Altered States of Consciousness and the New Age Movement

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2012
By “New Age” altered states of consciousness (ASCs), we mean characteristically pagan and, from our perspective, abnormal states of consciousness, where, due to an occult context, spiritistic influence is often present upon the mind and/or outcome of the experience

 

Altered States of Consciousness and the New Age Movement

By “New Age” altered states of consciousness (ASCs), we mean characteristically pagan and, from our perspective, abnormal states of consciousness, where, due to an occult context, spiritistic influence is often present upon the mind and/or outcome of the experience. We do not mean those normal but different states of consciousness such as daydreams, reverie, sleep, imagination, and so on. We also distinguish what we mean by ASCs from similar but not identical conditions found in Scripture, such as divine revelation, vision, and trance (see Ezek. 1:1; Acts 9:10; 10:10; 11:9-15; 22:7). Occult visions in a New Age context have a different source, involve different experiences and phenomena, and have a different outcome than biblical visions. Our primary purpose in this chapter is to document the relationship between altered states and occultism.

We grant that the cultivation or experience of altered states is not always occult. They may be spontaneous biblical trance or ecstasy, and some mild hypnotic conditions or biofeedback self-regulation. But in many cases, it is difficult to determine where the line can be drawn. The depth and length of consciousness alteration, individual susceptibility to trance, the program involved, purpose and motive, and spiritual context and outcome are all relevant considerations. The problem here is that no one can determine in advance if an ASC will be completely safe. Even mild ASCs aren’t necessarily safe, as we later document.

Given the reckless national experimentation with altered states, we believe that developing even mild ASCs should be avoided. It’s simply better to stay away from the entire field. As psychotherapist Elsa First illustrates, “There are risks in cultivating altered states of consciousness. One of these risks… may be a permanent alienation from ordinary human attachments.”[1]

We have such concerns for the following reasons. First, we will show that ASCs are notorious for opening the doors to contact the spirit world—something God forbids (Deut. 18:10-12). Because of this, the entire field is fraught with unknown variables and potential dangers. Thus, seeking to develop ASCs is a bit like stepping into a lion’s den.

Second, New Age apologists often cite the Bible to justify cultivating ASCs. However, the biblical instances of visions and trances do not support ASC experimentation. In the rare cases where visions or trances happen to believers, they have a divine origin, as proven by their outcome and associated characteristics. Any study of visions in the Bible will prove this. The visions of Old Testament prophets like Daniel and Ezekiel, or of New Testament apostles Paul and John, were vehicles of divine revelation to fulfill God’s purposes to His people. They glorified God, not the spirits, and they supported a biblical worldview and morality, not an occult one. Furthermore, the biblical experiences seem to come unbidden; they are never sought or deliberately cultivated as in New Age methods.

Unfortunately, many people today are now purposely altering their consciousness in spiritual quests that have uncertain parameters. The search for consciousness experimentation through a variety of means has become big business,[2] especially in psychology and religion. Noted near-death researcher, psychologist, and New Age consciousness explorer Kenneth Ring of the University of Connecticut observes, “Not since the early days of psychology has there been so much attention devoted to the question of the nature of consciousness and probably no period in Western psychology has exceeded the present one in the interest taken in manipulating states of consciousness.”[3] Editor John White’s What Is Enlightenment?: Exploring the Goal of the Spiritual Path is also illustrative. It contains 15 essays by some of the world’s leading consciousness pundits, who extol “the new global quest for higher consciousness and transcendence.”[4] Included are essays by Zen Buddhist Alan Watts and transpersonal psychologist Ken Wilbur (the alleged “Einstein of consciousness research”), guru-spiritists Da Free John, Meher Baba, and Gopi Krishna, drug experimenter and “perennial philosopher” Aldous Huxley, plus noted professors of religion and psychiatry such as Houston Smith and Buddhist Roger Walsh.

