New Age money-grabbers are really no angels to me
I received an e-mail yesterday about an unusual new training opportunity at the start of November.
As part of a sold-out European tour, Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova, a ‘Russian-born visionary’, is bringing her Birth into Being workshop to Northern Ireland.
Tonetti-Vladimirova believes that trauma caused while in the womb, or during birth, influences our behaviour for the rest of our lives. During the ‘birthshop’, she uses something called ‘limbic imprint recoding’, which apparently is a technique of altering the basic settings in our nervous system that we acquired from conception onward.
Elena says that “birthshop participants can have an actual in-the-body experience of being conceived, gestated and born in love and natural ecstasy”.
Wow. That sounds like quite a lot to get through in one workshop. Still, if anyone can do it for you, this gal can.
In the past, California-based Elena has delivered babies among wild dolphins and, during her earlier years in Soviet Russia, she was part of Citizen Diplomacy, an underground organisation created with the purpose of putting an end to the Cold War.
Of course, there's only one town in Northern Ireland where Elena's events could be held. Yes, it's Holywood, Co Down, New Age capital of the north.
You can practically smell the patchouli oil in the air as you walk down the street and, if you suddenly find you urgently need a peasant-crafted dream-catcher, or a pack of tarot cards, you'll be spoiled for choice.
But the popularity of New Age therapies goes way beyond Holywood. As mainstream institutional religion declines, more and more people are turning to the less challenging charms of angels, crystals and the like.
You might just have got the sense that I'm a bit sceptical about all this. And you'd be correct. It's born of hard-won experience. For women, in particular, it's hard to reach your late 30s without being exposed to some form of this religion-lite.
A few years ago, I attended an ‘angels' workshop. The idea was to introduce each of us to our own personal angels.
Having paid £20 each, we were swathed in colourful scarves and encouraged to suck boiled sweets. (Why? Because ‘the angels love them’.)
There was a group-song about how special we all were. We asked the angels for a physical sign that meant ‘yes’ and another that meant ‘no’.
After that, we were off. You can ask your angels about anything you want, right down to where to park your car, or what to buy in Tesco.
And don't worry if you don't immediately get a vision of your personal angel guide's name. One workshop facilitator told us that when she started, the name didn't present itself until the next day.
She was gazing at the menu in a coffee shop and it suddenly came to her.
Yes, her angel was called... Americano. True story.
There have been other incidents. Last year, a woman wired me up to a machine with flashing lights that was supposed to measure the spiritual energy of my aura — it was in fine fettle, thanks for asking — although she at least had the good grace to see the whole thing as “just a bit of craic”.
On another occasion, I opened my eyes after a luxurious massage to find the masseuse offering me an angel card, containing insights from the winged ones.
I took one — it seemed rude to refuse — but it did feel a bit like having a tract from a street preacher thrust into my hand and I never went back.
Some may say I'm being rather harsh. Why not live and let live? But I believe there's good reason to raise a sceptical eyebrow when it comes to these quasi-religious therapies.
For a start, they often lack intellectual credibility, borrowing in pick'n'mix fashion from Christian beliefs, Buddhist philosophy, the Japanese Reiki tradition, or simply the power-up language of the assertiveness class.
They lack spiritual rigour: unlike orthodox religions, nothing is demanded of you. All you have to do is drink in the love.
It's the perfect faith menu for the supersize-me generation, addicted to copious quantities of bland pap that goes down easily.
It's a good thing that most of us are no longer in fear of hellfire, vengeful smiting and eternal damnation. But there's one other crucial difference between traditional religion and the new pseudo-scientific therapies: with the old kind, you didn't have to pay.