I am profoundly acquainted with the new age movement.
As someone who has explored, and in many cases practiced (and sometimes promoted), the endless varieties of new age methodologies and philosophies out there, I’ve seen pretty much all of it.
While yes, there’s a lot of undeniable beauty in the new age movement, there are also a lot of unhealthy and even dangerous elements within it, surprisingly.
Also, while there are lots of religious articles out there condemning new agers, there aren’t many non-religious folks shining the lights on the ins and outs of this popular movement.
I hope to bring more balance to this arena. My goal is to support you, particularly if you’re new to the spiritual journey (and even if you’re a veteran), in avoiding the traps and pitfalls inherent in new age mentality.
After being disillusioned too many times and witnessing the confusion of those on this inner path alongside me, it’s time to get real and grounded in some down-to-earth spirituality.
Table of contents
- What is the New Age Movement? (It’s Origins)
- Benefits of the New Age Movement
- The Cons of the New Age Movement, aka. McSpirituality
- How Do I Avoid the Perils of New Age Spirituality?
- The Third Way
- Final Words
What is the New Age Movement? (It’s Origins)
The new age movement is an eclectic combination of many different psychological, philosophical, and religious ideas from around the world. It emerged after the countercultural hippy movement of the 1960s and began to truly blossom by the 1980s.
Ethnobotanist and psychonaut, Terence McKenna, once defined the new age in this way:
The New Age is essentially humanistic psychology eighties style, with the addition of neo-shamanism, channeling, crystal and herbal healing, and this sort of thing.
The original driving force behind the new age movement was to liberate humanity from the dry, rigid, life-denying, and in many cases, dangerous ideas propagated by orthodox religion.
Such a noble and worthy ideal to leave corrupt religious ideology resulted in the impulse to combine, cross-reference, and merge multiple wisdom paths and teachings to achieve a kind of universal unity.
Unfortunately, however, this syncretism, this fusion of different ideas and practices from around the world led to a dilution of their power. As such, we now have terms like “new age fluff” which is self-explanatory, and also references to “new agers” which is a term that’s increasingly used in disparaging ways.
Note: not every “non-religious” form of spirituality is necessarily new age. In other words, those who identify as “spiritual but not religious” are not always new age (although sometimes they can be).
Benefits of the New Age Movement
Although I’ve called new age spirituality the “McSpirit” of spirituality (and I still stand by that), I also want to point out that it does have value.
There’s a lot of good inherent in new age spirituality.
Here are some of the benefits or best things about the new age movement:
- It challenges religion – considering all the horrors perpetrated by religion, this point is enough to make the new age movement a positive force in the world
- It’s friendly and acts as a doorway into the spiritual path – for those totally new to spirituality, the new age movement’s focus on good vibes only and “love and light” encourages the spiritual impulse to come out and play
- It provides people with hope – many who have suffered terrible loss have found solace in the gentleness of new age ideas and practices
- It promotes the divine feminine – most religious paths are masculine dominated and therefore alienating to the other equally present force of life: the feminine (or yin)
- It embraces the body and sacred sexuality – sex, sexuality, and the body as a whole aren’t seen as shameful or wrong, but are celebrated, and this is beautiful
- It elevates the role and value of nature – nature is seen as sacred, not something to be used, ignored, or dominated (as in many religious paths)
- It emphasizes a personal connection with the Divine – for those who feel spiritually hungry, the new age movement reminds us that yes, we can connect with the Divine, it is our birthright!
In my years exploring, practicing, and in some cases promoting the new age movement, I’ve witnessed these wonderful benefits.
However, as positive as it is, it also swarms with numerous ‘demons’ beneath the surface.
The Cons of the New Age Movement, aka. McSpirituality
Without getting wordy and long-winded here, let’s just get right into the cons and greatest disadvantages of the new age movement.
I present these issues so that you can be keenly aware of the traps inherent in the new age movement that many overlook and never mention.
Hopefully, this exposé will save you years of struggle, confusion, and pain:
1. Encourages Spiritual Escapism
As sparkly, cosmic, and feel-good as new age spirituality is, it’s also undeniable a form of escapism.
“Why is that bad?” you might instantly wonder. “Reality is full of terrible horrors.”
Yes, it’s true that reality can sometimes be hard to deal with. Government corruption, social media fake news, poverty, wars, trauma, racism, sexism, environmental destruction, and more recently a world pandemic can overwhelm us.
Some people may need the new age movement to help them get a handle of their mental health, and that’s totally understandable. I’ve been there too.
