CESNUR - center for studies on new religions


organized by CESNUR, Center for Religious Studies and Research at Vilnius University, and New Religions Research and Information Center
Vilnius, Lithuania, April 9-12 2003  

New Age and the Polish Right

by Zbigniew Mikolejko, Professor, Head of Department of Religious Studies, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Science, Warsaw, Poland
A paper presented at the CESNUR 2003 Conference, Vilnius, Lithuania. Preliminary version. Do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author.

Speaking of “New Age and the Right Wing”, perhaps I should firstly refer to “New Age and Politics” and ask whether here the concept of politics can be approached without reservations. Therefore, is the political character of New Age sufficiently evident for it to be spoken of as one of several ideological trends and their praxis? Difficulties are not limited for example to the issue of division and classification, they cannot be reduced merely to the issue of “difference”, to the problem of “definition”, to the issue of “distinction” or “identity”. Furthermore, a discourse evoking analogous categories would constitute a falsification of sorts.

                It would represent a certain form of falsification since – firstly – as Jean Francois Lyotard wrote of the “hue of time”, “we find ourselves at a moment of expansion” at a time of – if I am permitted to amplify his thought – when we are dealing with the diffusion of languages and truths, the demolition of purported “universalism”, “rationalism” and “objectivism” of the West, with disputing the Europocentric philosophy of polis built upon starting with Plato and Aristotle and ending with Hannah Arendt sadly conceding from somewhere this whole conceptual heritage to be the mechanism of crisis and historical misfortune. New Age, The Age of Aquarius, seems to share this conviction with the hazy constellations of post-modernism.

                                      This discourse - secondly - would be a kind of falsification since the new gnosticism of New Age, in contradistinction to the earlier gnosis, which perceived existence as a radical quandary between good and evil, proposes a unifying vision of the world, a world as living, constantly evolving consciousness, a world where there is no demarcation line between “this” and “that”, temporality and eternity, in which in fact there are no such separate categories as “Man”, “person”, “history”, “good” or “evil”, a world free of contradictions, conceptuality of sin, guilt and punishment for sin., in which there are in fact no delimitations or differences between God, the Cosmos and Man, in which God cannot manifest Himself before Man and change the Cosmic Order of things because everything is one, great, limitless expanse of consciousness in which God does not any more become Man – it is merely sufficient that Man became aware of his/her divinity and got acquainted with an affinity to a living, changing system, in other words a New Age God. Admittedly then, this God is in process of birth with his believers not yet free from the influence of the old gods, nonetheless New Age rejects, presumably, the polythea of Aristotle in favour of polytheism. It rejects it especially when it is in the form of religious populism (and it certainly constitutes this), as it is absorbed without reflection and experienced by the agency of its syncretistic spirit by millions of people.

                             Such a discourse – thirdly – would be a kind of falsification owing to paradoxically contradictory immediately above mentioned rationalisations since the “Conspiracy of Aquarius”, as pointed to by its enumerative definitions (and only suchlike, I deem, are possible here), strives to penetrate all the domains of existence of contemporary Western Man, at the same time manifestly within their compass evincing its deceitful dialectic, its identity/non-identity. Thus, New Age is neither a new religion nor a collection of sects nor a system of philosophy nor a therapy nor an ecological conscience nor a science nor a musical trend nor a business nor an artistic, educational, movement nor a social or specific approach to politics. Albeit at the same time it is all of these things.

                This discourse – fourthly and finally – would falsify New Age in this expansive and earlier mentioned sphere where it appears unawares, not necessarily – albeit frequently – in the multicoloured hue of mass culture encompassing millions of people who have never heard its name and probably will never absorb it, who join in this circle spontaneously and unwittingly – for quenching spiritual thirsts which they are not able to elsewhere, for alleviating medicines which no one else can provide. This also includes in addition those, especially in Poland, who, coming under its influence, are convinced that they are not doing anything that goes beyond defending original and “pure” National-Catholic traditions.

                The political character of New Age or otherwise – in broader format – “new spirituality” if any attempts are made to reveal it, is most often perceived in the context of liberal, leftist and progressive ideals.

                It is then that, for example, injunctions appear for New Era communes, ecological movements, Gandhism and pacifism. It is then that New Age is treated as a manifestation of a new religious liberalism pertinent to Man of the Ultramodern Age rejecting, in truth, the conceptual and institutional “great totalities” (such as Christianity and the Church) with their intrinsic concept of a single absolute Truth, but trying to satisfy their yearning for sacrum in some form of a “Christianity without religion”, in some “invisible religion”, in some form of Secular City religiosity. At the same time, to be seen in New Age is a radically liberal social vision conceived according to a pattern of a “web of neurons”, or, as Marylin Fergusson prefers to put it, an “Aquarian Conspiracy” similar to a “badly spliced fishing net with lots of different sized knots individually tied indirectly or directly by somebody or other”.

