RK writes: “I'm wondering if you have ever heard of the New Age Rosary. They have showed up at our parish and my son was given one about three years ago. We had it in our home and it wasn't until this week that someone informed him that it was "bad." I had never heard of this controversy until a few days ago. Someone asks the question on the EWTN forum, but doesn't get a response. I would appreciate any information you might have on this. We just handed out 200 of these rosaries to our First Communicants and they were not blessed prior.”
This is a great question and very timely because of the continuing controversy over these so-called New Age rosaries. Someone had them in our parish just a few months ago and everyone was buzzing about them.
For the sakes of those who don’t know what we’re talking about, New Age rosaries are said to be originating from various European shrines, including Medjugorje, where they are usually distributed free of charge. The rosaries are white, blue or pink plastic and depict a snake wrapped around a caduceus (an upright pole) behind Jesus’ head. A caduceus was carried by various messenger gods such as Hermes or Mercury and represents mediation between heaven and earth. The crucifix, which has no INRI sign, also appears to sport pentagrams on the four outer edges of the cross.
A woman named Yvonne wrote a message appearing on the EWTN Q&A Forum in 2005 claiming that her sister was given one of these rosaries in Medjugorje and that a priest there, who is an exorcist, told her to throw it away.
For the last five years, this message (and the rosaries) have been circulating around the world along with widespread speculation about the whole thing being just another internet hoax.
Personally, I have seen and inspected one of these rosaries and found the suspected imaging very hard to decipher. If someone asked me if I could see pentagrams on the four arms of the cross I would have to say no (the snake was a bit more visible).
I searched for advice about these rosaries and came across an explanation from a priest whose expertise on the New Age impressed me enough that I include a portion of it in the back of my Learn to Discern booklets.
Father Gareth Leyshon, who held a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Cardiff University before being ordained a priest in 2007, had this to say about the New Age rosaries on September 28, 2009:
Is it possible that apparently innocuous Catholic sacramentals, such as rosaries . . . can actually be New Age artifacts?
Three things could potentially corrupt what is apparently a Catholic Sacramental.
• Explicit imagery which can only have a pagan or New Age interpretation; • Ambiguous imagery which was put in by a designer who INTENDED a pagan or New Age interpretation; • Some kind of occult ritual being performed over the objects.
The rosaries in question do indeed show a serpent coiled around a pole and have pentagons at the end of the four arms of the cross. I wonder what the designer intended?
In the Book of Numbers, 21:6, God commands Moses to make a bronze serpent on a pole, through which God miraculously heals those Israelites bitten by poisonous snakes. In the Gospel According to John, 3:14, Jesus uses that serpent as a prototype of his own being lifted up on the Cross so that the whole of humanity can be healed from sin. The Numbers reading is the First Reading on the liturgical feast of the Triumph of the Cross, September 14th. We may be rather uncomfortable with a serpent - a Biblical symbol of temptation - being a prototype of Christ Our Saviour; but it is clearly used by Jesus Himself, so it is a legitimate image.
A pentagon has five sides. There are five mysteries in each decade of the Rosary. Christ is traditionally reckoned to have suffered five wounds on the Cross. The circles inside the pentagons form a design which looks rather like roses - appropriate for a rosary. Any or all of these things may have been on the designer's mind when the mould for this crucifix was crafted.
The bottom line: Does this crucifix bear any symbols which are unambigously pagan or New Age? No.
Does this crucifix have symbols which are totally explainable by Christian traditions? Yes.
Was it the intent of the designer to depict something Christian or something New Age? Only the designer knows.
My best guess, therefore, is that someone has looked carefully at these crucifixes, seen serpents and pentagons, leaped to the conclusion that these must have a New Age explanation, and now their unwarranted concern is doing the rounds of the Internet. If this is the only reason that there is concern about these rosaries, then there is no reason at all to worry.
If any reader has any evidence OTHER than the design that there is some New Age intent behind these rosaries, please contact me in complete confidence and I will revise this advice accordingly.”
Fr. Gareth can be reached through his website: http://www.drgareth.info/
He explained this so well, I can’t think of a single thing to add!
UPDATE 9/5/17: Father Ambrosio Nonato Legaspi, an exorcist in the Diocese of Novaliches in the Philippines is warning about a similar rosary, known as the Satanic Rosary, which contain Illuminati and satanic symbols and can be ritually cursed. We have reached out to Father Leyshon about this new development and are awaiting his response and will update this post accordingly.
Send your New Age question to firstname.lastname@example.org