Book Review - In the Shadow of the New Age

Cultic Studies Journal, 16, (1), 1999, 64-66.

In the Shadow of the New Age: Decoding the Findhorn Foundation.

Greenaway, J. P. (2003).

London, England: Finderne Publishing. 385 page paperback.

Frank MacHovec, Ph.D.

Center for the Study of Self

John Greenaway is a British lawyer whose interest in New Age religion took him to Scotland’s Findhorn Foundation, considered by many to be Europe’s Esalen. This book details his spiritual journey that included “several short stays” at Findhorn, meditation with a Carmelite monk as “spiritual director,” and “supplementary direction from Tibetan Buddhist sources.” It is also a detailed history of the New Age from pre-World War II. Greenaway concludes that New Age religion is socially divisive, blocks understanding by those of differing spiritual paths, and undermines genuine spiritual renewal.”

There is a lengthy 12-page Preface that could have been Chapter 1. There are 22 chapters of varying lengths from Chapter 8 at three pages and Chapter 15 at 70 pages. The bibliography uses an unusual 4-column format, and there is a detailed 13-page two-column index. Greenaway considers the Findhorn Foundation “a highly distorted and commercialized version of the Ancient Wisdom” (p. 19). He describes a major weakness in many cults and sects, absolute certainty they have spiritual truth though it is based on very little or highly speculative data. “Human potential practitioners make their own methods sound more unique than they actually are” (67). Most are actually spin-offs of historical movements such as Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, or Islam but hybrid versions with very little originality or authentic historical concepts. Greenaway comments that the Findhorn Foundation was “never any good at historical scholarship” (21) but followed the dictum “we create our own reality,” a “megalomaniac doctrine” of “New Age psychospirituality, excited hyper-theosophy” and a “wacky package” of “California occultism” (21-25).

Chapter 1 traces Findhorn’s roots to Peter Caddy; this is useful information, but six pages are devoted to commenting on a 70-pound cabbage claimed to have grown “by spirit force.” There are misleading examples or errors when the book wanders off its focus on New Age movements. Empedocles is linked to acupuncture, more Chinese than Greek, and Pythagoras to prana, shakti, and chi mixing Hindu and Chinese origins (13). Greek culture is said to have centered in Alexandria, Egypt not Athens, Greece (12). Chapter 2 is a historical overview of the New Age movement in four phases, from Blavatsky’s theosophy to humanistic psychology then to the human potential movement in the 1960s and prosperity consciousness since the 1980s. Chapter 3 updates the Findhorn Foundation from the 3-year visit by David Spangler of California after Peter Caddy dropped out in 1979. Spangler introduced channeling and group consciousness. Greenaway feels Spangler’s work resulted in disenchantment for many members who left the program.

In Chapter 4 history is again reported but this time in waves. The first wave began 1914-1919 with Aleister Crowley and peaked in the 1950s. The second wave was in the 1960s energized by the “third force” of humanistic psychology. The third wave began with Esalen’s Big Sur program and continued in the 1980s prosperity consciousness. This material belongs in Chapter 2. There is more history in Chapter 5 but with some subjective bias. Maslow and Rogers are referred to as “the seminal influences” of the human potential movement. Timothy Leary and others like him would have been better examples. He credits Rogers with developing group therapy (68), but he was but one of many who used group methods. He charges “Rogerian attitudes hinder maturation and development ‘growth’ workshops are supposed to be about” (68), but Rogers’ major emphasis was on self-awareness and personal growth. Rogers takes another hit for espousing empathy and unconditional positive regard “teetering on the edge of the manic” (72). Does this mean the Good Samaritan was just manic? “We create our own reality” is misattributed to Maslow. It is a basic tenet of existentialism that preceded Maslow.

Humanistic psychology and the human potential movement are criticized for “a curious lack of foundation, a relative absence of historical sense and historically guided coordination despite much pre-occupation with groundedness” (71). Not true. They were “the third force” against the first two, psychoanalysis and behaviorism, which denied or minimized free will and the potential to overcome instinctive drives and conditioning. Modern historical roots are Rousseau’s “noble savage” against Locke’s mind as a blank slate and the Darwinian idea that we are monkeys' uncles. Ancient roots can be seen in Socrates’ admonition “know thyself.” It is charged they are anti-intellectual but “the anti-intellectualism of these people, nearly always intellectual themselves though prone to deny it, is by no means confined to the New Age, and paradoxically has intellectual roots” (72). Translation, please?

