Into the mystic
From Stonehenge to Silicon Valley: how technology nurtured New Age ideas in a world supposedly stripped of its magic
It’s worth noting at the outset: New Age is not so much a discrete collection of beliefs as it is a Venn diagram (or a mandala, if you like) of intersecting interests, objectives and motifs. The New Age ‘movement’ is not a single movement at all. The term contains multitudes…
I would argue that if there is one thread that binds together the various New Age movements, it is that they represent a resurgence of magical beliefs in a modern world supposedly stripped of them…
Yet if New Agers seek to recapture a pre‑modern belief in ‘mysterious incalculable forces’, they do so using all the tools of contemporary technology and the networks of modern globalisation. It’s not coincidental that the earliest calls for a ‘New Age’ of spiritual awakening coincided with the Industrial Revolution. Or that the triumph of a more formalised and commoditised New Age movement in the second half of the 20th century converged with the rise of television infomercials, books on tape, local‑access cable channels, and the early internet. Today, New Age aesthetics and modes of thought have filtered into mainstream society, influencing everything from the rise of alternative medicine (a $34 billion industry, by one recent estimate) to the triumph of yoga in the suburbs.
Meanwhile, formal religious affiliation is on the decline in the Western world, but this rejection of traditional organised religion does not imply a rejection of spirituality. Instead, it has created a vacuum in which the eclecticism and vagueness of the New Age movement emerge as strengths rather than weaknesses. Which begs the question: if the early modern era witnessed a ‘decline of magic’ and a rise in institutionalised religious affiliation, are we now witnessing the opposite?
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