New Age Harmonies

The following article appeared in the December 7, 1987 issue of

TIME Magazine. Entitled "NEW AGE HARMONIES", it outlines many of the

beliefs of New Age movement and helps to define what this movement's

beliefs really are.

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New Age Harmonies

by Otto Friedrich

reported by

Mary Cronin / New York

Michael Riley / Los Angeles

Dennis Wyss / San Francisco

... So here we are in the New Age, a combination of spirituality

and superstition, fad and farce, about which the only thing certain is

that it is not new. Nobody seems to know exactly where the term came

from, but it has been around for several decades or more, and many

elements of the New Age, like faith healing, fortune-telling and

transmigration of souls, go back for centuries. (Ages, in general,

are an uncertain affair.

The Age of Aquarius, celebrated in the

musical Hair, may have started in the 1960s or at the turn of the

century or may not yet have begun. Once under way, such astrological

ages are supposed to last 2,000 years.)

Though it is hard to say exactly how many Americans believe in

which parts of the New Age, the movement as a whole is growing


Bantam Books says it's New Age titles have increased

tenfold in the past decade. The number of New Age bookstores has

doubled in the past five years, to about 2,500. New Age radio is

spreading, with such stations as WBMW in Washington and KTWV-FM in Los

Angeles offering dreamy light jazz that one listener described as

"like I tapped into a radio station on Mars". The Grammys now include

a special prize for New Age music (latest winner: Swiss Harpist

Andreas Vollenweider).

Fledgling magazines with names like New Age,

Body Mind Spirit and Brain/Mind Bulletin are full of odd ads: "Healing

yourself with crystals", "American Indian magic can work for you",

"How to use a green candle to gain money", "The power of the pendulum

can be in your hands", Use numerology to win the lottery". And,

perhaps inevitably, "New health through colon rejuvenation".

If some of those have a slightly greedy tone, the reason is that

New Age fantasies often intersect with mainstream materialism, the

very thing that many New Age believers profess to scorn. A surprising

number of successful stockbrokers consult astrological charts; a

yuppie investment banker who earns $100,000 a year talks of her

previous life as a monk.

Some millionaires have their own private

gurus who pay house calls to provide comfort and advice. Big

corporations too are paying attention. "The principle here is to look

at the mind, body, heart and spirit", says a corporate spokesperson,

who asks that her employer be identified only as a "major

petrochemical company". This company provides it's employees with

regular workshops in stress management; it has hired a faith healer to

"read auras" for ailing employees and run her hands over their "fields

of energy". Even the U.S. Army has commissioned a West Coast firm to

explore the military potentials of meditation and extrasensory


... For all it's popularity, the New Age is hard to define. It

includes a whole cornucopia of beliefs, fads, rituals; some subscribe

to some parts, some to others. Only on special occasions, like the

highly publicized "harmonic convergence" in August, do believers in I

Ching or crystals gather together with believers in astral travel,

shamans, Lemurians and tarot readers, for a communal chanting of "OM",

the Hindu invocation that often precedes meditation. Led on by the

urgings of Jose Arguelles, a Colorado art historian who claimed that

ancient Mayan calendars foretold the end of the world unless the

faithful gathered to provide harmony, some 20,000 New Agers assembled

at "sacred sites" from Central Park to Mount Shasta to - uh - provide


All in all, the New Age does express a cloudy sort of religion,

claiming vague connections with both Christianity and the major faiths

of the East (New Agers like to say the Jesus spent 18 years in India

absorbing Hinduism and the teachings of Buddha), plus an occasional

dab of pantheism and sorcery. The underlying faith is a lack of faith

in the orthodoxies of rationalism, high technology, routine living,

spiritual law-and-order. Somehow, the New Agers believe, there must

be some secret and mysterious shortcut or alternative path to

happiness and health. And nobody ever really dies.

Like other believers, many New Agers attach great importance to

artifacts, relics and sacred objects, all of which can be profitably

offered for sale: Tibetan bells, exotic herbal teas, Viking runes,

solar energizers, colored candles for "chromotherapy", and a Himalayan

mountain of occult books, pamphlets, instructions and tape recordings.

Some of these magical products are quite imaginative. A bearded

Colorado sage who calls himself Gurudas sells "gem elixirs", which he

creates by putting stones in bowls of water and leaving them in the

sun for several hours, claiming that this allows the water to absorb

energy from the sun and the stone.

Most New Agers prefer the stones themselves, specifically

crystals of all sorts. These are not only thought to have mysterious

healing powers but are considered programmable, like a computer, if

one just concentrates hard enough. (The most powerful crystals are

buried deep under New England, some New Agers believe, because New

England was once connected to Atlantis, the famous "lost continent".)