And yet, if we stay within the new age, with its emphasis on everything that is out of this world (spiritual ascension, higher vibration, higher self, 5D, pleiadians, aliens, etc.), we ignore the need to face this human experience. We spiritually bypass the uncomfortable reality around us and become addicted only to that which gives us a spiritual high.
This focus on anything that is blissful, transcendent, and full of light isn’t progressive, it’s regressive. It’s infantile spirituality.
Furthermore, the spiritual path isn’t all about love and light. It is also about darkness, pain, ego death, and awkward transformation as well. If you truly want to “follow your bliss,” you’re going to have to deal with some ugly situations, feelings, and tendencies within you and others. And that’s a fact of life.
2. Low Committment and Low Impact
Because of the escapist nature of new age spirituality, it tends to avoid the issues plaguing the world, and thus makes little to no active social impact.
Poverty, racism, environmental degradation? Forget it! Although on the surface the new age movement talks a lot about how “sacred” everything is, when it comes down to it, there isn’t much active involvement in the world. If there is active involvement, it’s usually because the new age practitioner has sided with another philosophy like veganism, feminism, minimalist, sustainability, and so on.
There is also a marked lack of commitment amongst new age practitioners who tend to jump from one philosophy or practice to another. If drumming circles become boring or unfulfilling, angel channeling becomes the next dopamine hit. Perhaps crystals and manifestation grids will come next, and then studying numerology and getting a psychic reading will follow.
As detrimental as religions have been to humanity, there is one thing that they have offered us, and that is the ability to commit, to make a substantial social impact, and to provide in-built accountability.
With the new age movement, there’s no accountability – you’re meant to keep yourself in check. And yet as a fallible human being, is that really reasonable?
As Steve Bruce writes,
[New Age] elicits only slight commitment and little agreement about detail. It thus makes a shared life unlikely. It has little social impact. It has little effect even on its adherents. It does not drive its believers to evangelise. It is vulnerable to being diluted and trivialized . . . eclectic to an unprecedented degree and dominated by the principle that the sovereign consumer will decide what to believe . . . a low-salience world of pick-and-mix-religion.
This ‘pick-and-mix’ spirituality that the new age movement essentially is, results in what we could call ‘spiritual tourism’ – hopping from one thing to another without ever settling down, going deep, or seeing through.
Don’t get me wrong, exploring and being curious is healthy and beautiful. But the shiny allure of the new age movement can keep us perpetually stuck in that place, without ever deepening.
Read more about: Spirituality vs Religion: 11 Differences (With Pros & Cons List)
3. Stunts Our Growth
While it’s liberating at first to be able to cherry-pick what we like out of various wisdom traditions throughout the world, it also tends to stunt our growth.
The term “new age fluff” sums up what I’m about to say pretty well: with the ability to pick and choose what we like, we also get to avoid what we dislike. Namely, the new age movement promotes avoiding the reality of pain, darkness, death, and suffering. Instead, new age practitioners tend to focus only on what feels good, is affirming, is artificially empowering, and helps them to avoid the harsh realities of the world.
What happens when we avoid the darkness is that we become stunted. We become overly dependant on our ‘healers,’ ‘psychics,’ ‘shamans’ and other people and tools to alleviate our pain and provide us with direction. We lose the ability to develop resilience, focus, determination, and deep courage.
My conclusion is that while yes, religion often equals imbalanced yang/masculine energy the new age movement represents the opposite: imbalanced yin/feminine energy.
4. Promotes Spiritual Consumerism
I’m sure you’re familiar by now with what a “new age shop” looks like. Walking in, you’ll find an endless assortment of candles, crystals, incense, dream catchers, cards, books, statues, essential oils, and the list goes on and on. Chances are there’s even one in your own town!
If you’ve been on Instagram or any other social media platform, you’ll also likely be familiar with the “spiritual aesthetic.” This new age invention involves pictures that look dreamy, airy, and feature an array of crystals, pendulums, candles, and other metaphysical trinkets (perhaps with a yoga mudra or pose thrown in for good measure). Such consumerist imagery is everywhere. And it’s mesmerizing!
Within the new age movement there’s almost this unspoken assumption and even rule that in order to be spiritual, you need to look spiritual. Without looking spiritual, without displaying your beautiful spiritual material items to the world, you might as well not bother!
While there’s nothing wrong with having some pretty or mysterious looking tools, when your spiritual path is all about getting more, it’s spiritual materialism. As the Tao Te Ching says,
Reduce what you have. Decrease what you want.
