October 04, 1989 12:00 PM

Sherlock Holmes here! And I’m as cross as two sticks!” The members of the séance gasped. All eyes locked on the channeler, a New Jersey housewife whose voice had suddenly dropped into a hoity-toity British baritone that eerily resembled nasal Basil Rathbone’s.

“Is it fair, I ask you,” the spirit protested, “that as penance for the trivial sin of intellectual pride, I must endure reincarnation as that blithering, blathering focus of hocus-pocus, the Jane Fonda of mysticism, pop prophetess of the new age-Shirley MacLaine?”

The channeler’s face quivered, then a second voice emerged. “Tut, tut, my dear Holmes!” it declared in the harrumphing tones of filmdom’s favorite Dr. Watson, Nigel Bruce. “You could have done worse. Shirley’s filthy rich—and famous to boot. Thirty-eight films, an Oscar for Terms of Endearment, and in the last six years she has written four books that have sold 10 million copies. Out on a Limb and Dancing in the Light have stuffed her purse with better than $4 million. Not to speak of the $3 million to $4 million her lectures rake in year after year. Furthermore, she has acquired considerable status as the leading legitimizer and, as they say nowadays, spokesperson for the new age movement. Why, whole continents are held in thrall by her adventures—whether metaphysical or (ahem!) physical. Naughty girl, stramashing between the sheets with a socialist MP! Yet who can deny she’s shrewd—it has been said she has a ‘mind like an oil drill.’ ”

“What a pity it struck mush,” Holmes cut in icily. “That ding-a-ling has bubbles in her taffy. My dear Watson, she has proclaimed that she is God—and so is everyone else! I marvel she has escaped lobotomy. ‘Christ,’ she tells us, ‘came from outer space’—like the Wookie, I presume. Her best friend, she says, is enamored of a lady who pops in from the Pleiades, a mere 400 million light-years away. And did you know the crystal-clasping kook insists that photons have consciousness? And she interviews her previous incarnations—in visions induced by acupuncture. In one of these past lives, she lived in Atlantis and, having nothing better to do, controlled the world’s weather.”

“Come, come, Holmes. Shirley’s but a dancing straw in the wind of the new age, albeit the liveliest! The brightest butterfly on the fresh breeze of spirit blowing through a decade more in tune with gold than God. Healthy backlash, I call it. What you have in the new age is a mulligan stew of Christianity, Hinduism and Jungian psychology—surely no harm in that. Moreover, I find in new age music a delightful stillness after the squall of rock. And as a physician I see much to favor in holistic medicine and even in health food, though as an Englishman I’ve no faith in a green vegetable till it has been boiled grey.”

“Humbug, my dear Watson. New age medicine is a deplorable imbroglio of twig tea, aromatherapy, Mongolian skin-rolling and colon rejuvenation. As for new age music, I find it little more than aural wallpaper. Mantravani! Have you heard “Deep Breakfast” or “In Search of the Turtle’s Navel”? Valium for the ear. Sounds to me like a chorus of cash registers—new age, you know, is the fastest growing segment of the music business. Here in America more than $100 million worth of new age recordings are sold every year. Ironic!”

“Ironic? Fantastic!”

“No, ironic that new age has so eagerly embraced the materialism it set out to transcend. The landscape is littered with new age PR firms, new age travel agencies, new age pet hospitals, new age stockbrokers who play the market by reading the stars. Light a bonfire of new age books, and one could sit on the moon and read the Times of London by its light. The Tao of Management is a specially hot item, and there’s a 240-page directory called New Age Marketing Opportunities. Once again, old friend, interest on the principal has proved more compelling than interest in the principle.”

“Rubbish, Holmes! Surely you’ll admit that most new agers are inspired by ideals. And I trust that you, the brainchild of so noted a spiritualist as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, do not doubt the motives of channelers.”

“Ha! They’re among the worst. There’s a channeler from the Midwest claims she was married to St. Peter and knew Christ. Another receives spirit messages from a pod of dolphins. JZ Knight, a West Coast spiritualist, charges up to $300 for a confab with a 35,000-year-old party named Ramtha and keeps a remuda of Arabian horses on a 50-acre spread in Washington. But it’s Shirley who’s truly bringing home the intergalactic bacon, and it’s Shirley’s sparsely furnished attic I am stuck in.”

“My dear friend, is there no way out? ”

“Not in this life, I fear. But in the next I shall have my revenge! I’ve arranged to reincarnate our girl guru as a sensitive poet captured by a balmy billionaire who forces her, day and night, for years on end, to eat alfalfa sandwiches, listen to tapes of amplified ant squeaks and read aloud from the collected works of Shirley MacLaine!”

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