Now, one of the main reasons why many people are uneasy about New Age concepts and practices is the emphasis on Psychic experiences and abilities. Unfortunately Pyschic experiences aren't always a positive and enjoyable experience. They can be quite frightening and horrific as well. Ask around and you are bound to find many people that you know that have had such experiences. They range from frightening visions, to suicidal thoughts and tormenting voices, to hauntings (objects moving spontaneously, commonly intereference with electrical objects (lightswitches and TV's)), physical sensations of being choked (this is quite common) to more extreme cases of possession and the bizzare and complex cases known as "Alien Visitation/Abductions", which most serious researchers consider as a Paranormal/Occult issue. There are many case's on record of people playing with Ouija boards and then being plagued by accidents and so forth. Many times I have spoken with people who have very liberal and progressive views on Religion, where they still lean towards the conservative Christian perspective of Psychic experiences, often due to their own frightening experiences. Within Christian circles this is known as Spiritual Attack, considered to be the work of Demons.
Many people are unaware that the New Age does actually have an explanation for why this happens, most people I speak to are only aware of the traditional Christian explanation for such things. Admittingly, very few people within New Age discuss this, many people who I have raised this with just dismiss such things as being untrue. This is unfortunate, as anyone who has spoken with many people on the subject and made a sincere attempt to research it, will have encountered the fact that not everything related to the Supernatural is all love and light. Things aren't necessarily better with the traditional Mystical philosophies, I've heard a few stories of Ashram's turning away people with Spiritual Crisis. Probably the groups that have paid the most attention to this are the Spiritualists and the Occultsists from around the beginning of the 19th century (such as the early Theosophists). So the question then is, what are these two explanations for this phenomena? And what evidence / arguments are used for the two perspectives?
So firstly the two explanations:
1) The Christian explanation - The heart of this explanation is the belief that there are only two distinct Spiritual Dimension Heaven and Hell, and similarly two classes of Supernatural entities, Angels and Demons. Therefore is is believed that the vast majority of Psychic experiences had by the general public are the work of Satan and Demons (all fallen Angels), whether or not the experiences are percieved as positive or negative. Accordingly, only a small percentage of supernatural phenomena are considered to be the work of God and Angels, and these are described as being distinctly different to those of the other category. The differentiating factor is often whether the experiencer is themselves a Christian, however it should be noted that many people who have converted to Christianity after spending time practicing other faiths have commented how the experiences as a Christian are clearly different in many ways. Christians believe that Satan goes around trying to decieve people into following a false philosophy and engaging in practices that are forbidden by God, so that they will be seperated from God (generally considered eternal). As a result, Christians believe that Satan seeks to imitate genuine Spiritual gifts and that therefore so called "Psychic abilities" are generally "Satanic Counterfits" of the true fruits of the Holy Spirit.
2) The New Age explanation - The foundation of this explanation is the belief that above the level of the Physical world their are a multitude of higher dimensions, inhabited by beings of higher and higher consciousness. The level directly above us is referred to as the Astral Plane, and this itself can be considered to have many different tiers (although it should be mentioned that many people who have had NDE's or OBE's have stated that Space does not exist in this world in the same way that it does in the 3D world of Matter.) The Higher Astral worlds are considered to be the home of advanced Spiritual Beings, the middle realms are a Heaven for the majority, and the lower realms of the Astral are a place where lost souls dwell in their own personal self-inflicted Hell. (There is variation on this theme in different traditions, however the finding of NDE's, OBE's, Regression and Spiritualism seem to be consistent in this regard. Many of the traditional Mystic philosophies had some concept of temporary Hell as punishment for evil deeds, some of these concepts could be considered a Spiritual Prison). Also, it is taught that some souls upon leaving the Physical body do not enter into the light for whatever reason (A ubiqutious element of world spiritual teachings and NDE's is that soon after death a bright light appears to the deceased to take them out of this world and into the next), and find themselves trapped on Earth without a body, whether by choice or due to confusion. Some of these beings do not understand that they are dead, whilst others stay due to mental addictions (drugs, sex, etc). Some might even choose to stay to be near their loved ones, thinking that they will be able to help them.
