Star Seed into darkness: When spirituality meets conspiracy




The dichotomy between spiritualism and conspiracy have seemingly remained in separate spheres for decades. The former is often perceived as progressive and optimistic by design, whilst the latter is considered a culturally pessimistic and politicised belief system. Together, the two should not necessarily meet eye to eye, and yet, there has been a growing movement - from New Age pseudo-scientific self help books; to cosmic optimistic think tanks; to the ludicrous alt-right group 'Qanon'. These groups have, in some spaces, integrated into a phenomena typically described as 'conspirituality'.


To clarify, Qanon stems from alt-right conspiracy theories regarding the democratic elite. Here, Qanon has developed on online forums such as 4chan, 8chan and Facebook to develop bizarre storylines and unverified research about the elite. They have gone as far to promote antisemitism and racism, on the grounds of exposing the world to the fact that these leaders are sex trafficking, extra-terrestrial reptilians. It sounds bizarre now, however, such discourse has been taken seriously in several spaces online, for years.


I want to explore the psycho-analytics of why (western) spiritual and wellness communities have become so drawn to conspiracies concerning the elite, the pandemic, and cultural fears of the new world order. I will investigate the underpinnings of what encourages someone to be a conspiritual thinker, using the seminal work of Ward and Voas (2011). I will then draw from this, the cultural pedestal that conspirituality has been put on in the West, and why the movement is growing in recent decades.

To cut a long story short, I have grown up with this western spiritual influence, and have been an outside observer of alt-right discourse online since I was fourteen. Therefore, I want to try and understand this counter-culture and it’s exponential growth over the past seven years. Ultimately, I want to figure out what the hell is going on with this politico-spiritual movement - excuse my informality - and what it means for future political discourse.


The Conspirituality Trap


Conspirituality is defined by Ward and Voas as an amalgamation of politico-spiritual philosophy. The term sits between two ideas; one in which a covert group controls the political and social governance of the world (the new world order, if you will). The other doctrine stems from New Age radicalism in which the world is going through a 'paradigm shift' of collective consciousness - those who are aware of this are more likely to transition to this alternate period with protection and prosperity (2011:104).


For instance, New Age concepts such as Star Seeds, also referred to as Indigo children, are depicted as people who have certain characteristics, predominantly white features, to mean that they are alien-human hybrids that originate as intergalactic beings. The prophecy goes that their mission on earth is to recruit and purify humanity in order to ascend to another spiritual realm (Pearson, 2010). This concept is used as a means to segregate those who are aware of the true purpose of the universe, and those who are not. As Pearson demonstrates, this otherization can promote conspiracy ideologies. If one believes they are, quite literally, a higher being, then it is not difficult to dehumanise or become suspicious of those deemed inferior within the cosmic hierarchy.

However, studies that have developed qualitative analysis, frequently struggle with finding a definitive manifesto for the conspiritual movement. For example, the term ‘spirituality’ varies too much from definition to practice, so many assumptions about what makes someone a spiritualist must be made in order to follow consistent conspiracy pipelines on the web to fit personal spiritual motives. Spirituality has majorly been affiliated with the young, white, middle class demographic in the US and Europe, however ‘conspiracy’ as a term has no particular affiliation to background (Partridge, 2004:32). Therefore, though the conspiritualist believes they have found the perfect combination to feed their individuality complex, ultimately, they must follow a certain pattern of thought and practice in order to fit the ‘conspiritual’ term.


It is here that Hellend (2004) deducts this nuance, within this counter-culture movement. She proposes that both the spiritualist and conspiracy theorist have become disillusioned by authority, and thus have rejected the social control that organised religion has over the state.


Spiritual awakenings have become associated with a rejection of organised religion and a skepticism of real-world politics. In 1998, a survey revealed 82% of Americans felt that they needed to experience some form of spiritual growth (George and Lindsay, 1998). Fears of not actualising the human condition have become more prevalent in recent years so Conspiritualism have become an ideological market, selling stories and having consumers pick the ones most accommodating to their opinions and beliefs (Ward and Voas, 2011: 111). This politico-spiritual bridge aids in the hyperindividualistic need for self-preservation.


