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The New Age and Other Signs
of Mass Hysteria

By Scott E. Roeben

It appears from what we have read and heard that we are smack dab in the middle of the New Age. For a time we were in the Dark Age, during which time we often stubbed our collective toe on the collective nightstand. Then there was the Industrial Age, when everybody figured out farming was really hard work and that it was not necessary to go through life with calluses on one’s hands as large as cantaloupes.

As we became bored with our sense of security, and the growing feeling we would probably never inadvertently burn a gaping hole through the center of the Earth, we felt compelled to move into the Nuclear Age. (We felt a little cramped, but there was a lot of counter space.)

More recently, having tired of being considered one of the more intelligent species on the planet, a few of us have decided to thrust ourselves boldly backward into something called the New Age. For good reason, it is a movement that has gained all the momentum of a snowball in a tanning booth.

The New Age encompasses many of humankind’s most stunning endeavors. It includes practices and beliefs grounded firmly in science, logic, common sense—and Man's unstoppable propensity to embarrass himself on a cosmic scale.

The following are overviews of a few of the most popular of the New Age doctrines—including crystals, auras, mediumship and numerology. Please hold all questions, as well as any gut-wrenching laughter, until all the subjects have been covered in detail.

Astrology: Heavenly Bodies at Play

zodiac.jpg (16632 bytes)Astrology has been popular as a means of predicting the future, as well a way of understanding human behavior, for hundreds of years.

We have believed our destiny is somehow tied to the heavens ever since the first astrologer, perhaps a stargazing Homo Erectus (a fact he tried to camouflage with his hat), made the profound statement often echoed by today's astrologers: "That will be twenty dollars, please."

In the New Age, study of celestial bodies as a means of understanding ourselves is encouraged. It is commonly believed certain planetary alignments are directly related to events transpiring all around us. Many are adamant that if the planets are aligned, one can prevent shimmying and uneven "planet wear."

Traditional science states that the time, day or month when one is born is irrelevant to their behavior or personality. But what does traditional science know about it? What has traditional science done for us, anyway? Does traditional science expect us to just believe everything it says just because it has figured out how to light our homes and keep our leftovers fresh? Has traditional science given us a convenient way of lumping individuals into convenient groupings so we can make sweeping generalizations about them? No, but hasn’t astrology?

More than anything else, the New Age encourages us to ask such questions. (But perhaps not so sarcastically.)

aura.jpg (7166 bytes)Auras: Not Those Things You Hear at the Opera

The aura is another phenomenon being explored by New Age followers. An aura is a subtle emanation that surrounds a person or thing. While an aura is not visible to most of us, to the highly trained practitioner it is also not visible.

The best way to understand auras is to recall the loveable character Pigpen from the Charlie Brown comic strips. Pigpen was surrounded by a cloud of dust wherever he went—and so it is with an aura. And just as Pigpen is often ridiculed by a beagle wearing a World War I uniform, so too are those who profess to have auras, but not by beagles, usually.

Auras, it is said, are a manifestation of a person's inner self. They are always with us, and cannot be removed even with frequent showering.

Auras are harmless, unless of course, yours should happen to clash with your drapes.

Out of Body Experiences: Travel on a Shoestring

Another cornerstone of the New Age is the "O.O.B.E." Though our knowledge of the Out of Body Experience is limited, it is well known that many have felt their "essence" leave the confines of their physical body and proceed to travel great distances without them. From what New Age scholars can ascertain, there are two problems with "O.O.B.E.s."

First, during an Out of Body Experience, it is common for many to forget their keys and not be able to get back in.

In addition, it is almost impossible to convince those in authority that after especially lengthy spiritual travels one should be given the deserved frequent-flier miles.

The Out of Body Experience remains a mystery to mainstream America. Most of us never experience the sensation of leaving our bodies—but those who have will attest that there is perhaps no greater feeling than that of being able to give a backrub to oneself.

Herbology and Crystals: Ancient Remedies for Common Sense

The New Age encompasses many forms of self-healing, two of which are Herbology and the use of crystals.

crystals.jpg (10369 bytes)First, Herbology is the use of herbs for medicinal and spiritual wellbeing. This practice, essentially, is the innovative practice of mixing "herbs" with "hot water," thus arranging the two substances into what New Age practitioners refer to as "tea." With such creative strides being made, is there any limit to the modern miracles that might result during this era of enlightenment?

