Conspirituality, or from spirituality to conspiracy theory

This is translation of an article from November 8, 2021.

New age spirituality is currently experiencing a tumultuous love affair with conspiracy theories, and the fruit of this toxic relationship is “conspirituality”. From magic crystals through tarot to “plandemics,” how is conspiratorial spirituality conquering the world?

The term “conspirituality” was coined back in 2011 by two sociologists – Charlotte Ward and David Voas. This fast-growing online movement is expressing an ideology shaped by disillusionment with politics and the popularity of alternative worldviews. – Ward defines the term. However, the phenomenon has undergone significant changes since 2011, embracing more and more communities until the first half of last year, when underground spirituality spread worldwide.

The incubator

The pandemic created ideal conditions for conspiratorialism to thrive. Fear for their own and their loved ones’ health drove many to seek alternative forms of treatment. Ever-changing restrictions drastically reduced trust in authority. Uncertainty related to the economic crisis, arbitrarily imposed changes in habits and the steadily deteriorating political situation led to radicalization of public sentiment. Many more similar factors can be mentioned, but the problem is not just one of the pandemics.

Equally serious is proving to be the influence of social media. The information bubbles, in which every social media user is enclosed, make us see only content that fits our beliefs and views. Content describing radical positions with which we can identify, while providing an alternative to mainstream thinking, is bound to provoke many reactions and be further favored by the algorithm.

Research conducted by the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) reveals that the most popular anti-vaccine accounts gained an average of 7.8 mln new observers during the pandemic. In the same time, only 12 individuals are responsible for 65% of the posts shared of a similar nature. These online personae prey on people’s uncertainty and simple lack of knowledge. They turn uncertainties about vaccines, including those caused by the rate of their manufacturing, into increasing popularity of their portals.

Tweet by Joseph Mercola, one of the biggest proponents of anti-vaccine theory.

QAnon Shaman

Frustration and fear over a pandemic are the perfect breeding grounds for increasingly powerful online personas. Those are the ones who find a direct link between health and spirituality, and the anti-vaccine narrative or anti-government conspiracy theory.

The face of this year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol was certainly Jake Angeli, more widely known as QAnon Shaman. Half-naked, with tattooed Nordic symbols, a painted face and a fur hat with horns, he and dozens of other Donald Trump supporters broke into the Capitol building.

In a way, Angeli is also the epitome of conspirituality itself – a self-appointed representative of the so-called Q, which, according to QAnon theory, is supposed to destroy the circle of Satan-worshipping pedophiles, hailing from the upper echelons of politics. He bases his ideology on an unspecified spirituality, drawing mainly from Christianity, but not only. He was a staunch supporter of Trump, and spread his views mainly on social media and YouTube.

In the ranks of spirituality

Conspirituality binds together seemingly distant parties: the radical right and the liberal middle class. At least, this is how we imagine average conspiracy theory supporters and stereotypical users of homeopathic medicines. However, these attitudes have surprisingly much in common.

Probably their greatest “common good” is an anti-government stance and an undermining of authority. Both the radical right and well-being advocates oppose arbitrarily imposed restrictions and administrative solutions affecting individual lives. Whether the oppressor is the current government or Big Pharma, the narrative turns out to be surprisingly similar. Slogans like Where we go one we go all or The great awakening are clear to both factions.