By Christopher Penczak, edited by Tina Whittle
If you are involved with any esoteric movement, the rampant conspiracy theory culture—its worst embodied by QAnon, which is all conspiracy with little esoterics—can’t be ignored. But to neutralize it and heal what it has led to, we must consider its occult significance and how we got to this particular manifestation.
I am not against conspiracy theories. I think they are crucial to the greater initiatory process. They are, however, an early stage, and how you handle them is a test. Unfortunately, most people are failing this test because the boundaries and containers of this process have either broken or never been established, a great blessing and curse of the Information Age. Getting caught up in a conspiracy is a sign of spiritual immaturity. Some of us pass quickly through this phase, or take a different tack and seemingly avoid it, but it is a very real trap and test, drawing many off the path of realization.
I can reveal the great secret of this test because until you experience it, words will mean nothing, but as in any initiation, if you remember them, they can be a map to guide your navigation. An initiate must come to the conclusion that even if all the conspiracy theories are true, so what? Does that meaningfully change my life? Is the most appropriate behavior at any given moment in my life the same if they are true or not? What do I have control over? What is my will? Should compassion and common sense govern what I do regardless? If conspiracies void meaning from your life, then there was little meaning to begin with. If you believe you have to be the one to unravel, prove, or stop a conspiracy, and that decision causes you to meaningfully abandon your life, friends, family, and vocation, then how much meaning did those things have for you in the first place? What is your relationship to your own ego? Is that the greater problem, with conspiracy a way to avoid greater intimacy?
If a conspiracy theory doesn’t urge you to be introspective and ask yourself hard questions like “Have I contributed poorly to the world, and right now, how can I do better?” and instead encourages a binary us vs. them mentality where you are absolved because you are a “good guy,” then you are failing the initiation of conspiracy. There are a lot of open conspiracies you don’t want to see or take responsibility for because they are so immense, but they are not hidden. They are simply so huge that we let them fade into the background. What are the conspiracies of racism, patriarchy, perpetual war, poverty, environmental destruction, prison industry, and queerphobia, and how are you seeking to solve them?
It is from these immense things that our fascination with conspiracy grows, and as a people, we have always had it—even the Sumerians lamented for the simpler “old days” before things grew corrupt. All people do. Mythically we long for the Golden Age of our myths. We know there is something “wrong” with the world, and since few acknowledge that, it must be more than what we can see ( despite the problems we can see being immense). The random pile of mistake after mistake is too much to process; we crave a simple explanation. There must be a reason, even if that reason is bad—global conspiracies, illuminati, alien reptoids, and evil satanic magicians. It has to be more than just be poor choices and collective guilt, or someone somewhere at some time would have fixed it. Conspiracies make order of the chaos and provide meaningful struggle, letting us believe we are the “good guys,” even though this belief is illusionary and prevents us from collectively owning the mistakes of our past.
In the modern age our challenges are a bit different than our ancestors longing for the Golden Age. We have access—in real time—to all the horrors, crises, and wars of the globe, where in the past, news traveled slower and was often restricted to a region. The current 24-7 information cycle can be overwhelming, feeding the global conspiracy narrative with a constant flow of disaster.
We feel more profoundly the separation of science, art, and religion. There is no unified worldview, language, or custom. This is a necessary growing pain for the Age of Aquarius, as plurality and self-expression are now key, but a hard one to navigate, leaving many internally divided with little education on personal synthesis. Part of our sense of the world being wrong grows from this. With the division of science from natural philosophy and the separation of complementary fields like astronomy and astrology, chemistry and alchemy, and modern and traditional medicine, we have lost touch with deeper meaning and the soul of the world and our relationship with it. Perhaps the hard sciences would not have advanced as far and as quickly if they had remained tied to the esoteric, but their quick advancement without clear forethought of consequences led to other problems—industrialization, environmental pollution, factory farming, and the military industrial complex. Now we struggle with nuclear capabilities and DNA modification. We live in a world where these technologies make it possible for everyone to be housed, clothed, and fed, eliminating the need for war, and yet we have war, crime, homelessness, and addiction. We are told it’s unavoidable.
