As the secretary of the People’s party in Grimes County, Texas, John W. H. Davis devoted his public energies to enacting the Populist agenda of economic, financial, and political reform. In his private contemplations, however, these reforms were closely intertwined with questions of faith. He understood that religion as practiced was “dead.” Christianity ignored the here and now with its misplaced focus on “your dead carcass after death.” Yes, Davis conceded, a “pure undefiled Christianity,” combined with an honest ballot, would bring the necessary improvements. But he was troubled by the question of whether such a secular brotherhood could still be called Christianity at all. In search for answers he turned to non-Christian beliefs. He read across a range of spiritualist and other metaphysical literature, and carefully clipped and filed in his personal papers Charles C. Post’s article about the evolution of man, apes, and the irrationality of belief in God. For Davis, it made no sense to have “a political hell on earth” and a “religious heaven by the same person.” He searched for a unified vision of spiritual and material progress. The study of “mental science” was of a piece with his investigations into census data and national legislation, inseparable parts of a single quest for human improvement.59
Davis understood the controversial nature of his religious views and kept his studies of “mental science” to himself. Because of efforts to avoid public discord, it is difficult to quantify the number of Populists who believed in spiritualism, “mental science,” or similar metaphysical systems. The task is even more complex given that many other Americans—from faithful Christians to skeptical agnostics—entertained curiosity about communicating with the spirits of the dead and other metaphysical practices. In Texas, among the signs that the Populists showed interest in their movement, the Southern Mercury extended sympathy toward the spiritualists in the face of ostracism by “religious fanatics.” Texas spiritualist associations, although small in number, only organized in districts that also happened to be Populist strongholds. The impoverished cotton farmers of Davis’s Grimes County, for example, sustained a spiritualist organization with twenty-nine official members.60
The most prominent spiritualist in Texas, Eben LaFayette Dohoney, ran as the People’s party candidate for a state judgeship. Dohoney was also one of the leading prohibitionists in the state. Although most Populists sympathized with the temperance movement, the Texas People’s party preferred “local option” restrictions on alcohol sales rather than alienating German and other voters. This tolerant gesture was largely undone in the public mind by placing Dohoney on the Populist ticket as he was well-known for his strident prohibitionist views. The spiritualists did not view alcohol abuse as a sin, the work of the devil, or a ticket to eternal damnation. But it did threaten public health. And the spiritualists’ commitment to health and fitness made them uncompromising foes of the liquor industry.61
The tangible connections between spiritual reform, health reform, and social reform brought spiritualists into the Populist ranks. The spiritualists did not confine their attention to the séance. Their belief in progress—the “continuous progressive unfoldment” of the human condition—translated into social activism. A number of spiritualists embraced an “evolutionary revolution” toward the cooperative commonwealth. The spiritualist newspaper Carrier Dove popularized legislation making the federal government responsible for financing and regulating cooperative corporations “under comprehensive and uniform laws.” Although less specific than Charles Macune’s subtreasury plan, the proposal was premised on the same state-centered and cooperativist assumptions.62
The spiritualists rejected the framework of Christianity in favor of what they understood as a scientific outlook. Like the Swedenborgians, the spiritualists used the language of modern science and based their claims on empirical evidence rather than emotion or doctrine. They viewed the discovery of the ability to communicate with the spirits of the dead as a confirmation of reason and science in the struggle against the mysterious and supernatural, just as the harnessing of electricity confirmed the scientific age. Although spiritualism bore the brunt of intense hostility from the churches and the pious, it had a considerable public presence in late nineteenth-century life. Like other cultural movements of the era, the spiritualists made extensive use of the camp meeting. Crowds five thousand to ten thousand strong gathered under spiritualist tents to hear the speeches of famous mediums. Although some of the participants were city people enjoying a rural retreat, the movement had a broad rural following. The annual camp meetings of the Mississippi Valley Spiritualists Association lasted for a month and drew thousands of participants from Texas, Minnesota, and everywhere in between.63
Spiritualism provided an attractive alternative for women. The Christian churches, with their ordained clergy and scriptural proscriptions, placed obstacles to women’s expression and equality. “Spiritualism,” its practitioners stressed, “has no oracles, no priests, no leaders. The truth, wherever found, is all it seeks.” Women thus found opportunities as trance mediums and truth seekers. Victoria Woodhull, the best-known spiritualist of the 1870s, connected spiritualism in the public mind with free love and challenges to traditional gender roles. Although most spiritualists distanced themselves from Woodhull’s free love ideas, they campaigned for women’s progress, advocating dress and dietary reform, job protection, career opportunities, and the right to vote. The spiritualists played a prominent role in the national suffrage movement, and in California the trance medium Laura de Force Gordon led the state suffrage association.64
