The New Age movement more or less originated in the late 18th century, but took fire in the 1960s among hippies and other young idealists. It went mainstream in The '80s with the Catch-Phrase "Create Your Own Reality", the writings of Shirley MacLaine and her film Out On A Limb, which enshrined an assortment of Willing Channelers. The core of the New Age movement developed as an offshoot of Theosophy, particularly the syncretistic variation propounded by 19th century mystic Helena Blavatsky.
The term "New Age" itself may refer (there are several schools of thought on this) to the coming Age of Aquarius, which will result in massive changes for Earth and humanity. Exactly what these changes entail, and when they did/will take place, depends on whom you ask.
Likewise, their views on the divine vastly differ. Early New Age teachings focused on incorporating elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Gnosticism. More recent New Agers may be Christian, neopagan, deist, pandeist, pantheist, or even agnostic. Most often, their spirituality is a hodgepodge of concepts from various faiths, philosophies, and superstitions, for better or for worse. The word "syncretistic" is used by them a lot.
Many New Agers use terms that have been misappropriated from the scientific community, and due to the difference in the way they use these terms have more or less created a language barrier that can make it difficult to understand their philosophies at first glance. For example, where a scientist uses the word "energy" to mean "the potential to do work," New Agers tend to use it to mean an ethereal substance akin to vital force or chi.
Something you'll hear a lot about is raising one's vibrational level. The concept is that everyone's "energy field" (i.e., spirit/chi/lifeforce) vibrates at a certain frequency. Higher vibrations are supposed to enable your Psychic Powers and such nifty things. Generally speaking, prayer, meditation, eating right, and being kind and positive is supposed to raise your vibration, whereas unhealthy eating, focus on the material, and being negative lower it.
Another concept you'll stumble upon sooner or later in the new age community is the concept of "indigo children" - that is, people who have incarnated on Earth specifically for the purpose of helping humanity to get its act together. Exactly how you tell who an indigo child is depends on who you ask, and the concept itself has been criticized heavily due to the "indigo traits" usually being overly generic or more likely being a sign of a developmental disorder, most commonly sensory integration dysfunction, dyslexia, or ADHD. The metaconcept of indigo children has branched out to include other types of souls with specific purposes, with equally shiny and colorful names such as "diamond children" and "rainbow children." Similar is the more recent concept of "crystal children", ostensibly the offspring of self-described indigos, and most commonly linked with autism spectrum disorders.
The dark side of the New Age movement is that it has attracted a glut of self-proclaimed gurus who appropriate and exploit aspects of other cultures' spiritualities, most glaringly Native American, and has pushed sufferers of chronic illness and cancer away from scientifically-proven (and therefore anti-nature and evil, in their minds) treatments, and into the arms of snake-oil salesmen and quacks peddling useless, and often harmful, "cures".
For uses of new age stuff in media, see the main entry.
Tropes associated with New Agers:
Note:The following is a list of tropes associated with new agers, but bear in mind that because they are a diverse bunch, most of them don't believe in or fit all of them:
- A God Am I: Every now and then, someone with a god or messiah complex will wander onto a New Age forum and declare their awesomeness. They aren't taken very seriously by most. From time to time, some of the more charismatic have managed to garner small followings, occasionally spawning their own cults. Although mostly harmless, a rare few have managed to become quite significant for their fanaticism; including masterminding terror attacks to forcibly usher in the new age. More often, the more extreme would-be messiahs simply isolate their followers in secure compounds or camps, which eventually fall apart from internal disillusionment and dissension. Abuse of followers (financial, physical or sexual) is common, as in many other cults.
- Always Chaotic Evil: Various alien species, including greys, reptilians, and Annunaki along with various secret societies allegedly controlled by the aliens like The Illuminati and the Freemasons are this according to most in the movement who believe in them.
- Ancient Astronauts: Let's just say that Erich Von Daniken and Zechariah Sitchen are rather popular in the movement.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Some think that humanity will eventually do this. Many believe in various "ascended masters" as well who have already done so (often this includes Jesus, Buddha and other religious figures) that have already done so and act as guides for the rest.
- Atlantis: New Agers often believe in lost continents such as Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu. If you look, you can find transcripts of people allegedly channeling the spirits of these islands' former inhabitants.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Was Jesus an alien? Or was he a human with all 12 strands of his DNA activated? Was this celebrity or that scientist an Indigo?
- Cloudcuckoolander: Many of them come off as this, partially because they use words and terminologies in ways that are utterly incomprehensible to the average person.
- Conspiracy Theorist: Many New Agers overlap with this. It's not uncommon to find New Agers believing in aliens or an impending New World Order caused by The Illuminati conspiracy.
- ADHD/ADD and schizophrenia were "invented" to cover up genuine psychic powers. It's common for autism to be deemed as really characteristics of the aforementioned Indigo children too, with the truth obscured.
- The fact that aliens built the pyramids and other ancient wonders is being covered up.
- Actual Native Americans who oppose New Age use of Native traditions are either racist or dupes for, you guessed it, Rome or the Illuminati (assuming they're not deemed part of the same, overarching conspiracy).
- The NESARA conspiracy is very, very popular with this crowd. It's a supposed law that was allegedly passed in secret in March of 2000 and would have gone into force in 2001 if not for 9/11 and the War on Terror. The law would call for new elections, cancel all personal debt, abolishing the IRS, ending the Federal Reserve and declaring World Peace.
- Other popular conspiracy theories include the 9/11 Truth movement, autism and the anti-vaccination movement, and the medical-industrial complex suppressing cancer cures.
