Here is an interesting piece that explores the roots of today's "New Age" spiritualism. What lies behind this wildly varying set of practices and beliefs? This article argues that it is our desire - or perhaps our need - to live in a world that is not stripped of magic or mystery.
I would argue that if there is one thread that binds together the various New Age movements, it is that they represent a resurgence of magical beliefs in a modern world supposedly stripped of them.
In his now-classic book Religion and the Decline of Magic (1971), the Oxford University historian Keith Thomas framed religion and magic as antagonistic social forces. In his view, when early modern Protestant and Catholic religious leaders persecuted witches, they were effectively trying to eliminate their competition as explainers of the unexplainable. In this, they largely succeeded. Because representatives of institutionalised religion had ‘all the resources of organised political power’ on their side, they were able to force magical practitioners into the shadows: ‘Magic had no Church, no communion symbolising the unity of believers,’ Thomas writes. ‘The official religion of industrial England was one from which the primitive “magical” elements had been very largely shorn.’ In the process of this rejection of supernatural explanations, post-Enlightenment religious beliefs became increasingly standardised and grounded in the concept of natural laws that it was within the ability of human minds to fathom.