Given their ideas about reform, spiritualists often made good Populists. The editor Annie Diggs, the silver crusader George Bowen, and the novelist Hamlin Garland were among other prominent midwestern Populists involved with spiritualism. James Vincent Sr., father of the Vincent brothers, popularized spiritualist ideas in the pages of the Nonconformist. His wife had been a spiritualist, and after her death he grew dissatisfied with religious interpretations of the afterlife. “While for myself I have no faith in the teachings of the bible,” he conceded, “I cannot deny the doctrine of immortality.” He found the solution to otherwise unexplainable phenomena in spiritualism, which provided empirical proof that “the mind is active everywhere.” Only the scientific methods of the séance allowed for the perception of this electricity-like force.65
Spiritualism played a large role in California Populism. Marion Cannon, exercising his authority as president of the state Farmer’s Alliance, pointedly ruled against a candidate for membership who did not believe in a supreme being. This ruling, however, served to allay public fears, as both the Farmers’ Alliance and the People’s party in California owed a great deal to spiritualism and related movements that flourished in the state’s climate of religious tolerance and experimentation. Here it should be kept in mind that much of the California movement had a nonreligious character, marked more by a casual drift from religious concerns than commitment to alternative beliefs. Cannon himself showed disinterest in spiritual matters, and although his wife was a committed church member, the church was one of the few organizations in which he did not take part. At the same time, a section of the reform movement in California embraced non-Christian beliefs in which a supreme being played an ambiguous part or no part at all.66
The spiritualist colony at Summerland, south of Santa Barbara, served as an organizing center for Populism. James S. Barbee, a Confederate veteran authorized by the national Farmers’ Alliance to organize on the West Coast, was closely tied to Summerland and, with the assistance of Alliance organizer Anna Ferry Smith, made it a base of statewide organizing. Burdette Cornell, a recent arrival from the Midwest known by the Populists as “our Nebraska Farm Boy,” served as the secretary of the Summerland Spiritualist Association. He traveled extensively throughout the state as a Farmers’ Alliance organizer, setting up suballiances in remote rural districts. A spiritualist cadre, which included prominent women activists such as Mary A. White and Addie Ballou, similarly helped build the Nationalist clubs and the People’s party in California.67
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Postel, Charles (2009). The Populist Vision (Kindle Locations 5357-5398). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
Besides the spiritualists, adherents of the related belief system known as Theosophy were similarly attracted to Populism. Theosophists also approached spirituality from the modern standpoint of rational inquiry and scientific validation. However, instead of focusing on communication with the dead, they studied what they viewed as the advanced ideas of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Asian belief systems. They also explored magic and the mystical, not out of belief in the supernatural, but in pursuit of “occult science,” that is, rational and scientific explanations for unexplained psychic phenomena. Founded by the Russian émigré Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the Theosophist movement, with headquarters in Madras, India, established branches in forty-two countries, with more than one hundred American chapters. Its followers tended to be in self-conscious revolt against the confines of traditional belief, and saw themselves as innovators on the cutting edge of a new, modern, and scientific world outlook. Their British counterparts, historian Alex Owen writes, pursued “a thoroughly modern project” with “distinctively avant-garde themes and preoccupations.” The same pursuit brought American Theosophists to Populist reform.68
Inspired by Buddhist and related ideas about the unity of life, Theosophists came to similar conclusions as the social Christians about human solidarity and social reform. They found the doctrines of Bellamy’s Nationalism especially attractive. Although Edward Bellamy himself was a social Christian, several of his closest associates, including Cyrus Field Willard, Sylvester Baxter, and other founders of Nationalism were Theosophists. In California, the Theosophists played a major role in organizing Nationalist clubs up and down the state. The influence of “occult science” spread well beyond the organized Theosophist societies, as occult lecturers and practitioners formed part of the bohemian subculture of reform. The caustically skeptical and atheistic Anna Fader Haskell found their ideas “rather absurd.” Yet, much to her chagrin, her husband Burnette had a long-standing interest in magic and named their son after the mystical Chaldaic god Astoroth.69
Mystical religion remained in the shadows of the Populist movement. It had its moment of national attention, however, with Coxey’s Army and the prominent role played by Jacob Coxey’s coleader of the march, Carl Browne. During the 1870s, Browne had served as secretary to Denis Kearney in the California Workingmen’s party agitation for Chinese exclusion. He later joined the Theosophists, who, ironically, provided some of the clearest voices on the West Coast in favor of racial tolerance. In 1893 he met Jacob Coxey, the Ohio Populist. The Californian introduced the Ohioan to both Theosophy and to the idea of organizing “Industrial Armies” as a means to bring the plight of the unemployed to public attention. The result was the famous march on Washington. Along the way, they mixed their campaign for a “good roads bill” with Theosophist teachings about Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, and immortality.
