Friday, September 30, 2011

The old age of the New Age

Recent revivals of the musical "Hair" have taken us back to an era some forty years ago when one couldn't go to a party or social gathering without having someone come up and ask "What's your sign?" There was no need to explain that the expression meant "astrological sign." Astrology and much else of an occult or hermetic nature was part of the New Age package encapsulated in the Counterculture,

I was never able to believe in astrology, or the other "sciences" of this kind, but I occasionally yielded to a sense that these notions might be metaphorical stand-ins for some vision of collective harmony that would supplant the everyday rat race. For some people there were opportunistic considerations. A horny friend used to say that he was willing to adopt whatever sign was needed to give an attractive interlocutor the rationale for going to bed with him.

While it survives here and there, most of this New Age stuff has faded. These thoughts were triggered by reading Wouter J. Hannegraaf's remarkable comprehensive survey "New Age Religion and Western Culture."

As an exercise in counterfactuality, I wonder what things would have been like had the New Age beliefs survived and thrived. For one thing, they probably would have incited the Christian Evangelicals to make them their target--instead of the secularism that nowadays mainly attracts their ire. And Nancy Reagan, consulting astrologers in the White House, would no longer be an anomaly.



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