Amal Awad, an Australian writer who says she’s seeking a “creative, hopefully healing path,” explored a vast array of new age experiences and came out with a book announcing, with a wink, In My Past Life I Was Cleopatra: A Sceptical Believer’s Journey Through the New Age (Murdoch, Aug.). She delves into oracle cards, crystals, psychic healers, and more with equal measures of scholarly sourcing and probing curiosity about the spiritual self-help industry.
“I’m selective,” Awad writes. “I’m always curious, but I have limits.” And a sense of humor. Everyone seems to discover they were once someone grand, perhaps from a galaxy far, far away.
PW spoke with Awad about searching for ineffable truth, her chart of the “woo-woo spectrum,” and the craze for “manifestation.”
You write, “Something doesn’t have to be ‘true’ to point us toward truth.” Is your book a search for truth?
New age beliefs, like traditional religion, can hold value without being provably “true” in the same way a fictional story can help us realize truths about ourselves. I’ve written three novels, and in writing you are always trying to find the universal truth of things—of pain, heartbreak, or joy. So many things can be true. If someone says they had a transformative experience, it probably was.
According to a study you cite in the book, “psychic services” such as card readings, astrology, and more are a $2.2 billion industry. What are people buying into?
They’re paying for peace of mind, for a vision that there’s a good day ahead. I don’t know anybody who says, “I want an unhappy life. I want today to be a bad day.” You want to get out of a loop of feeling like you’re never good enough. Or you want to rectify a mindset that isn’t helpful for you.
Where are you on your book’s six-category “woo-woo spectrum,” ranging from “woo-less” realists who say “science is everything” to the “out of this woo-ld” priestesses familiar with “galactic activation and quantum tune-ups?”
Mostly, I fit under “it’s a woo-nderful life”—someone who’s “open to trying out new things” and who wants “to be of service to the world.” All these new age practices, which are often simply new approaches to sacred traditions, exist because there is a great intention to help us grow. As long as humans have existed, we have sought to understand ourselves through the unseen, to understand what is inside us already.
What’s your view on “manifestation,” which your book calls the very popular “think-it-or-write-it-and-it-is-done school of thought?”
We are tuning in to what is available to us and then we mistake our desire for manifestation. Say I want to go to Italy. I put it on my vision board. I write it down. Every day I think, I am going to Italy. And three months later I do go to Italy. Clearly, I was always going to go there. I made it happen by focusing my actions on it. This can go awry when you treat your expectations for a happy life like a shopping list. The universe isn’t on standby waiting for you to put in your order.
Are you a cynic?
No. Cynicism is mean. For a cynic the world is crap. A skeptic can say, “I don’t know. It could be true.” There’s a lot of good in the land of woo-woo. I didn’t write this to mock people.