“The New Age” is an umbrella term of beliefs and practices. This is similar to the umbrella term “arthritis”, a name for over 100 reasons why joints become painfully inflamed. But explaining each and every belief under New Age can be tedious, so a shorter way to describe it was and still is needed. Basically, it means any belief or practice that’s not considered “normal”.
How the Name Came to Be
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a resurgence of interest in the occult, native religions and Eastern philosophies. None of these conepts were new to the natives, but were only new to the West. There also were new interests in things like UFOs and alien contact, which somehow got melded in with the old Eastern philosphies.
The press, politicians and parents of those searching out these non-mainstream concepts needed a compact, catchy term that encompassed everything from accupuncture healing to channeling the spirits of extra terrestrials. For better or for worse, someone came up with the phrase “The New Age” and it stuck.
Comparison to World Music
New Age is somewhat like the World Mucic of spiritual beliefs and healing practices — in the naming, anyway. World Music is the term music stores use to describe non-Western music, such like Ladysmith Black Mombazo or The Chieftains. It can also cover native folk songs or instruments and rythyms used from Asian, African or South American countries.
But modern Sengalese music can sound entirely different from Siberian throat singing. And yet, all of these vastly different sounding types of music are given the same label.
When asked about how the name “World Music” came up, British pop singer songwriter (and WOMAD co-founder) Peter Gabriel replied, “I’m not aware of any music making acts out of Jupiter.” He then went on to explain that the major record sellers needed a short, catchy category that didn’t sound close to anything else. “World Music” was suggested and it’s been used ever since. World Music albums, CDs and tapes are often the background soundtrack to many a New Age practice or gathering today.
Lack of Organization
There is no one New Age Bible, code of conduct, Pope or organized rituals. In fact, there really is nothing organized of any kind. Many followers classified as New Age experts can and do openly criticise other New Age experts. It is this lack of organization and openness to change that appeals to many, especailly those that suffered from Puritanical organized religions.
“New Age” is the name of many paths, including a blend of the occult, self-healing, the human potential movement and ancient Eastern beliefs like reincarnation and karma. Although there are many diverse paths, they all lead to the same place – one’s own way through the hilarious absurdity of life and death (and maybe life again).
Just remember, if you hear about anything classified as “New Age”, don’t take for granted that you know what it is. Give it a listen to decide for yourself.