Recently I was pondering the various new age and metaphysical groups, practices, and in particular the various leaders and the styles of leadership they provide. While there are many fine teachers and healers in this broad category we call new age, there are some I’ve seen or been around that trigger an uneasy feeling in my gut.
Instinct and observation tells me to be wary of these particular people. Not only do I question their tactics, but also the blind allegiance that some of their followers seem to exhibit. Okay, it’s true that everyone is human, even the most notable of these teachers and healers. It’s more a matter as to what extent a teacher/healer accepts their humanness or disavows certain aspects of it. There’s a certain amount of power that followers will imbue with a spiritual teacher, so it is up to those of us who take on that role to do so responsibly and in some way acknowledge that we’re simply human beings.
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There’s a story that I’m reminded of. The guru was being tempted by the “dark forces.” They offered him riches. He turned it down. They offered him fame. Again, he turned it down and maintained his integrity. They offered him all the sex he could want. Yet again, they were unable to persuade him.
Then they got him. They offered him devotees.
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I can speak from experience as one who years ago came close to joining a group that had a very strong, charismatic leader and a relatively small group of devotees. No mistake, I gained a lot from my involvement, yet it turned out to have most of the characteristics of a cult. Once I stepped away from it, I could clearly see those features common to all cults, some of which are
- Zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader, alive or dead.
- Treating his/her belief system, ideology, and practices as the absolute Truth and law.
- Questioning, doubt, and dissent are not tolerated.
- The leadership prescribes, often in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel.
- The group takes on an “us vs. them” mentality, where you’re “either with us or against us.”
- The group claims an exalted, special status for itself and its leader and may believe that they’re on a special mission to save humanity.
Of course, these characteristics also fit the fundamentalism found in any of the major religions, including what has been called the new age movement. Someone once commented that the only difference between a cult and a religion is numbers. That’s a rather harsh assessment, as I’ve met quite a few folks who subscribe to a particular religion or to new age spiritual practices that aren’t all that dogmatic about it, yet there’s also a great deal of truth in that statement.