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Religion Library: New Age

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Written by: Benjamin E. Zeller

Most New Agers incorporate a variety of religious practices into their daily lives. Though few engage in overt worship, all seek spiritual self-development and increased self-awareness through daily devotion. Foremost among these practices are the reading of New Age materials, fostering a positive sensual environment through the use of candles, incense, and crystals, and religious practices directly drawn from major world religions.

Like many world religions, most notably the textual traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the study of texts occupies a central religious practice for many New Agers. Unlike those traditions, New Agers look to a vast array of texts as possible sources for study, including the sacred texts of the world’s religions, esoteric materials, and contemporary writings by New Age authors. The reading of New Age books and journals in fact represents the most common form of practice among members of this religious subculture.

In addition to reading the scriptures and writings of the world’s religions, with particular interest in mystical or esoteric materials, New Age practitioners read books written by contemporary authors for specifically New Age audiences. Some of these texts claim authorship by a channeled being, but most assert only mundane human origin. Such books focus on such central topics as the power of the mind, healing and meditative techniques, the powers of crystals, methods of gaining prosperity and happiness, oracle methods, and other methods to obtaining spiritual self-awareness. Some of these texts become crossover hits with a broader audience, such as Fritjof Capra’s The Tao of Physics (1975), James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy (1993), or Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret (2007). For many New Age practitioners, reading new books and journals represents their strongest connection to the New Age subculture.

Another common daily New Age practice involves creating what practitioners believe is a positive living and working environment through the use of candles, aromatherapy, crystals, and music. The New Age penchant for crystals has become well known. Historians have traced this practice to the work of Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), a professional channeler and author whose ideas helped shape the New Age movement. Cayce taught that crystals have various energetic, spiritual, and mystical properties. New Agers also hold such beliefs about crystals, and most believe that crystals concentrate the subtle spiritual energies that they hope to cultivate in order to develop themselves as individuals as well as the hoped-for future new age. Since the 1980s, many New Age practitioners have also come to use candles, incense, and oils to impart specific aromas to their homes and work environments. Practitioners similarly listen to New Age music in order to foster such a positive environment. Such music tends to include Asian or Native American musical motifs, combined in soft, easy-listening formats. In all these cases, New Agers intend these techniques to inculcate an environment conducive to harmony, peace, and self-development.

Many New Age practitioners employ a variety of practices drawn from the world’s religions as methods for daily religious devotion and self-development. In most cases, New Agers turn to Hinduism and Buddhism as sources for such techniques, and often incorporate yoga, Hindu and Buddhist meditation, and devotional chanting of mantras in their daily religious practices. Meditation represents the most common forms of such practices. Though numerous meditative techniques exist, all share the aim of bringing greater spiritual awareness, a pursuit that many New Agers naturally recognize as compatible with their own religious paths. Some New Age practitioners adopt specific meditative techniques, most frequently those taught by schools of Zen or Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhism, the Theravada practice of Vipassana, or particular Hindu meditation gurus who have introduced forms of meditative yoga. Often, New Agers amalgamate these traditions and practice forms of meditation that combine techniques drawn from these religious traditions, for example using Hindu mantras to focus the mind but Tibetan mandalas to aid in visualization.

New Agers have shied away from daily religious practices utilized in the western monotheistic traditions, owing to their general opposition to these traditions’ theologies as anathema to the goals of the dawning New Age. However, New Agers have appropriated some Christian prayer methods, most notably the Serenity Prayer and the Jesus Prayer. In the case of the Serenity Prayer (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference”), the prayer’s apparent origin in liberal American Christianity and association with twelve-step programs make it less overtly threatening than many explicitly Christian prayer techniques. In addition, its lack of theological specificity makes it usable by New Agers who accept the concept of god, but understand the divine in a pantheistic or monistic manner. By contrast the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”) offers a highly specific theological message, but its association with Eastern Orthodox mysticism makes the prayer less threatening to the western adherents of the New Age religious tradition. The centrality of the prayer in the 19th-century Russian work, The Way of the Pilgrim, popular in the New Age subculture also explains its presence in New Age practice. Despite its orthodox Christian theology, that text’s emphasis on the personal spiritual quest, the mystical search for truth within the heart, and the act of pilgrimage itself speak to New Age practitioners who have subsequently adopted its central prayer.

Finally, New Agers understand a variety of everyday practices such as eating, gardening, or walking in natural settings as part of their religious devotion. All these practices relate the New Age practitioner to the natural world, revealing the strong environmental ethos present in the New Age movement. New Agers helped popularize natural eating, which includes such practices as macrobiotics, raw food, and vegetarianism. Though each of these eating approaches offers different strictures and limits, all aim to preserve and sustain the natural world as well as develop the human as a healthy being. Many New Agers attempt to live out their worldview through the daily practices of eating, introducing what they consider only harmonic natural foods into their bodies as well as contributing to what they hope will become a better world, a new age of the future. Other New Agers envision gardening or walking in natural settings as methods to engage the natural world and explore their relationship with the earth. Such New Agers often tend toward pantheistic theologies that proclaim god as present in nature, and therefore understand their engagement with the natural world as a form of communion with the divine.

Study Questions:
     1.    Why is daily devotion important to New Agers? How is it most often practiced?
     2.    What are some examples of books read by New Agers?
     3.    Why could it be argued that New Age devotional activities are often sensory experiences?
     4.    What devotional activities have New Agers appropriated from other world religions?

 
     
     
     
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