If you’re on the spiritual path, you’re probably already quite aware of the fact that stuff doesn’t make you happier. Material things don’t fill that void within you. In fact, they often contribute to feeling empty inside.
And yet, because of the lack of a strong central core, the new age is prone to fuelling such an insidious branch of consumerism that preys on spiritually empty and undiscerning individuals.
5. Results in Cultural Appropriation
Cultural appropriation is what happens when someone (usually from a dominant culture) adopts elements from another (usually a non-dominant) culture.
For instance, someone might adopt the fashion, tattoos, speech, rituals, and other practices from another culture without asking for permission or acknowledging where that adopted element came from.
Unfortunately, the tendency to promote cultural appropriation is one of the more nauseating elements of the new age movement. I’m sure you’ve seen and heard ‘new agers’ use and misuse rituals, items, and other sacred words and beliefs that disrespect the original culture that carried these customs.
Now, I’m aware that some level of cultural mixing is necessary and needed in the world. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. And I’m not the “woke police” trying to punish anyone for saying a Sanskrit mantra or wearing an Om pendant – that’s silly and honestly another form of ego inflation (by acting as the almighty savior or punisher of others).
But when someone tries to identify as a member, for instance, of an indigenous culture when they’re clearly not, that’s obviously disrespectful. And that’s the thing about the new age, it creates this “noble savage” idea about other cultures and promotes using their customs without having a dialogue and finding a sense of shared humanity.
Some examples of cultural appropriation perpetuated by the new age movement can be found in the misuse of Native American spirituality (sweat lodges, smudging, etc.), self-styled shamanism that borrows sacred rituals without permission, and other metaphysical practices.
Note: not all use of other cultural images is necessarily disrespectful or blatant cultural appropriation – it’s all about the context. One helpful question many new age practitioners would do well to ask is, “Are my actions hurting or degrading the value of other cultures?” and “How am I promoting white supremacy or racism by purchasing this or practicing that?”
6. Promotes Ego-Centrism
While I find most religions distasteful, I do appreciate their ability to help their adherents to practice humility and recognize the limitations of the ego. The opposite is true with new ageism where you essentially become God.
If I was given a gold coin every time I saw a post, book, workshop, or other spiritual resource promoting “your gifts,” “your power of manifesting,” “your growth,” “your angel number,” “aliens who have contacted you,” “you being a goddess,” “your planet in mercury retrograde,” etc. etc. … I would be Supreme Ruler of the Universe. ;)
Certainly, it’s normal and good to learn about ourselves. It’s important to desire to better our lives. But at a certain point, our spiritual paths need to move beyond just us and our interests and instead to others, nature, the world, and the Divine. If we’re always focusing on ourselves, our spirituality can quickly become ego-centric and shallow.
“Not my will but thine be done” was probably one of the more illuminating phrases of Jesus and it’s a quality I, once again, appreciate about religion (as much as I dislike most religious institutions). Humility, reverence, and devotion are all qualities blatantly missing from new age spirituality.
And the irony is that while the new age demonizes the ego, it is ruled by it – when one’s spiritual path is all about “me, my, and mine” how could it not be?
At some point, we need to learn to surrender, to let go, and to trust in something Greater than ourselves.
Even the focus on one’s Higher Self can be confusing, mixing up the subjective ego with the objective Divine essence. Sadly, this leads to one of the greatest tragedies: a grotesquely inflated ego that is drunk on its own supposed ‘virtues,’ ‘gifts,’ insights, and ‘downloads’ from the Divine, mistaking itself as ‘enlightened’ and essentially untouchable. I call this grievous pitfall spiritual narcissism.
The reality is that for true spiritual growth to occur, the ego must dissolve and go on an immensely painful process of ‘crucifixion’ and dismemberment. There’s just no way around it folks.
How Do I Avoid the Perils of New Age Spirituality?
The result of all the above six pitfalls of new age spirituality is why I refer to it as McSpirituality (or the McDonalds of spirituality if that isn’t clear).
The unfortunate conclusion I’ve drawn after more than a decade in this field is that it is like junk food – sure it fills you, but it ain’t that good for you.
That being said, yes, there are good things about the new age. But if we want to be more than just tourists and dabblers (which is fine), if we truly want to touch deep states of peace, love, and freedom, we need something more.
How do we avoid the perils of McSpirituality? Here are some suggestions:
- Find one holistic path (that involves the body, heart, mind, and soul) and go deep within it. Follow it through until the end. Recognize the hedonistic adaptation that makes you want to jump around and try something new. (Of course, it’s okay to experiment with other practices, but ensure you have one central unmoving one.)
