Humanity goes back as far as 200,000 years and perhaps 300,000. Paleolithic societies show evidence of spiritual practices varying between animism to shamanism as well as socially stratified religious practice. That people have practiced spirituality for 200,000+ years basically means that spirituality is core to human nature.
Many of us discern an extrinsic energy and essence that defines existence. The resources to explore that can seem elusive or inaccessible. Many who live in first world societies have learned to describe spirituality in ways specific to a Western mindset. A level of spiritual engagement some would deem incomplete. That way of thinking was cultivated largely in the 2nd millenium AD. It did not spring out of nowhere but emerged from a combination of cultural, regional, and political factors.
Western conquest since 1095 AD resulted in the coerced change of many societies and people’s’ spiritual practices. Many indigenous and settled groups lost their spiritual identity and knowledge through Western expansion.
Civilization changed and many intimate spiritual practices and experiences of awe were left to history, imagination, or preservation by small groups of people who found the means to keep some of the mystery knowledge alive. Today, Western civilization is a settled matter and the structure of global society proceeds in its image.
A priority of modern society is education. More people are educated, literate, and have access to more information than at any time in recorded history. Oddly, it seems, that the more secular education proliferates, the more open people are in accepting diverse spiritual interpretations and expressions.
Education does not totally undo colonialism and global conquest. Yet, institutionalized education broadly administered does appear to open minds over generations of the formerly assimilated. Spiritual perspectives and tendencies of the descendants of conquered people does not die. Is not fully stamped out.
Evidence of this exists in plain sight. Movies out of Hollywood that garner millions of viewers and a collective homogeneous audience than any traditional religious setting and in which the combined profit exceeds religious donations is telling. Many popular movies of the last 30 – 40 years feature spiritual and esoteric themes more in line with ancestral spirituality than contemporary religious practice. Movies therefore are the means for people at large to “witness” with their eyes spiritual concepts available to all through capitalism.
Examples include Jedi making statements about nature, connectedness, and intentionality. Dr. Strange and incarnate mysticism. The Avengers with an on-screen expression of a pantheon of archetypes. Superman as demigod. Wonder Woman as goddess. Sauron briefly incarnating as a flame clad lord in spirit before dispatching Gandalf in one of the Hobbit films. Arwen chanting water into Nordic horses to wash away her foes in the first LOR film. Glahadriel raising her hand, emanating brilliant light as a chief goddess warding off destruction stirs awe in the connection it evokes in people’s conception of the spirit. Not limited to fantasy, we have scientific mysticism in films like Interstellar, Star Trek, Babylon 5 Third Space, Dune, Tron Legacy, Stargate, and Battlestar Galactica. Of course no list should fail to mention Harry Potter. By this time, the list of examples could span several thick novels describing the movies that give audiences far more than a glimmer of spiritual representation through CGI.
Taken together, it is no surprise that traditional Western religious practice seems diminished by comparison. Everyone loves Gnosticism even when it is disguised or coincidental to an artistic performance. Combined with the sense that core spiritualism is more aligned to modernity, media, and the observed behavior of people, it is growing. The re-emergence of ancestral spirituality reinterpreted through movies like Black Panther, Thor, and the Sci-fi and fantasy flicks to come as well as people’s age-old curiosity, a growing prominence of diverse spirituality seems inevitable.