CESNUR - Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni diretto da Massimo Introvigne

londonThe 2008 International Conference
Twenty Years and More: Research into Minority Religions, New Religious Movements and 'the New Spirituality'

An International Conference organized by INFORM and CESNUR in association with ISORECEA at the London School of Economics, 16-20th April 2008

Measuring the Sacred: research notes on so-called “holistic paradigm” in science as actualized by new spiritualities adherents

by Dorota Hall

A paper presented at the 2008 International Conference, London, UK. Preliminary version. Please do not reproduce or quote without the consent of the author. Author’s participation in the conference was financially supported by the British Academy.


Usually while speaking about the issue of science in the context of New Age or new spiritualities, we think of the “holistic paradigm” as popularized by Fritjof Capra, James Lovelock, Rupert Sheldrake and many others. Their books have been translated into Polish and are tendered in esoteric shops, or in regular bookstores – among other publications labelled as “esoteric”.  It seems, however, that the pattern of combining spirituality with science they introduced is not the only one we can find in Polish new spiritualities milieus. There are also other proposals, and here I would like to refer precisely to them.

Let us take the example of the monthly Nieznany Świat [The Unfathomed World]. The magazine has been issued since the beginning of the 1990s. It is advertised as:

“The oldest Polish periodical devoted to esotericism, parapsychology, medicine, dowsing, astrology, UFO, and other secrets and phenomena of nature. […] It is the periodical for all interested in the unknown, and for all who think and feel, striving to know more than others.”[1] [quoted from the web site, original emphases]

Since the 1990s, Nieznany Świat has improved its position to be one of the most popular and opinion-leading magazines in Polish new spiritualities milieus. It is offered for sale in esoteric shops and galleries, and also, at newspaper stands in the whole country. According to the editors, it is issued in over 80 thousand copies.

Here, I would like to refer to an annual event promoted by the Nieznany Świat monthly and widely commented in the magazine – the Great Meditation of the Nieznany Świat Audience. December 30, between 10 and 10:30 p.m., is fixed as the date for the meditation (it has been so since 2002; in previous years, the time was set between 8 and 8:30 p.m.). The event is not to establish a meeting in a defined place, it is about the simultaneous entrance of many people into a meditative state of consciousness. Editors of the magazine estimate, perhaps with some exaggeration, at least several dozen thousand persons participate in the undertaking, since participants themselves contribute to its wide promotion. Such a collective meditation is considered as having a huge inflective power.

“The thought has the prime mover, and while generated by the collective effort, it exerts a perceptible impact on the reality and its shape.” [NS´ 2004, no. 12, p. 4]

“We all mobilize our psychical and spiritual powers to try to effectively influence the reality by means of the collective consciousness directed towards a chosen aim.” [Rymuszko in NS´ 2001, no. 12, p. 3]

The aim is different each year. In 2000, the event was held under the slogan “Good and Peace: the meditation for the new millennium”, in 2001 – “Love” in 2002 – “Defending the Earth – Helping Nature” in 2003 – “Unity” in 2004 – “Light of Peace” in 2005 – “Tolerance” in 2006 – “Releasing the Truth” and in 2007 – “Courage.”

