The New Age in the Modern West

by Nicholas Campion

Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

Paper: 271

Price: pp. $75.28 hard; $37.93 paper.

Subtitled “Counterculture, Utopia, and Prophecy from the Late Eighteenth Century to the Present Day” this book is a feast of good reading for history buffs, anyone who started studying astrology or metaphysics from the sixties, and counterculture aficionados of all ages.

The so-called New Age culture is usually seen as a modern — and largely Western – movement: a movement built around the expectation of a crisis followed by the start of a “golden age.” Campion challenges this notion — and maybe us, too — by tracing the idea of a new age back to ancient cosmology. And he links this with both the writings of Hesiod and Plato as well as to Thomas More's book Utopia, first published in 1516. So it seems the New Age has always been, and still is, just around the corner.

You can read about the Theosophical Society's prophecy that a new period of history was imminent and their mission to prepare for it, beginning in 1875. You can read about Alistair Crowley's “New Aeon,” revealed to him in 1904 and then promoted to his followers. You can read about Gurdieff and Ouspensky and their contributions. You can read about Krishnamurti and his rejection of said prophecy. Alice Bailey, Rudolf Steiner, and Carl Jung are also mentioned. Prominent groups from the sixties, the Yippees, the Diggers, the Hippies, the followers of Timothy Leary, and others, served to fuel the sixties vision where, as Campion says, “Utopianism and dystopianism merged seamlessly in the psychedelic imagination.” And on we go towards the Punk movement, Jose Arguelles and “The Mayan Factor” and more.

In conclusion, Campion quotes Bruno Latour, author of “We Have Never Been Modern” and says the New Age is part of what Latour calls “the anthropological matrix”, the complex pattern of belief and practice which connects westerners to their prehistoric ancestors”. In other words, everything new is old again. Or old still.

Although academic, this is a highly readable book. As you might expect, there is an extensive bibliography and a very thorough index. No charts and not much astrology, but reading this could easily give you new insights into astrology given that the Theosophists, Steiner, and even Crowley and Arguelles have contributed to our thought.           

Highly recommended if you're not afraid of shaking loose a couple of beliefs.                                                            

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