Printed in the Spring 2013 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: Bloom, William. "Not Another New Age!" Quest 101. 2 (Spring 2013): pg. 50 - 53.
By William Bloom
It was embarrassing when I read Norman Cohn's book The Pursuit of the Millennium and discovered that, decade by decade for centuries, there had been many groups of crackpots claiming that a new age or an apocalypse was imminent.
My embarrassment deepened when, as a mature student, I took a degree at the London School of Economics, studied social anthropology, and learned that it was normal for excited groups of people, including scholars and intellectuals, to make extravagant claims, some of which have led to religious cults. In particular, I squirmed when I read about cargo cults, a phenomenon that occurred when previously isolated tribal peoples met European explorers for the first time and thought they were gods sent from heaven.
Before learning about these common social and cultural movements, influenced by altered states of consciousness and reading many books, I had been naively confident that we were living at the beginning of a New Age. I had experienced the 1960s and Flower Power, with its anthem about the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Then I took a two-year retreat beginning in 1972, disappearing into the High Atlas Mountains of southern Morocco to perform the six-month ritual of Abramelin the Mage, which is designed to enable the practitioner to obtain knowledge of and conversation with his holy guardian angel. (For an account of my retreat see my book, The Sacred Magician: The Diary of a Ceremonial Magician, Glastonbury, U.K.: Gothic Image, 1992.) I also read a weighty trunk full of esoteric books including the major works of H.P. Blavatsky, C.W. Leadbeater, Annie Besant, and Alice Bailey. In all of these substantial texts, there was a underlying and recurring message that humanity was in the process of a cosmic growth spurt and all was about to change. I felt that they explained and described my own personal experience of the zeitgeist. It was obvious, wasn't it? Everything was changing.
I wrote about the New Age. I started a New Age community. I edited the first anthology of New Age writings for a television series for Britain's Channel Four. I became part of the faculty at Europe's leading New Age center, the Findhorn Foundation. I helped start a major New Age program at St. James's Church, Piccadilly, in London. I befriended leading New Age thinkers such as David Spangler and Eileen Caddy. I became a speaker at academic conferences on the New Age.
Yet in reflective moments I could not ignore the psychological, historical, and anthropological insights. Perhaps this New Age was just another myth, another cargo cult, layered on top of irrational human arousal.
There were also realistic questions to be asked, such as, is our age more significant than the Stone Age, Iron Age, Ice Age, the settling of hunter-gatherers, the Reformation, the Renaissance, or the Industrial Revolution? Certainly there are some profound social and cultural shifts, notably the dismantling of ageism, sexism, patriarchy, and racism, as well as the information technology revolution, which has created the global village. These are important significators, but do they constitute a New Age?
The Theosophical approach presents us with a really grand cosmic claim that humanity is experiencing the most significant shift in the whole of its history. At the core of this claim is a cosmic map and humanity's crucial role within it. To state the obvious first, this map contains the basic premise that we human beings are souls in incarnation. We have personalities, but these are just temporary vehicles for identities that are far more enduring and meaningful. Moreover, our souls"sparks emerging from a divine and cosmic breath"are not only individual but are also part of a collective endeavor. The purpose of this endeavor is to anchor spirit "compassion, benevolence, and unconditional love"into the dense matter of earth. We are all souls, incarnate in flesh and blood vehicles, and we are, so to speak, on a collective mission sent by deity.
This process is a long journey of experience, learning, and development for all of us. Beginning as innocent and unrealized waves or sparks of love, moving through cycles of incarnation, we develop and manifest consciousness, compassion, and wisdom"until finally it is our individual destiny to manifest an incarnation so radiant with consciousness and love that we are freed from the cycle of reincarnation, freed from samsara, and join the community of liberated adepts, bodhisatwas, and realized Masters of Wisdom.
At the very core of this process is a cosmic intention. We, as souls, are agents of spirit, bringing the resonance of love and new consciousness down into dense matter. This story is told not only in Theosophy but also in Tibetan Buddhism, the Vedas, Gnostic Christianity, Kabbalah, Sufism, the Western and Middle Eastern Mysteries, and other esoteric traditions. It is told too in the symbolism of myths about fallen angels and slain solar deities. Our purpose as souls is to bring love into matter and revibrate it. And this is happening within a greater context and set of relationships in which earth is connected to the other planets in our solar system, and our solar system is linked with other stars and constellations. (For a detailed explanation of these planetary chains and cycles see H.P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine as well as Alice Bailey's Treatise on Cosmic Fire and Esoteric Astrology.) Within this context, we human souls are playing out a role that is significant not just for each of us personally but also for our solar system and beyond.
This long process begins with a cycle that lasts millions of years as our souls seek to land and anchor fully into earthy matter. In Theosophy this long first stage is called the involutionaly, cycle. The crucial claim made by Blavatsky and Bailey is that the involutionary cycle is today finally beginning to achieve its purpose: the vibration of our souls"the resonance of compassion and unconditional love"is now landing deep into matter. Over millions of years our souls have been slowly descending through the mental and astral planes down into the etheric planes. Finally we are beginning to fully touch down into the densest etheric, gaseous, liquid, and material planes.