Of course, there is nothing new about the idea of meditation held by many in various places. The most famous event of this kind was perhaps the Harmonic Convergence organized by José Argüelles on August 16-17, 1987. Then, the following occurrences were supposed to take place: the culmination of the Aztec calendar and the beginning of the final twenty-six-year period of the Mayan calendar’s 5200-year Great Cycle anticipating the return of Quetzalcoatl, considered as a god of peace by the disseminators of the event; the “dancing awake” of 144 thousand Sun Dance enlightened teachers (this was according to the Rainbow People of the Intertribal Medicine Societies); the return of the Hopi Indians’ lost white brother Poha’na; and, the grand trine made up by seven planets in the astrological fire signs. Therefore, it was expected the divine energy would fall on the Earth, and especially on the Earth’s power-points. Argüelles called 144 thousand people to meditate, pray, chant and visualize in sacred sites of the whole globe in order to launch the final twenty-five-year transition into the New Age of peace and harmony. Many promoters of new spiritualities were engaged in the undertaking, including celebrities such as Shirley MacLaine, John Denver, and Timothy Leary. Convergers gathered at various places, e.g. Sedona in Arizona, Mount Shasta in California, Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, the Black Hills of South Dakota, New York’s Central Park, Glastonbury and Stonehenge in England, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Great Pyramid in Egypt, and Mount Olympus in Greece [Ivakhiv 2001, p. 48]. The event has much contributed to the international dissemination of the idea of power-points. The harmonic influence of such a kind of activities for the surroundings has been independently confirmed by others, e.g. by the Transcendental Meditation adherents. They say, in local communities, where 1 per cent of people regularly participate in collective meditations, the crime and other indicators of social pathology decrease. The phenomenon has been called the “Maharishi effect” drawing on the name of the founder and disseminator of the meditation technique, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.[2]

Editors of the Nieznany Świat monthly are also convinced of the positive influence of the meditation promoted by themselves. Therefore, they formulate a response to the sceptics who say that meditation does not make any difference because the world is still far from any perfection:

“Do we know how the world would look like, if such initiatives as the annual Great Meditation of the Nieznany Świat Audience, which is one of many undertakings of this kind, were not held?” [NS´ 2004, no. 12, p. 4]

However, the editors do not content themselves with such common-sense ripostes, and they provide concrete evidence the practice is inflective indeed. Namely, each year, the Great Meditation is monitored by Grażyna Fosar and Franz Bludorf from Berlin, who are “renowned astro-physicians dealing with the research on the psi phenomena, including i.a. the influence of so-called Schumann waves, the group consciousness or the communication in the hyper-space” [NŚ 2002, no. 5, p. 27]. Articles on their findings are published in each May issue of the monthly. Such texts are filled with a specialist terminology, and they are meant to document and testify the impressive results of the event.

Let us take an example of a report from the meditation held on December 30, 2001. The “Love” was its leading motto. According to the authors, they made use of a chance generator Hyper 2000 Professional which “gives an opportunity to conduct a direct observation of a pattern of coincidental numbers, which […] have not appeared to be as ‘coincidental’ as it usually happens” [Fosar, Bludorf in NŚ 2002, no. 5, p. 3; original emphases]. Then, they have described the measuring procedure using very sophisticated words and notions which – I suppose – are by no means necessary to present the heart of the matter (one can assume they are meant just to highlight the credibility of the astro-physicians). Finally, the conclusion could be drawn that they observed a computer monitor, where the generated chance was presented in a graphic form, as a layout of points. “With each trial run, 30 thousand points manifested themselves on the picture!” – authors report [ibid., p. 4], but they do not explain why this fact is significant enough to be written in bold letters and followed by an exclamation mark. Perhaps, the number itself should fire the imagination. There is a lot of further unintelligible stylistic devices in the article. The most popular are based again on dazzling the audience with numbers, while commenting on the “deviation from the normal chance”:

“The generator made 529 trial runs, each 30,000 times, which totals to 15,870,000 times. Thus, the chance probability exceeds 1:84,198 (1 per cent). According to the scientific statistics, each result lower than 1:20 (5 per cent) is considered as not coincidental.” [Fosar, Bludorf in NS´ 2002, no. 5, p. 4-5]

The “renowned astro-physicians” have also commented on factors which interfered the course of the meditation in 2001. They were: the full moon, the Sun storm, “and finally – attention, attention! – the so-called TLR factor that was moving over the Polish territory on the days December 28, 29 and 30” [ibid., p. 5]. They have explained, the TLR factor increases the risk for plane crashes and influences peoples’ consciousness. By making detailed comments on both the measuring procedure itself and its context that justifies possible measuring errors, the authors of the article clearly refer to the scientific style of presenting research findings. By doing that, they suggest their monitoring methods are reliable. Therefore, they present themselves as trustworthy scientists, the scientific authorities much able to navigate through the complex fields of science, and much wiser than the audience. The distance between them and the “lay” people is strengthened by the use of highly specialist, difficult to understand vocabulary.