Now, according to this philosophy, there are always reasons why particular experiences happen, and there are clear ways to avoid the negative ones. Serious researchers into this maintain that there is always an identifyable cause for such events, and my experience in talking with many people that have had such experiences seems to back this up. There are a couple of basic rules to know in relation to the Supernatural. Drug and alchohol abuse seems to be one of the most commonly occuring factors, also the use of Oujja Boards and amateur Seances are a common factor. Other factors relate to extreme emotions of fear, anger and hate. Another common factor is intense belief in Evil, "Spiritual Attack" is quite common amongst the more conservative Christians who believe very strongly in Satan and Demons. Part of the New Age explanation for such things is the belief in the law of "like attracts like", meaning that when approaching any sort of Spiritual pursuit one should focus on feeling love and peace, and rejecting fear and doubt.
Basic rules to avoid such occurences are:
1) NEVER play around with Oujja Boards, as these are red flags to draw earthbound spirits, they are too easy for the Spirits to move, and are generally used in the wrong context (seeking out something spooky) and environment (ie parties) for seeking spiritual counsel. The vast majority of modern Spiritual teachers take this view, with a few exceptions (notably Doreen Virtue who sells "Angel Boards".) I have heard some people say that they can be used safely by the right person with the right procedure, but are generally too dangerous for the general public, but the vast majority of advisers warn against their use completely.
2) Never attempt any sort of Spiritual practice whilst under the influence of any drug or alcohol (or even better yet, never takes drugs at all, or Alcohol! (Ok, I know this last one is abit difficult for most people today.)) It must be mentioned that in many Indigenous Shamanic traditions use of Psychotropic substances as a Sacrament is a significant part of their Spiritual practice, I believe that this generally falls into a different category, and isn't exactly black & white. As such I won't comment on this today.
3) Learn Psychic Self Protection - The use of basic prayers, invocations/affirmations and visualizations to protect oneself mentally, emotionally and spiritually from any lower entity, whether that be someone alive in the flesh, or disembodied. This doesn't just apply for spiritual work, it can be very helpfull in the workplace or any social environment and is extremely effective. Ask anybody that has experienced Spiritual/Psychic attack how they fought off the attack, most people have instinctively recited a well known prayer such as the "Lord's Prayer" over and over again until the attack ceased.
Secondly, what arguments are used to support these views?
Firstly, I think I should state it seems very difficult to provide any sort of ojbective evidnece for this topic. Whilst many of the questions I raise can only be addressed by philosophical and intellectual debates and anecdotal accounts, many of the other topics can be argued with reason and logic instead of circular reasoning. This particular topic on the other hand must rely on circular reasoning to some degree in both Worldview explanations.
1) So what evidence and arguments can Christians cite for their interpretation of these experiences? Well, there are in fact many people that have converted to Christianity after being involved in New Age practices. There are a number of books that have been written by authors that have converted to Christianity after bad experiences in New Age such as "The Beautiful Side of Evil" by Johanna Michaelsen. There are also countless personal accounts that are well known within different communities that tell similar stories. Christians tell of how they had to specifically renounce all New Age activities and beliefs before being free of their ailments.
2) So then, what evidence and arguments can the New Age movement cite for their interpretation of these experiences? Well, this is far more complex, as it relates to the concept that Reality isn't purely solid and objective, but subject to expectation. Upon joining a Christian community and individual becomes part of a collective mind, and thus are subject to beliefs of others. In the cases where someone has been suffering as a result of past experimentations in the Occult, they are convinced that they must denounce all their previous beliefs and practices. I would suggest that a common factor in these cases is that the individual found the complexities and paradoxes of Mystical Philosophy too difficult, and found solace in a more simple black & white worldview. This might in fact have been in their best interests short term, but it doesn't justify the denouncing of all such activities as evil. A central them of these stories is the shifting of emphasis from experiences of the Supernatural to the worship of God and serving of others. Such a shift of emphasis could have taken place within a New Age context, if the individual had encountered the right teacher or path.