Nor is this renewed interest unique. Cultivating ASCs has been part of the spiritual heritage of pagan religion for millennia.[5] “Anthropologists have estimated that there are at least four thousand societies in the world today; about 90 percent of them have institutionalized at least one set of procedures for systematic cultivation of specific kinds of altered states.”[6]

As America has turned to pagan spirituality, it has logically adopted pagan methods. For example, ASCs are now used in certain educational circles[7] and irresponsibly advocated for children. An article in Teacher Education by professor emeritus at Northern Illinois University Thomas B. Roberts, encourages teachers to use all varieties of altered states in the classroom “at all educational levels” through use of biofeedback, yoga, meditation, and other methods.[8] Noted educator Barbara Clark believes that “guided fantasies and dreams, recognition and use of altered states of consciousness and centering [e.g., meditation] activities will develop more of our intuitive [psychic] abilities.”[9] Other leading educators believe that “trances, ASCs, and hypnoid states should prove relaxing and beneficial” for students.[10] Some advocate that forms of mediumistic trances should be used in contemporary education.[11]

Psychiatrist Annette Hollander writes the following in her How to Help Your Child Have a Spiritual Life: A Parent’s Guide to Inner Development: “We do not have to be afraid, and we can teach our children not to be afraid, of the very ‘altered’ states of consciousness that reveal a wider horizon.” She encourages the following practices for helping children to develop these altered states of consciousness: hatha yoga, and the martial arts, which are said to “develop awareness of the life energy”; training in relaxation; psychic meditation, working with dreams and guided fantasy; various body-work methods; and so on.[12]

Altered states are also widely utilized in the growing field of holistic, or New Age, medicine. In most forms of psychic diagnosis, psychic healing, and psychic surgery, altered states are considered essential. New Age techniques as diverse as Therapeutic Touch, chromotherapy (color healing), auric healing, meditation, biofeedback, hypnosis, hypnotic regression (“past life” therapy), radionics, shamanism, dream work, yoga, crystal healing, visualization, medical channeling, and many others may utilize ASCs either for the practitioner in diagnosis or for the patient in treatment.

In essence, altered states are increasingly seen as a legitimate field of exploration, not only in aspects of modern education and medicine but in schools of psychotherapy—particularly transpersonal psychology—and especially in the multidisciplinary field of what is termed “consciousness research.”

Also, for many people, ASCs are perceived as the key to personal and spiritual development. They are viewed as a method for unlocking the secrets of the mind, or even of creation itself. They are seen as the means to secure the higher evolution of individual consciousness and thus offer great potential for human development.

Unfortunately, few experimenters know where this quest takes them. Indeed, one may watch aghast as the committed consciousness explorer is slowly consumed by mystical experience; the addiction increasing as the individual “self” steadily becomes dismantled. As in much paganism, the “normal, ordinary” world of reality and the personal self are eventually obliterated, while the seeker of “higher” states of existence is increasingly linked to a shadowy, underground world of spirits, whose control over the experimenter seems to increase with each new “adventure” in consciousness expansion.

Carl was a qualified psychologist with a degree in physics and a personal interest in religion (especially Christianity) and parapsychology, which is the scientific study of the occult.[13] He became a leading parapsychologist, and his personal psychic abilities amazed not only himself but those who knew him. He was enormously excited by Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception. What Huxley achieved by drugs, Carl was certain he could achieve by psychic means; that, and perhaps more. Although fascinated by Christianity, Carl was convinced that the modern churches were corrupting the original teachings of Jesus Christ. Hence he sought “true Christianity” through occult means.

Consumed with a desire to find “original Christianity” (in effect, a Gnostic understanding of Christianity), he immersed himself in cultivating ASCs, reincarnation research, and astral travel. As his studies and involvement in the psychic world continued, he explored realm after realm. He was bright and enthusiastic, not to mention careful. Most of all he was certain he was on the road to vast personal discoveries. He had, in his view, all the right motives, as well as the talent, abilities, and opportunities to complement them.