When medicine becomes a for-profit industry running rampant, our trust in medicine and science diminishes. It’s hard to distinguish the genuine researcher and doctor from the CEO as they are all participating in the same system of profit, yet many doctors and nurses feel just as trapped by those systems as the patients; unfortunately, there is no easy model for breaking out of it while still continuing to serve. So people seek other paradigms, good and bad, in an effort to find help. When science seems to hold the answers but cannot answer why such things happen, we seek someone to blame.
This is what has led to the antivax conspiracy. If your child undergoes a distressing change and the only thing you can match to the time frame is vaccination, and with current vaccinations being so different from the parent’s own experience, there is distrust. Intellectually you can understand there is no accepted medical evidence linking vaccination and autism, but in this disconnected era, we seek myths to make sense of our circumstance. Why is this thing I can neither control nor understand happening to my child? While I’m not anti-vaccination, as a witch/herbalist/healer, I had a number of parents on my doorstep looking for answers in the early 2000s, seeking an esoteric solution since medicine wasn’t helping them. I had no answers, but the experience has had me following both the science and the people’s stories closely. Our Aquarian challenge is holding the separate strands of science and story, but our lack of personal orientation to the sacred makes it hard for us to find personal meaning. Many of our religious institutions run dry with platitudes of “God’s plan,” hinting at a meaning that often disregards what we do know and can prove.
When scientists dismiss and ridicule alternatives that actually help people, trust is diminished further. The anecdote takes on greater strength than the data as you might have greater connection to the anecdotal and no personal experience of the data. I credit homeopathy curing me of a recurring illness that modern medicine barely managed with multiple hospital visits. If a doctor dispassionately dismissed homeopathy based on lack of standardized evidence, I don’t mind because that shows they haven’t studied the underlying paradigm. If they are vitriolic about it, that concerns me. In either situation, a person is trying to use the criteria of one discipline to devalue another without understanding the basis. Imagine if we judged the criteria of the latest modern American medical journal by the standards of poetry, and dismissed it entirely because it didn’t conform to our lyrical expectation of a poem? Homeopathy is based on the unique expressions of illness in an individual as well as their past experiences. While a remedy might be a “cold” remedy, you can’t give it to a hundred individuals in a blind test without determining if they have expressed the cold in the same way, even if it’s the same virus. Times of day, sides of the body, mood, and sleep patterns all contribute to which remedy a skilled homeopath chooses. Homeopathy is an art as well as a science, and a skilled practitioner will ask personal questions about the illness, including a fair amount of invasive inquiries, to determine the right match of remedy to the individual. Any critique that doesn’t account for that is dismissing the operating instructions of the system. Imagine how effective pharmaceuticals would be if we dismissed the timing and dosing instructions or simply failed to swallow the pill?
If you are an expert who can’t help me, but I’ve told you something that has helped and you dismiss my direct experience without further inquiry, that’s a problem if we are to work together. I, like many others, have had bad experiences with modern medicine practitioners who refused to listen, and who chose be dismissive and judgmental of not only alternative therapies, but also my queerness and basic symptoms. Queer people want a queer doctor. BIPOC want someone from their own community and life experience. Many women want a female doctor, but the profession is dominated by straight white men who are often dismissive.
In a recent example, someone in my life experienced an accident—we asked the attending medical personnel if it could be a hairline fracture of the hip. That possibility was dismissed with no conversation. Ruled out by a simple test. One emergency room, lots of pain, several scans, three doctors, and a physical therapist later, it was the physical therapist who got them to all reconsider and low and behold—hairline fracture of the hip! How might that have turned out if the initial doctors had listened to the patient’s concerns?
Many dismiss personal experience in the emulation of the factory efficiency model. Get people in and out with the minimum of information necessary. This devaluing of expression has in turn devalued the arts. Entertainers who appeal to the most common denominator are greatly valued commercially, but true masters of music, art, and dance often languish in obscurity and poverty. The left brain/ right body paradigm grows dominant, adding to our intuitive sense of imbalance. Those who realize this often react by swinging wholly to the emotional, creative and yes, irrational, in an effort to offset.
Sadly, this irrationality in esoteric communities has caused many to dismiss the traditional nonrational methods of inquiry as irrational and insane. We culled what we valued from the ancients, taking philosophy, math, and logic from Pythagoras and Plato and their compatriots, dismissing their mysticism and mystery as the irrationality of their time. We have done that to all the great minds whose work has survived—all the way back to Newton, a practicing alchemist—and have given birth to a rational dismissal of the mysteries that informed our brightest ancestors. Many of their great contributions were intuited in some way.
