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New Age and Neopagan Religions in America (Columbia Contemporary American Religion Series) Paperback – October 10, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
This installment in Columbia's Contemporary American Religion series explores the rise of "New Age" and Neopagan religions in America, phenomena that are difficult to study because of the diverse array of people and movements that claim shelter under their umbrellas. Pike, who teaches religion at California State University, draws attention to the "main concerns and daily lives" of participants in these new religious movements, dissecting what healing rituals, self-awareness meditation and channeling mean to the people who practice them. Although most readers could do without the dissertation-like literature review that dominates the introduction, the remainder of the book is informative and accessible for the general reader. Pike writes well, with a journalist's eye for an engaging story and a scholar's sense of the larger historical picture. One particularly helpful chapter surveys the traditions' most visible groups and central teachings, which include an emphasis on nature, women's spiritual leadership, seasonal ritual and personal transformation.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
This work offers general readers a scholarly assessment of Neopaganism and the New Age movement.... Pike provides an overview of key themes of these movements and traces their beliefs back to 19th-century traditions of mesmerism, seances, Swedenborgianism, and Theosophy.... her book provides a necessary complement to Margot Adler'sDrawing Down the Moon and Paul Heelas'sThe New Age Movement. (Library Journal)
A view from the mountain...an admirable job of weaving together multiple strands of New Age practice into a single pattern. (Michael F. Brown Natural History)
Pike's study is fascinating in all its detail. (Dan Barnett Enterprise Record)
A superb introduction to the visions and practices of both neopagan and New Age movements.... Highly recommended. (W. L. Pitts Jr. Choice)
[A] lucid and interesting survey of esoteric and New-Age religions. (Philip Jenkins Journal of American History)
Pike makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of New Age and Neopagan religions in America... (David H. Vila, John Brown University Religious Studies Review)
[Pike] offers a succinct, thorough introduction to the wolrds of Neo-Pagan and New Age practices. (Ed Cook Journal of Church and State)
This book works wonderfully to introduce readers to the fascinating and still developing religions... An excellent text for courses. (Cynthia Eller Journal of Religion)
A clear and well-written primer for what is a bedazzling array of religious worldviews and practices. (Guy Lancaster Mission Studies)
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What makes Pike's study different is that her goal is not to provide a comprehensive guide to traditions and practices. Rather, her work concentrates on situating the contours of these religions in an American historical context, and demonstrating their continuity, as well as divergence, from other aspects of American Religious History. As well her main areas of investigation are trends in in healing, gender/sexuality, apocalypticism/millenialism, and in the ethics or style of practice, rather than content or specific denominations. This is significant because New Age and Neopagan religions are radically decentralized movements. Lacking a single charasmatic leader, or even one authoritative organization, these movements are for the most part, difficult to study. Unlike early century or 19th century esotericisms, they lack founding texts, or single leaders.
Pike begins by spending a chapter compressing and extending, in parts, America's unchurched religious traditions, including Spiritualist trance, which she considers a significant antecedent to Pagan possession and New Age channeling. We know that Spiritualist demonstrations were attended by many, including Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and James Fenimore Cooper. One of the major ways spirits communicated in Spiritualism was by "rapping," or making noises then interpreted in a narrative fashion. As well, Spiritualist publications and proponents were widely known to engage in ethical advocacy of issues of the day, including the treatment of Amerindians, liberal causes such as death penalty reform, and wage reform, causes advocated by many (but not all) New Agers and Pagans. While discussing Neolithic and Jungian approaches in Pagan myth, Pike firmly locates these traditions as emerging from mid-20th century revivals and transformations of 19th century (and earlier modes of religious expression), even as many Pagans trace their deities directly to classical sources. Pike correctly traces the focus on personalization in this form of religion to the highly personal, ecstatic, and optimistic ways Americans have historically related to sacred power, such as reformist movements and the Great Awakenings. One debatable point is her location of the "birth" of NeoPaganism in the United States with the founding of Feraferia and the Church of All Worlds in 1967.
While many New Age practitioners and Pagans tend to pursue worship and transformation in an entirely private way, there are those who pursue a highly political and even oppositional form of public worship. In Ottawa in 2001 at the World Bank meeting protests, a Pagan group formed a "living river" as part of the protest. At the School of the Americas Protest in Columbus, Georgia, in the same month, several religious groups, including a group of Witches, conducted an "Earth-Based Blessing." Issac Bonewits has been regularly promoting the use of spellwork in encouraging people to participate in the Democratic process in the United States, calling for collective simultaneous action over the Internet, and teaching political ritual workshops at Pagan Festivals. Others take a wider view of activism beyond the nation-state. Some groups take political action in the form of ecological magic, or conducting rituals as threatened natural sites. As well, some of these sites may be contested with indigenous peoples, which adds a whole other dimension and layer of complexity to this issue. Gender activism is particularly important, given the connection to feminism which transformed the movements in the 1960's. Pike as well discusses the tensions between Goddess as mythic symbol, feminine life-force, structuring reality, and ontological literal truth, and clearly debunks much of the fantastic myths surrounding sexuality and its relationship to worship and practice.
Healing plays a central role for New Agers and Neopagans, according to Pike. The influence of wholism and health movements in the United States has a long history in religious communities as well. But its interpenetration with the New Age and Neopagan movements was key to the development of each during the 1970's. Religiously, the older inherited occult notions of correspondence and interconnectedness promote analogical healing of "macrocosm" and "microcosm." The increasing emphasis on a spiritual side to science, including Hindu and Chinese interpolations with quantum mechanics and relativity, gave weight to the increasing view that life and its environment interact at the levels of subtle threads, layers, and relationships of energy. Herbalism continues to be common, with its ties into folk medicine and vernacular lore, while auric healing and direct manipulation/transformation of subtle energies, at the other end of the spectrum, is easily as well known. Sometimes energy manipulation via earthen means combines these notions, such as in crystal healing. Deities may also be part of the healing process. Nuturing powers may be called upon, but ones of fierce defense, and regeneration, such as Kali, are commonplace as well. In any case, Pike continues to make the point that self-exploration and self-understanding are in many cases, foundational to New Age or Pagan forms of healing, both in the sense of deconstruction and regeneration.
Apocalyticism is treated by Pike in a single chapter. The scope of the spectrum she explores again ranges from a totalistic immediate shift in the physical environment to personal transformation. There is more than some elitism among New Age practictioners and Neopagans who see themselves as part of a vanguard that will help usher in the elite, and a corresponding underlying concern that those dragging their feet, so to speak, may not end up with a share in this future world, or paradigm. Pike locates much of her discussion of Pagan Sacred Geography, or dedicated sacred lands, to this topic.
Highly recommended for the student, general reader, or historian of American Religion. Advanced practitioners may find much of the non-historical material redundant. Pike includes a resource guide for those interested in continuing their study in this area, either in terms of scholarship or practice.