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Monday, November 14, 2016

What Happened to the New Age? Sorting Truth from Nonsense

[Source] Not long ago I was walking through the aisles of a New Age fair in the suburbs of Chicago. All the usual suspects were there: booths for Baha’i and Eckankar; ladies selling essences and fragrances; bodyworkers offering ten minutes of chair massage; psychics inspecting the etheric fields of their subjects. Like most New Age events I have gone to over the past decade, the fair had a tired quality to it.

I could simply be jaded. I’ve been going to such gatherings for over thirty years now, and at this point they hardly impress me with their novelty. But I may not be alone. One has the sense that for many, the energy that gave rise to the New Age has ebbed.

Even the term “New Age” has come to sound stale, harking back to the ’80s and the Harmonic Convergence, and, still further, to the spirituality of the 1960s counterculture. Commercial interests have backed away from the name, preferring the term “mind-body-spirit” or “MBS.” In January 2012, New Age Retailer, the primary trade magazine for this field in the US, changed its name to Retailing Insight.

Was the New Age a fad? Was it a noble but misguided hope that the world was ready for an enlightenment to which it now seems indifferent or hostile? Probably neither. More likely this is the case: much of what the New Age pioneered, including yoga, meditation, and organic foods, has become mainstream. Thus you could say the New Age won out in many ways – but at the cost of seeming fresh.

What about its ideas? Many of them too entered the mainstream and have even become clichés. At this point it may be useful to step back and look at some of the clichés of the New Age and see how well they stand up.

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