ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
have seen, are in the counter-culture of the 1960s. It is not radical, unlike the counter-culture which preceeded it. Indeed, some commentators identify it as a facet of the New Right. It has its exponents and heroes, like John Lennon of the Beatles, and his widow Yoko Ono. In terms of its immediate historical roots, it is a movement within western industrial society which originated in the eighteenth century.
The variety of phenomena within New Age is staggering, and very difficult to classify. Yet, when one does so, it is evident that New Age is the most recent phase of an ancient esoteric tradition of Hellenistic origin with Gnostic roots, the contemporary form of an unorganized religious tradition which is both within and without the Judeo-Christian context. Like the economy, it is globalized, with many Hindu/Buddhist, Chinese, and First Nations components. It is therefore a world religion, and perhaps should be classified as such.
During the 1960s and 1970s, many educated New Agers were impressed by Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1963), in which the author set forth his theory of paradigms. In discussing scientific revolutions, Kuhn argued that throughout history, scientists have gathered and tested evidence, and on that basis, set forth paradigms. Invariably, however, further testing revealed inconsistencies and anomalies within the paradigms, leading to the developing of new paradigms to replace the old. This is how science has progressed in the past, and how it continues to do so today.
New Agers argue that the positivist paradigm of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century also suffers from anomalies. The model of a mechanistic materialist cosmos presented by late nineteenth-century physics has been shattered, they argue, by quantum theory and Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Following the lead of Capra, Oppenheim, and Stephen Hawkins (in his A Brief History of Time), they contend that the new paradigm is a Grand Unified Theory open to spiritual realities and divinity.
New Ager David Spangler asserts that the world is now entering a stage in the understanding of evolution which is marked by “the appearance of a new consciousness within humanity” that is giving birth to a new global civilization. The transition from one civilization to the next is characterized by the “destruction of the old civilization, either by natural causes such as earthquakes and floods, or by a great world war, or by social collapse of an economic and political nature, or by the combination of all of them.”
Those New Agers who are primarily concerned with the ecological crisis, support the peace movement, or who are among the demonstrators against the World Trade Organization and globalization are activists, something which has not been characteristic of occultists and esotericists of the past. They strive, in company with others who may or may not share their spiritual views, to assist in making the Age of Aquarius an era of spiritual growth and expansion.
Despite the bleakness of the times, New Agers maintain, we are on the verge of a new and better age, in which the consumer culture of today will give way to universal spiritual enlightenment. In our time “guided by advanced beings,