New Age

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There is a pervading notion that has floated within canonical Spirituality: the raising of one’s vibration or frequency. There are countless books in the New Age section of your favorite bookstore and many videos on YouTube that promises lessons on “How to Raise your Vibration,” Many of these practitioners claim that “raising one’s vibration” is possible only through one’s “commitment to personal happiness.”

Raising One's Vibration

The “raising one’s vibration” or “frequency” has enjoyed some popularity for quite some time. The notion that vibrations were “sacred” appeared first in the East, in ancient Brahmanism, from which Hinduism descended. The Vedic cosmology claimed there were 14 planes (or worlds) of existence. Buddhism asserted that there were 31 planes of existence. However, it was Hinduism, primarily through Advaita Vedanta conceived by Adi Shankara, that claimed the universe, represented by Brahman, was a “pure consciousness.” Thus, the idea that the universe is a form of consciousness is very old, and existed long before the West got wind of it through the ancient pre-Socratic philosophers like Parmenides and Anaxagoras who conceived the universe as something like “the mind of God.”

The idea that consciousness “evolved” or was capable of being “raised” in modern times seems to be first recorded by Ramakrishna, the 19th Century Hindu mystic. The Theosophist master Helena Blavatsky, who was a contemporary of Ramakrishna, asserted the idea that the planes of existence, divine consciousness and sacred frequency were the same. This ideas were updated in the 20th Century by spiritiualists like Alice Bailey and Sri Aurobindo. Positive-thinking gurus like Napoleon Hill and W.W. Atkinson used these principles to promised unlimited wealth. These threads of spiritual ideas were woven together to create a tapestry called the “Law of Attraction.”

The Law of Attraction

The Law of Attraction’s main premise is that consciousness is superior to the physical. The idea that consciousness creates the physical is one that runs back to the ancient Vedantic principle of Brahman as the divine consciousness and the material world an illusion. In the West, this idea was latched onto by spiritualism, Theosophy and the New Thought Movement in the late 19th Century. Modern New Age spirituality and the principles of the Law of Attraction are essentially the culmination and combination of Theosophist and New Thought ideas.

Spiritual Snake Oil

Which brings us back to the current situation of these spiritual snake oil salespeople who make a living creating “how-to” manuals that promise to show one how to draw good things to self by only engaging in positive thinking. The story goes like this: if one is to live a full and complete life one is obliged to make a “commitment” to “personal happiness.” This is done through the “raising of frequency” through “feeling good.” Yes, we’ve heard this all before. It’s from New Thought author W.W. Anderson and his book, “Thought Vibration or the Law of Attraction in the Thought World,” published in 1903. Napoleon Hill followed with his book, “Think and Grow Rich,” which was followed by the Secret up to the present day with LOA proponents and New Age trance-channeler Esther Hicks.

This is a somewhat recent innovation. While Theosophy and the New Thought Movement often placed humans as “divine” figures, neither movement sought to equate personal happiness, or enlightened self-interest as spiritual goals. It would have been unseemly. The shift in focus from humanity to the individual occurred with the rise of the New Age, with its emphasis on spirituality as a legitimate commodity. Capitalism has long corrupted all forms of religious enterprises, so this isn’t such a surprise. What is interesting is to note the uniqueness of the New Age shift to the concerns of the individual rather than say, the redemption of groups of humanity, as we have in the Organized Religions. Leaving the hypocrisy, immorality and corruption of the religious systems aside, at least the narrative of the Organized Religions pretended to seek the salvation of humanity. This shift of elevating personal happiness to a spiritual goal coincides with neoliberal ideals of personal liberty, acquisition of property and the rights of the Individual.

The teaching that magical thinking will transform beings into perpetual happiness machines amounts to the worst kind of snake-oil salesmanship, which may not be fair to snake-oil salesmen because they gave out oil, which was at least something tangible.