The New Age is “an eclectic group of cultural attitudes … that are adapted from those of a variety of ancient and modern cultures, that emphasize beliefs outside the mainstream“.*
It is rooted in the Western counter-culture movement of the 1960s, and began as a search for alternative approaches to spirituality and health. As such, it shares some features of animism and is often confused with animism by both animist practitioners and followers of the New Age.
The New Age has no universal rules, hierarchy or source texts, just like animism. It also recognises the value of nature and intuition, and it can’t be defined as a religion, philosophy or life style, again like animism.
But animism is not the New Age.
Animism is ancient and inherent to humanity. We know that our most ancient ancestors behaved in ways that we now call animistic, and that children will create animist practices of their own volition when given space to do so.
Whereas the New Age is modern, only a few decades old, and derived from Western European rejection of monotheistic laws and mores; not so much reclaimed as created.
Animism is practical and experiential.
It’s focus is on finding the methods and ideas that help in a specific situation, rather than on following a particular belief. It embraces experiences, even when they challenge previous ideas, and is therefore flexible.
The New Age is focused on belief or aesthetic over practicality, as can be seen in the anti-vaccine movement and the proliferation of New Age marketing. It also often requires ongoing access to teachers, equipment and events in order to engage with it’s practices, in contrast to animism which can be practiced in isolation without external teaching or certification.
And animism belongs to everyone, regardless of ancestry.
The New Age has been commodified into an exclusive product for a select few. Participation in the New Age movement is highly segregated by class, language and race, because of it’s roots within collonialism, racism, appropriation, capitalism and the romanticisation of non-Western cultures.
Animism, on the other hand, is far older than collonialism; and it requires that we examine our prejudices in order to be effective. It is available to all people, without needing them to appropriate from other cultures, because it’s ancient enough that everyone has their own, local heritage of animism. And because of how personal and inherent animism is, it has so far escaped commodification.
In a way, the New Age is a modern, Western approximation of animism.
Born of a yearning for spiritual sovereignty, nature and freedom, it speaks of our need for the methods and maps that help us navigate the web of our relationships. But animism goes far deeper, and is much more accessible, than the New Age movement. When we reclaim animism for ourselves, we can step beyond the need for it’s facsimile.