Saturday, March 3, 2012

The ‘New Age’ & Spiritualism

Recently we returned to Phoenix after spending several days in fabled Sedona, Arizona – dubbed the “New Age” Capital of the U.S.A., if not the whole world. Nestled in its canyon surrounded by magnificent red rock cliffs and formations is this little town that attracts tourists from around the globe in search of enlightenment while they enjoy the grand scenery.

As we drove up and down Sedona’s streets we saw numerous shops and businesses focused on New Age activities – more in this town of 10,000 residents than we are aware of in nearby Phoenix with its population of more than 4 million. There are at least a couple of New Age book stores, signs were out for psychic readings, plus shops selling crystals and imported Hindu and Buddhist figurines, aura photography studios, and a Reiki center I’ll talk about in a moment.

While I’m certain Sedona draws outstanding psychic talent, it’s obvious there are some wanna-be’s and flakes mixed in. Recent headlines just four months ago revealed that self-help guru James Arthur Ray was convicted of three counts of negligent homicide in the deaths of followers engaged in his sweat lodge ceremony near Sedona in 2009. The victims and other participants, I suspect, were genuine in their desire for inspiration and enlightenment but found themselves caught up in something that ended tragically. Incidents such as this reinforce the scriptural admonition to “try the spirits.” They also cause us to remember another injunction that says “by their fruits shall you know them.”

Curiously, in Sedona’s book stores I failed to see even one volume of the many available that discuss spirit communication. There were plenty on hand describing the effects of gemstones and crystals but none about the efforts of those in spirit to guide us. With the proliferation of teachers like James Arthur Ray it is evident that we could all use some guidance from the other side and in America’s New Age “Mecca” one would think materials telling us how to tap those resources would be available. Apparently not.

On the other hand, our Oregon friends who were traveling with us made arrangements for the four of us to participate in a Reiki healing circle one evening and that experience was a refreshing alternative to the bustling New Age Industry on Sedona’s main street. Although my wife had participated in Reiki work previously, it was new territory for me. I’ve enjoyed other healing circles in the past that are similar and the group of about 25 who gathered in Sedona impressed me. The group was composed of both men and women of all ages and we out-of-towners were lovingly welcomed by the locals. We took turns sending and receiving healing energy and the thing that impressed me most was the obvious motivation to serve shared by all present. No fees were charged; everyone there was present because they wanted to help and share. To me, that was a manifestation of what spirit guide Silver Birch called service to mankind that is the overall goal of life in matter and in the hereafter.

While we were in Sedona I kept thinking about the possible meaning of the label “New Age” and wondering how it differed from concepts I’ve become familiar with in spiritualism. In the 1967 musical Hair the opening song “Aquarius” told us “This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius,” i.e., the shifting from the astrological age of Pisces to a new era of peace and spiritual enlightenment. Since the 1960s those who describe themselves as “New Agers” have been expecting this dawning much as orthodox Christians await the return of their savior. All of the current hubbub about the Mayan calendar ending on Dec. 21, 2012, is much the same sort of rapture expectation. In my mind there’s no doubt that things are going to happen that will change our level of consciousness and it was the appearance of the so-called New Age in the ’60s that originally brought much of this to our attention.

Another feature of the loosely connected New Age movement is its emphasis upon various sources of energy and how they impact the individual. Appearance of crystals in Sedona’s stores is evidence of this interest and I was amazed at how much these beautiful gems fetched in the marketplace. Another Sedona attraction that relates to New Age energy is the location of various vortices that are described as the earth’s energy “hot spots” where people can feel the vibrations and achieve healing or enlightenment. We hiked to a couple of these spots during our visit. They are in scenic locations so whether or not you are standing at an actual vortex almost seems immaterial – the beauty surrounding you there is inspiring. I happen to believe that traveling to some special location for an infilling of energy is usually unnecessary; we can tap the energy of the universe no matter where we are. But that being said, we did enjoy our trek to Sedona’s vortices and found the experience to be exhilarating.

Channeling is a New Age phenomenon that confuses some of us old-time spiritualists. On this blog I provide a link to Ken Carey whose channeled writings in the 1970s and thereafter helped define much of the New Age movement. I have found his work to be highly elevated and inspiring with the key message being identification of who we are as spirits with bodies rather than bodies with spirits. This is a key teaching of spiritualism, too.

Back in the 1970s my wife and I attended several events featuring British occultist and artist Benjamin Creame. During these he went into trance and assumed the personality of the ascended master Maitreya. We have also seen video of JZ Knight channel her guide Ramtha and in both cases it is impossible to discern the difference between what we observed and other experiences with trance mediums. Channelers, however, usually deny that they are mediums – I think it is probably a matter of semantics. With Ken Carey the literary output can be attributed to automatic writing; Benjamin Creame, JZ Knight and the late Jane Roberts (Seth material) are most likely trance mediums.

So, how do we define “New Age” and how does it relate to spiritualism? There are many similarities between the two movements – Each moves us away from dogmatic materialism by emphasizing the realm of spirit; each acknowledges subtle energies that impact us; each tries to blend spiritual teachings from both the East and the West; each is non-dogmatic and liberal in its teachings; each is Unitarian in its “theology.” Unlike spiritualism, however, most New Age teachers do not have much interest in the afterlife and the importance of proving the continuity of life after so-called death. New Age folks almost universally accept reincarnation as a fact (something that’s still being debated in spiritualist circles) but it seems to me that their movement would be strengthened and made more vital if they went one step further and incorporated the expanding evidence of life after death that mediumship and scientific research reveal.

Regardless, it’s my opinion that the New Agers have preformed a marvelous service to humanity and to spiritualism by helping millions of folks walk away from the confusion and bondage of religious authoritarianism into a freer atmosphere that emphasizes connections with nature and one another. It may well be that most New Agers are totally unaware of the deeper discoveries of spiritualism and afterlife research. It’s up to us to find ways to spread the word so both of these movements can help one another.

Dave & Georgetta Howard at one of the vortices in Sedona, Arizona.


  1. Dave, well stated. I agree with you 100%.

    Like you, I was surprised not to find more books on spirit communication in Sedona bookshops, but that is the pretty much the same thing with New Age book stores I have been to in other cities. I visited a big one in Seattle not long ago and it had very little that interested me.

  2. Yeah but New Age is so loaded with grift it's like trying to see the "forests" for the Trees.

  3. What a great story! Thanks so much for sharing this! Would love to hear more from you.
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