Crystals, contrary to the critics of their use, are not merely "rocks." And, also contrary to the critics, they are not "stones." Thus, those who would state that the New Age could more aptly be called the "Stone Age" are off the mark. Crystals are believed to hold powers beyond that of ordinary rocks because, well, because they look different, probably.

Crystals, when placed near the body, usually on the forehead or near the heart, have a positive effect on the body, mind and spirit. Anyone participating in this practice with, say, a piece of gravel, would be viewed as a fool. Which is yet further proof that crystals are magical and drastically different from regular rocks, really.

But should the skeptics need further proof that crystals have the power for which they are given credit, it should be pointed out that Swiss watchmakers are near quartz all day long, and when was the last time you met a Swiss watchmaker with a hacking cough or surly demeanor? Now, who has the audacity to say that those who are participants in the New Age are crackpots and superstitious imbeciles?

Numerology: Count Me Out

Another practice of those involved in the New Age is Numerology.

Numerology is similar to astrology in that it involves interpreting seemingly random occurrences to predict the future, or to guide us guidance in our daily lives. For example, in Numerology, each letter of the alphabet has a numerical equivalent, and each number provides a related cosmic vibration. This cosmic vibration is not unlike the sensation you get when you sit on a clothing dryer. We are not exactly sure what purpose such a vibration serves, but we can certainly attest that it is not an unpleasant experience, especially given the high costs associated with dating.

Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician who live from 569-470 B.C., is believed by many to be the originator of much of what we call numerology today. He is also said to be the person responsible for the common equation found in high school year books:

2 good
+ 2 be
= 4 gotten

Such mathematical prowess is why America continues to produce significant numbers of engineers, most of which came here from various Asian countries.

The point is that the use of numbers to understand behavior and predict the future is not new. The modern checkbook is based upon a nearly identical set of guidelines, and is nearly as random in its results.

Reincarnation: What, Again?

Under the broad umbrella of the New Age movement comes a re-examination of reincarnation.

The concept of reincarnation is not new. Ancient writings convey a belief in occurrences of death and rebirth, as shown in the following excerpt: "And Mephaniles DID go on AWAY, and all WERE saddened until Mephaniles returned WITH his parcels, which did bear another's NAME." Some non-believers hold fast to the idea that this passage reflects merely an account of a man going on vacation and doing something akin to bringing home someone else's luggage. But upon further examination, this story could just as easily be interpreted as one of the first recorded cases of reincarnation.

Reincarnation is now synonymous with the New Age, further substantiating that while the body may be limited in its life, the spirit lives on. The New Age allows for optimism, an optimism that provides us comfort when we accept that ours is merely one of many lifetimes we have screwed up.

Channeling: Make-Believe for Grown-Ups

With its underlying belief that the spirit is unalterable, the New Age has brought with it a practice known as Channeling. One's first thought may very well be: "Channeling? I've been doing that for years now with my remote control." It is that very type of worldly thinking that the New Age is trying to transform.

Channelers are those with the gift of being able to allow another's spirit—often an ancient spirit—to enter their body, and to use it to communicate with us. It is important to keep in mind that Channelers allow the spirit to use their body as a service to mankind—and that any monies received by Channelers are accepted solely because such a Channeler is "eating for two."

The typical Channeling session begins with the Channeler, a trustworthy and highly trained individual, often with less than two fraud convictions to his or her credit, taking a seat at the front of the room. The Channeler then goes into a trance. To the novice, the trance appears to be no more complicated than the Channeler "lowering their head," but this is oversimplification and is, obviously, exactly the case.

The Channeler then takes on the voice and mannerisms of a person who died hundreds, sometimes thousands of years ago, and that person imparts wisdom to onlookers. The following was taken from the transcripts of an actual Channeling session. (Note: In the vast majority of cases, the spirit of the dead individual, almost incredibly, speaks English, so no translation is needed.)

Bagdan: I am Bagdan. I died fourteen hundred years ago. Do you have any questions for me?
Observer: Can we get you something to eat?
Bagdan: Any serious questions are welcome.
Observer: Bagdan, what is truth? What is the meaning of life?
Bagdan: Life is truth. Truth is life.
Observer: Huh?
Bagdan: How should I know? I herded sheep.
Observer: How may we destroy evil?
Bagdan: Any questions about sheep are welcome.
Observer: Can we get you something to eat?
Bagdan: A light sandwich would be nice.