Thus conspirituality works well as spiritualists are searching for the 'answer' and conspiracists sell the stoicism of 'waking up' to what is really going on. This feeds into the desire to adapt, to see the world differently, and indulges the individualist that the conspiritual way of thinking is not mainstream. In short, it becomes a great comfort for the spiritual egotist to believe they have revitalised stigmatised knowledge through conspiracy as it goes against the status quo. By going against public knowledge and producing their own diagnosis about the world can make the individual feel like they have a conception of reality that is completely authentic to them. Thus, the marrying of spiritualist and conspiracist perhaps should have been seen as inevitable, as both belief systems rely on a little bit of solipsism mixed with abstract thought.


The irony however, is that the ritualistic design of conspiritualists, that is: the online community of poeticised pseudo-science; the mysticism propaganda of the elite; and telling of new world order prophecies, is in the same vein of traditional religious bearing that the conspiritualist supposedly castigates. It is here that spiritual narcissism takes hold of these adapting belief systems, and denies the believer an ability to evaluate themselves or have any critical analysis of the conspiritual doctrine they abide by.



The pseudo-intellect becomes the Macho Mystic


Barkun (2006) defines conspiracy as a tautological web; which induces cherry picking of information, mistaking correlation with causation, and seeking argument from a perceived authoritative figure. Combining the three generates a lingua franca for conspiritualists (Beres, Remski and Walker, 2011). Thus their suburbia lives in the idea that everything is not as it seems, and that everything is connected. This can give the believer the appearance of scientific rigour and cohesive discourse when, in actuality, it is disinformation that has been distorted to fit the ideals of any individual seeking a spiritual path to wellness and affirmations for their political desires. This fixation of hyperindividualism, which seeps into the fabrics of most western cultures, has in turn affected the way in which people seek spiritual communities.


Take, for example, the role that yoga plays in these western spiritual groups. Yoga communities are typically perceived as a neutral space where people of all backgrounds can immerse themselves into a practice that nurtures both physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. What is neglected from this are the historical and religious roots of yoga practice. From it’s roots as a practice which aided in anti-colonial movements in India (Thakur, 2021) to the rise of alt-right spiritualism which fetishized yoga practice and reinforced gender binaries seen from the 1970s (Beres et al, 2011). Moreover, whilst western wellbeing practice does not inherently mean one is an anti-vax, crystal healing, Joe Rogan worshipper, it can be isolating for those who are joining spiritual wellbeing communities, out of a want to engage in progressive and openness circles, when they are being bombarded with overlapping political ideologies within that space. Therefore, the lack of research into something as simple as yoga practice, can lead to a psychological profiling, in which social precariousness can result in recruitment to alt-right conspiritual groups in order to find a consensus and a belonging.


The same can also be seen in men's movements, which grew in counter-cultural spaces in the 1970s and 80s in response to second wave feminism. The movement blossomed into two branches: one which advocated for pro-feminist manifestos, the other which promoted the idea of masculinity being terrorized in mainstream politics and it's growing inferiority in the world. Masculinity became both a sacred and mythological presence which men began to materialise, thus a mythopoetic framework was established (Meltzer, 2021).


Qanon then became an attractive space for men to sacralise the idea of 'masculinity': to investigate, protect, and dominate space. With Qanon's poeticism, regarding the cabal cult of US and European politics, it attracted New Ageist men to tap into their egocentric stoicism of what it means to be masculine. Whether it is spreading vengeful conspiracy online or storming the Capitol, these men, to an extent, believe they are enacting their duty of masculinity in the name of macho mysticism. In essence, resentment of contemporary zeitgeists is described in the macho mysticism community as a longing for the ancient order - a naturalised order of divine femininity and masculinity which created holy unity that has been lost to the blurring of progressive politics.


However, the duality between conceptions of the favoured ‘old world’ matched with the reluctance of social change is two-fold. From a critical perspective, it can be seen as men feel increasingly displaced in a world becoming more egalitarian, and as their place in the world becomes more fragmented and shared, it is a threat to the entitled position in which they have been conditioned, socially, to be appointed with. By naturalising gender binaries, such as Jordan Peterson does with his anthropogenic lobster analogy (apologies if you have to google this reference, I hope you do not fall into the alt-right rabbit hole), it creates a cognitive dissonance for the politico-spiritualist. Ultimately, his personal journey to find self-worth is conflated with how he views the world, and if the two do not align, then it is a threat to his sacralised masculinity .