Now we have a growing movement of Pagans who are dismissive of the very concept of the ancient gods, advocating an environmental paganism rather than the paganism of art, literature, and ritual. Gods are just too far out there to be taken seriously by other religions. We have Witches advocating a Witchcraft free of operative magick and spellcraft. Spells that work? That’s insane. Such practitioners seek to dismiss the traditions, processes, and maps of occultism in favor of a pure animism bereft of past culture. True, occultists of the past had their problems, but no stream of wisdom is free of its problematic figures. We have magicians who believe magic can only be symbolic and intellectually psychological. Such people want to take the “woo” out of our craft to gain respect in the outer world and put distance between the irrational conspiracy holders.
This is entirely contrary to both my experience as a Witch and my reasons for being involved. While ecology, psychology, and reason are important to me, there is something more in my Craft, a poetic numinous essence that brings not only internal change but external phenomenon. While all things change over time, you shouldn’t hijack something already established. If you don’t want the “woo woo,” then Witchcraft, Paganism, and Magick are not for you. If you want to avoid spirits, gods, psychic phenomena, outrageous manifestations, and things that will from time to time go beyond logical expectations, magickal spirituality is not for you.
Trust breaks down in science over having the solution rather than creating a new problem, in medicine through taking advantage of our sickness, and through those in government taking advantage of it all to perpetuate their own power. We form a sinister view of the world and surmise it couldn’t have always been this awful. It was…just in a different way, with a different myth. Yet the times we harken back to as “good” are the stories and art of those who found the good within themselves and the world they lived in.
Pick a romantic era or ancient civilization you see as “golden.” The reality of that time would include more poverty and illness than you might imagine, possibly slavery or servitude that would make you wince, with ideals you take for granted today unrecognized then. Yet the gold shines forth for you now. What gold are you making and shining in your own world?
Our conspiracies become part of a larger exterior mythology, but the initiate applies them internally. To be able to articulate your sense of “wrongness” to the world is the great shock to awaken you to the possibility of something greater. Occultists believe ancient initiates were shocked by some secret at the moment of initiation to catalyze their worldview: “Osiris is a black god.” “The realm of Persephone is full of light.” “The gods are not real!” You are given a secret history of the world, a secret theology. We still do this today in good initiatory models.
The supposed logic that proves the “reality” of conspiracy theories is the same shock. Your world is not what you thought. The secret history is clear. The dissatisfaction with what is should spur you to make what you see, but changes start internally. To keep this awakened view, we need a practice and the commitment to apply that practice in a disciplined way. Meditation, ritual, martial art, psychotherapy, contemplative prayer, etcetera: all are possibilities. True application leads to discernment, and discernment is the key to learning what you can use and what you cannot use in conspiracy theories. Conspiracy without internal practice leads to illusion and delusion, fantasy fulfillment, and paranoia. It’s what we see in the QAnon crowd.
We will never make conspiracies go away, but we can—and must—use them to make meaningful choices within and with our communities. We must find the gold of our age and continue to fix what we see as wrong in the world and what is wrong in ourselves. The world will always have periods and places of awfulness—it’s the separation before coagulation for alchemists. If things are never broken apart, they cannot be purified, healed, and reunified. The Golden Age is an active, not static, process. The call to the Golden Age is the alchemy of the world.
Initiation becomes inoculation. The Age of Aquarius is an age of individual initiates working cooperatively, as compared to the Piscean formula of dispensation from clergy to congregation. Priesthood can create patterns, hold technique and myth, and provide place and context, but everyone must do their part. No one can do the work for you. There are no saviors or scapegoats in the new aeon. Initiation is not solely the transmission of the temples, but also the initiations of life that utterly transform us. Everyone can be your teacher, your initiator, if you let them.
Don’t be naïve and think conspiracy is only on the “other” side, while your side is truth. Conspiracy is on all sides, and none are immune even after the inoculation of initiation, hence the repeated “booster shots” of elevation deeper into the mysteries as one passes through degrees or climbs the Tree of Life. Conspiracy can be a gateway, a guardian at the threshold of change, or the archon imprisoning us. Which will you choose?