Psychics: Mystic Seers of the Bottom Line

Psychics are perhaps the group most pleased by the renewed spirituality brought on by the advent of the New Age. Once scorned and reviled—although not always in that order—psychics have once again become respected and revered in many quarters. And, surprisingly, not merely by those wishing to be paired with them in games like Pictionary.

The insight of psychics gives us invaluable information about our lives. Psychics give us a glimpse into our future—they confirm once and for all that, yes, just about everyone is "going to take a long journey."

Once again, psychics do not utilize their finely honed powers merely for financial gain, but for the good of Mankind. "It as reward enough," states one psychic, "that most psychics need never subscribe to a newspaper."

john-edward.jpg (7791 bytes)Mediums: Waking the Dead for No Good Reason

Akin to those who Channel, mediums differ from psychics in that they don’t necessarily foretell the future, but rather, their special talent allows them to communicate with those "on the other side." The other side, presumably, is where dead people hang out, waiting in line for a chance to speak to those they left behind just so they can tell them things they already know.

A psychic medium who has gained a large following in recent years is John Edward. This affable Long Island native has shown a rare ability to speak with those on "another plane," to sense "psychic vibrations" and to "sell books."

Short-sighted skeptics claim Edward’s is simply using techniques popular with seers through the ages, but his faithful followers can attest to his astonishing abilities, not the least of which is to resemble a guy we all beat up in high school.

Let’s take a look at a typical John Edward reading.

John Edward: I’m seeing someone on the other side. It’s either a man or woman.
Subject: Yes, that’s right!
(Audience gasps.)
John Edward: I think this is meant for you. It’s a man—
Subject: Well, my mother is dead.
John Edward: As I said, it’s a man who is saying your mother passed away.
Subject: Yes!
John Edward: I’m sensing boots, or slippers or moccasins. Shoes, did your mother ever wear anything on her feet?
Subject: Yes, oh my God, yes.
(Audience gasps.)
John Edward: There’s a lot of food. Did she ever cook?
Subject: Well, no.
John Edward: Did she marry a cook?
Subject: No, I don’t—
John Edward: Were there any cooks in your family at all?
Subject: No.
John Edward: Did your mother ever eat?
Subject: Yes!
(Audience gasps.)
John Edward: That’s what I meant. She ate food. And I’m seeing the letter "A." Is there an "a" in your name?
Subject: No.
John Edward: Concentrate. I’m seeing either a "E" or "I"—is there one of those in your name?
Subject: No.
John Edward: Just BE with this. Is there an "O" in your name?
Subject: My name is Sue.
John Edward: And your mother’s name?
Subject: Joan.
John Edward: Aha, an "O" and an "A." Just as I said.
Subject: Oh my God.
(Audience gasps.)
John Edward: Your mother wants you to take care of your lungs, or hearing or vision. Does that mean anything to you?
Subject: Not really.
John Edward: She’s gesturing toward her stomach, or legs. Do you have problems with your stomach?
Subject: No, but my brother has heartburn sometimes.
(Audiences gasps.)
John Edward: She’s fading now. But I’m seeing a garden. Did she garden?
Subject: Not that I know of—
John Edward: And a car. Did she ever ride in a car?
Subject: Yes, twice that I know of!
(Audience gasps.)
John Edward: She wants you to know she loves you.
Subject: Really? She tried to kill me once.
John Edward: She loves you now.
Subject: She does? Oh my God.
(Audiences applauds.)

Yes, mediums, too, can give us comfort. They can reassure us that although our loved ones have left this world, they are happy in "the next." They can also entertain us, given that most programs featuring mediums provide more laughs than your typical network situation comedy.

Conclusion: All the Psychics Knew This Was Coming

So, with all its enlightening, healing and financially lucrative offshoots, why has the New Age not gained an even wider acceptance? Why has its wisdom not enveloped an even broader spectrum of our society? Could it be that the theologies espoused by New Age followers don't hold water upon close scrutiny, or even distant scrutiny for that matter?

Perhaps it is the inability of some to separate the New Age from our misconception that New Age beliefs are related to occultism—that the New Age is merely a re-hashing of archaic superstitions and is, at its center, a desperate, mindless groping for solutions to our own human weaknesses.

No, I do not believe so. More likely, the reason is even simpler than that. Simply put, it's just too darned hard to dance to the pan flute.

Or perhaps I should have an Out of Body Experience and slap myself silly for even suggesting it.


Scott Roeben, 2001. All rights reserved.