Gold would have to hit $6,400 an ounce for it to match its value relative to the Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX) when it was at highs in 1980, points out Lewis. And at current prices, gold's value relative to oil and copper is at around the historical average, says Lewis.

So, is this a buying opportunity?

Make no mistake, Hicks and other analysts think gold looks toppy, with the recent bouts of weakness indicating the start of a price correction that's not over.

Using technical signals like relative strength, a measure of how far an asset has moved in price compared to recent history, Michael Painchaud, of Market Profile Theorems, believes gold could correct -- fall in price -- for several months, taking the metal down to around $1,630 an ounce. That's its 50-day moving average, a common support level in corrections. A worst-case scenario would send gold down to its 200-day moving average, or just below $1,500 an ounce.

"Our technical indicators still show gold as being extremely overbought, or trading somewhere between the stratosphere and the ionosphere," agrees Fred Dickson, the chief investment strategist at Davidson Companies.

But if the gold bugs are right about the potential for a medium-term move up to the low $2,000 range and on toward $3,000, you should be buying on the correction. At the very least, given all the uncertainty, it pays to have around 10% of your overall portfolio in gold as a hedge, says Rachel Benepe, co-manager of the First Eagle Gold (SGGDX). Any upcoming move down might be a good time to get it, if you don't have it already.

How to buy gold

So, how to get this exposure?

Any of the gold mutual funds mentioned in this column will do the trick. I've talked with managers at all of these funds over the years, and they've made good calls. So will the gold exchange-traded fund, SPDR Gold Shares (GLD, news).

Hicks, at U.S. Global Investors Global Resources Fund, suggests mining stocks such as Newmont Mining (NEM, news), Barrick Gold (ABX, news) and Goldcorp (GG, news). They should move up when gold prices head higher. And as blue-chip names in the sector, they should hold up better in any further pullbacks in the broader stock market caused by financial instability in Europe.

Benepe thinks mining companies with exposure to South Africa look cheap because fears about nationalization and political risk there are overblown. She cites Goldfield (GV, news), and AngloGold Ashanti (AU, news), in part because they both have a lot of exposure to mining outside of South Africa. For exposure to a blue-chip name with mines in countries with minimal political risk, she suggests Goldcorp, which operates in North America.

Winmill, at the Midas Fund, also likes Newmont Mining, as a high-quality, medium-cost producer with decent growth prospects, whose shares look cheap. And he suggests Eldorado Gold (EGO, news), a high-quality mid-cap gold mining company whose production could double by 2015.

What I don't suggest, despite the barrage of advertisements from gloom-and-doomers like Glenn Beck, is that you buy actual gold as an investment. The reasons: It's hard to find a reputable dealer with a fair price. Plus you may have to pay to store your gold. "Owning physical (gold) is a dumb idea," says Hathaway, of the Tocqueville Gold Fund. "I don't recommend it."

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But if you're in love with the idea of gold you can touch and hold, knock yourself out. Just try to avoid paying a big markup; that can wipe out any investment value.

Of course, the biggest risk to the bullish case for gold is that governments get their act together and come up with a credible way to deal with excessive spending and debt. But that's about as likely as finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, respond the gold bugs.

They just might be right.

At the time of publication, Michael Brush did not own or control shares of any company or fund mentioned in this column.

Michael Brush is the editor of Brush Up on Stocks, an investment newsletter. Click here to find Brush's most recent articles and blog posts.