Conspirituality

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Some dare call it
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Conspirituality, a neologism combining "conspiracy" and "spirituality", describes the overlap and merging of the worlds of New Age and conspiracy theory. Defined in 2011 by Charlotte Ward and David Voas for their study of such,[note 1] conspirituality began to spread on the web back in the mid-1990s, drawing on various offline precursors.[1] In the decade since, the word has grown popular along with the increasingly visible growth of what it describes, including infamously QAnon melding with New Age and "wellness". In 2015, Egil Asprem and Asbjørn Dyrendal argued that the emergence of conspirituality is predictable, given the nature of the "cultic milieu" and the roots of the New Age in Western esotericism and in turn older conspiracy-oriented worldviews.[2]

The term is often associated with the political spectrum, and the melding of fringe left-wing moonbattery and right-wing wingnuttery (including alt-right currents). Over time, crank magnetism has essentially brought together the opposites of the spirituality and "wellness" of the left and the conspiracism and "us vs. them" mentality of the right. This can in part be understood in terms of horseshoe theory and some greater underlying similarities between the previously more separate movements (e.g. a tendency to dismiss science and deny facts). At the same time, there's also complementary aspects to the two opposites, each type filling certain psychological roles while leaving room for those of the other. The New Age is more optimistically focused on the self, while conspiracism is more pessimistically focused on the world and politics. The merger of the two thus seems to make for a more holistic form of kookery.

How conspiracy thinking converges[edit]

A variety of past and present movements and cultural currents center around belief in conspiracies. Some are more associated with (far-)right-wing thought, and originally fundamentalist Christianity. This includes great concern about the evils of satanic conspiracies, and about large parts of popular culture having hidden, sinister meanings at odds with what is believed to be the one true message and righteous path. It also includes extreme suspicion towards international co-operation, and any political striving toward sustainability or equality.[note 2] Many large political and other events, as well as secularization and often the progress of science, are seen as part of the evil plans of New World Order (NWO) conspirators.

Other types of conspiracy theories are more associated with the political left, with alternative medicine, and with non-traditional spiritual beliefs. There's an overlap between the New Age and Ufology, including in beliefs about governmental cover-ups surrounding UFOs and extraterrestrials and their activities. Similar beliefs concern suppressed knowledge about paranormal subjects. And wellness moonbats tend to view themselves as knowing the true nature of health and illness, knowledge suppressed by the government and medical establishment who conspire to harm people instead of helping them.

There's common features to the mentalities of such "anti-Establishment" subcultures or "cultic milieus", easily leading to an exchange and merging of ideas over time, as members of one milieu are exposed to the ideas of other milieus. Conspiracy thinking is built into all ideas of "suppressed knowledge", where the idea is that an orthodoxy or "mainstream" authority tries to keep people ignorant and misinformed. Furthermore, opposition to the "Establishment" makes conspiracy theory in general a kind of shared language.[2]

The overall tendency is that of a syncretism of conspiracy theories, smaller themes and theories from a variety of sources being brought together under larger umbrellas of super-conspiracies. Subcultures and groups may differ in their larger views on good and evil, in how they "package" and approach the whole, but in incorporating beliefs from one another, they easily meld at least somewhat into a larger loose-knit movement. An example is how during the COVID-19 pandemic, QAnon beliefs have melded with those of the broader wellness movement.[3]

Growth toward the mainstream[edit]

Conspirituality is a rapidly growing web movement expressing an ideology fuelled by political disillusionment and the popularity of alternative worldviews. It has international celebrities, bestsellers, radio and TV stations. It offers a broad politico-spiritual philosophy based on two core convictions, the first traditional to conspiracy theory, the second rooted in the New Age: 1) a secret group covertly controls, or is trying to control, the political and social order, and 2) humanity is undergoing a ‘paradigm shift’ in consciousness.
—Ward and Voas, "The Emergence of Conspirituality" (2011)[1]

It isn't the basic combination of conspiracy and spirituality which is new, but rather its modern popularization.[2] The growth of the web in the 1990s led to beliefs in shadow governments and NWO conspiracies spreading from fundamentalist Christian subcultures to other religions and groups,[1] and later, blending into the New Age world which the religious right has long opposed as a "satanic" threat.[note 3] Eventually, a fuller melding of far-right beliefs and attitudes with the New Age rose to (in)famy in the form of QAnon growing into and transforming New Age subculture.

David Icke is a good example of an early popularizer of conspirituality beliefs, from the great Reptilian conspiracy, and the hidden sinister nature of Agenda 21 (and everything else the UN claims is meant to make the world a nicer place), to the vague idea that love is the answer and that he and other woo-pushers know how to reach the greater kind of consciousness needed to solve all the problems humanity faces. Fears of invisible dangers and a focus on love or other spiritual means of transformation, a vague overwhelming threat by a system holding or threatening to take hold of the world in an iron grip, and a spiritual path to safety and salvation – these are general themes and ingredients in such worldviews.

