"I Don't Care How New Age You Get..."
The quote in my title line is from a piece by storyteller Utah Phillips. He is talking about the small former mining community he lives in, somewhere in Southern California, and how it has become a Mecca for the wealthy new age population, driving around in their SUV's blasting the sounds of dolphins and Tibetan monks out of their car stereos, getting back to nature,"dragging their scrotums through the underbrush", sacrificing goats, banging drums and each other all in the hopes of achieving something remotely spiritual. Any way this old miner, beaten and grizzled, bent from years working the pits, looking up from his serious business of finding the spirit in the bottom of a glass, croaks out in some coal tar voice: " I don't care how new age you get, but old age is going to get you in the ass."
Now wait a second your probably saying to yourself, this guy, just today in fact, has freely admitted to be something called a Reiki Master and an amateur herbalist, and here he is dissing the new age types, well what in heck does he think he is? Well I don't really care about messing up peoples nice neat ideas of packaging, but I do care about people who give folk like me a bad name. I hate to say it but that includes the majority of the naval gazing, alien dolphins from Venus channelling, going to the light, angel devotees out there. As my darling wife would say "Give that person a root chakra" or in others words "earth to space cadet". Chakra, wait a moment you quail in terror, that's new age. Not! The word and the concept are older then Christ
And there you are, that's the root of the problem right there as far as I'm concerned. All this so called new age stuff are bastardizations of thousand year old traditions and rituals. Whether your being taught "shamanism" by some blonde blue eyed buck skinned clad white toothed wonder from Arizona, Wiccan farming rituals in the suburbs, or Druidic dogma in the downtown, there's nothing new about it. Our conceit, Euro-centric chauvinism, and ignorance is all that makes it new.
Walk into many a book store and the titles promise all sorts of wonders: Unlock the Warrior within, Secrets of the Druids revealed, How to empower the Celtic Goddess in your heart(ten years ago they would have said: How to find your spirit guide, Let the Eagle guide your flight but times and flavours of the month change) Now of course its all about angels, everybody needs one and there's one out there just for you. The thing is, its all really the same thing being promised.
The majority of these, a few, and these are far between, are genuine in their attempts to explain the culture or belief system behind the packaging, are simply being offered up as a panacea to people who have a void in their lives and have no interest in doing any serious work to fill it. In this era of instant gratification the demand is for solutions to our problems without having to take any responsibility for them. In fact the more somebody else can do for me the better. If you can promise an angel will come down and take care of everything then that's just great. Ten easy steps to enlightenment and your done, no muss no fuss, and you can still continue on living your totally self consuming lifestyle without thought to anyone or anything else.
What really pisses off is that they are trying to package cultures that were evolved, and in some cases still evolving, over hundreds of years to suit the needs of a particular people in a particular place. Take for example the rituals and celebrations of the Hopi Indians of the New Mexican Pueblos. An agricultural community that lives in the dessert. So the majority of their ritual centres around ensuring the success of crops. How appropriate are these rites for us city dwellers who have no worries about our food supply. Desiring to find a belief system, has led to ignorance of the purpose behind it, which in turn makes the practice of the same an insult to the memory of, or even worse to the living culture. Is it any wonder that screams of misappropriation ring out loud from people within the native, African, and Asian communities.
Anything that promises escape or freedom from problems is misleading, there is no light to go into, except the light you might see when you cross over, the true way to understanding is to face up to yourself and learn how to accept who and what you are. If after you have examined your own heritage and find it lacking think then consider another culture to embrace. But do it with respect. Seek out real teachers of that faith, is you want to become a Sufi, find a teacher, don't just pick up a how to book. Show respect, and look at your world and figure out how to apply it to the modern world. If its a living culture it will already be doing that. Remember you can't just take from something what is convenient for you, because that will leave you no better off then you were before.
Words of advise from my wife: Examine your own heritage, if you want to learn about Angels read the Old Testament, and watch Kevin Smith's Dogma. (Including the deleted scenes on the special edition DVD.) That should get you started, ground you in reality, and remind you to always hold on to your sense of humour.
We live in an extremely difficult world and the comfort offered by spiritual beliefs can not be denied, but they should not be used as a means of escaping from the realities of the world. We are here right now and must deal with it whether we like it or not. Keep your head up, your eyes open, and learn how to believe in yourself and your making a good start.