Did You Just Call Me New Age?

If I had a toonie for every spiritual but not religious  person I met who has told me “I’m not New Age,” I’d have enough money to take an Eat Pray Love tour of Bali. All joking aside, SBNRs don’t like being called New Age. They much prefer “spiritual,” or “spiritual but not religious.” They also like “Buddhist” because it sounds exotic but respectable. New Age is too woo-woo. At least that is how many people see it.

I get it. New Age has all the wrong connotations. Tie-dye, alfalfa sprouts, patchouli oil, handicrafts, crystals, Ohm stickers, UFOs and tofu. This stuff can look and sound pretty out there and more sophisticated people don’t want to be linked to it. In many cases it doesn’t accurately reflect their beliefs and certainly not their lifestyles. There is a hilarious  spoof  on YouTube called Shit New Age Girls Say.Yeh, nobody wants to be that person.

Not surprisingly, many professionals take pains to distance themselves from New Age.

Neo-Shamanism? Um, That’s Kinda New Age

I recently watched a conference presenter demonstrate the clinical uses of shamanism. Before she got going with the drumming she was careful to say,

“Shamanism is not New Age…whatever that is, I’m not really sure. But Shamanism is not New Age. Shamanism has been around for tens of thousands of years…This is not a new modality….

But then she kinda blew it when she added

[but] you can still bring in all those other yummy things you do like Reiki, or healing….you can bring in all those things as part of shamanism, because is not based on a set of beliefs… Shamanism is based on experience; it’s [an] experience with the divine… So you can [have] Mormon Bishops, Catholic priests, nuns, and Buddhists priests who study shamanism…it’s this big global umbrella.” 

I bet if you did a poll, many people would say this sounds pretty New Age. And technically speaking it is. Whether or not shamanism is brand new or 40, 000 years old doesn’t really matter. What makes her service New Age is the context. If she was a tribal elder in a remote indigenous community using shamanic journeying to find the best hunting grounds for her people, then yes, I would agree that this type of shamanism is not New Age.

But this presenter is a recognized spiritual (but not religious) teacher, presenting at an alternative healthcare conference. She mentions Reiki and healing because she knows that those are the sorts of things her (“New Age”) listeners will respond to. What she offers her participants is a formula for having a direct experience of the divine. No priests, nuns, or monks are needed.  She also says shamans can blend their practices with other types of energy work, a nod to the eclecticism of New Age. If you’re asking me, it doesn’t get much more New Age than this.

I understand why the presenter tries to rescue shamanism from New Age. In some ways it was a like a carnival, a crass spiritual circus—very unprofessional. But like it or not, New Age is the nearest living relative of much of what passes as spiritual but not religious today. Without it, the conferences like the one mentioned above might not have even come about.

The problem is that while what we called the New Age movement died, the culture of New Age didn’t. It is still with us.

In my next post I will discuss the psychadelic history of the New Age movement and chart its downfall.