- Find a path that has in-built accountability. In other words, when you’re getting lazy or forgetful or are totally off your tits with bizarre ideas, who ya gonna call? Who is there to help motivate, correct, and guide you? Having a community to return to unified with the same purpose will be essential.
- Find a path that focuses on honoring something greater than yourself. Humility is such a crucial part of the spiritual path, and if it’s all about you all the time, it will become shallow and unfulfilling quite quickly.
- Be courageous and dare to face the shadows. Learn to accept (and find resources that help you to embrace) the fact that life is full of a lot of nasty shit. There is pain and suffering everywhere. How can you face that? How can you embrace the fact that one day you will die?
- Find a path that encourages social change. As a Buddhist, I adore the term coined by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh: interbeing. Such a word refers to how interconnected and essentially inserparable we all are. What we do influences everything else, and everything else influences us. This simple concept helps us to understand how important it is to live consciously and inspires action. Ask yourself, what can I do to make a change in society, however small?
I think anyone new to spirituality is bound to fall into the trap of new ageism sooner or later – me included. But it’s okay. This is all a learning process!
The Third Way
There are times when the spirit is completely darkened because it needs to be reborn.– Carl Jung
In many ways, the new age movement is the antithesis of religion. Yet I believe the friction between the new age and religion is needed to create a third way, an integration of both new age free-thought and religious depth.
In other words, if our spiritual paths are to mature, there needs to be a synthesis of the yin (new age) and yang (religion).
Without religious qualities, new age is shallow, consumerist, escapist, and ego-centric. And without new age qualities, religion is stale, dry, shame-inflicting, and dogmatic.
So the question I pose to you now is this: how can you walk the third way? What does that look like for you?
New Age culture cannot create a shared sense of direction or movement because it’s central body elicits little commitment and agreement about the details. With it’s endless varieties, techniques and practices, people cannot unite to evangelize it, it becomes trivialized and diluted.– J.R. Lewis & J.A. Peterson, Controversial New Religions
The new age movement has helped humanity, but also hindered it.
With its tendency to selectively choose only pleasant truths, it denies the essential wholeness of the human condition with all of its joy and suffering.
Is it “bad” or “wrong” to dabble in the new age? Absolutely not. We all need to do a little exploration which is totally healthy and normal. And if we want to stay within the new age forever, that’s fine too. At the end of the day, we’ve all got to do what suits and resonates with us.
But for those who are called to go beyond the new age, I hope this article has helped, inspired, and motivated you to go a little deeper.
What are your thoughts about the new age? I’d love to hear below. Please also share this article with someone if you think it might help them. ♡
As a 100%Disabled Veteran I began my spiritual journey eithout realizing it at all. I was looking for valid tools of healing wherever they might be found. After a falling out between myself and the Roman Catholic church, I started studying Theology in the attempt to replace that church and around 8 yrs of this I reached the conclusion that all “organized” religions were creations of man, not our percieved Creator. Whether it’s God, Allah or whoever you call your Creator, he/she did not write those “Good Books”. Not the Bible, the Koran or any other good book of any organized religion was ever written by Creator at all. It was men who did so and when 1st done their intentions were likely based in good. But over time that was corrupted by men to become tools of control. Tools of gaining riches, influence and ultimately of gaining ultimate power. Now not all are equals in this but not all have gone down that slippery slope to the levels the Catholic church but they are sll on that slope I feel. This led to the times we now find ourselves because they all use fear and hate to maintain control… Read more »
I agree with your article and feel that spirituality is now being commercialised and the focus on all ‘love and light’ means that we are disowning the shadow which needs to be owned and integrated within everyone to achieve true wholeness and wellbeing. I enjoy receiving daily emails from Father Richard Rohr who founded the Centre for Action and Contemplation (https: //cac.org/about/richard-rohr/). He’s an ‘elder’ and to quote from the CAC website: “His teaching appeals to a vast audience—from current and former Catholics, Anglicans, Evangelicals, and mainstream Protestants, to “spiritual but not religious,” to Buddhists, to agnostics—all around the world. He has referenced the Buddhist proverb to emphasize that his words are only a finger pointing to the moon, not the moon itself. “All spiritual language is by necessity metaphor and symbol. The Light comes from elsewhere, yet it is necessarily reflected through those of us still walking on the journey ourselves.” Father Richard Rohr is one of the few people that I deeply respect as he is a scholar, a wisdom teacher and a humble and wise man of deep faith and he communicates the true pure essence of Christ consciousness and the teachings of Jesus, without all the… Read more »
Couldn’t agree more! i was actually thinking to write a book on this very thing and you hit ALL of my major points. Perhaps I could interview you sometime if I ever make that book happen.