This involutionary achievement was, it is sometimes suggested, made possible by the collaborative endeavor of the Buddha and Christ, the Buddha preparing the mental energy body of humanity as a whole for such a deep incarnation, and Christ penetrating deep through the emotional and physical realms. These two great beings were leaders of our flock.
According to this map, now that our souls have fully descended into matter through the involutionarly, process, they can now begin to ascend, as a whole, into a more graceful evolutionary cycle. This collective shift is a pivotal time for our planetary chain, the Solar Logos, and beyond.
Now —just to play devil's advocate for a moment—this is a really fabulous piece of anthropocentricity, isn't it? Just in case we humans are not pompous enough, this viewpoint asserts that humanity is pivotal in the evolutionary process of our solar and galactic system and beyond! Hm. Such delusion. Such arrogance.
So why do I believe it? For two reasons.
The first is that this model explains to me the extraordinary experience of being human. Without exception every spiritual traveler that I know, including me, endures (and enjoys) the wildest and most paradoxical roller-coaster of a journey. Inside our minds, emotions, and psyches, we are all mood-swinging dramatists, one moment cosmic, divine, brilliant, and wise, and the next moment irritable, driven by uncontrollable mammalian instincts, defensive-aggressive, neurotic, and incredibly petty (Speak for yourself, I hear you say No, I reply, I speak for all of us!)
We are all of us strung out between cosmic consciousness and neurotic pettiness. What explains this extreme polarity? Our drama"our sacred drama"is, I believe, explained by our location in the scheme of things. We are central agents of transformation as spirit meets, marries, and revibrates matter, as involution turns to evolution. That is our essential esoteric function and purpose. We are the pivot where spirit meets and transforms matter. That is bound to create esoteric friction and "electric fire" playing out in and through us.
Then there is a second reason why I believe it, which points to something more easy, enjoyable, and graceful. Let me pose it first as an enquiry: How might you personally experience the full involutionary incarnation of your soul? What would it feel like when your spirit successfully incarnates into your matter? How would you recognize it?
The answer seems obvious to me, and it behooves us here to be kinesthetically and clairsentiently wise. As our souls ground fully into our bodies, down into our cellular and atomic matter, we would sense and feel the sensations of spirit, compassion, and unconditional love anchoring down into our vehicles. We would feel the incarnation of love in our bodies.
In my case, this is precisely the experience I have when I am in a state of graceful meditation. Perhaps for you too. This is also precisely the experience I have when I am centered, compassionate, and present. My mind and psyche are calm and watchful, whilst my body feels subtle sensations of well-being and goodwill.
I hear from my friends, colleagues, and students that they too have many similar experiences, some within meditation or other spiritual practices, but also in many other circumstances such being in a natural landscape, caring, healing, reading, making love, and participating in the arts, dance, sport, and so on.
This is supremely and gracefully simple, isn't it? When spirit incarnates fully into matter"when love earths"of course we feel it as a deep and contented sensation in our physical bodies. Why should it not be that simple? The major cosmic narrative is that spirit is incarnating into matter. As it is above, so it is below. Our microcosms reflect the macrocosmic process. In his case, you and I are the space of encounter for both "above" and "below," and when it happens "below" we have love descending into the matter of our bodies, the soul fully entering its temple.
We can therefore see that a crucial part of our work as esotericists and travelers on the spiritual path is to land love into our bodies. It is no idle coincidence that at precisely the same time that meditation practices and Theosophical ideas began to emerge in Western culture, so also did the body-based approaches of yoga, martial arts, sacred dance, Tantra, breath work, and healing bodywork. In my own life, for example, I was very lucky when in my early thirties my oldest friend brought me over to California to experience deep tissue massage and healing hot springs. Initially my esoteric intellectuality was resistant, but my body opened up to receive my incarnation. I felt love and healing in my cells.
This was true incarnation. The altered states of consciousness and transcendent energies of my meditations were landing in my flesh and blood temple. I began experientially to understand incarnation and the involutionary cycle.
This embodiment must, I suggest, be a core part of the mature practice of a modern esotericist. Using whatever method and circumstances work best for you, come down into your body, sink into your flesh, relax, and allow your soul to find accommodation fully within you. Do this mindfully and with waking, expanding consciousness. You probably already do this very successfully when you are relaxed after a good meal or have walked and paused to enjoy a view. Your body is relaxed. You are naturally meditative. In those moments, you can just become more mindful and allow love and goodwill and compassion to sink into you. There is a wonderful simplicity here. The more we do it, the easier it becomes. But this requires self-management, discipline, and focus.
In all spiritual practices there is the consistent call to ground, earth, center, and embody. This is not just for stability and integration. It is also to allow the soul fully to inhabit its temple"your body.
Imagine a society filled with people who have love anchored and radiating from their bodies"and are conscious and awake. That would be a new age.
WILLIAM BLOOM is a modern Western mystic and considered by many to be Britain's leading and most experienced mind-body-spirit teacher. He is the founder of Spiritual Companions. He cofounded and directed the famous Alternatives Program of St. James's Church, Piccadilly, London. For thirty years he was a senior faculty member of Europe's leading green and spiritual community, the Findhorn Foundation. He is the author of many books, including the influential The Endorphin Effect, Psychic Protection, and most recently The Power of the New Spirituality (Quest Books). His Web site is www.williambloom.com. This article originally appeared in the British Theosophical journal Esoterica