- Evolutionary Levels:
- Some believe that the "next step" in humanity's evolution is some kind of spirit/energy being.
- Many of them outright believe Haeckel's Law. For those unfamiliar, Haeckel's Law is a discredited hypothesis that "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny", or that organisms repeat ancestral forms. Popular in Body Horror (Lovecraft was fond of it.), it's weird to see it here.
- Heinz Hybrid: Alex Collier maintains that humans are a mix of 22+ different alien species, which makes us "genetic royalty" in the galaxy.
- Higher Self: In New Age lingo, your higher self is the "you" which is eternal and timeless. It is the part of you that knows everything, keeps track of your reincarnations, and goes on after you die. Think of it like your physical body being the character in a video game, and your higher self being the player that controls it, though to a more subtle degree.
- For the record, if you see this illustration or anything close to it, you should know that the original poster was created by Charles Sindelar for the I AM Religious Activity group in the 1930s. Known as "The Chart," it was appropriated without credit along with a lot of other material by subsequent New Age groups. Sindelar along with fellow devotee May DaCamara did most of the original paintings of Ascended Masters; he was later one of the defendants in the I AM mail fraud trial. I AM was not the only group to be so accused and you can find extensive information online about some of the more Cult-like groups.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: For polluting the Earth, oppressing each other, and all that jazz. There is a particular hatred for the medical industry, for supposedly being "anti-nature", and therefore promoting illness and suppressing magical "natural cures".
- It Makes Sense in Context: Some new age beliefs make a lot more sense if you understand the lingo.
- Karma: A very popular concept in New Age thinking (nigh-universal in fact) along with other ideas borrowed from Eastern philosophies/religions. It often differs pretty significantly from the views in the East however.
- Magical Asian: For those with Eastern inclinations. As with the prevalence of the terms "chi," "reincarnation," and "karma," it's become a stereotype to see white twenty-somethings gush about how Hindu/Chinese/Japanese religion is so much "better" than boring/repressive/evil Western religions. Some Asians are greatly displeased at the commodification of their culture, while others are amused. Particularly objected to are Hindu or Buddhist chants practitioners of these faiths consider sacred used without the reverence which the believers have, or in other contexts (yoga sessions, for instance, sometimes have Hindu chants intoned).
- Magical Native American: So you wanna earn a living selling New Age faith? Just offer the whiteys sweat lodges, vision quests, and teach them how to find their "totem animal." Better yet, write books claiming to "pass on" the wisdom of "the ancestors." You might say that actual Native Americans — particularly the Plains peoples — are not amused.
- This has caused rifts within some Native societies. Native people who have undertaken to teach sincere non-Indians the proper way to do sacred things, they too have been labeled "New Age frauds" and "twinkies" by their own people.
- Magic Genetics: 12-strand DNA activation, anyone?
- Mighty Whitey: A whole lot of New Age people are taking heat for not only appropriating other cultures' religions, but outright claiming to have a better version that they cobbled together from different paths.
- New-Age Retro Hippie: The New Age movement of the 60's was popular with hippies. It hasn't lost this association, and a good chunk of them are what you'd call hippies.
- Noble Savage: A lot of the views on past civilizations/cultures fall into this territory. This is often not viewed favorably by descendants of said peoples, to say their least, and most particularly since their beliefs are appropriated and syncretized with others by New Agers.
- No Such Thing as Wizard Jesus: Notably averted — as New Age believers typically believe that Jesus, Buddha, and other important religious figures were supernaturally gifted in some way.
- Our Angels Are Different: They aren't limited to helping those who strictly follow one of the Abrahamic religions.
- Power Crystal: Crystals can apparently be used to induce healing, increase your luck, and all sorts of neat things.
- Precursors: Our ancient ancestors were far more spiritual and in-tune with nature than us. Most of the world's problems stem from our having all but forgotten the wisdom of our ancestors and whatnot.
- Reincarnation: A very popular idea in New Age circles. However, it often is portrayed far more positively than in most religions that have this belief (e.g. Hinduism and Buddhism).
- Sadly Mythtaken: A point of contention for many people, particularly Native Americans, who have had their spirituality misappropriated by self-proclaimed new age gurus. Also, if they believe in karma, they likely as not view it quite differently from traditional believers in the concept.
- Secret Circle of Secrets: Or Omniscient Council of Vagueness. The Ascended Masters, which the New Age borrowed (along with a ton of other stuff) from Theosophy. They are human beings who are just somewhat more evolved and now serve as spiritual teachers or "elder brothers". If you hear a New Ager talking about Kuthumi, Maitreya, St. Germaine or Djwhal Khul, these are the names of some of the Ascended Ones. Jesus and Mary are also counted among them.
- Spirit Advisor: Comes in various forms, such as angels, your "higher self," animal spirit guides, Ascended Masters, etc...
- Sufficiently Advanced Alien: Many believe that aliens are interacting for humanity, some for better and some for worse. The "good" aliens tend to be Perfect Pacifist People.
- Western Zodiac: It's kind of where the whole "Age of Aquarius" concept comes from.
- Wide-Eyed Idealist: The movement has often been accused of this by its critics, who claim that this movement does not focus on the wrongs going on in the world but rather focus on "unrealistic" love and positive messages.
- You Keep Using That Word: A large portion of criticism comes from the fact that they keep misusing words like "quantum" and "energy." In some cases "energy" is being used in a spiritual sense and not a scientific sense, but that often isn't clear, or it gets conflated.
- Your Mind Makes It Real: Reality itself, that is. Once you realize this... Whoa, nelly!