New Age and Neopagan Religions in America

New Age and Neopagan Religions in America

Sarah M. Pike
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    New Age and Neopagan Religions in America
    Book Description:

    From Shirley MacLaine's spiritual biography Out on a Limb to the teenage witches in the film The Craft, New Age and Neopagan beliefs have made sensationalistic headlines. In the mid- to late 1990s, several important scholarly studies of the New Age and Neopagan movements were published, attesting to academic as well as popular recognition that these religions are a significant presence on the contemporary North American religious landscape. Self-help books by New Age channelers and psychics are a large and growing market; annual spending on channeling, self-help businesses, and alternative health care is at $10 to $14 billion; an estimated 12 million Americans are involved with New Age activities; and American Neopagans are estimated at around 200,000. New Age and Neopagan Religions in America introduces the beliefs and practices behind the public faces of these controversial movements, which have been growing steadily in late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century America.

    What is the New Age movement, and how is it different from and similar to Neopaganism in its underlying beliefs and still-evolving practices? Where did these decentralized and eclectic movements come from, and why have they grown and flourished at this point in American religious history? What is the relationship between the New Age and Neopaganism and other religions in America, particularly Christianity, which is often construed as antagonistic to them? Drawing on historical and ethnographic accounts, Sarah Pike explores these questions and offers a sympathetic yet critical treatment of religious practices often marginalized yet soaring in popularity. The book provides a general introduction to the varieties of New Age and Neopagan religions in the United States today as well as an account of their nineteenth-century roots and emergence from the 1960s counterculture. Covering such topics as healing, gender and sexuality, millennialism, and ritual experience, it also furnishes a rich description and analysis of the spiritual worlds and social networks created by participants.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50838-4
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xvi)

    When I was a freshman in college in 1977, I became a vegetarian and frequented the local food cooperative and vegetarian restaurant in Durham, North Carolina. I met students who meditated, practiced yoga, and volunteered at the J. B. Rhine psychic research center and community members who were in occult study groups. Although not a full participant in any of these practices, I was endlessly curious about alternative spiritual and healing techniques. My friends’ and student colleagues’ activities and interests were part of a small but vibrant subculture. When I entered Duke University my declared major was zoology, but I...

    • CHAPTER ONE Ancient Mysteries in Contemporary America
      (pp. 3-12)

      San Jose, “Silicon Valley” central, is the heart of the late twentieth-century technological revolution and home to a large community of Neopagans and New Agers, many of whom have converged on a local hotel. The expansive lobby and atrium area of the Doubletree Hotel features a restaurant and bar, luxurious lounge chairs, elegantly dressed doormen—and dozens of people walking around in velvet cloaks, leather corsets, and other costumes. As I passed through on my way to a late-morning ritual, a traditional English longsword dance had taken over the lobby. Fiddle and guitar players kept time to the kilted dancers,...

    • CHAPTER TWO Introduction to the Religious Worlds of Neopagans and New Agers
      (pp. 13-38)

      Diana was born in 1953, one of the generation now known as the “baby boomers.” She remembers having unusual experiences as a child that frightened and fascinated her and worried her parents. She saw fairies in the woods and played with an imaginary friend. But her mother thought demons possessed her and insisted on taking Diana with her to the evangelical church she regularly attended. As Diana puts it, all the magic was forced out of her. When she left home she stopped attending church and lived a secular life for a few years, avoiding both Christianity and alternative religions....

    • CHAPTER THREE Early Varieties of Alternative Spirituality in American Religious History
      (pp. 39-66)

      At the beginning of the twenty-first century, New Age channelers transmitted messages from “ascended masters,” advanced beings in the spirit world willing to help humans, and contemporary Pagans called to ancient Egyptian spirits in their rituals. These and many other current religious practices have their origins in nineteenth-century religious movements that built on a stream of alternative beliefs present in North America since colonial times. This alternative tradition had no code of conduct, central doctrine, single sacred text, organized body, or central leadership. Instead, it was a loose network of overlapping beliefs and practices that scholars have variously dubbed “metaphysical...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The 1960s Watershed Years
      (pp. 67-88)

      In 1961, Robert Heinlein’s science fiction classic Stranger in a Strange Land was published and Black Elk Speaks, an account of the life of a Lakota medicine man, was reissued in paperback and became “the current youth classic.”¹ Both books would have an impact on the generation of men and women who would become Neopagans and New Agers. The first 1960s Neopagan groups looked for ancient and indigenous cultures on which to model their rituals, but they also took ideas from science fiction. New Agers too were attracted to stories of distant worlds and enchanted by the myths and rituals...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER FIVE Healing and Techniques of the Self
      (pp. 91-114)

      At Pagan Spirit Gathering 1993, several hundred people gathered in a large ritual space for the “Village Meeting.” Festival organizers made announcements about the day’s events and then called for everyone to visualize healing energy going out to those in need. We were asked to send energy to a woman in the hospital with a broken clavicle and to another woman who was pregnant and had planned to be at the festival, but had to stay home, close to the hospital, because her water bag was hanging out of her cervix. Then other names of people in need of healing...

    • CHAPTER SIX “All Acts of Love and Pleasure Are My Rituals”: Sex, Gender, and the Sacred
      (pp. 115-144)

      Due to the influence of two important historical movements—feminism and sexual liberation—Neopagans and New Agers often focus on gender and sexuality as sites where healing and personal/social transformation are most needed and can be most effective. They believe that in our troubled contemporary culture, everyone is damaged and needs to be repaired, and nowhere is this more true than in these areas. They diagnose and offer remedies for the historical causes of gender inequality and sexual repression. Because New Agers and Neopagans believe that Christianity has debased sex and the body and made them sinful aspects of human...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN The Age of Aquarius
      (pp. 145-172)

      Although the idea of a New Age was popularized by Alice Bailey in the early twentieth century, the term had been around at least since the American Revolution before it was used self-consciously by Theosophists like her who believed a “master” would come to enlighten humanity and usher us into a new age.¹ The concept picked up relevance as the 1960s counterculture looked toward the Age of Aquarius as a utopian future of peace and equality. Movements aimed at social and personal transformation that emerged or were given new meaning in the 1960s continue to shape New Age and Neopagan...

    (pp. 173-176)
  7. NOTES
    (pp. 177-192)
    (pp. 193-198)
    (pp. 199-204)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 205-220)