Ward and Voas distinguish between two phases or "generations" in the spread of conspirituality. Initially, pre-web messages were more widely spread through the web, people like Icke reaching a broader audience. Around 2002, not so long after the September 11 terrorist attacks, a rough second turning point can be seen, only in part connected to the 9/11 "truther movement" and its further popularizing of conspiracy theory. By then, the web had further developed into a means by which fringe messages could more easily spread, becoming more visible and accessible relative to mainstream messages – shown for example in how belief in the 2012 apocalypse became popular from 2004 and on. The ongoing trend Ward and Voas describe extends for at least a decade, seeing the rise to prominence of conspiracists like Alex Jones, and the increasing role of centralized social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

While earlier research anticipated that ring-wing conspiracism melded into the New Age movement could lead in a neo-Nazi direction, it did not predict the quicker and more general politicized spread of right-wing conspirituality, along with the rise of right-wing populism. With its messages of opposition to the "Establishment", such political movements, when polarization increases and prominent mainstream voices begin to loudly oppose them, can begin to greatly attract conspiracists. After all, the idea that the greater body social is truly divided is at odds with the assumption that the whole "Establishment" is ultimately under the control of organized sinister forces, and secretly united under them. The case of Donald Trump and QAnon shows how, when tensions rise, conspiracists can be driven to embrace a side which has plainly become a part of the "Establishment", viewing it has somehow being the opposite of said "Establishment", as a result of what seems a blind shoehorning of all prominent political and cultural factions into the categories of the sinister system and its righteous opponents.

A fourth turning point closer in time to the third can be seen in how the COVID-19 pandemic, through a social and emotional climate of uncertainty and fearfulness, has provided fertile soil for the further flourishing of conspirituality, accelerating developments connecting different groups and beliefs in conspiracies.[4] The broader wellness movement has developed ties to and come to overlap with movements such as QAnon,[3] and a diverse collection of groups have gathered under the umbrella of the anti-vaccination movement. The intensifying clash between governmental and other institutional striving for public health and a widening "alternative" crowd offering a staunch opposition may possibly, for a period of years or decades, change the trajectory of future developments towards the more dramatic.

The irony of Charlotte Ward's inversion[edit]

Conspirituality is about the expansion in consciousness that occurs as individuals evolve – and this precludes hatreds, including of the shadow government (it is not necessary to hate something to know it needs to go or to work out how to deal with it). However, expanding consciousness is also about telling the truth so proponents may be seen discussing Israeli genocide in Palestine, Zionism, illegal wars, Satanic ritual abuse, global paedophile networks, social engineering, chemtrails and so on.
—Charlotte Ward in or before 2014, on her now-defunct conspirituality.org blog[5]

The main author of the 2011 paper[1] that initially defined conspirituality turns out to be, outside of that brief academic role, a conspiritualist herself; Charlotte Ward described the growth of conspirituality in positive terms as a global awakening on her old website at conspirituality.org[5] – which she took down sometime in November 2014, prior to writing a woo-tastic book called Illuminati Party! under the pseudonym of Jacqui Farmer.[6] Her (mis)adventures as a conspiritualist include supporting several satanic ritual abuse hoaxes, including in 2015 promoting false allegations against people in the case of the Hampstead hoax,[7][8] initially behind her pseudonym.[9] As of 2017, Ward promoted Pizzagate nonsense,[10] alongside keeping up a smaller-scale promoting of the Hampstead hoax. Over the years, she has been promoting her 2011 paper to other conspiritualists.[11]

Charlotte Ward appears to have viewed the conspirituality phenomenon she would later describe in the 2011 paper as something good as far back as 2003.[6] Her later activities provide yet another example of what so-called "awakening", and a fight ostensibly for good and against evil, amounts to when people lose themselves in dishonesty and a conspiracist muddle, both intellectually and ethically. Meanwhile, the word which Ward helped popularize remains a useful word, and later research helps build a more clear and nuanced picture of the nature of types of beliefs, groups, and their potential developments.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. Canadian musicians actually coined it earlier, using it as a name in 2009 for music with an unironic message.
  2. A classic example is Agenda 21 conspiracy theories.
  3. In both New Age culture and right-wing Christian culture, there are subcultures that embrace the merging of influences in the late 2010s and on, and subcultures more resistant to those changes.

References[edit]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Ward, Charlotte and Voas, David (2011) ‘The Emergence of Conspirituality’, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 26(1): 103-121. PDF copy.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Asprem, Egil & Dyrendal, Asbjørn. (2015). 'Conspirituality Reconsidered: How Surprising and How New is the Confluence of Spirituality and Conspiracy Theory?', Journal of Contemporary Religion. 30. 367-382. 10.1080/13537903.2015.1081339. Postprint copy.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "The dark side of wellness: the overlap between spiritual thinking and far-right conspiracies", The Guardian, Eva Wiseman (Sun 17 Oct 2021)
  4. "The Conspiracy Singularity Has Arrived", Vice, Anna Merlan (July 17, 2020)
  5. 5.0 5.1 'About' page of Tracking the Global Awakening (conspirituality.org), archived in July 2014.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "How Charlotte Ward's 'conspirituality' videos led us to Jacqui Farmer", El Coyote, September 30, 2017, Hoaxtead Research blog.
  7. "Updating the FAQ: Promoters of the hoax", El Coyote, April 8, 2019, Hoaxtead Research blog.
  8. "Promoters of the hoax, part 2", El Coyote, April 9, 2019, Hoaxtead Research blog.
  9. "Charlotte Ward accepts reality!", El Coyote, October 8, 2015, Hoaxtead Research blog.
  10. "Genuine Pizzagate REAL HARDCORE evidence", 'carleea', Project Avalon forum, July 18, 2017 (archived)
  11. "Charlotte Ward takes her ‘conspirituality’ theories on the road again", El Coyote, October 16, 2017, Hoaxtead Research blog.