I am working on another essay on the celebration of out-of-control children which is the "Indigo Children" phenomenon, and how many Americans have lost the knack of good parenting, or refuse to see the consequences of the way they treat their children. Along the way, I encountered a woman who used the phrase "New Age profiteers" (in reference to a man who was promoting the existence of psychic children. ).
I have a hunch that many New Age healers are in fact, soulless profiteers, merely looking for a way to support themselves instead of doing honest work.
First of all, a working definition of "New Age": this seems to fit (from Religious Tolerance.Org)
Although it is often referred to as a religion, the New Age is in reality an almost completely decentralized and unorganized spiritual movement. It is composed of metaphysical bookstores, seminar leaders, authors, teachers and user/believers of a variety of techniques, such as channeling, past life regressions, pyramid science, crystal power, etc. It is a free-flowing spiritual movement -- a network of believers and practitioners -- where book publishers take the place of a central organization; seminars, conventions, books and informal groups replace of sermons and religious services. Conservative usage: closely coordinated groups including occultists, Wiccans, Satanists, astrologers, channelers, spiritists, etc.
The first stop is where I saw the phrase, an essay by Lorie Anderson warning her fellow citizens of Ashland that one James Twyman is in more interested in making money and having a successfull career than in helping children:
We have an incredible story that perfectly fits a bogus archetype that has been perpetuated, repeatedly, by dubious spiritual seekers of the past. We can see striking similarities between Twyman's story and his familiarity with A Course In Miracles, and his associations with ENDEAVOR ACADEMY and The Emissaries of Divine Light. We have several events in the real world that Twyman embellished, misrepresented, and spin-doctored to serve his own interests. And we have Twyman, continuing to claim his emissaries are real, but providing no way to contact the other people who reportedly shared the experience with him.
Anderson closes her essay with a call to parents to become more skeptical:
As the New Age movement grows from marginal to mainstream, we need programs for New Age consumer protection. We must caution educators and parents about, and object to, programs with paranormal underpinnings, like the Indigo Child and Brain Respiration, which are fervently marketed to private and public schools. We need age-appropriate critical-thinking skills programs in education, starting in the early grades. We must educate ourselves and our children on the scientific method of inquiry, how to evaluate studies and spot pseudo-science and pseudo-scientists. We must help our children to develop radar to detect and avoid deceptive New Age profiteers - no matter how noble their stated cause.
New age profiteers? Where else does that take me? To Druids; to the New Age hucksters who rip off Native American spirituality; to people who want to revive European tribalism; to Native Americans rebuffing the hucksters.
This "traditional Druid" writes:
[snip] It also reserves such teachings for those whom the Teacher chooses to teach, and this is always a good thing. Not all who would learn the Mysteries of Draíocht are suited for such training, for various reasons. Certainly there are some aspects of our tradition which should be reserved for the élite few, those being the Mysteries.
At the same time, however, we today face a far greater enemy than the Romans. Today we face ignorance of our traditions by our own people and exploitation of our traditions by unscrupulous profiteers. When so much nonsense is written about Druids and our beliefs and practices by those whose only motives seem to be the acquisition of monetary gain, it seems to me that we have an obligation to the sacredness of our tradition to confront them and provide the accurate teachings, and if their medium is the written word, then we should be prepared to respond in kind. This of course makes our tradition available to those whom we cannot personally select, but it also ensures that it is our traditions (and not the lies and/or fantasies of people with no connection thereto and no understanding therof) which are maintained by those who would be Druids, and those who simply wish to practice the Old Ways of our people.
Interestingly, this Druid argues that, while he respects Native Americans' desire to hold their traditions private, he also wants to participate. The Druids have their own inner struggles and rip-off artists:
thefluiddruid wrote, "Like I said, I can't speek for most Druids. You have to understand, the term Druid is used by so many types of people these days. Some of them are heriditary, while others may belong to one of the Druidic "orders" (reconstructionst Druids), there are still others that call themselfs Druids because they have read a book or two and feel that the name discribes them, or those that have been fooled by New Age profiteers like Douglas Monroe."
