New Age and Neopagan Religions in America

By Sarah M. Pike | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
The 1960s Watershed Years

In 1961, Robert Heinlein's science fiction classic Stranger in a Strange Land was published and Black Elk Speaks, an account of the life of a Lakota medicine man, was reissued in paperback and became “the current youth classic.”1 Both books would have an impact on the generation of men and women who would become Neopagans and New Agers. The first 1960s Neopagan groups looked for ancient and indigenous cultures on which to model their rituals, but they also took ideas from science fiction. New Agers too were attracted to stories of distant worlds and enchanted by the myths and rituals of American Indians. During the 1960s patterns of American religiosity inherited from the nineteenth century were pushed to new imaginative dimensions by the (mostly young) men and women who made up the counterculture. Beginning with several important phenomena of the 1950s, such as social and demographic changes, the UFO craze, and the Beat movement, this chapter charts the forces responsible for the emergence of communities and loosely structured networks of people who by the early 1970s could be identified as New Agers and Neopagans.

Nineteenth-century beliefs and practices such as channeling and reincarnation resurfaced during the late 1950s, surged in the popular imagination during the 1960s, and were shaped by social forces that converged in these two decades. Social and cultural upheavals initiated religious and cultural trends such as the human potential movement, the feminist movement, the rise of ecological awareness, and the turn to nonwestern religions, all of which also influenced New Age and Neopagan spirituality. Personal and planetary healing and self-transformation, defining characteristics of New

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