The report is enriched with photos and diagrams. It is not clear, however, what exactly they are meant to document. For example, on the two graphs “of the meditation course between 8 and 8:30 p.m. illustrating its maximum and minimum values” [ibid., p. 5]: one cannot conclude in which units the measurement was taken (although the numbers themselves are detailed), or how exactly the differences between the size of columns or the deviations of the polygraph should be interpreted. Again, it shows that the tables, just like the vocabulary, are used instrumentally by the authors of the report – they are to amaze the audience with the technical background of the research and consequently, to confirm the high professionalism of researchers.

Finally, the authors disclose the most astonishing revelation – the discovery they made while observing the growing quantity of points at the computer monitor:

“They were FORMS ILLUSTRATING HEARTS, of diverse sizes and orientated towards various directions. One of them, a very large heart, occupied almost the whole surface of the image whose outskirts were took up by small little hearts. Within the macroscopic and microscopic space, such a kind of repeating elements of a pattern is typical for so-called fractal forms present in the theory of chaos. […] It is simply sensational that during the meditation a fractal in the form of hearts was generated. The heart is, one can say, a classical, archetypical symbol of love, and exactly the Love was the subject for the meditation.” [Fosar, Bludorf in NŚ 2002, no. 5, p. 4; original emphases]

The discovery is also documented by appropriate photos and a picture.

What conclusions can be drawn from the presented article? The text promotes holistic ideas emphasizing the interrelatedness between various elements of the reality and highlighting the prime mover of thoughts. At the same time, authors of the article provide various rationalizations based on modern scientific language. Both the language and the researchers themselves (presented as reliable scientists) seem to legitimate the spiritual worldview. It seems the modern science has much stronger discursive authority than any other discourse, and exactly for this reason it is willingly employed by editors of the Nieznany Świat periodical.

But the quoted article consists not only of the mere text, but also of illustrations. Various measuring devices open a space in which what is only in theory can be empirically, almost tangibly confirmed. As a result, although it is not certain what exactly various graphs show, it is certain, they do show “something”.  And the meditation on as abstract an idea as “Love” flourishes with hearts visible on the computer monitor. In Poland, this empiricism alludes to the very traditional patterns of confirming the real ontological status of what is not accessible on a daily basis. It alludes to crying or bleeding figures or effigies of Saints, especially the Holy Mother or Jesus, that confirm the real status of the sacral sphere. It alludes to the holy power perceptibly experienced at a shrine as a cure from a disease that confirms the same. And it harmonizes with the folk sensibility which highly values the truth witnessed with an eye. It is not by any coincidence that today’s adherents of very traditional folk Catholicism also excite themselves with photos meant to document and confirm the presence of divinity in the world. For example, an ethnographer Hubert Czachowski who conducted a fieldwork among pilgrims to the villages of Radomin and Okonin of central Poland (both places known for miraculous events related to the Virgin Mary revelations), reports on pilgrims’ enthusiasm with a photo taken up by an unknown author in Rome. It was said the author took a photo of sun, but after the photographic plate was developed, it has appeared the image exhibits the Virgin Mary embracing the Pope [Czachowski 2003, pp. 144-145].

Miraculous photos are a very extensive subject, not to be undertaken in this short presentation, since they additionally refer to new spiritualities adherents’ fascination for photos of “energy” or ufologists’ excitement over the photos of unidentified flying objects and various energetic formations. What I would like to highlight here is the enthusiasm for the visible representation of the “unknown” displayed by technological devices used for experiments that allude to scientific procedures.