Coxey and Browne dubbed their march “The Commonweal of Christ,” and announced to crowds of spectators that their march was a manifestation of the reincarnation of Jesus and other spiritual masters. This left many observers perplexed. The official chronicler of the march, Henry Vincent, received an inquiry as to what precisely was the nature of Coxey’s religious views. To this he replied that, as far as he understood it, Coxey’s religion “was to uplift humanity, relieve the oppressed and ‘let my people go free.’” As for Coxey’s church, Vincent described it as “the big one,” which “takes in all humanity irrespective of sect divisions.” Such an explanation made sense given the liberal and inclusive environment of Populist religiosity.70
Adherents of Theosophy saw themselves as the vanguard of a global unification of religious beliefs. They represented a small part of a much broader late nineteenth-century enthusiasm in America to learn from non-Christian belief systems. The wave of interest culminated in the 1893 World Parliament of Religions held in conjunction with the Chicago World’s Fair. The organizer of the event, John Henry Barrows, a liberal theologian and minister of Chicago’s First Presbyterian Church, promoted the Parliament as “the most phenomenal fact of the Columbian Exposition.” The Parliament drew over 150,000 people from across the nation and the globe to its sessions. Reform-minded participants welcomed the opportunity to learn “what God has wrought through Buddha and Zoroaster.” They saw the event as a turning point in the quest for understanding the universal “religion of humanity” and “science of religion.” The nation’s newspapers carried detailed reports. In North Carolina, the front-page headline of the Populist Caucasian saluted the “Unique Assembly” and provided its rural readers with an account of how the followers of Christianity, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and “all religions” sought unity on the basis of “the golden rule.”71
Such liberal religious sentiments expressed in rural Populist newspapers help explain the clash over comparative religion in Dayton, Tennessee, so many years later. At the Scopes trial, Darrow queried Bryan about what he knew of Buddha and Zoroaster, of which Bryan claimed to have little familiarity. Darrow’s purpose in this line of questioning was not to ridicule Bryan for his ignorance of obscure subjects. Rather, he grilled Bryan about the existence of other belief systems for the same reason
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Lears, Jackson (2009). Rebirth of a Nation (Kindle Locations 4567-4607). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Despite the prominence of progressive cliché, the vitalist celebration of spontaneity did lead to a new, more fluid style of thought—a distrust of static formulas and unchanging traditions, a fascination with energy, growth, and process; a willingness to lay “hands upon the sacred ark of absolute permanency,” as John Dewey wrote in “The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy” (1910), and recast truth-claims in more dynamic idioms. One can see this antiformalist tendency in everything from Holmes’s influential slogan about “the life of the law” (it “has not been logic; it has been experience”) to Dewey’s ideal school, whose aim was “not learning, but first living,” as a follower said in 1910, “and then learning through and in relation to this living.” Antiformalist urges energized the pragmatic turn in American philosophy, the insistence that ideas be evaluated with respect to their actual consequences in everyday life. Pragmatism was conceived by Charles Peirce, nurtured to adulthood by William James, and applied to politics and society by Dewey. It was the most influential philosophical consequence of the quest for immediate experience. The long-term results were anticlimactic. Among Dewey’s epigones, pragmatism never entirely escaped the utilitarian cast of mind; the pragmatic criterion of truth became “what works” and education for living became vocational training.
Yet the vitalist impulse itself had larger than utilitarian implications. Its significance, like its origin, was religious. It lay at the heart of a broad revolt against positivism, a rejection of a barren universe governed by inexorable laws, where everything was measurable and nothing mysterious. The real problem for many vitalists (and certainly for James) was the specter of a life (and death) without meaning. It is possible to see all the talk about “life” as a way of whistling past the graveyard of traditional Christianity. But the vitalist ferment was also a genuine attempt to explore new meanings for human existence amid the wreckage of collapsing dualities: body and soul, matter and spirit, this world and the next.
