Is this, in the lyrics of the 60’s song, “the dawning of the Age of Aquarius”?
If there’s any truth to the claim, the dawning is still now, because the age in question extends for a few thousand years. Between us and Flower Power is not even the twinkling of an eye.
I offer a qualified defence for the New Age idea; not qualified, because I’m an expert New Ager, but qualified as in hedged around with qualifications. There are aspects of the New Age enthusiasm which exceed the bounds of common sense and reason. That said, I am loathe to throw the baby out with the bathwater, especially when the bath was so lovingly tinctured with essential oil by cloth-nappy-touting hippy parents.
The New Age movement is interesting, firstly for the astronomical signposts that link it to both the sign and the constellation of Aquarius, the Water-Bearer. Flowing from there is a pageant of symbolism for the Water-Bearer, including some mythic and astrological. Then there is the plethora of New Age spiritual practices, especially appealing to those who identify as “spiritual but not religious”.
1962 was an interesting year.
As the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation, the Second Vatican Council opened in Rome, marking a kind of reconciliation between traditional Christianity and the modern world. Kennedy, Kruschev, Good Pope John and the rest of the power elite realised in the starkest possible way that erstwhile foes had to find a common purpose and build a global civilisation - or else we could all be destroyed. We got the hotline, the EEC, ecumenism and interfaith dialogue.
On February 5, 1962 there was an extraordinary alignment of planets and luminaries in the sign of the Water-Bearer, heralding for some the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
The community of Esalen was established in Big Sur California at this time and, within the year, the super-sized vegetable-growing Findhorn Foundation sprang up in Scotland. Esalen and Findhorn have proved beachheads of the New Age movement. Like other centres, communities, clinics, courses, conventions and workshops that have arrived on the scene since, they preach a radical, eclectic spirituality and a deep ecology which offers a challenging alternative to traditional religion. The Beatles and the Beach Boys launched their musical revolution in 1962, and environmentalism was born.
Apart from the planetary alignment, there is another interesting astronomical fact. It’s to do with the time period of 26,000 years.
This is how long it takes light to travel from earth to the centre of the galaxy. It is also the length of the famous precessional cycle, known to star-gazing ancient peoples.
Although it is too complex to describe here, the precessional cycle results in the sun’s equinoctal and solsticial points tracking slowly against the backdrop of fixed stars. That’s 2,160 years for each zodiacal age. Or 72 years for one degree of movement.
In the 72 years from 1962 to 2034, the nearest degree of alignment between the December 21 solstice and the centre of the galaxy is currently being traversed.
But do not jump to conclusions as to what this cosmic alignment means. Remember the end of the Mayan Calendar came and went on this date in 2012.
It is tempting to ask whether some cosmic reset button is being pressed; whether a quantum leap in our evolution is being signalled by these signs in the sky.
After all, the 72 year window marks the advent of the space age and probably will see earthlings colonise the solar system. The digital revolution has built a synaptic nervous system for what effectively functions as a planetary organism. We are as a species concomitantly developing a deeper connection with the terrestrial and a deeper connection with the extraterrestrial. Something NEW is going on. Big History is one discipline arising out of the drive to understand our cosmic origins and point in evolution. Assuming astronomical signs accompany epochal shifts - on balance - I give the New Age theory a thumbs up.
What about Water-Bearer symbology?
In Greek mythology, Ganymede was abducted by Zeus and became a cup-bearer to the gods.
In Christianity, Jesus is the divine cup-bearer, offering both the cup of salvation and living (or life-bringing) waters. The regenerative waters of baptism lift the individual into a new, spiritual family, not one based on blood or ethnicity, but one based on creed or ideology. It is Christ consciousness. The consciousness of One becoming the consciousness of many - and vice versa. The healthy New Age is pro-Christ, not Anti-Christ. It gives leads to the understanding of what the Cosmic Christ could be in a rapturous planetary awakening.
In 1781 the planet Uranus was discovered - the first of the outer planets that lie beyond those visible to the naked eye and known to the ancients.
The consensus of astrologers assigned the planet to the sign Aquarius, calling it “ruler”, which basically means that the symbolism associated with Uranus has affinity with the symbolism associated with the sign. The new planet arrived on the scene for the French and American Revolutions, and the start of European colonisation in Australia; for the Enlightenment, the purveyal of Freemasony’s ideals via the British Empire, and the associated propagation of many democratic and revolutionary movements. Uranus and Aquarius are also symbolically linked with the age of electricity, the age of invention and technological innovation. Perhaps Goethe’s figure of Faust heralds the age in literature.