                It is on these rationalisations that New Age is from time to time criticised – as a “new Egyptianism” comprising a shrouded world view of slavery from the time of the global economic domination of Liberalism and the global hegemony of supranational megacorporations. At the same time it is stated (q.v. the Polish authors of the New Era Encyclopedia) that “the New Era movement developed spontaneously in opposition to both the technocratism of the seventies and the radical postulates of the 68-revolt”. Meanwhile the adherents of so-called profound ecology regard New Age as yet another form of modernistic technocratism. While at the same time...

                Thus, in examinations of New Age mixed often convergent formulations emanate from both left and right. In the meantime, - should New Age be subjected to unsympathetic scrutiny – it has stern forebears on both sides of the arena while its meddling into politics and politicalness, despite seeming apoliticalness, is not by any means liberalist-left or liberal. On the contrary, a considerable chunk of manifestations characterised as New Age – both in the case of elites and in the case of broader collectives – remains in close union with the right, also the extreme right, appealing to mechanisms of coercion and evoking totalitarian visions of social order.

                More often than not, however, New Age analyses try to conceal such links or at least minimise them.

                However, of concern here is a constant, protracted and differentiated process of contamination of various esoteric and mystical traditions, various occultisms with rightist movements and ideologies, a process which at the present time is also experienced by New Age in its essential segments despite the illusion of the movement´s apoliticalness mentioned earlier.

                The fact that the belief of Enlightenment in Reason is moribund, analogously in decline are old global divides, old cultural dominions and old hierachies of values, the fact that “history” seems to be going through its irrevocable “end”, while “Man” becomes being “the last Man” (as books by Francis Fukuyama prophesy) and it is possible after the “death of God” to also announce the “death of Man” (as Michel Foucault wanted to after Nietzche) as well as consequently to subject to criticism and deconstruction the concept of “Humanism” (as was done by Jacques Derrida), - (in conditions of the Global Village, the expansion of liberalist capitalism or the end of the “Cold War”) - all this consequently must also have such results.

                And what relation does all this have to Poland, a country of strong – one would be inclined to think – nationalism and traditional folk inspired Catholicism which one would assume could “repel” all “hostile powers” both stemming from the communist past and the new spectre, according to conspiracy theories, of mass culture, a united Europe, free market, democracy and liberalism?

                Well, the answer is simple, although it must go beyond facile social epiphenomenology. National and religious traditionalism in Poland does not comprise a monolith and is in essence a conglomeration of competing, antinomical traditionalisms. Thus, the rightist New Age goes about in Poland “dressed in old clothes”, i.e. within the confines of this particular traditional nationalism and this particular traditional folk inspired Catholicism whose adherents – were it not for states of emotional obscurantism coupled with the myth that they alone are keepers of the Faith and Identity of the Nation – could easily repeat after Lyotard: “We are not modern”, neither are we presumably the inheritors of nihilism or romantic nostalgia, we prey perhaps on “heaps of litter, remnants of various fundamentalisms” and treat “unconscionableness, slips, limitations, parataxes, futility or paradoxes as a basis of faith in the might of new things to come and promise of changes”.

                The symbolical, abbreviated representation of this stance in the mid-nineties was the protracted and spectacular occupation of a gravel heap situated on the outskirts of the former Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz by a group of nationalistic Catholics – accompanied by the mass placing of crosses and the construction of an odd “Calvary”. According to Archbishop Jozef Zycinski, with whom I agree, the goings on there became an expression of neopaganism, since they reduced Catholicism with its universal vision of redemption to that of ethnos, to the limits of ethnic substratum. But with neopaganism – at that, closely related to New Age – it connected this phenomenon more to, similarly in fact to the way the Radio Maria Family (a mass, militant and extremist formation of Catholic “dregs”) connects to social organicism striving to “suspend” within the bounds of a predetermined area (the outskirts of the concentration camp, a common family circle, the elderly, the poor and the uneducated etc.) the hierarchy and norms of contemporary liberal society or open post-conciliar Church.

                Thus, what we were and are dealing with is something akin to a “web of neurons” – the co-operation of separate, scattered groups and communities, and even units, free from centralistic and hierarchical temptations, beckoning in only own gurus such as the one time hero of “Solidarity” and the initiator of the disturbances around the Auschwitz gravel heap, Kazimierz Switon or the charismatic padre Tadeusz Rydzyk, the originator of Radio Maria and its several million strong “Family”, remaining at odds with a considerable number of Polish bishops. One can furthermore speak of the fact that the masses which – in accordance with the programme of Hegel – have become the Subject of Historical Development, have not fulfilled the expectations of enlightened elites and are seeking for themselves alternative, even if blameworthy, ahistorical and mythical paths towards self-realisation. Finally, one has to mention certain centres of activity and co-operation – and the fact that at the core of such similar activity, analogous to modern neopaganism or New Age, in fact lies an extreme form of anti-dogmatism and eclecticism.