... There is no unanimity of New Age belief in anything, but

many New Agers do believe in unidentified flying objects, crewed by

oddly shaped extraterrestrials who have long visited the earth from

more advanced planets, spreading the wisdom that created, among other

things, Stonehenge and the pyramids of Egypt. Government officials

keep announcing that there are no such things as UFOs, but the

National Science Foundation reported last year that 43% of the

citizenry believe it "likely" that some of the UFOs reported "are

really space vehicles from other civilizations". (And where DID those

airstrip-like markings in the Peruvian Andes come from?)

... Come to a rocky meadow on California's Mount Shasta, where a

New Zealander named Neville Rowe tells the encircling crowd of 200

(admission: $10) that he speaks with the voice of Soli, an "off-planet

being" who has never actually lived on earth. Dressed in a white-

peaked cap, purple shirt and purple shoes, Rowe clutches a bottle of

Evian water as the voice emerges from him in a rather peculiar British

accent. "You are here to express who you are", says Soli. "You are

here to search for yourself. The highest recognition you can make is

that I am what I am. All that is, is. You are God. You are, each

and every one, part of the Second Coming".

Somebody wants to argue. What about murderers? Are they God


"Your truth is your truth", says Soli, while his helpers start

trying to sell video-tapes of his latest incarnation. "My truth is my


... Probably the most celebrated of all current channelers is

J.Z. Knight, a handsome ex-housewife in Yelm, Wash., who has performed

for thousands at a price of $150 each per session. She speaks for

Ramtha, a 35,000-year-old warrior who reports that he once lived on


He has even dictated a book, "I Am Ramtha", published in

Portland, Ore., by Beyond Words Publishing and illustrated with

photographs of Knight going into a trance on The Merv Griffin Show.

Sample words of Ramthan wisdom: "Who be I? I am a notorious entity.

I have that which is called a reputation. Know you what that is?

Controversial, and I do what I say I do. What I am here to do is not

to change people's minds, only to engage them and allow the

wonderments for those that desire them to come to pass. I have been

you, and I have become the other side of what you are..."

The sayings of Ramtha have brought Knight substantial rewards,

including a luxurious mansion complete with spa, swimming pools and

Arabian horses. A spokesman deprecates talk of her wealth, however,

by noting that she pays a staff of 14 and that the tax collectors are


Jo Ann Karl is a tall blond who says she was an up-and-coming

business executive until she discovered the supernatural seven years

ago. She was on a business trip in the Midwest when she first felt

herself drifting through space outside her body. She tried to ignore

the experience, but it kept recurring. Now she gets $15 a customer

for channeling the archangel Gabriel and a spirit named Ashtar.

"The lesson I learned in one of my past lives was about taking

risks", says Karl. "I was married to St. Peter. We traveled widely

with Jesus, teaching with him. After he was crucified, we continued

to teach and travel for several more years, until we were caught by

the Romans. Peter was crucified, and I was thrown to the lions, after

being raped and pilloried. Now I understand why I've always been

afraid of big animals".

Karl's spirit guides had been advising her to go to the Incan

empire's sacred Lake Titicaca in Bolivia (the Andes seem to be a

favorite way station for UFOs). "They sort of told us we would meet

them", she says. "I won't believe it until I see them and talk to

them and feel the panel on the spaceship. But maybe it is time for

people to know they have help". And so, starry-eyed and full of hope,

Karl headed southward, and she did catch a distant glimpse of what she

took to be a spaceship. "It looked like a whole lot of orange light",

she says. "A blast of light spherical in shape. It was big and far


... One of the most go-getting New Age entrepreneurs is Chris

Majer, 36, president of SportsMind, Inc., based in Seattle. As the

corporate name indicates, Majer originally worked mainly on athletic

training, though his current clients include not only AT&T but also

the U.S. Army.

Majer started his military efforts in 1982 with an

eight-week , $50,000 training program at Fort Hood in Texas.

Traditional calisthenics were replaced by a holistic stretching-warm-

up-aerobics-cool-down routine. Soldiers practiced visualizing their

combat tasks. The results in training test scores were apparently so

good that the Army expanded SportsMind's assignment into a yearlong,

$350,000 program to help train Green Berets. "They wanted the most

far-ranging human-performance program we could deliver", Majer says.

The Green Berets were taught meditation techniques so that they

could spend long hours hidden in enemy territory. "They have to be

comfortable at a deep level with who they are", Majer says, "not make

mental mistakes or they'll give away their position and get killed.

People say all this New Age stuff is a bunch of hoo-hoo, but it gets


While the idea of New Age Green Berets meditating in the jungle

can inspire laughter, it can also inspire a certain concern about the

political and social implications of the whole movement. Is it some

kind of neoleftist response to the Age of Reagan, or is it an

ultrarightist extension of Reaganism? The answer depends somewhat on

the answerer's politics. ...

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