The Digital Medievalist puts Monroe firmly in his place:
I keep seeing references to a supposed medieval Welsh manuscript called The Book of Pheryllt. I have a suspicion that most, if not all of these references, are inspired by the truly wretched and quite idiotic book The 21 Lessons of Merlyn by Douglas Monroe. Monroe, who has neither Irish nor Welsh, refers to The Book of Pheryllt as a sixteenth century manuscript of arcane Welsh mystical learning.
Hogwash. There is no such sixteenth century manuscript. Monroe's recent "sequel" to 21 Lessons of Merlyn, The Lost Books of Merlyn is an obvious fake from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, full of eggregious factual errors and offensive sexist and racist assumptions. At best it is a piece of poorly thought out fiction; it has absolutely no scholarly value at all. Monroe clearly knows nothing about ancient Celtic practices, languages, druids, botany, or mythology.
Here's more from Ellen Evert Hopman, in the form of an open letter to Douglas
As a Druid initiate I am always interested in new interpretations of my religion. I became aware of your recent book The 21 Lesson of Merlyn when several people recommended it to me as a "genuine" text from antiquity. Knowing that the Druids never committed their teachings to writing I was determined to investigate.
What I found was a well crafted work of fiction, one worthy to stand as a companion piece to Bradley's Mists of Avalon. The magical systems that it contained seemed to have an inherent consistency that would make them useful (though a fluent Welsh speaker I know says that your phonetic breakdowns of the word-spells are impossible ).
What troubles me is that people are accepting your writing as a true "ancient Druid" system. You do much to encourage that belief by your constant reference to "The Book of Pheryllt" which you describe as part of a triad of volumes along with "The Gorchan of Maeldrew" and "Song of the Forest Trees". What you fail to mention is that all three of these works are blatant forgeries perpetrated by the notorious romantic Iolo Morganwg. Further I find that your book is the second from Llewellyn that presents Druidism in a strangely misogynist light. As you insist on presenting the work as a religious text I feel compelled to point out its many inconsistencies and problems....
As to the New Age rip off of Native American spirituality, there are thousands after thousands of sites that offer "Native American" goods for sale. This Google search brought up about 185,000 sites, which such wordage as:
Native Americans have carried these bags for centuries, but in recent years, they've also become popular in our culture*. Medicine bags are usually worn on the belt or around the neck. They're also sometimes used as small handbags, decorations on rearview car mirrors, or simply displayed by contemporary collectors for their beauty and uniqueness. It is believed that a Medicine Bag's energies are stronger when the bag is worn on the body, but wherever it's placed, the energies that come with it and its contents will surround it.
The Sacred for only $95.
*Did you catch the unconscious racism there? The Web is for "our culture"--meaning white folks.
Here is another example of ripping off Native American arts and images, from Dreamcatchers Plus! , who advertise
Wholesale and Deeply Discounted Native American Products & Gifts, but then get down to the truth in the fine print:
IBS Gifts' Dreamcatchers Plus! Native American Products & Gifts contain both authentic and faux products. If the item is a 'real' Native American product it will say it is authentic; otherwise, you should assume it is a faux product.
This blatant pandering is revolting. It is no wonder that there have been many Native Americans pushing back, for many many years.
Differences between Indian beliefs and New Age
DISCLAIMER: These are a few generalities that apply to MOST nations, particularly New Age favorites such as Sioux.
I decided to compare and contrast Indian beliefs with New Age. One of the main differences being that less than one in a hundred Americans is a traditional Indian, but one in five has New Age beliefs.
The original statement was passed on June 10, 1993 at the Lakota Summit V, an international gathering of US and Canadian Lakota, Dakota and Nakota Nations. It was also published in the Eyapaha, a newsletter from Manderson, SD on June 10, 1993, in Volume 2, Issue 22. The document subsequently appeared in Ward Churchill's Indians R Us?: Culture and Genocide in Native North America (1994: 273-7). Electronically, as far as I can tell, the statement first appeared on the internet in a message on the Usenet "soc.culture.native" discussion group on Sun, 22 Aug 1993 18:40:05 GMT.