                And in essence, if one takes note of spoken gestures and symbols from the Auschwitz gravel heap, it is possible to observe that it was almost a random collection of loose quotations close to both neopagan eclecticism and postmodernism or New Age. Thus, we had in turn a fragment of the iconosphere of counter-reformation (Calvary), the pathos of national martyrdom, a fast of protest rooted in Solidarity, post-communist manifestations of “envious egalitarianism”, catholic anti-conciliar fundamentalism (mass held by Mons. Lefebvre priests), the commemorative “papal cross”, the forest of crosses reminiscent of the Lithuanian “hill of crosses”, the magic meaning of mini-crosses clumsily dangling from the arms of larger crosses, anti-state anarchism, post-modernist New Age embellishments of peripheries, of a degraded world dominated by the discourse of official culture and National-Catholic declarations.

                They in fact, like the hysterically expressed disinclination towards things alien or foreign, towards the Jew, seemed to disjoin this whole phenomenon from unitarian versions of neopaganism, from post-modernism with its political correctness and New Age. But this difference is by no means obvious – both in regard to ethnocentric neopaganism and rightist varieties of western New Age which operate through the agency of gnostic myths: of the radical dichotomy of of the world (good and evil, light and darkness, spirit and matter), of the inferior God-demiurge, of the bad God of the Jews responsible for creating matter, the vision of involution, the regression of existence (from the legendary Prime Tradition to the decline of history whose last eon constitutes contemporaneity defined by the masters of integral traditionalism viz. Julius Evola and René Guénon as Kali-yuga, the “The Dark Epoch of the Wolf” whereas by the adherents of Druid neopaganism and esoteric “New Age Christianity”, for example by the astrologer from Toronto, Alexander Blair-Ewart as “The Dark Age of Technology and Materialism”). This of course leads towards visions of Apocalyptic strife as evoked in the mystic poetry of the struggle between Good and constant Evil.

                Thus, in the aggregate, the traditionalism stemming from the Auschwitz gravel heap or those grouped around Radio Maria is ostensible and fragmentary, which beckons in National and Catholic tradition and reaches for a proven dramaturgy of religious ceremony exclusively to legitimise completely new economic and social aims in defence of groups liable to incur substantive losses as the result of the dissolution of communist egalitarianism and democratic and market reforms. It is therefore manifest in events connected with the increase in so called miraculous visions of the Holy Mother on the window panes of workers´ houses, in ritual rhetoric and practice – often of a magical nature, Radio Maria and its “Family” as well as in such quasi-economic activities as the defence of insolvent factories where godless liberalism and the homo oeconomicus has been radically confronted by purported traditional homo religiosus, “alien” interests have been confronted by “Polish” ownership, the cosmopolitan universalism of the West by an ethnocentric concept of the Fatherland.

                Coming into view at the same time is a specific vision of the march of time – mythical history, the alternative history of the subjugated which rejects the linear, actual course of history dictated by the dominators, closing the course of events in a spherical formula of time true to all myths, a formula in which the beginning is synonymous with the end. The epoch of liberal dominators of culture and social life must here somehow be subjected to magical conjuring, the process of cursing (all forms of epithet, of malediction not infrequently alloyed with fervent prayers into a single hubbub not by any means materialising by chance as the natural outcome of the interplay of feelings), must be etched, evicted by various means for it to fulfil the real and holy time of the degraded, a time of spiritual renewal of existence.

                Thus, one is saved by a return to illo tempore to the Golden Age, to the cyclical time of myth and the time-honoured cosmos, to its religion and rituals, to the Original Tradition; also to such a vision according to which – in order to provide its local and appropriately populistic sense – Jesus was born in the mountains of Southern Poland (in the vicinity of Nowy Targ) and was condemned and crucified, according to the notions of traditional Baroque folk religiosity, in the Calvary of Zebrzydowice and Paclaw. In other words, this is a vision according to which the life and martyrdom of God has become fused into material-spiritual unity with Polish Blut und Boden, with the life and tragedies of the nation, with the life and tragedies of the home country, soaked in the blood of the fallen and massacred (the maternal and monarchical cult of the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Poland covering them with her blue robe, allows somehow to trust that they can sleep in peace in the subterranean womb of the Mother of the Country not having blemished it – because they do not exist in collective memory – local anti-Semitic pogroms dating back to the War or post-War period).

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