For readers new to this space, perhaps it is good if I say again that I am a Catholic convert who once passionately identified with the New Age movement. For many years, I was associated in one way or another with the Findhorn Foundation in the north of Scotland, which numerous people would identify as the leading centre of the New Age subculture in Europe – if not the world.
For two and half years in the 1980’s, I actually lived at Findhorn. Afterwards, I worked long, hard hours promoting its distinctive form of spirituality in Cambridge, England.
All of this is dealt with in a book I am currently preparing for self-publication: Cor Jesu Sacratissimum: From Materialism and the New Age to the Catholic Mystery.
Today I thought I would simply present an extract adapted from the draft I am still polishing:
“When I turned to the New Age as an adolescent, it was not due to the thrill of things occult. Rather, the movement seemed to offer something higher and more authentic, than that which I perceived in either the materialistic mainstream culture or in my (very Protestant) concept of organised religion. As I have said, my first real encounter came age 16, at the Findhorn Community in Northern Scotland.
Yes here is the place to acknowledge that the Findhorn Community I encountered then, represented a collection of perhaps two hundred adults living together with a striking idealism. Whatever else they were, they were not materialists, scrambling over each other in the rat-race.
They worked, often long hours, for very little or nothing in terms of pay. And it cannot be denied that they worked for certain ideals, such as that of being good stewards of the Earth. Findhorn had started in fact, with an emphasis on organic gardening and maintains to this day considerable ecological awareness and environmentally-conscious innovation.
There were also certain psychological and humanistic aspirations, including genuine effort toward really listening to what another person had to say and honouring of the reality of what the human being experienced.
All of this was bound up with an admittedly and I think often deliberately nebulous notion of spirituality. People did not speak in theological terms, but there was a general affirmation, however vaguely defined, that it was not simply the material in life that mattered, but that which transcended it.
What such Transcendence might actually constitute, was left undefined at a collective level. A few felt happy to speak of God. Many others preferred terms such as “the Universe” or “the Source”.
Now, reasons for this deliberate blandness are to be found in numerous loci. There is of course, the secular trajectory of the last centuries, where increasing numbers have despaired of theology. And the New Age movement, I believe, shares far more common cause and identity with Secularism, than it often wants to admit.
More darkly still, I believe certain roots are bound up with the Anglophone, esoteric stream to which I have already referred and will be returning to. But another reason lay in simple idealism. There was noble drive present at Findhorn, including an aspiration to harmony. Many Findhornians came from apparently divergent traditions and disciplines: shamanistic, psychotherapeutic, holistic healing and more. Though as I say, underneath the disparate nomenclature, a hidden unity lurks.
Still the nomenclature is often different and common terms were seen as needed to promote harmony. But which common terms would not cause offense? God? For many if not all, this was regarded as too Christian, patriarchal and divisive.
And as for Jesus – well, of course not! For all of the same reasons, plus of course the background influence of esoteric teachings, which held the concept of Jesus as simply a man into whom “the Christ consciousness” had incarnated.
No – less specific and more abstract terms were definitely required! Energy, Consciousness, “Love and Light”, Spirit, the Universe …
Many New Agers would argue that there is much to be gained by adopting such “non-offensive” terms that can be commonly assented to – or so it is argued: people can agree on these. And is there anything to be lost by resorting to such banal, neutral and impersonal terms? Such a question is very rarely asked in New Age circles, in my experience. And I am concerned that the terminology is not actually as neutral as might be supposed …
In any event, the affirmation of such (supposedly) neutral representations of the Transcendent, also manifested itself in concrete ways. Thus, throughout the Findhorn Community, one would of course not find anything like chapels or temples – but one found what were called Sanctuaries.
This was a name aimed to denominate an indistinct space for contemplation – a space where no “divisive” religious imagery should be present, but where instead, one could simply sit in silence and meditate or contemplate as one wished. Typically, circles of chairs were arranged in concentric circles around a table with a candle in the centre.
Thus in these ordinary, featureless rooms, one could find chairs, where members of the community sat in silence. Or did they? Because the truth of the matter was – the members of Findhorn rarely used these Sanctuaries. It was the tourists and visitors to the community that frequented them.
But – and this was a point of concern, if not despair for some – the members generally were not there. And why not? Could it be that these bare, colourless rooms were lacking, somehow? Or that there was something uninspiring or uninviting about them? In all my years associated with Findhorn, I never once remember this question being raised.”
To be Continued …