in New Age Religion

Joan: I hear voices telling me what to do. They come from God.
Robert: They come from your imagination.
Joan: Of course. That is how the messages of God come to us.[1]

The Thirteenth principle is known as the sixth sense, through which the Infinite Intelligence may and will communicate voluntarily, without any effort from, or demands by, the individual [2].

Spiritual But Not “Religious”? Seeking Higher Self…

The New Age movement has impacted everyday society. Meditation has become mainstream. Large metropolitan cities, on the West Coast at least, have nearly as many yoga studios as coffee houses. In the US the “nones”, persons who say they are unaffiliated with any religion, comprise 20% of the population. And although a substantial minority of the unaffiliated consider themselves neither religious nor spiritual (42%), the majority describe themselves either as a religious person (18%) or as spiritual but not religious (37%) [3].

My earliest religious journey started inside Christianity. I was raised Catholic. During high school, I devoured Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill which is considered a New Age classic (but I didn’t know that at the time). In college, I discovered Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, a Hindu yogi-mystic who merged East-West spirituality with Christianity. After college I was ordained a monk with Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order for 14 years. After leaving the SRF Monastic Order, my first 5 years I experimented in various New Age practices such as: energy healings, auras, psychics, astrology readings, Zen and Tao philosophy, and so on.

My journey into New Age religion was a fairly easy transition. I was able to incorporate, what I thought was the “best of” traditional Western Christianity and Eastern Mysticism, that merged into a holistic and inclusive ideology of the Higher Self [4]. (In another article, we will discuss how New Age includes a Philosophy of Holism, that assimilates science). The table below illustrates how my concepts of the Higher Self easily transitioned through phases of my “spiritual” journey.

“Higher Self”: Christianity To New Age

Higher Self Terms Typical Verses Typical Methods
Holy Spirit,
“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41)
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.”[5] (Saint Francis)
Contemplative Prayer,
Christ-disciple relationship
Atman (Self-realization) “That which pervades the entire body is indestructible.” (Bhagavad-Gita 2.17)
“Thy soul is not thy body; not thy eye, ear, nose, tongue, nor is it thy mind.” [6] (Buddha)
Yoga, meditation,
guru-disciple relationship
New Age Higher Self “Let your self be one with something beyond it”.[7] (A Course In Miracles)
“Every intention sets energy into motion, whether you are conscious of it or not”. (Gary Zukav, Seat of the Soul)
“Every thought is a tube, a channel through which the divine light is passing”.[8] (Yogananda)
Meditation, Intention


Of course, there are more examples how the concept of Higher Self transitions easily into New Age ideology. We use the term New Age “religion” in this article to mean the overarching philosophy or doctrine that may or may not be formally institutionalized. (Today, the concept of  “higher self” seems embedded in and permeated throughout modern culture, art, and spirituality). But, let’s move on and dive in to explore the foundation of New Age religion: channeling or articulated revelations.

Channeling New Age

Brooklyn – Coney Island: Deno’s Wonder Wheel photo by wallyg on Flick

In Part One of New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought [9] Hanegraaff says the foundation of New Age religion is channeling, or articulated revelations. He goes on to define these in terms and methods used by New Age religion and followers. The remainder of this article will highlight a few key points from Chapter One of Hanegraaff’s seminal book.

New Age and Western Culture

The foundational ideal of the New Age movement is focus on higher self or channeling of the universal intelligence or power. Every person can act as a channel for information from sources other than their normal selves. These sources could be, but not always, disincarnate beings: including entities such as ascended masters, spirit guides, angels, historical persons such as Jesus, Krishna, Saint Francis, God/The Supreme Source, the collective unconscious or Universal Mind, gods and goddesses of antiquity, spirits, devas, animals, and the channeler’s own “higher self”.

Meditators, channelers, or New Age practitioners say they receive “information” by means other than through their normal consciousness. Sometimes this information contains superior insight, but is not always associated with infallible direction. In all cases, the claim is a kind of higher intelligence, and not the normal mind or ego self, is what’s providing the information or inspiration. In some cases, but not all, the meditator or channeler enters into automatic writing, trance, ecstasy, spirit possession, or mediumship.