Don't Pay to Pray is a Native American site; they have an extensive listing of books, individuals, and websites that are offensive or are appropriating Native American spirituality. They say,
If you have Spiritual Integrity, Do Not....
- Do Not go to Non-Indian run Pow Wows
- Do Not buy Indian items from Non-Indian vendors
- Do Not buy jewelry from the Orient that markets itself as Indian
- Do Not Pay to pray
- Do Not buy AIM memberships--there is no such thing, it is a matter of commitment, not money!
- Do Not agree with racism of any kind!
- White people who claim to be Indian based on two or three drops of "Indian blood" do so out of racism and ignorance.
- Native people must be the only authority on who is "Indian" and who isn't. The colonizers' ideas about blood quantum are racist! Don't buy into them!
- A person is "Indian" if an ONLY if they are recognized by a legitimate Native American community!
- Don’t be careless! Don’t be cowardly! Take some time and look into those selling spirituality.
- Have the courage to expose those who are frauds and support others who try to do likewise! The survival of indigenous people depends on it!
- Do Not mix religions; it is a conflict, you can't do both!
- Do Not pay for Sweats, Sundances, and Vision Quests. These items are not for sale
Do you think you are "Indian at heart" or were an Indian in a past life? Do you admire native ways and want to incorporate them into your life and do your own version of a sweat lodge or a vision quest? Have you seen ads, books, and websites that offer to train you to be come a shaman in an easy number of steps, a few days on the weekend, or for a fee?
Have you really thought this all the way through? Have you thought about how native people feel about what you might want to do?
Vision quests, for example, are intended for young boys age 12 to 14, but boys don't have much money, so these FRAUDULENT operators sell "quests" for hundreds or thousands to mostly middle-aged men and women.
There is also the matter of telling people they can be shamans and charging them for it. If you were interested in Judaism, would you pay money to someone who said he could make you a rabbi in just one weekend seminar?
If someone did this and then claimed Jewish objections were foolish, we would recognize he was being anti-Semitic. Think about the lack of respect these operators show to native people and beliefs, not mention their own followers, by defrauding people.
A Wiccan gets righteous on the very important differences between Wicca, New Age, and Native religious beliefs:
Although I do know some folks who choose Wicca that happen to have Native American ancestry, Wicca has nothing to do with American Indian beliefs. Tribal religion is strictly a matter of tribal tradition, and no off-the-street Wiccan can claim a right to it unless an Elder gives them a rite to it.
Here's yet another approach, in which Asatru Folk Assembly reminds white folks that they, too were once tribal:
Men and women of European descent were torn from the bosoms of their tribes more than a thousand years ago. The Alemanni, the Cherusci, and the Iceni are no more. The man and woman on the street have forgotten that we were as tribal as the Comanche, the Zulu, and the Mandingo. This ignorance, however, has not kept us from suffering from the loss of our ancient ways. It is time to rebuild the tribal structures that nurtured us for thousands of years, time to find community with kin.
The Asatru Folk Assembly are reaching out to white folks who are attracted to Native American Spirituality:
WANNABEES (The following article appeared as a flyer produced in 1995 by the Asatru Folk Assembly, aimed at European-Americans who are attracted to Native American spirituality. It has received praise from several Native American writers and thinkers, including Vine Deloria, author of GOD IS RED and many other books dealing with American Indians. The term "wannabees" is used by some Native Americans to refer to outsiders who "want to be" Indians. )
So you're a European-American who's attracted to Native American spirituality...
The way of the American Indian offers much to those who want to live in harmony with the Earth, and with the own beings. The simplicity of a life close to nature, and the powerful techniques of the shaman, call out to all of us who want to walk lightly on this planet and to know the journeys of the soul that make one wise. Many people, including those of European ancestry, feel the pull of this spiritual path.