Ultimately, it is impossible to make a case one way or the other without calling on other assumption of the respective Worldviews, this topic can be understood from both perspectives. For this reason, I believe the New Age explanation to be far more satisfactory, as the overall Worldview is supported by a vast number of sources, whereas the Christian worldview is argued solely on Circular reasoning and the logical fallacies of Apologists.
In the Vedic tradition of India there is some discussion of Psychic abilitis, however in a different context to that of New Age. For example in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's Psychic abilities are defined as "Minor Siddhi's" (Siddhi meaning perfect, sign of one approaching Spiritual perfect, Siddha-meaning perfected being) whilst also mentioning Major Siddhi's - full on miracles in the Biblical sense: Walking on water, walking through walls, making oneself invisible, levitation etc. Contrary to New Age which seems to encourage people to specifically seek out these abilities, the Yogic tradition warns people not to be attached to such Spiritual perks, saying that they can be a distraction that can take one away from the far greater attainment of Transcendental Love and Peace. It also warns that such abilities are not always a sign of true Spiritual attainment as they can be attained through use of drugs or specific rituals and incantations.
I see this as a differentiation between Psychic Development and Spiritual Development, where as each category can but wont necessarily include the other.
Pyschic Development is the attainment of abilities that are considered Supernatural or Paranormal, ie: Extra Sensory Perception (Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic), Telekenethis, Reading Aura's, Mediumship and Trance, Spiritual Healing etc
Spiritual Development is primarily the transformation of one's state of being or realisation from the Ego to the Spirit, that is seeking to change one's vices into virtue's and weaknesses into strengths, serving others over yourself yet enjoying and living life to it's fullist in a healthy manner, the seeking of one's Higher Self through practices of devotion, study, meditation and discernment.
Psychic abilities do have practical uses which can help others in many ways, however they can also be used for control over others, whilst others even think such things are games for fun. Hence, in my opinion the Occult and Witchcraft if seperated from Mysticism are not Spiritual, but merely Supernatural. The true Spiritual seeker who is attempting to live a life of love, truth, strength and faith will be in the right position to use such abilities wisely, so in some ways I think it is better to allow such abilities to manifest (and perhaps dissipate) spontaneously in the due course of time as ones Consciousness expands beyond the physical plane. However, I do not mean to imply that it is specifically bad or dangerous to seek out such abilities, only that is very important to have a greater context for their use.
I spoken to many people that have had negative experiences within New Age context and later become Christians, as well as reading the testimonies of many other people, and I have found in every case that I have examined, there were clear reasons for why these things occured. In ALL the cases that I have seen the person was initially seeking out experiences of a Supernatural nature, rather than specifically seeking to improve themself Spiritually. Here's where my definition of New Age is different to that of many others. I specifically believe that the New Age movement needs to make clear that there is an Absolute goal of which to strive for (God Consciousness), and that the attainment of Psychic abilities is only a minor step along the way. In this way perhaps it is an essential next step for the New Age movement to have some sort of unifying creed.
The New Age view would suggest that these abilities are essentially neutral, not intrinsically good or bad, but can be used for either intent. This is similar to any "Science" (of course many people will object to the use of that word in relation to Psychic phenomena), understanding that Electricity isn't intrinsically good or bad. Any force or power in nature can be dangerous if misused, yet many can be harnassed in specific ways for our benefit.
This neutrality doesn't mean that God is Neutral, and this is an important point as some people perceieve this as a New Age teaching. All Mystics have proclaimed that God is good and that suffering and evil are ultimately illusions. Vedanta proclaims that "All is Brahman" (and Brahman is Sat-Chit-Ananda, Existence, Consciousness and Bliss) and everything else is merely Maya (the cosmic illusion).
Take care everyone,