Summer is a time when I end up doing a lot of reflecting about my practice. Six years in has given me a lot to reflect on. One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how much I’ve had to unlearn the New Age movement.
Back in high school when I was reading Cunningham and was learning tarot at lunch with my friends, the New Age movement was where I was doing a lot of my learning. I had quite a few occult and holistic shops near me to get crystals and other things that I thought I needed. The older generation Pagans and witches I was interacting with were very much of the love and light variety and just kept pointing me towards Neo-Wicca. Everything I was reading was filling my head with how everything I was meeting was a sign on my path. Books were telling me that every animal could mean something, that angels or guides were trying to contact me, mediumship books told me the dead were always crossed over and peaceful.
Yeah. There were a lot of hard lessons coming down the pipeline that the New Age movement did next to nothing to help me with. I do a lot of head shaking too when I look back at it all. But lately I have been thinking about just how anthropocentric the New Age movement is and how much it conflicts with my current animist understanding of the world.
Anthropocentrism refers to a human-centered worldview, which places human beings as the most important entities in the universe and thus the universe is interpreted only in terms of the human experience and human values. It’s also something I’ve been working to overcome the past year or so and will probably always be checking myself on.
How I interpret the New Age movement is that it teaches people that everything exists to benefit them on their path. Everything is a personal sign, every person has a lesson to teach, every spirit willing to help you and share their wisdom with you, every culture open for you to unlock its mysteries. It teaches that every person is a part of the great big universe and has the power to demand of the universe whatever they want. Needless to say I find the New Age movement pretty damn toxic these days.
As I have really started to work as an animist (and a witch really) at a higher level than just a general belief, what I am experiencing really kicks the New Age worldview in the teeth. If I am going to say that everything has a spirit, then there is a level of autonomy I need to recognize.
With spirits this realization came pretty quickly. It doesn’t take long to figure out that a lot of spirits want nothing to do with people or want something in return for working with you. And that is just fine by me. If a spirit and I can strike a deal, then we work together that way. Sometimes a relationship just doesn’t work out and a spirit ends up being a real piece of work. I would rather be realistic when working with spirits and respect their boundaries and independence than think that every spirit I meet is a guide or wanting to teach me something. This goes for me as well. I do not owe any random spirit the time of day just because they are a spirit either.
Animals were the next thing I needed to unlearn. The New Age really loves its animal dictionaries and animal totems. As an animist, I also want an educated understanding of nature. Anthropocentrism and the New Age told me that every animal was a sign and meant something. As an animist I now understand that unless it is a very rare and obvious sign, that animals are just being animals and not existing just for my benefit. I have a greater appreciation for the animals around me now that I understand why they are doing what they are doing and what that means in the larger scheme of things. Animals do have a lot I can and have learned from, but it takes patience and putting my own needs and interests pretty low on the ladder.
Plants and crystals are where I am currently working on things. As I am tending to my witch garden (even though I have grown things before) I am paying much more attention to just how complicated plants are and how much their spirits deserve my respect. There is so much more to my relationship to them than just asking briefly if I can cut off some leaves and leave a few coins as payment. I’m actually not harvesting as much because I want to work to build that relationship more before I do. Crystals are something that I am more so working on understanding when they come up. I don’t really buy into the New Age advertisements that these crystals can heal my organs or just putting one in my pocket will activate all their stored powers. But I am working to ask more when I do bring them into my practice.
Like I said, there’s been a lot of unlearning of the New Age over the years. I am a lot more critical of what I am learning and I would like to think I walk with a lighter step now too. I no longer understand myself as the center of my spirituality, but rather as a piece of a much larger world and it is in interacting with this world, taking a step back and really listening and watching that I learn and grow. I am not entitled to spiritual knowledge or experiences, I need to earn it and actually pay attention to what is going on around me, to see and feel empathy for more than just myself. That is what unlearning the New Age has taught me.