However, there is something to consider. Many Native Americans feel that you should seek out the ways of your people, rather than intruding upon their ways. They understand your interest in their traditions, but they think you should look for something that is yours.
Well, just what IS yours?
Long ago, Europeans too were tribal peoples. From the British Isles all the way across the Continent, the Celts and the Germans and others lived in great forests and along rugged seacoasts. Our way of living was much like that of the American Indians whom you admire. The Earth was our mother, Thor rattled in the thunder, Odin led the Wild Hunt, Freya showed us that women could be both beautiful and strong. The tree Yggdrasil held the Nine Worlds in its embrace, and the web of Wyrd connected all things. Our ancestors lived in us, and spoke in our dreams, and in the eyes of our children.
The way of the indigenous Europeans had much that you will recognize. The vision quest? The Norsemen called it utiseta, or "sitting out." Sweatlodges? The sauna was sacred to the Birch Goddess. Great warriors? Our history abound in them. Honoring the Earth? Brooks, rocks, trees - all had spirits to be befriended. Shamans? Odin, father of the Gods, was a master shaman!
(comment removed--ed: New comment: Asatru has some unsavory hangers-on: see bottom of post)
In March, 2003, Arvol Looking Horse, who is the Keeper of the Original Lakota Sacred Pipe, called together many Native American Medicine Bundle Keepers, to discuss the exploitation of Native American spirituality and what should be done to protect the integrity of indigenous ceremoines.
It was decided, from March 9th, 2003 and forward, there will be no non-Natives allowed in our sacred Ho-c’o-ka (our sacred alters) where it involves our Seven Sacred Rites.
The Wi-wanyang-wa-c’i-pi (Sundance Ceremony): The only participants allowed in the center will be Native People. The non-Native people need to understand and respect our decision. If there have been any unfinished commitments to the Sundance and non-Natives have concern for this decision; they must understand that we have been guided through prayer to reach this resolution. Our purpose for the Sundance is for the survival of the future generations to come, first and foremost. If the non-Natives truly understand this purpose, they will also understand this decision and know that by their departure from this Ho-c’o-ka (our sacred alter) is their sincere contribution to the survival of our future generations.
This decision was not uniformly well received, even by some Native American Sun Dancers.
The backlash was immense. No josh here. Not only from whites but from Indians too, including prominent Sun Dancers. He's still dodging arrows and bullets from the fallout, mostly from email. Some even question whether he still has the sacred calf pipe in his possession. But this turmoil too will pass in time.
What Looking Horse actually did (albeit unintentionally) was to force many Indians to take a closer look at the growing "commercialization" of traditional ceremonies; that many have begun to look sort of like "fire and brimstone" Baptist preachers, passing around their own version of the money plate.
TNV: What made you decide to come out with this decision on the issue of ceremonial protocols?
Arvol Looking Horse: The traditional, respected elders here on the reservations said that I would probably have to stand up and address the issues of misuse and abuse of our ceremonies and about non-native participation in our ceremonies.
I choose to say non-native, instead of white, people that come from ancestors from another land, even though they argue that they are native to this land.
I need to remind that I have met white Indigenous People – people who still have their own hoc’oka and understand what this is all about.
There are so many abuses in our ceremonies and they need to stop. The people also need to bring the honor and respect back to these ways.
Its not good when people are misleading people, using money in exchange for our ceremonies. We all need to live in this modern society, there are also proper ways of exchanging gifts to assist a Medicine person for what his hoc’oka has to offer. When this protocol is crossed, then the mind of the Medicine person will lead him away from his own people and he will look around and his relatives will be gone
have to say that I turn the situation around, imagining that my own heritage--I was brought up Episcopalian (although my parents weren't particularly devout)--was being exploited in the way that Native American spirituality is. Don't laugh--I know, the idea of a heroic WASP is kind of amusing or easy to parody. But think about it.