Two Types of “Spiritual” Revelations

Windows Molde Norway abstract #dailyshoot, photo by Leshaines123 on Flickr

New Age, like other religions, is primarily a religion of revelation. Personal intuition, insight, inspiration, and imagination may all be regarded as articulated revelations, but not always.

There are two types of revelations, intentional and spontaneous.

  1. Intentional revelations: Techniques, such as meditation, are meant to awaken natural intuitive abilities, by by-passing the control of rational “ego”, and allowing for the “stream of consciousness”. Some forms of automatic writing and conscious inspirations are examples.
  2. Spontaneous revelations: Hearing of inner voices and seeing inner visions, spontaneously, without intention or conscious application. Like Joan of Arc.

Typically, revelations come from practice of techniques that develop intuition and minimize rational control with or without the explicit goal of channeling. Through practice of techniques, such as meditation, the normal mind or self, say New Age proponents, can discover what happened to the Biblical Prophets, Muhammad, Buddha, yogis, and saints. Meditation, and other new age religious techniques, are in essence, a do-it-yourself method for accessing your Higher Self. New Age gurus, like Paramahansa Yogananda, claim methods, like yoga meditation, are the key to unlocking the inspiration behind all religion and tapping into your Higher Self.

via Tumblr photo by pds209 on Flickr

Coming Of the New Age?

This expose’ suggested that the concept of a “Higher Self” transitions easily from Christianity into New Age religion. Revelations seem to be the foundation of all religions. In Chapter One of Hanegraaff ‘s book, New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular, we highlighted channeling or articulated revelations as the major trend in New Age religions. Emphasis on personal revelation and practical methods, like meditation, seems to appeal to the “nones”, those unaffiliated with formal religion, and those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious”. Though less structured and not united organizationally, New Age is indeed a growing religion within Western culture.


  • Did you convert from a traditional Western religion to New Age religion?
  • Do you believe Higher Self and articulated revelation is the foundation for New Age religion? What spiritual practices or methods do you use to access your higher self?
  • Does your “spiritual” community consider itself part of the New Age religious movement?

Leave your comments below. It’s quick and anonymous. And, explore further, by clicking the “Join” button. It’s quick and confidential. We’ll notify you, via private email, as new articles like this are ready for your exploration.

works cited
[1] G. B. Shaw, Saint Joan
[2] Think and Grow Rich,  Hill, Napoleon. Print.
[3] Pew Research Survey 2012, “Nones” On The Rise
[4] Higher Self: Religious Views, Wikipedia.
[5] Prayer of Saint Francis
[6] 500 BC Buddha, The Gospel. The Bodhisattva’s Search
[7] A Course In Miracles, p. 361
[8] Man’s Eternal Quest, Yogananda, Paramahansa. Self-Realization Fellowship. Ch 50
[9] New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, Hanegraaff, Wouter J., Brill: Netherlands, 1996. Print.

Leave a Reply


  1. I also read Paramahansa Yogananda’s autobiography back in the day — at the prodding of a friend as I was leaving Christianity and sort of still considered myself a Christian. All the God talk and the supposed miracles turned me off. Though I pursued meditation, it (like so many things) was not the panacea I naively sought. I quickly (faster than your 14 years) saw behind the exaggerations, the starry-eyed self-satisfaction of private revelation and insight that was obviously not there.

    We are a gullible animal, eh?

  2. BTW, it would be fun to hear why you feel that you saw through Paramahansa’s gig while your other monks did not. Maybe a post? Maybe you already did one.

  3. @Sabio: You were more fortunate than I to not fall for the seductive supernatural claims. We are gullible creatures, humans. Some of us more than others. Some of us taking longer to come around to critical-thinking versus wishful-thinking. Thanks for sharing your story and background, which sounds similar but different to mine!

  4. @Sabio: I appreciate your suggestion. I didn’t leave the monastery through direct questioning of the “spiritual doctrines” of Paramahansa Yogananda. My doubts started in the monastery first as “fit” issues. I couldn’t understand why I practiced everything being taught, with 110% commitment and neither I, nor the Self-Realization Fellowship, as a “religion” and the others in the monastic organization, did not seem to “spiritual”. It took me several years after leaving this monastery to come to grips with my doubts about all the extraordinary spiritual-supernatural claims. My first 3-7 years after leaving where mostly spent assimulating back into secular society, building a career, dating women again, catching up on stuff I missed out on…plenty to keep me occupied! It’s been the last year where I’ve been able to spend some time to think deeply and objectively about my experiences living as a monk, why I did it, and trying to share those experiences with anyone who is interested…hence, why I started Skeptic Meditation website this year.

