Why all the hesitant, irresolute indecision? That's what I want to know. Why the inability to call a spade a spade? Consider this clip from a Reference Books Bulletin review of New Religious Movements in the United States and Canada...
This annotated bibliography focuses on new or alternative religious movements that originated or experienced renewed growth during the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S. and Canada. The term new religious movement is used interchangeably with cult in a nonpejorative manner. The scope includes works about traditional Eastern religions and their variations, neo-pagan and related groups, New Age communes, the Human Potential Movement, spiritualist/UFO, and occult/initiatory groups, as well as unusual variations of Christianity such as the Jesus People, Unification Church, and Peoples Temple. Related issues such as religious liberty, deprogramming, and brainwashing conversion are also covered....The Peoples Temple, hmmm... Wasn't that Jim Jones? The guy who killed a couple hundred people by forcing them to drink cyanide-laced KoolAid?
Yes, but that's right: let's not lay any pejorative trips on other people's "spiritual" convictions. Let's not even let ourselves think that cargo-cult-crazed UFO "devotees" are barking fucking mad! Because who's to say, really? Who are we to object to "brainwashing"? Who are we to make moral judgments on the "lifestyle choices" of others?
Look... This is one of the downsides of postmodernism. Which is not to say that I think there are any easy workarounds. It's true we can't go around burning witches anymore. More's the pity -- I have to admit I find the prospect tempting. And not because wicca offends God and his angels or my delicate Puritan sensibilities. No. But metaphorically tempting because the "witches" of modern-day Salem -- see e.g. Rocking the Goddess: Campus Wicca for the Student Practitioner -- have nothing in common with the women who were burned to death there for entirely different, and entirely wrong, reasons.
You see? We can make moral judgments. You won't find many these days defending the "lifestyle options" of the Inquisitors. You won't find many saying of the Elders who torched off the stakes, "Well, let's not be too hasty..."
You begin to see what the problem is here? Puritanism was a cult. But because the core values and <koff> moral compass of the United States of America are grounded in and continue to reflect delusional Puritan superstition, no one wants to draw any fine distinctions. Why, my God, it might smack of religious intolerance! On which basis, make no mistake, the country was founded. There's a folksy myth, propagated through high school history classes, that the early settlers came to America to escape religious persecution. No way. Many came here because they got kicked out of England for perpetrating religious persecution, and their neighbors got sick of their doctrinaire bullshit.
Some readers (yourself?) will say that the book covers I've chosen here misrepresent real wicca, that this is just silly child's play. That's true, it is. But here's the kicker: there is no "real" wicca! Or do you believe the hysteria in 17th-century Salem was actually based on women casting spells and cavorting with the devil?
But why does any of this matter? After all, nobody with a modicum of intelligence goes in for this New Age stuff. And that's true too. No one wants to be associated with the icky old "New Age" anymore. It's so passe. Even New Age Journal changed its name to Body + Soul. Because, ever since ex-monk and "former professor of psychology" Thomas Moore's ever so special care of it, soul has been cool. And we're not talking Ike and Tina.
The one-sidedness and moralism of the various attacks
on narcissism suggest that there may be some soul
lying around in this rejected pile of ego and self-love:
anything that bad must have some value in it. Could
it be that our righteous rejections of narcissism and
love of self cover over a mystery about the nature of
the soul's loves? Is our negative branding of
narcissism a defense against a demanding
call of the soul to be loved?
The reason it matters is that we're also not talking New Age. We're talking NewAge++ -- the shrink-wrapped (pun intended) ready-for-market version. While relatively few Americans may be gazing into crystals, scanning the skies for alien ships, or dressing up like warlocks, a whole hell of a lot more have bought into core New Age concepts that have been repackaged for mass consumption. Visit any Barnes & Noble store. These ideas are no longer the sole province of the New Age section. They've spread like a viral pandemic into Self-Help, Health, Relationships, Psychology, even Philosophy and Science. For example, let's look at a handful of the "10 Tenets of Whole Living" on the about us page of that formerly-new-age but now squeaky-clean-mainstream
Translation: Indulge yourself. Check out our ad pages for some sensitive organic/holistic self-serving suggestions.
Alright, OK. But Chris, I hear you say, what's all this about witchcraft and manifest destiny and the occult? And here we thought, from your previous work, that your beat was marketing...
must be a lot of lonely witches out there...
can you say grandiosity?
the unlikely story of how America slipped the surly bonds of earth & came to
believe in signs & portents that would make the middle ages blush
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SPECIAL THANKS TO
New Age "Asiatic" thought ... is establishing itself as the
hegemonic ideology of global capitalism. (Zizek)
Saturday, August 20