ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
new quest for the Holy Grail, and were not perturbed in the least by those who sought it by plunging from Camelot into woods other than those which were approved by Rome. My priest friends knew and understood why they were seekers, and were not so presumptuous as to tell them that they would only find what they were looking for by conforming to the faith in which they had been reared. One priest led a study group at the Catholic Student Center where we studied Mircea Eliade’s Patterns of Comparative Religion and talked about hierophanies, the axis mundi, and descensus ad inferos.
During that marvelous time of hope, the hippies led the way to the rediscovery of the spiritual dimension of life not only for themselves but for all of us. And some of us, who set out on our own particular pilgrimages at that time, have still not ceased to travel the road.
The students of today that I know are much more serious than the hippies were. They have far less fun than the hippies did, but they are far more productive. While the beatnicks produced a few novelists like Salinger and Kerouac, poets like Ferlenghetti and Cohen, and artists like Andy Warhol, the hippies left a poor legacy of literature and art. In that way, they were very different from the bohemians of the “lost generation” who produced giants like Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Joyce, and Lewis.
The hippies therefore cannot honestly be described in just glowing terms. They tended to be narcissistic in their spiritual ques. Unfortunately, for many hippies, lifestyle was all they had to offer, and this, in turn, was often soured by drugs. After the all-too-brief time during which would-be mystics experimented with LSD and mescalin in the hope of achieving deep spiritual insights, the discovery that nothing of the sort happened shattered the illusions. Many ruined their minds and health as addicts. One still finds them today, marginal people for the most part, working at low-paying jobs, usually single, and now well into middle age.
After the counter-culture faded, some ex-hippies cultivated spirituality. As hippies, they had been drawn to James Watts, the Anglican priest who migrated to California from England. He dabbled in Zen Buddhism and other forms of eastern mysticism, and wrote articles and little books showing new ways to inwardness.
Some had followed another English writer, Alduous Huxley, whose little books, Gateways to Perception and Heaven and Hell, mentioned earlier, were sacred scriptures of the counter-culture. Some of them later became “Jesus Freaks,” converts to evangelical Protestantism who professed to have been born again. Still others became involved in cults such as the Unification Church and Hare Krishna, or discovered tarot cards, the I Ching, pyramids, crystals, and the New Age. They followed Shirley McLaine and other prophets of the new spirituality. They still do today. They are the principal clients of the tarot readers and of channeling. Many, however, rediscovered greed, and became the yuppies.