(Addendum: l had forgotten that I'd written about the rip-off of Native American spiritually earlier, in Encountering First Nations with Respect)
Another thing to emphasize is that when you encounter such foolish behavior as someone claiming an "Indian Spirit Guide"--gently point out that their behavior is foolish and racist. Point them toward some of the sites or literature. Or turn the situation on its head--would you claim to have a Christian Spirit Guide? How bout a Mormon Spirit Guide?
Asatru's unsavory hangers-one :
A neo-Pagan religion drawing on images of fiercely proud, boar-hunting Norsemen and their white-skinned Aryan womenfolk is increasingly taking root among Skinheads, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists across the nation.
Asatrú leaders have opened prison ministries in at least five states recently, and their many jailed followers are heavily white supremacist. A leading proselytizer, iimprisoned terrorist David Lane, has been writing prolifically and influencing many to adopt his racist interpretations.
Bob Mathews, the late founder of The Order, of which Lane was a member, adopted a series of related beliefs. A Denver Skinhead who confessed to the November murder of a man because he was black bears an Asatrú tattoo. Some key Asatrú leaders have known neo-Nazi or anti-Semitic backgrounds.
"Suddenly," says Phil Rodriguez, a gang investigator wit the Arizona state prison system, "Asatrú's become the new big fad."
Asatrú (and Icelandic word meaning "belief in the Æesir," or gods) has been officially recognized as a religion in Iceland since 1972. Historically, its architects have avoided racist interpretations of its Eurocentric cosmology.
But in the United States, where insiders say 15 percent of Asatrúers follow an overtly racist version of the theology, a struggle is now going on for the hearts and minds of its followers.
Experts say the religion, an offshoot of Odinism that emphasizes the magical elements of pre-Christian European polytheism, is gaining popularity among young, urban white supremacists who reject the Christian aspects of other theologies.
"Asatrú is an effort to make religion more post-Modern, hip and appealing to a generation raised on rock music," says Carl Raschke, a religion professor at the University of Denver who has studied white supremacist groups.
"It is romantic, a kind of Teutonic mythology that gives them a cultural and religious identity."
Norse Gods and the Folk
The religion, which revives a pre-Christian pantheon of Norse gods, is appealing to white supremacists because it mythologizes the virtues of early northern European whites — seen as wandering barbarians, deeply involved in a mystical relationship with nature, struggling heroically against the elements.
It sings the virtues of the tribe, or folk, strongly emphasizing genetic closeness. And it credits whites with building civilization and an ethic of individual responsibility, even as they boldly slew wild boars, fought for their tribes and explored the far reaches of the known world.
This appeal is not a new one.
Odinism, which is closely related to Asatrú, was much favored in Nazi Germany. Its Nordic/Teutonic mythology was a bedrock belief for key Third Reich leaders, and it was an integral part of the initiation rites and cosmology of the elite Schutzstaffel (SS), which supervised Adolf Hitler's network of death camps. Decades later, Odinism also influenced George Lincoln Rockwell's American Nazi Party.
According to Jeffrey Kaplan, who wrote the 1997 study Radical Religion in America, an early international promoter was Australian Nazi sympathizer Alexander Rud Mills. Mills, in turn, deeply influenced a key American Odinist, Else Christensen, who published The Odinist newsletter in the early 1970s (Christensen was recently released from prison after serving a term for smuggling marijuana).
Stephen McNallen, a Texan, formed the first American Asatrú organization, the Asatrú Free Assembly. But the perception of Nazi connections hurt him.
By 1978, McNallen, while saying he sympathized with the "legitimate frustrations of white men who are concerned for their kind," tried to lessen the "Nazi-Odinist identification." In 1987, these pressures helped convince McNallen to shut down his group.
Nazism and the Number Nine
The key successor organization was the Asatrú Alliance, started after the Free Assembly's demise by Arizonan Michael J. Murray (whose "magical" Asatrú name is "Valgard Murray").
As a teenager, Kaplan writes, Murray had been involved in the American Nazi Party, signing his letters "Heil Hitler!" into the late 1960s. In the 1970s, Murray became vice president of Christensen's Odinist Fellowship.