Educated Protestants, dissatisfied with desiccated theology, cast about for vital conceptions of cosmic meaning. Many explored medieval Catholic mysticism as an alternative to the banalities of the typical Sunday sermon, the sort of platitudes uttered by Henry Ward Beecher and other ministers who reduced the Protestant ethic to a mere prescription for worldly success. Buddhism and other Asian religions—discovered, imagined, and synthesized—also began to play a role in focusing popular longings. Vedanta, popularized at the Chicago World’s Fair and after by Swami Vivekenanda, and theosophy, preached by Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, were both synthetic expressions of spiritual ferment. Paul Carus founded the magazine Open Court to carry forward the work of the World’s Parliament of Religions, begun at the Chicago Fair, to create a common ground of ecumenical discussion, which might lead to a new synthesis—a “Religion of the Future” that might appeal to believer and skeptic alike.
The results were mixed. Contributors to Open Court asked questions like “What is Life?” and then stumbled about in a soupy haze of abstractions. “The truth is, there are, as there must be, original factors in the world…and life (or chemical activity and appetency) is like gravity, one of them,” William Salter announced in 1901. “If we wish to account for them, we have to go back to the maker of all things (if there is a Maker) not to any of the things that are made.” One thing was certain: “The only salvation for society as for the individual, is from within—it is more life.” The reverence for “life” could overcome death itself. “Who knows but that that greater death which sooner or later overtakes us all…starts energies into play deeper than we had known before—that it is the death of the body, and freedom, new birth, to the soul?’
The desire for regeneration led to death’s door and beyond. Yearnings for empirical proof of an afterlife and for communication with departed loved ones accelerated the appeal of spiritualism. Here was another example of fascination with invisible force, impossible to see but unmistakable (to believers) in its consequences—tables rising from the floor, sepulchral voices, mysterious music. Even William James was intrigued. While he remained skeptical of sweaty séances in darkened rooms, he joined the American Society for Psychical Research, providing legitimacy to the quest for connection with “discarnate spirits.” His interest in spiritualism reflected his openness to all manner of evidence, no matter how bizarre or apparently inexplicable—his radical empiricism, as he called it.
Radical empiricism was the most profound intellectual consequence of the vitalist impulse. It animated James’s attempt to imagine “a world of pure experience,” a “blooming buzzing confusion” of perceptions from which we select and fashion our concepts. It validated his (and his contemporaries’) probing of religious experiences and other extreme psychic states, explorations that underscored the revelatory power of the “unclassified residuum” in mental life and the tentative, provisional character of scientific claims about it. Here and elsewhere, James stood in the midst of the transatlantic maelstrom that became
I’m reading a very interesting book right now: The Trickster and the Paranormal by George P. Hansen. Its not directly about the New Age, but covers similar territory and mentions the New Age in a couple of places. The author explains the socio-cultural dynamics of the paranormal within non-mainstream groups, scientific research, debunker organizations, and our society in general. He uses concepts such as communitas, liminal, anti-structure, reflexivity, and totemism. Here are some quotes that are relevant:
p. 171 In our culture, psychic phenomena are hospitably received in Spiritualism, the New Age movement, and modern-day witchcraft. The three movements share common elements, and in a variety of fashions, they are at odds with the establishment. None of them have institutionalized in the manner of government, industry, academe, or mainline religion. few of the groups within these movements have buildings or permanent paid staffs, and if they do manage to instituiionalize, it is usually only briefly. None of the movements acknowledge any central authority; control is local. The movements are marginal and anti-structural in many ways, but it is within them that one can find discussion of, training in, and use of psychic abilities.
p. 174 Marilyn Ferguson, one of the most articulate persons expressing the ideas of the New Age, noted that there is no central authority defining the movement. In her book The Aquarian Conspiracy (1980), she emphasized its informal, fluid networks, decentralization of power, and lack of structured hierarchies. New Age concerns typically include feminism, the environment, and alternative healing, and women play major roles. In addition, it is open to astrology and other forms of divination. All of this is a bit subersive to the establishment. Overall, its properties define it as anti-structural.
pp. 176-177 All three of these movements have loose boundaries. It is often difficult to tell if someone is part of them or not. Many who attend Spiritualist services are also members of established religions; New Age followers are drawn from all faiths. Witchcraft and neo-pagan groups are perhaps more distinct, but ambiguity reigns there as well with vast differences among them. Within covens, beliefs and rituals can change with the whim of the high priestess or priest. There is no higher ecclesiastical authority or common text that solidifies dogma or mandates what, how, or when rituals must be performed.
