Paganism Versus the New Age Movement

Earlier this week I overheard a discussion about the connection between Paganism and New Age, alternative healing methods.  The speaker was talking about how angry he was to find things like chakra charts and gem elixir kits in the Pagan shops because they’re not magical and have anything to do with Pagan practices.  This got me thinking.  Why do Pagan shops carry New Age things and vis versa?  Where does the Pagan Movement start and the New Age Movement begin?  How do they connect?  So I did a little research!

Just to give a little background, the New Age Movement began in the early 1970’s and peaked in the late ’70s and early ’80s.  The ethos of the  Movement is that for 2,000 years humanity has been in the Age of Pisces, and we are entering the Age of Aquarius.  This “new age” will be marked by more personal liberation and healing.  Through this philosophy, alternative lifestyle options such as yoga and herbalism have become more mainstream.

The Pagan Movement, which formally began with the publication of Witchcraft Today in 1954, and the New Age Movement have several philosophical similarities, which makes sense because Paganism is a parent philosophy of the New Age Movement.  Belief in reincarnation is common in both communities.  So is the idea of personal spirituality.  Also both philosophies have a core belief in the respect and preservation of the natural world.  Of course, both movements aren’t the same.  The New Age Movement has no distinct religious category due to its emphasis on personal faith.  For example, my great-uncles are all New Agers, but all hail from different religious and spiritual paths ranging from Methodism to Evangelical Christianity to Paganism to the zen and art of microbrewing beer (that uncle finds it quite meditative).  In addition, the New Age Movement does not widely believe in magic and the Other Worlds the way many Pagans do.  Also something I didn’t know is many members of the Pagan community are critical about the patriarchal elements of the New Age Movement.

In the Pagan community, there are several New Age practices that aren’t Pagan per say but are commonly performed by Pagans.  Examples include crystal healing, past life regression, yoga, herbal medicine, and certain forms of energy work.  A lot of Pagans approach New Age activities as part of their spiritual practice, sort of an extracurricular extension of their faith. Although I feel it’s important to note that New Age practices are not required of Pagans, just something extra.  For myself, I don’t hold a lot of faith in crystal therapy and Reiki (bad experiences with both) but I am an active yogi and a budding herbalist.  It’s all about finding what works for you.

So, dude in the Pagan shop, the reason New Age and Pagan shops carry similar items is because they serve a similar demographic.  While being a Pagan and a New Ager is not the same thing, the Movements overlap in practices and tools.

© Ariadne Woods


7 thoughts on “Paganism Versus the New Age Movement

  1. I’m never quite sure what to think about how New Age and Pagan practices relate on a broad scale. Personally, I think they are both valid but each person has their own relationship with them. On the one hand, I think having a spiritual path so deeply entwined with New Age practices is one of the main reasons that Paganism isn’t seen as “real” in the way that formal religions are – but then on the other hand, if our connections to New Age thought moves us away from dominating hierarchies, why not?
    To me, the only thing I really dislike about New Age is the vast amount of cultural and ethnic appropriation that goes on, but just because it is rampant in the community doesn’t mean that everyone does it. Afterall, the Pagan writing community is notorious for it’s amount of plagiarism, but I digress. Thank you for all the research, it gives me lots to think about!

  2. This was a great read. I’m w/o a faith right now.. basically trying to see what existing faith is in tune with my personal thoughts about faith. I can completely see where these will overlap. It’s like complaining in the Christian store that they carry rosaries. They are related!

    1. Not quite an accurate comparison. Rosaries ARE Christian, not just related to Christianity. Rosaries are common in Catholicism which is a Christian denomination not a separate faith. The idea that Catholics are not Christians is a painful and baffling misconception. So, to correct your comparison, it would be like selling both crosses (Protestant) and crucifixes (Catholic) in a specifically Catholic store. The denominations are intertwined but they are not the same. To use a non-religious comparison, it might also be like selling bread and cheese at a wine store. Someone who buys wine is likely interested in bread and cheese to go with the wine, but they did not enter the store to buy bread and cheese.

  3. There’s certainly plenty of historical overlap, as you noted. We’re absolutely related, and I think it’s fair to describe certain Pagan movements as New Age. But I think it’s also worth adding that, just from a sociological perspective, the two groups tend to represent different demographics (and here we can consider Pew Polls, the Pagan Census, and other sources). New Agers tend to have more disposable income, come from wealthier backgrounds, and have more formal education. Pagans tend to occupy slightly lower economic brackets. Fewer Pagans can shell out the cash for the sorts of healing treatments, spiritual “certifications” and retreats that have historically characterized New Age religion in the US.

    Both are interesting communities, and I’ve always been super fascinated by the push from contemporary Pagans to distinguish their traditions from the New Age.

    As a sidenote, our local witch shop consciously excludes the New Age. We send people elsewhere for their chakra, Yoga, white light, and past life regression needs. 🙂

  4. Then, there are those of us who are on the path to rediscovering the Old Ways through whatever means and methods we find works. I like to think of much of the “Old Ways” as in “Paleo-Paganism” being among them.

    Much of today’s healing modalities still operate from the very same basic aspect: The Powers of Mind, Heart, and Spirit. Whatever “tools” each of use, are purely of our own choosing, and are how we channel our flows of energy through. It is immaterial WHERE or WHEN they “came into vogue”.

    My main problem with much of this “New Age” and the “Neo-Paganism” is from how so many are more into the “group thing” moreso than actually learning the how’s and why’s some things work, and truly understanding from what source(s). Many followers have no clue as to what kinds of wild plants and herbs grow in their environments, or even what powers they possess. Much of the path of the ancient practices of Shamanism, was more on actually learning and DOING in order to become a successful (and powerful) healer. This even without any actual ritual or ceremony involved.

    – “Just my two cents.”

    – Rev. Dragon’s Eye

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