There is a kind of libertarian spirituality in all this which challenges the old authorities of king and pope. Liberty, equality and fraternity - the brotherhood of autonomous individuals, voluntarily associating under some ideal. But these developments have been unfolding over several centuries of the modern era. They did not appear out of thin air or a marmalade sky with the Baby Boomers. To save the Aquarian Age hypothesis I must believe in the “cusp” or threshold of the age which lasts for centuries.
The”hippies” of the 60’s and 70’s who believed in peaceful revolution - in “making love not war” - can be regarded as a reboot of an earlier revolutionary impulse.
They rejected authority in a way no generation had before them. The conservative reaction of their elders, a war-dedicated generation, had little chance of ever restoring the old-fashioned regard for authority. The Nuremberg Trials had already told the world there was individual responsibility, and that it was not sufficient defence to say “I was just following orders”. By the time the Vietnam War came around, people were deciding for themselves whether they wanted to go “all the way with LBJ”.
Today, as we reach for the stars, there are echoes of Greek mythology, where Ouranos (=Uranus) was a primordial sky god who linked heaven and earth, being both spouse and son to the earth goddess, Gaia. (In some accounts he was fathered by Aether, a god of air - which is convenient for astrology’s description of Aquarius as an Air sign.) The myth of Gaia and Ouranos dovetails nicely with the earlier point about our species simultaneously developing a deeper connection with the terrestrial and the extraterrestrial. With the precious earth beneath our feet and the starry cosmos above. There is also a nice resonance between a figure who can link heaven and earth : a Son of God and a Son of Man.
The Greek mythic espousal of sky god to earth goddess anticipates the Holy Spirit impregnating the Virgin Mary : the Incarnation of salvation history.
Yet the Greek myth also relates that Ouranos was overthrown by his son Kronos (Time), who castrated his father with a scythe. The revolutionary’s utopian vision is emasculated by its subjection to the temporal order. The Greek Kronos became the Roman Saturn and bears a resemblance to the Judaeo-Christian Satan. Satan can temporarily cut down the Son of God, but he will rise again.
Finally, I turn to the contemporary marketplace.
New Age spiritual practices are drawn from a mutiracial, multireligious matrix.
Whoever goes to a yoga class is involved. So too is anyone introducing feng shui into their house. To “receive Reiki” during a massage, or “crystal healing” means certain involvement. So does getting a Tarot reading. White martial artists emulating Bruce Lee are plying now-universalised Oriental techniques. New Age spirituality runs through many popular books - through fiction like The Da Vinci Code and the Celestine Prophecy; through quasi-scientific non-fiction like Deepak Chopra. And it all comes from world faith traditions. Deepak Chopra is a Western-trained endocrinologist who is reviving ancient Vedic teachings he received through Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - the same Maharishi who inspired the Beatles.
Missionaries have gone from West to East, but they have also gone from East to West in this late modern period. Like the Maharishi, Paramahamsa Yogananda came from India and rose to prominence in America with Self Realisation Fellowships and his Autobiography of a Yogi, which I understand was the only book Steve Jobs kept to read on his iPhone, in between designing increasingly sophisticated Aquarian devices. But such missionaries operate in a western milieu primed by Theosophists, Anthroposophists and Gurgeffians to adopt an omnivorous approach to Truth. The Theosophical Society sought to bring the wisdom of the East back to the West. It has carried the controversial motto “There is no religion higher than Truth”.
Is there any wonder - with all the globalising missionary activity that has transpired - that a growing number of people today identify as “spiritual but not religious”?
Maybe the New Age is the closest thing to home for such individuals. It is a transactional space where wisdom from all the faith traditions can be exchanged; where a libertarian eclecticism is encouraged. If the excesses and the nuttier stuff are avoided, the New Age movement can provide a useful glue for secular societies, and a source of prompts, techniques and investigative approaches for the task of interfaith conflict resolution.
For me, the New Age is like the Feast of the Magi. It is a reminder that authentically seeking Truth along whatever star-lit road, old or new, can lead to Jesus.