Eventually a Midwestern university offered Carl a professorship and allowed him to teach and continue his experiments, which provided numerous psychic and mystical experiences. Gradually, however, Carl admitted to himself that a deep alteration was taking place within.[14] He had, earlier, some gnawing doubts about the fundamental nature of his spiritual path, but he suppressed them because of their uncomfortable implications. Any doubt about what kind of spirit was leading him could mean a total revision of his work; it could even mean resigning his professorship and renouncing his parapsychological research.[15]

Giving up his research would have been costly, but after years of painstaking effort, benevolent motives, and great enthusiasm, Carl became consumed by forces so evil he ended up an incoherent shell of a man. He required exorcism and 11 months of hospitalization for recovery.

His eventual renouncement of all study and research in parapsychology was deplored by fellow colleagues, who never learned the real reason for his strange disappearance from that community. He finally concluded:

Solemnly and of my own free will I wish to acknowledge that knowingly and freely I entered into possession by an evil spirit. And, although that spirit came to me under the guise of saving me, perfecting me, helping me to help others, I knew all along it was evil.[16]

Pursuing altered states may not only result in a wholly unexpected, radical occult transformation of one’s worldview and personality; it may also result in demonization.[17]


  1. Elsa First, “Visions, Voyages and New Interpretations of Madness” in John White, ed., Frontiers of Consciousness (New York: Avon, 1975), p. 165.
  2. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Facts on the New Age Movement, eBook.
  3. Kenneth Ring, “A Transpersonal View of Consciousness: A Mapping of Farther Regions of Inner Space,” Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1974, no. 2, p. 25.
  4. John White, ed., What Is Enlightenment?: Exploring the Goal of the Spiritual Path (Los Angeles, CA: J. P. Tarcher, 1984).
  5. Jeffrey Mishlove, The Roots of Consciousness: Psychic Liberation through History, Science and Experience (NY: Random House, 1975).
  6. Alberto Villoldo and Stanley Krippner, Healing States: A Journey Into the World of Spiritual Healing and Shamanism (NY: Fireside/Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1987), p. 198.
  7. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, Craig Branch, Thieves of Innocence: Protecting Our Children from New Age Teaching and Occult Practices, eBook.
  8. Thomas B. Roberts, “States of Consciousness: A New Intellectual Direction, A New Teacher Education Direction,” Teacher Education, March/April 1985, pp. 57-58.
  9. Barbara Clark, Growing Up Gifted: Developing the Potential of Children at Home and at School (Columbus, OH: Merrill Co., 1988), p. 592.
  10. Robert Masters, Jean Houston, Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space (NY: Delta, 1981), p. 13; cf. p. 5.
  11. Ankerberg, Weldon and Branch, Thieves of Innocence, chs. 4-5.
  12. Annette Hollander, How to Help Your Child Have a Spiritual Life: A Parent’s Guide to Inner Development (NY: A & W Publishers, 1980), pp. 50-60, 152.
  13. John Ankerberg and John Weldon, The Facts on Spirit Guides, eBook.
  14. Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans (NY: Bantam, 1979), p. 419; cf. pp. 385-488.
  15. Ibid., p. 418.
  16. Ibid., p. 485.
  17. John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Coming Darkness, eBook; John Weldon, John Ankerberg, The Facts on the Occult, eBook; Tal Brooke, Riders of the Cosmic Circuit: Rajneesh, Sai Baba, Muktananda…Gods of the New Age (Batavia, IL: Lion, 1986); John Ankerberg and John Weldon, The Facts on Spirit Guides, eBook; John Warwick Montgomery, ed., Demon-Possession: A Medical, Historical, Anthropological and Theological Symposium (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1976); cf., Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans (NY, Bantam, 1977); T.K. Oesterreich, Possession: Demonical and Other Among Primitive Races, in Antiquity, the Middle Ages & Modern Times (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel, 1974); William M. Alexander, Demonic Possession in the New Testament: Its Historical, Medical and Theological Aspects (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980); John L. Nevius, Demon Possession (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1970).

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