    I’ll take your suggestion and see what I can do to turn it into something I can share. You’re probably right, that people are curious to hear more personal stories from me.

    I have two published podcast interviews about my life in the monastery and why I left. The podcasts were published early this year. Unfortunately, I’m not real happy with how I told my story, I thought I was boring and nervous about coming out. So, I haven’t advertised them on SkepticMeditations. Maybe I should.

  5. @ Scott,
    Yes, I think the personal stories you have to share will reach many people. Fascinating stuff. thank you.

  6. I am studying ACIM and the SRF lessons simultaneously, are you of the mind that they are bogus and not worthy of study?

  7. @Kathy: I wouldn’t assume that. I’m wondering if you could give me a little information about yourself, narrow your thoughts on this important topic, so we could explore this question together. I also learn in the process. The questions I would like to pose for this discussion are:

    1) What are your goals or reasons for studying the SRF Lessons?

    2) When you study (or practice) the SRF exercises/lessons what questions or concerns do you have?

    3) Which logical arguments or counter-evidence are you familiar with?

    4) How comfortable are you with reading or researching for evidence (or lack of) that could contradict the extraordinary claims made by SRF, Yogananda, and the yogis/meditators?

    5) Any other thoughts and concerns related to these questions?

    Thanks for your comments.

  8. I don’t think of it in terms of “convert”. I just evolved understanding of my faith. Would still call myself “Christian” just a different kind.

  9. Excellent response, c2realr to my question, “Did you convert from a traditional Western religion to New Age religion?”

    Now that you mentioned how you think of your “conversion”, not so much as a conversion but “evolved understanding of my faith”. I think what you articulated so simply expresses–better than the word “convert”–how I too felt when I evolved from Catholic to Hindu-Yoga devotee.

    This post may interest you that I wrote about my journey From Christian-Catholic To Hindu-Yogic God

    Always I felt that I was still a Christian even when practicing Yoga Meditation (and Yogananda’s writings are full of complementary references to Jesus Christ). I just felt that I evolved in my faith and in my spiritual capacity to accept an Eastern yoga meditation guru as my Christ-like savior. SRF has six gurus, one being Jesus Christ–you may be aware of that?

    Thanks for your comments. I’d love to hear more about you and your views on these topics.

  10. Hi Scott,

    I love your blog and also thank you for the book recommendation on the history of yoga, which has been a fascinating read thus far.

    My introduction to the “New Age” (coming from a background uneducated in religion) was from the Seth books challeneled by Jane Roberts. They became very popular in the 70s and the channeled transcripts continue to be housed at Yale University. I was never drawn to other “channeled” or New Age material for reasons you write about in your blog. However, the Seth books seem to be a bit different somehow. I was just wondering whether you’re familiar with them and if so what your views are?


  11. Thanks, Harrison, for your comments in response to my blog and this post.

    You said the Seth materials, channeled by Jane Roberts “seem to be a bit different somehow.”

    What about Seth books, to you, seems different?
    My former spiritual-teachers all seemed to me to be different, than the many other books and teachers out there. Otherwise, I would not have chosen to read or follow my favorite teachers or books.

    “Channelled” spirits or guides is a fascinating topic. My studies more recently on “channeling” have been informed by:

    New Age Religion and Wester Culture, book I reviewed on my blog. The book is a encyclopedic overview of new age beliefs and ideologies. Discusses Seth and other channeled spirits and authorities.

    On Channeling and Disembodied Authorities, chapter in the Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, Kramer, J. and Alstad, D., Paperback. Excellent book goes in depth into what, why and how “channelling” is different and attractive to many people. Search for “guru papers” and you can find several of my blog posts referencing Kramer’s Guru Papers.

    Hope that helps you. Scott


  • New Age Spirituality | Skeptic Meditations May 6, 2017

    […] Channeling “Higher Self” […]