The popularity of the 20-year-old New Age movement is difficult to quantify, but indicators of its widening acceptance in mainstream culture are readily available. Booming sales of books, records and natural foods show that many Americans embrace alternative ideas about health, the afterlife, extraterrestrials, psychology and spirituality. By one estimate, New Age items account for $13 billion a year in sales. Some facts and figures:
It took from 1980 to 1990 for the natural products industry, which includes sales of organic produce, to see a $2-billion increase in sales, but it took only two years, from '92 to '94, for it to grow another $2.3 billion:
Natural products sales, in billions 1994: $7.6
Organic produce sales, in billions 1994: $2.3
According to the American Homeopathic Pharmaceutical Assn., homeopathy generated $100 million in sales last year and is growing at a rate of 25% annually.
The herbal industry has become a $1.3-billion-a-year business. The 10 best-selling herbs:
Rank Herb 1 Chamomile flower (whole) 2 Psyllium husk (powder) 3 Flax seed (whole organic) 4 Pau D'arco bark 5 Psyllium seed husk (whole) 6 Peppermint leaf (domestic) 7 Licorice root 8 Peppermint leaf (organic) 9 Red clover tops (whole) 10 Slippery elm bark (powder)
In the last five years, the number of books in print in the United States that deal with angels has gone from five to least 200. The growth is part of an overall 120% increase in the number of books on New Age subjects--making the category the fastest-growing segment of the publishing industry.
"The Celestine Prophecy," a novel about a dangerous spiritual journey in search of a life-changing ancient manuscript, has sold 2 million copies and is in print in 20 languages.
Bantam Books paid $6 million for the paperback rights to "Embraced by the Light," in which author Betty J. Eadie describes a near-death experience. The tome, released in paperback in October, just celebrated its 41st week as No. 1 on the New York Times paperback bestseller list.
New Age styles popularized by companies such as Windham Hill Records have become a significant part of the music industry. Yanni's "Live at the Acropolis" album, for example, sold 3 million copies in its first three months in stores. The Top 10 New Age albums as of July 3:
Rank Album Artist 1 Live at the Acropolis Yanni 2 Live at Red Rocks John Tesh 3 Shepherd Moons Enya 4 In My Time Yanni 5 Viva! Liebert and Negra 6 Forest George Winston 7 By Heart Jim Brickman 8 Beyond the Thunder Neal Schon 9 Nouveau Flamenco Ottmar Liebert 10 Quest of the Dream Warrior David Arkenstone
Sources: Billboard magazine, Herb Market Review, Natural Foods Merchandiser, New Age Publishing and Retailing Alliance, Publisher's Weekly, Times and wire service reports
Researched by JENNIFER OLDHAM / Los Angeles Times