Long Time New Ager from Brooklyn, N.Y.: The ONLY time in my life that I received any negativity about the New Age movement is when I had to relocate to Virginia because of my job. I was always some sort of spiritual person, raised Italian-Catholic, but later became a Christian/NewAge mix (Castenada/Yaqui etc.). What happened was that when I went into a so-called Christian managed bookstore seeking more written knowledge on this topic, I spoke with a nun at the counter about New Age products and she said point blank “I should hope not.” If she slapped me in the face, I couldn’t have been taken more aback/been more shocked. I then kinda guessed then that folks and religeon down here are very closed minded and I’m not used to that from living up North. But, I found out that that wasn’t the case, as I have since located other practices, I even married in an Indian ceremony, went to Edgar Cayce and met witches. I know that new age is widely disparate due to many different practices/practicioners, but I never associated it with oppositional deviltry/devil worship. I know that you mentioned commercialism, but again I never put that kind… Read more »
Thank you for this amazing article and reminder. Truly touched me and made me feel something of real value. Love your work.
I agree with most of your perspective on the New Age movement. For my personal journey, one in which I will never feel comes to an end, has been far from rainbows and butterflies. I feel like a magnet for everything at this point. To much of which is for-profit spirituality mongers. In social media, I am being bombarded more so than ever with money making scheme‘s or even straight up fraudulent activity. I have really only one true friend I feel at this point. All others have left. So my situation through this awakening process has not been all about the light. That is not because I did anything incorrectly. But clearly, my intuition and heart’s desire took control of my mind and projected exactly what I needed to face and overcome. We do manifest our own reality, that I have blind faith in. Numerology has been a huge component, but that was only after I had experience with clairvoyance and clairaudience. In a deep state of meditation, I heard a voice that was internal. This was the third time in a short few weeks that I had experienced this phenomenon. It wasn’t somebody else’s voice, but as if… Read more »
Hello Aletheia, I am so glad that you wrote this article as I don’t see a lot of criticism regarding the downfalls of the new age movement/spirituality. Funny that this article was published around this time as I’m at a point where new age related material (or should I say the people haha) is starting to be a turn off for me. I’d give credit to it allowing me to explore different facets of spirituality as a person who was raised in a Christian household. And a number of the teachings have helped me become more aware of myself, others, and the environment. But like many things, you start to see the downsides and negatives. In regards to the first con you made, it is something that I see among those who follow the path. To add on to what you stated, it also comes off as dismissive, like the mundane reality holds less importance. If you subscribed to the teachings, wouldn’t you want to use it to improve the world and make it a better place? Instead, I see them say that they don’t want anything to do with 3D reality when people like them are probably the ones… Read more »
I LOVE your website, the weekly emails, articles and journals! I very much love it specifically because you write the articles with unbias. You present the information, you present your experience, and encourage people to safely, intelligently follow what resonates with them. One of my favorites was “religion is a belief system/god/divine based on another’s experience vs spirituality is belief based on your own experience.” I think this article conflicts with all of that. I can see escapism in any form is unhealthy, and I can understand when people blindly identify with something you(ego) have a strong belief about- for the sole purpose of “being trendy.” But ultimately I don’t feel spiritual consumerism is bad, I’m happy other people share a love I love regardless of their authenticity because now I can buy a “Libra” candle instead of a white market one. Furthermore, it’s interesting you mention ego must dissolve yet you’re telling the world of spiritualists what to do…dissolve ego, find a niche and stick with it, even to tell people escapism isnt okay…. I feel it was triggering only because I had an experience with a person incredibly preachy about “divine, downloads” and extremely pushy, and love only,… Read more »
I learned alot reading this article, thanks alot! And I agree the third way is the way to go.
Other, I don’t have much knowledge of New Age-stuff. Sure, some of it is cool, but some stuff of it can become too much. Same with religion.
I’ve also never, either understood, nor been much for the materialistic stuff. And then also the love and light only and the toxic-positivity vibes, even though there’s soooo much of that stuff outside of New Age nowadays also, I personally dislike that stuff alot. Sure, we all have our moments when we need a break from the negative. But to go only light, love and positivity while denying everything else and the reality out there of which needs adressing to (like global warming/climate change for example), or serious stuff in our own lives of which we need to adress etc, then these stuff is just harmful in the end.