During my ethnographic fieldwork I conducted in Poland in the years 2000, I met such an enthusiastic approach very frequently – not only in the “specialist” press such as Nieznany Świat, but also while documenting various practices of new spiritualities adherents. For instance, I observed behaviours of pilgrims to the Węsiory village in northern Poland famous for stone circles built by Germanic tribes in the first centuries after Christ, and now, considered as one of the Earth’s power-points. People gathering there meditate, chant the Om mantra, draw the “energy” from stones, but also, they bring to the place various measuring devices, such as a dosimeter, an apparatus to measure the electromagnetic field, or a bi-electrodal digital thermometer. It is not only that the devices do show “something”, but also that “something” manifests itself very spectacularly. A person who systematically makes such measurements keenly reported on a situation when the dosimeter scale had appeared to be too limited to show the quantity of the uncanny “energetic” radiation present among the stones. And he assured, the dosimeter was not broken, since it had been borrowed from the army. He also reported on a monitor of another device which had got lighter while set at the East-West direction, and had got darker when placed towards North-South. Thus, generally, the sophisticated technical tools brought to the stone circles are used not only to conduct a kind of “scientific research,” but above all, to document and make just visible the uncanny energy produced by the stones. It is not without any significance that the same person who reported on strange phenomena related to the measuring devices spoke with the same enthusiasm about another strange events that occurred in the stone circles: once someone’s photochromic glasses got dark, although they were kept in an inside pocket and in a glasses case, the other time, a severely ill woman unexpectedly got healed, yet another time, two aggressive skinheads suddenly became very gentle.

Of course, there is nothing very strange in the fact that new spiritualities adherents refer to the modern science while presenting their own holistic worldview. In his seminal work, New Age Religion and Western Culture Wouter J. Hanegraaff has pointed out that modern scientific developments do appeal to New Age concerns, because they are interpreted in such a way to legitimate a spiritual worldview, and at the same time, they may also serve as weapons to attack the existing scientific consensus [Hanegraaff 1996, p. 62]. However, if we consider what I have just presented, some further questions emerge.

The first refers to the sociological dimension of new spiritualities phenomena. I have never carried out any fieldwork research outside Poland, but my impression is the charm with the language that borrows from the modern science, with the sophisticated technical devices and with what they display, is greater among Polish new spiritualities adherents than among spiritual seekers of Western Europe. Is it like that? If so, perhaps this might be considered as the legacy of communism when the scientific language, i.e. the language distanced from any trends of “irrationalism” and conformable to the Marxism-Leninism ideology, was much promoted in various discourses in Poland, including among people interested in various uncanny phenomena. Perhaps this would show a kind of peculiarity of new spiritualities milieus not only in Poland, but also, in the whole region of Central and Eastern Europe experienced by the communist regime.

The second question refers to the relation between the use of scientific accessories (like the language or technical tools) and the secularised worldview. Although the language itself may alienate from fully spiritual, not secularised, perspective, it is not that evident in the case of measuring devices and what they display. Moreover, it seems that the latter have little to do with any rationalised point of view, and they clearly correspond with the tendencies to witness the sacral reality with an eye, the tendencies deeply rooted in traditional religious sensibility (at least, deeply rooted in Poland). It seems possible that also the sophisticated language, which alludes to the science and is very difficult to understand, has strong potential to sacralise the worldview, instead of secularise it. Perhaps these complex relations demand further research.



Czachowski Hubert, 2003: Cuda, wizjonerzy i pielgrzymi: studium religijności mirakularnej końca XX wieku w Polsce, Warsaw: Oficyna Naukowa.

Hanegraaff Wouter J., 1996: New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought, Leiden: Brill.

Ivakhiv Adrian J., 2001: Claiming Sacred Ground: Pilgrims and Politics at Glastonbury and Sedona, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


As well as selected issues of the Nieznany Świat monthly:

NŚ 2001, no. 12 – Rymuszko Marek, Łańcuch bijących serc, pp. 3-5.

NŚ 2004, no. 12, editorial notes on the Great Meditation of the Nieznany Świat Audience, p. 4.

NŚ 2002, no. 5:

- Fosar Grażyna, Bludorf Franz, Po Wielkiej Medytacji, pp. 3-5, 26-27.

- editorial notes on Grażyna Fosar and Franz Bludorf, p. 27.

[1] http://www.nieznanyswiat.pl/content/view/1/4/

[2] See e.g.: http://maharishi-programmes.globalgoodnews.com/maharishi-effect/

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