Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Philosophy and Witchcraft

Should a philosopher be opposed to the varieties of new age movements that have recnetly cornered the marketplace for spiritual ideas? Should we take seriously ideas like 'psychic attack and defence' and the idea of cosmic energies that can be harnessed by means of appopriate esoteric techniques?

Of course this should lead us to ask 'what is exactly is new age in philosophical terms?' According to one influential account, new agers essentially believe that

all life, in all its interconnected forms and states, is interconnected energy - and this includes our deeds, feelings, thoughts. We, therefore, work with Spirit and these energies in co-creating our reality. Although held in the dynamic of cosmic love, we are jointly responsible for the state of ourselves, of our environment and of all life' (see Heelas 1996, 33)

The enemy of all New Age movements is the rational ego. For New Agers, the ego, contra Freud, is not the part of the human psyche responsible for reality monitoring, but rather is the cause of the most profound illusion of western civilisation; that the individual is ultimately responsible/in control of him/herself. The true self, the natural/higher self, is to be found beyond the ego and can only be reached by the ego’s dissolution.

However, can there be rational thought, and thus philosophy, without an ego of some kind?

Neil Turnbull


  1. Interesting. I remember reading Heelas before. If I remember, his claim is that New Age religion, although postmodern in garb is in fact replete with many of the vestiges of the modern rational subject. While in appearence new age religion is very Lyotardian, have some Buddhism for breakfast, some Catholicism for lunch, washed down with some astrology; underlying this however, is essentially a modernist phenomenon one that paenders to the rational market oriented chooser over and above the traditional hard fought struggle of a disciplined religion. Hence, we have things like the power of now, a core self or the person within, the inner snowflake, indiviudal self-reliance where my soul has the ability to be all that it can be, God or SPirit is directly concerned with my existence over and above all other entities in the universe. I suppose the real rational connection here one that tries to go beyond moribund rational choices to the inter-connectivity of market capitalism!!


  2. Personally I do not think the new age movement tries to deny the id or ego. Instead it tries to put forward the idea of a collective conciousness. Or tries to reinforce the idea of a collective responisibilty between individuals and getting in touch with the natural forces of the world. I have always seen modern day witchcraft (Wicca) as a way of getting back in touch with a simpler way of life free of unnesecarry worry that helps one to find inner peace.

  3. Well, it certainly doesn't deny the 'id' - in fact, in its celebration of sexuality, it generally celebrates the power of id to overwhelm the self (Wilhelm Reich is real guru of all new age thinking for just this reason).

    Collective consciousness clearly involves a radical dissolution of the individual ego. Yes, this can give rise to inner peace, but so what? Why should we view 'inner peace' as in any way good? It is only a 'good' if it changes your relations to others. Yes, sitting under a pyramid is very nice, but in the end it leaves the injustices of the world left as they are. New Ageism is radically indifferent.

    Neil Turnbull

  4. Well, I suppose to give a trite response to your point, Neil, inner peace is intrinsically valuable in that if everyone attained that state, then the world would presumably be devoid of conflict. Therefore, relations with others would be improved.
    Leaving aside the fact that inner peace is never going to be universally achieved since it denies humanity's basic drives, would lack of conflict be "a good thing"? Boring, perhaps, but certainly peaceful...