Chapter 15 is 69 pages and the book’s longest. Eight pages describe the relationship of Freemasons to Findhorn Foundation and how its “structure and modus operandi imitates Masonry” (178). The author states that he is not a Mason and the only substantiating data offered is that some of Findhorn leaders were or are Masons. The chapter wanders through “mystery traditions” such as the “aeons” of Osiris and Horus, Ordo Templi Orientis, star Sirius, the Order of Melchizedek, and the Great White Lodge. Caddy, Crowley, Blavatsky, and Bailey are revisited adding little substance, though Alice Bailey’s husband (Ahah!) was “a respected Freemason” (195). More than half the chapter details Blavatsky’s theosophy, which “has been a central influence in Foundation spirituality” (217) and “what C. G. Jung calls ‘the shadow,’ i.e., archetypal material pushing up from the unconscious” (218). The New Age is seen as “a new paradigm” for “an emerging global religion” and “new root race” (189), a worldwide movement using “paranormal techniques preserved from ancient times, including hypnosis, laws of forms, ritual, and behavior control” (190). Its aim is “to restore the inner or esoteric dynamic” that Christianity has “largely lost” (202).

Chapter 16 explores “the United Nations connection” in the Lucis Trust, originally The Lucifer Trust, but omits the etymology that Lucifer first meant light and in Britain, a match. Lucis “appears to have a long term advisory connection with the U.N.” (238) and “a sympathetic parallelism” with the Findhorn Foundation “and its leading affiliates and writers” (239). Findhorn “achieved three U.N. affiliations.” This may be evidence of a “ramp, something between a paradigm and a conspiracy … a kind of group consciousness that is charged and selfish in nature” (240). This ramp is “a mingling of Alice Bailey’s theosophy with eccentric Freemasonry and an extreme development of Star Sirius lore” (247)." The “U.N. bureaucrats do not appear to know what is going on in the engine room” (242). “We are looking at an international network which has already acquired enormous power without revealing much of what it is about …” (248).

Chapter 17 focuses on “language games” such as the “classic mind-trap” of Findhorn’s “we create our own reality’” and “democratic sounding terms such as ‘eco, group, community, village’” (250). There is a change in direction that describes various Findhorn operations. Chapter 18 details ways Findhorn creates its own reality but its “eco-village is but the ‘planetary village’ of ‘Limitless Love and Truth’ under a toned down title and expensive workshop spirituality … derived from New Age California and its distorted Theosophy” (263). The work of Singer, Lifton, Clark, and Langone on mind control are described and compared to Findhorn practices. Chapters 19, 20, and 21 describe various foundation activities over time.

Chapter 22 summarizes the book and concludes “Findhorn Foundation is not the exploration of Eastern religions or the Western mystery tradition” but “a type of commercial spirituality” (356). It is “genuine up to a point when seeking public recognition or applying for public money.” It is “trying to re-invent itself as an international eco-center,” though it remains “a hybridization” of New Age elements (356). The prefix “eco” is “a gift to word-spinners,” a “chameleon word” for Findhorn “a magical compression of its totalist mission” (356). Without data he again charges, “Freemasonry allied to the New Age is a volatile and flaky departure from historical Masonry” and “Christian churches have been almost mown down by the New Age phenomenon" (357). He describes New Age religion as a “distorting prism” to “first dive into our Self” to find “pristine innocence ignoring Man’s Fall” then to realize “we are God.” In contrast, Christianity “stands ready with natural powers at rest before a higher Power which lifts us up” but critical of it because its “narrow doctrinal rationalism and legalism drives people out of existing churches by the million” (359). He offers “two ways back to sanity,” recognizing “a significant proportion” of New Age religions are “exploitive,” and “churches need to recover their history” including the “healing traditions” and “energy flow” of earlier Christian and Eastern ideas (358). He recommends “a Western Christian ashram” such as Bede Griffith’s in India and “meditative prayer” to “discourage crazes” (360). He considers the New Age not new at all but can be traced back to Virgil and 12th century papal approval of meditative prayer “nurturing the space before words” (361). He sees traditional religion as too restrictive of individual spiritual growth and New Age versions as too unrestricted and shallow.

Despite some rambling, repetition, needless tangents, and a focus on relatively trivial facts this book contains much wisdom and insight. It would have benefited greatly from better organization and editing. Reading it is work but it is worth reading, a labor of love for the rich material to be mined. The author’s search for truth is clear, his observations are objective despite some factual errors, and his judgment sound, making it a useful model for others and a detailed account of Findhorn’s history and program.