Conspirituality and socio-political change


I must admit that I have written as if I am not in favour of the marrying between these two counter-cultural movements, when this does not entirely ring true. The cultural relativist that I am, I believe subcultures are mere reflections of the frustrations which reside in mainstream politics, and this must be met with condolence rather than further aggression. Equally, both the spiritualist and the conspiracist can follow both progressive and restrictive political ideologies simultaneously. Thus the aim here is to recognise when a conspiracist critically evaluates and when one does not.


Those of us seeking self-fulfilment and purpose outside of the confines of traditional theology are not destined to become part of the radicalised cohort I talk of in this essay. However, social changes such as the Covid-19 Pandemic, and persistent global financial crises, can cause a sensationalised folk devil to emerge, and for disinformation to be spread. Likewise, this is not to say that conspiracy in general does not have its justified place, distrust of the elite is a powerful tool to expose the atrocities exacted by corrupted power. Rather, it is a grave concern of mine that certain aspects of spiritualism and conspiracy have redirected their political ethics and morality out of frustration in an ever-changing world, and are thus spreading malevolence at the expense of themselves and other marginalised groups.


As Evans (2020) reminds us, “the pandemic has led to a breakdown in knowledge and certainty”, and with this, comes the rise of intangible and outright bizarre notions of political power. For some, the idea of the world being run by a satanic cult is more digestible than admitting that the constitution itself is flawed, and can only be changed through grassroot social change. It is easier to mysticise elitism rather than confront the realised corruption and force yourself to deal with it. Ultimately, the rise of conspirituality has corresponded due to the absolute disillusionment of politics, in both left- and right-wing spaces. This has gone hand in hand with the cultural desire for individualist liberty, and together, has created nebulous concepts of why the world is the way it is, with limited evaluation and research. When chaos unfolds, it is a calming force to believe one is in control of their purpose and destiny, thus conspirituality becomes a provider to soothe the ailments of this human condition, at the expense of ignoring the reality of the political climate.



Conclusion



At the crux of conspirituality, is the belief that the universe wants to reward you but that dark forces are preventing you from unlocking your true potential. An external locus of control can help release personal responsibility of lifestyle, and this provides a sense of stability for the believer. The problem is that it attracts external blame which can result in cherry picking belief systems both spiritually and politically. For the naïve spiritualist, they can easily fall into the lull of conspirituality, for the conspiracist, a spiritual twist can fill the void of despair of doomsday through self-proclamation of certified salvation, vis-à-vis becoming a star seed lightworker. Therefore, the magnetic force between the two ideologies become more attractive regardless of where one sits on the spectrum.


Ultimately, the sparsity of spiritual and conspiracy thought is too broad for any group to be homogenised, however, if one is fascinated by these alternative belief systems, it must be met with an extensive breadth of knowledge of its origins. If one is interested in becoming a star seed or using crystals or combining ancient religious practice to fit an aestheticized belief system that suits them, they must come to terms with the underpinnings of why these communities have emerged; who is part of these communities; and what it means to be part of them. If we are reminded in such circles that: everything is not as it seems, and everything is connected, then individuals seeking spiritual resurgence must constantly scrutinise the communities that claim them.












References:


  • Barkun, Michael (2006) A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America. Berkeley: U of California P [Book]



  • Charlotte Ward & Prof. David Voas (2011) The Emergence of Conspirituality, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 26:1, 103-121, DOI: 10.1080/13537903.2011.539846



  • Gallup, George, and Michael Lindsay (1999) Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in US Beliefs. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse [Book]


  • Helland, Christopher (2004) Popular Religion and the World Wide Web: A Match Made in (Cyber) Heaven. Eds. Lorne Dawson, and Douglas E. Cowan. Religion Online: Finding Faith on theInternet. New York: Routledge. 23–36.


  • Marisa Meltzer (2021) Qanon's Unexpected Roots in New Age Spirituality; Masculinity, faith and the strange convergence of counterculture and hate, Washington Post [online] Available at:https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2021/03/29/qanon-new-age-spirituality/


  • Pearson, Robert (2010) These are they: ET-Human Hybridization and the New Daemonology. Nova Religion: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions. 14 (2): 84-105 doi: 10.1525/nr.2010.14.2.84


  • Thakur, Prerana (2021) When Yoga was Banned in India. Indian School of Cultural Studies. Available at: https://www.prathaculuralschool.com/post/yoga-ban-in-india



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