New Age aging well

Once labeled alternative, the Evolving Times Expo has flowed into the mainstream

The Evolving Times Expo is a countercultural trip down memory lane.

There’s something nostalgic – very late ’60s and early ’70s – about all the swirling tie-dye, gleaming healing crystals and overall hippie ambience at this trade show for all things alternative and New Age. It’s just as it was decades ago, except the sense of controversy, the perceived threat to the social order has disappeared.

The expo, which debuted here in 1986 and took place yet again this past weekend, brings up the simple question: Is there a fringe anymore?

So many of yesterday’s far-out notions have been woven into the mainstream, from macramé fashions at Macy’s to acupuncture at the doctor’s office. And the presenters at the expo don’t look like the subversives of yesteryear; they carry all the usual trappings of the mainstream, from glossy pamphlets to Web sites.

This is a multigenerational, diverse crowd, some in swirling robes, others in business attire. Some who are here were raised alternatively. For them, the frisson of youthful rebellion has been expunged from the experience.

“I grew up with alternative stuff,” says Michelle Romero, 21. “My mom was into Reiki and crystal healing. I’ve just always been around it.”

But there are still some New Age newcomers. David Chagolla, Romero’s uncle, who lives in Riverside and is visiting, has never seen anything like this. The 42-year-old painter is wide-eyed and smiling after his first didgeridoo healing experience.

“I’m kind of floating around,” he says, shortly after getting the full-blown treatment from a fellow who goes by the single name Astarius.

Holding a 4-foot-long hollowed-wood didgeridoo, an Aboriginal instrument of Australia, Astarius invites you to sit down and close your eyes. He holds up his instrument, aims point-blank at your chest and begins to blow. The sound thrums deeply and continuously. You feel as though your internal organs are resonating, perhaps emulsifying even. It’s akin to the experience of pulling alongside a car with a super-souped-up sound system that rocks your body and your car.

Across from Astarius is the Reiki Center of Sacramento booth. About a dozen people in matching purple T-shirts stand and hold their hands just next to, but not touching, the heads of those who have taken a seat. It looks like some sort of no-motion, hands-off massage. These Reiki prac-titioners are making “attunements” (which may or may not include touching) to the “human energy field” surrounding the body.

Reiki is on the low-tech end of the offerings here, which include computerized chakra readings, bio scans and aura images.

At the Light & Sound Technology booth, Dan Millman sits back and relaxes as he listens to cosmic music on headphones and puts on dark glasses that flash light against his closed eyelids. “Wow, I’m kind of out of it,” Millman says, smiling as he removes headphones and glasses. The 26-year-old who lives in Davis wonders if the system could help him with his golf game.

Why not? Everything seems to be possible here, where there is only one thing missing: a touch of skepticism.

Whitewolf Switzer, an “energy medicine specialist” who wears a wreath of mugwort leaves on his head, offers an explanation of sorts for the banishment of questioning by those on the path to enlightenment.

“Sometimes,” he says, “our analytical ways of thinking get in our way.”

Darrell Trimble has seen acceptance grow since he started peddling alternative wares in the mid-’80s. He is 57 and one of the owners of the Planet Earth Rising store in Folsom.

“People don’t think you’re freaky when you start talking about the healing power of crystals anymore,” he says, pointing out a crystal that can “put better energy in your home” and another that has “angelic qualities for improving communication and respiration.”

Some of the booths cater to more earthly yearnings, like the right outfit. Luna, who owns Earth Central in Loomis (“in service of the Goddess since 1996,” reads her business card), has one of several booths filled with elegant variations of hippie clothing.

“I empower women with clothes,” she says. While she riffles through her racks, her comments move back and forth between fashion and faith: “Look at this, isn’t it sweet?” and “I’m all about Isis.”

This is the place to find the far-out and the everyday, from a new healing modality to really cute earrings.

The blend of fringe and mainstream is in full harmonic convergence in the array of speakers, including several physicians. One is Dr. Roger Leir, a podiatrist from Ventura County who talks about the evidence that aliens leave surgical implants in humans they abduct.

Leir makes Dr. Bernard McGinity sound like Dr. Marcus Welby. The Carmichael physician speaks about several alternative, but entirely terrestrial, treatments that he incorporates in his practice.

“Doing acupuncture in Sacramento in 1973, some of my fellow physicians would look at me like I was losing my marbles,” McGinity says. Today, the procedure is covered, in some cases, by such mainstream entities as Kaiser Permanente.

Paulette Pitner, the woman who started the Evolving Times Expo way back in 1986 (and used to publish the Evolving Times newsletter), has watched as the fringe has come in from the cold of social disapproval.

Her first expo was held in the Turn Verein hall in east Sacramento, drawing a crowd of 1,500. Since then, the event moved downtown and drew larger crowds. Pitner – and the expo – took a break the past two years. This year, Pitner estimated 5,000 people came.

“In the beginning, they wanted to burn me at the stake; I had people calling and saying, ‘Oh, this is the devil’s work,’ ” says Pitner, 59. “When I started, yoga wasn’t allowed at the YMCA.”


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Sacramento Bee, USA
Mar. 23, 3004
Alison apRoberts
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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday March 30, 2004.
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