But by 1988, a year after he started the Asatrú Alliance, Murray found himself facing the same political pressures that McNallen had earlier. When a California neo-Nazi published a list of Murray's followers, implying that they agreed with the Californian's racial views, Murray wrote him an open letter saying the Alliance "does not advocate any type of political or racial extremist views or affiliations."
Also in the 1980s, Bob Mathews, founder of The Order, studied and practiced a variant of Odinism. In 1983, nine men led by Mathews took a "blood oath" over a six-week-old girl to create The Order, which would go on to murder and rob.
The number nine was significant to Mathews, according to a book by Kevin Flynn and Gary Gerhardt, for religious reasons: Odin learned nine songs and hung for nine nights on Yggdrasill, the tree of knowledge; Heimdall, the watchman of the gods, had nine mothers; Thor stumbled nine steps before dying in his final battle.
Today, David Lane, a leading player in The Order and one of the murderers of a Jewish talk show host in Denver, writes prolifically of Odinism in a series of right-wing publications.
"The old gods and the old religion are ours and thus relate to our race-soul," he wrote in one. "Through our myths and legends, we find a link to our past, and a rudder for our floundering race vessel."
Officials say Lane is worshipped as a folk hero by other imprisoned white followers of Asatrú and Odinism.
Also in the prisons, Valgard Murray is now finding a new audience. The Asatrú Alliance's publication, Vor Trú, lists seven prison ministries in five states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida and Indiana.
In Arizona alone, prison investigator Rodriguez says, up to 300 inmates have become adherents, and many are violent white supremacists. The lead propagandist, he adds, is Valgard Murray.
In Colorado, six imprisoned white supremacists formed a "kindred," or local Asatrú group, between 1991 and 1996. In federal prisons, an official says, the faith has "taken off" in the last year, growing from a handful of believers to over 100.
'A Racist and Proud of It'
In the mid-1990s, McNallen formed the latest outside group, the Asatrú Folk Assembly. Kaplan writes that McNallen was worried that Asatrú "non-racialists" were making headway "with the message that anybody could be an Asatrúer." McNallen wanted to emphasize that Asatrú was biologically linked to white Europeans.
One leader of the Folk Assembly is a known neo-Nazi. Ronald ("Ragnar") Schuett, guildmaster of the assembly's Teaching Guild, is the former Colorado state organizer of the neo-Nazi SS Action Group.
"I'm a white racist and proud of it," he told a reporter while posing in a Nazi uniform in 1992. Officials say Schuett also is linked to the Rocky Mountain Hammerskins, a Skinhead group, and may have been the outside contact for imprisoned Colorado Asatrúers.
Other Asatrúers have known anti-Semitic connections as well.
For example, Mark Thomas ("Reinhold Gast") Clinton, editor of the Asatrú journal Wolf Age, sponsored leading Holocaust denier David Irving at a 1992 gathering of the Siegfried Society in Portland, Ore. Clinton, a lawyer who once posed alongside a dead boar while holding a fearsome-looking spear, also was stopped by police in Portland in the company of two Skinhead leaders of the American Front, a neo-Nazi group. The three were reportedly handing out Holocaust denial literature.
Now, officials fear Odinism and Asatrú are spreading rapidly through the white supremacist movement. Racist material related to both belief systems is hawked in Resistance, the leading racist rock magazine (see Resisting Arrest).
A flier from the shadowy Erulian Brotherhood, entitled "Hail McVeigh," was emblazoned with runes, the pre-Christian letters favored by Odinists. Denver Skinhead Nathan Thill, who told reporters he murdered a black man, had a "death rune" tattoo.
Some 40 Websites are devoted to forms of Asatrú (most of them nonracist). Rashcke, the religion professor, says a recent biological terrorism threat in New York City may have come from Asatrúers.
Raschke says the heroic tone of racist Asatrú helps to bind the white supremacist movement together. "If you want to create an illegal terrorist movement in a tolerant society like ours," he concludes, "you have to create a legend, a myth."