These three movements have striking similarities. In all alltered (i.e., estructured) states of consciousness play a major role. Women are prominent, as are the issues of feminism, the environment and healing. None recognize a central authority for their movement, and they engage in virtually no instituion bulding. All of the movements are considered subversive by the establishment; they court direct involvement with paranormal and supernatural phenomena, and all display elements of the trickster constellation.
The most vocal opposition to these movements come from two sources: establishment scientists (exemplified by CSICOP) and conservative and fundamentalist religious groups. Both of these antagonists are typified by large, male-dominated, status conscious, hierarchical institutions—the antithesis of the targets of their scorn. Both have produced massive amounts of literature denouncing the New Age proponents and modern pagans and similar attacks were directed at the Spiritualists of the nineteenth century. While some of the political and social goals advocated by the”deviants” have been partially incoporated into science and mainstream churches (e.g., feminism, ecology, alternative healing), the establishments’ most vehement attacks remain directed at paranormal and supernatural practices.
Hansen has a section about psychiatrist Ernest Hartmann who wrote the book Boundaries in the Mind:
pp. 48-49 Thick-boundary people strike one as solid, well organized, well defended, and even rigid and armored. Thin-boundary types tend to be open, unguarded, and undefended in several psychological senses. Women tend to have thinner boundaries than men, and children thinner than adults. People with thin boundaries tend to have higher hypnotic ability, greater dream recall, and are more lkely to have lucid dreams. People with thick boundaries stay with one thought until its completion; whereas those with thin boundaries show greater fluidity, and their thoughts branch from one to another. People with very thin boundaries report more symptoms of illness; however, compared with thick-boundary types, they are able to exert more control over the autonomic nervous system and can produe greater changes in skin temperature when thinking of hot or cold situations. Thin-boundary persons are more prone to synesthesia, blending of the senses (e.g., seeing colors when certain sounds are heard). Differences are found in occupations as well. Middle managers in large corporations tend to have thick boundaries, and artists, writers and musicians tend to have thinner ones. People with thick boundaries tend to be in stable , long-term marriages; whereas thin types are more likely to be, or have been, divorced or separated.
The author goes on to say that thin-boundary types tend to report more unusual experiences including psychic experiences. He then lists the correlations between thin-boundary types and the traits of the Trickster archetype (as described in Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book Gods in Everyman).
Obviously, many New Agers are thin-boundary types. The beliefs of the New Ager make no sense to the more skeptically-minded because skeptics are probably most often thick-boundary types. Skeptics don’t realize that its not just an issue of belief vs rationality but an issue of experience. Both the skeptic and the new ager trust their experience, but they simply have different kinds of experience.
The New Age has some of its origins in organizations such as the Theosophical Society. Besant and Leadbeater wrote the book Occult Chemistry where they claimed to have used psychic vision to discover the structure of the atom. Also, it was the Theosophical Society that raised J. Krishnamurti as the coming messiah even though he chose not to take up this role and went his own way instead. Theosophy was a part of the whole spiritualism movement which related to various occult groups and practitioners. This side has been a bit lost in the lightness and fluff of the New Age, but the New Age tradition of channelled writings comes from spiritualism.
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.
The cultural tenor of the 1980s was decidedly different than that of the 1970s, and parapsychology felt it. In society, business success become more highly valued among the middle class baby-boomers. Less idealism was evident, and corporate and individual greed were frequent topics of pundits. The baby-boomers were sometimes referred to as the “Me Generation.” The number of volunteer workers at parapsychology laborotories dwindled rapidly.
The 1980s saw a move away from the popular interest in the paranormal in the larger society, and that was accompanied by a decided change within the New Age and psychic subcultures. Those who had previously been interested in psychic matters shifted their atention to more “spiritual” concerns that might be characterized as “a search for meaning.” This was subtly foreshadowed when California-based Psychic magazine changed its name to New Realities in 1977. Channeling came in to vogue, but unlike spiritualism, there was little emphasis on verifiable information or physical phenomena. Channelers spouted “philosophy,” made dire predictions of earth changes, and gave general advice, but that was about all. The number of books published on paranormal topics dropped precipitously betwen 1980 and 1982. With the general shift away from psychism and toward the search for meaning, the books of Joseph Campbell became popular. There were new magazines, printed on high quality paper, catering to that general trend.