20 January 2005

The new New Age in the era of globalization.

By Jeff Sharlet

I first met Bhakti Sondra Shaye, née Shaivitz, B.A., M.A., J.D., guide, teacher, and adept member of the Great White Universal Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Light, ritual master in the High Council of Gor, universal Kabbalist, Reiki master, and metaphysician, at the New Life Expo at the Hotel New Yorker this past October. The gathering bills itself as “America’s Largest Mind, Body, Spirit Expo,” four floors of alternative spiritual options. Vendors bark discount rates; “consumers” haggle over the tools of their salvation. In New York, the hidden economy of New Age mysticism—elsewhere marked by disingenuous disdain for commerce—is laid bare with pride.

A session titled “Spiritual Capitalism: What the FDNY Taught Wall Street About Money” promised to reveal a good deal of New York’s version of New Age on-the-make, but the teachers failed to show. So I spent a few hours inspecting spirit sticks, dodging feng shui–ers, and having various intangible parts of my aura balanced, stacked, and aligned. Bhakti Sondra Shaye was the least-assuming person in the room. Three middle-aged women who’d fit right in at a Betty Crocker bake-off—purveyors of “SoulTalk”TM—pointed her out. “She’s the one you want to talk to,” one of the women said, when I queried them about who was most attuned to New York and money. As she pointed out Sondra, she gave the anti-agers, crystal forkers, and aromatic transformers just the slightest eye roll.

Sondra sat in a corner, wearing a purple tunic, and she wasn’t hawking anything. If you asked, she’d give you, for free, a picture of her teacher, a ruggedly handsome Irishman named Derek O’Neill, who in turn would name the famed Indian guru Sai Baba as his master. But since I told her I was investigating spirituality in New York—she liked that word, investigating—she did me one better. She drew a “Prema Agni” on my back, and nearly made me fall down…

Continue reading “The Capitalist Spirit” in New York magazine.