It isn’t funny anymore.
We live in a strange world, my friends, one that is populated with many colorful personalities and individuals. Our diversity is our strength. We have no shortage of opinions, perspectives, and voices and that myriad of voices is what makes the “alterative spirituality movement” as robust and vibrant as it is.
While many of those voices–if not most— are what adds strength and beauty to our communities, there are some that are – either in their ignorance or outright derangement — a growing threat to rational thought and the health of our society. A dire-sounding warning, and not one that I am leveling lightly.
I am referring to QAnon, the latest manifestation of group psychosis and hysteria to hit the scene since a failed businessman and mediocre reality TV show host was gobsmackingly elected to the nation’s highest office. Even I have been tempted to at least consider the possibility that the CERN collider timeline-slip theory might actually have some merit at this point. (Okay, fine – maybe not.)
In short, QAnon is a (baseless) conspiracy theory that asserts the world has fallen prey to an evil cabal of Satanic pedophile Democrats who have infiltrated Hollywood, the media, and the highest levels of world governments (the so-called “Deep State”). According to QAnon, these Satanists use the blood of children to extend their own lives and are working to pull down Donald Trump, whom they believe is waging a secret war against pedophiles and child trafficking. Add-in some pretty eyebrow-raising thoughts about Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, the Wayfair website being used for human trafficking, Lady Gaga, the Baphomet, and more, and you have all the makings of a crazy conspiracy theory the likes of which we haven’t seen since “the Satanic Panic” of the 1980’s and early 90’s.
I’m a warlock of a certain age, and so I remember the Satanic Panic and what it did to real people’s lives. Accusations of a global Satanic conspiracy that had infiltrated police and governments abounded, in which member-families were alleged to ritually abuse and even sacrifice their children to the devil, often drinking their children’s blood in their macabre rites. No evidence was ever found, of course, because of “the conspiracy,” and perhaps even because of special technology not available to the public like portable cremation machines.
It was all so over the top that it’s hard to think anybody ever actually believed in it. But believe it they did, and real people went to jail without a scrap of physical evidence. The McMartin preschool scandal in 1983 was a precursor to the more recent Pizzagate, but both shared the same DNA: both involved accusations of occultist pedophiles operating with impunity under everyone’s noses, enough to stoke real fears even if nothing ever actually happened.
It might have been “fake news,” but real people’s lives were destroyed as a result. Like Damien Echols of the “West Memphis Three,” who in 1993, was wrongfully convicted, along with two other teens, of the grisly murders of three eight-year-old boys in what law enforcement and the media proclaimed to be the result of a “Satanic ritual.” While there was no physical evidence linking the teenagers to the murders, Echols was interested in the occult, and this proved to be all that was needed for the prosecution to focus on him in what became a literal witch trial.
Now in hindsight, it all sounds somewhat incongruous, in much the same way that the events of the Salem witchcraft trials might sound as much to the modern observer. But taken contextually, these intangible, unprovable accusations remain enough to stoke fear to the degree that eventually anything seems possible, even the otherwise unthinkable – no matter how far-fetched, demonstrably false, or downright absurd. The West Memphis Three spent eighteen years of their lives in prison because of unfounded fears and prejudices. And some people are still in prison because of the Satanic Panic today.
When I first heard of QAnon it seemed easy enough to dismiss. It’s not even that original an idea; it directly draws from anti-Semitic propaganda and repurposes many of the same claims and accusations that have been leveled against Jewish people for centuries, repackaging them for a new fad movement of pop hatred, only disguised in the form of defending the vulnerable. The ultimate “concern trolls,” QAnon believers hide behind the fallacy of “protecting children” – and in so doing, may actually be hurting the very cause they think they are here to champion.
What causes my concern, however, is the sheer number of people who seem to be – for lack of a better phrase — “body snatched” by the movement, as if their brains have been rewired to only believe what the cult tells them to believe. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they believe wholeheartedly that they are the only ones that have it right and that the rest of us are either ignorant sheep or part of the secretive cabal as well. And in part, we are to blame.
TWH’s readers may already know this, but it recently came to my attention that, depending on where a person lives, their Google results will be drastically different. And we’re not just talking about which Starbucks is closest or what the local Walmart’s hours are. We will get fundamentally different results in terms of news and information and current topics.
For extra credit do this little experiment: In a separate page, go to Google and type in “Climate change is” and observe what the predictive search suggestions say. Feel free to share the results in the comments section of this article.
This underscores the necessity to get our information from multiple sources, but we also have to consider those sources as well. For years I have heard people on the Left as well as the Right bemoan the existence of “corporate media”. The accusation is that, since these media conglomerates are privately owned businesses, it is in their best interest to not report on activities that would cast a bad light on their corporate masters. I do think that this is a concern, but not to the degree that it has been assumed by this growing fringe. And this is a fringe that has easily infiltrated the Pagan and spiritual communities, and been quietly growing in plain sight for many, many years.
In the “Venn diagram” of Pagan community fringe interests, QAnon seems to fall somewhere in the middle, between alternative healing, chemtrail enthusiasts, anti-vaxxers, the transphobes, and the racists. With respect to alternative healing, the rest of these ideologies have usually been begrudgingly tolerated in some form at the Pagan events I have attended over the years in various states across the US, with more of a push in recent years to weed-out the more racist and transphobic elements. But corrosive ideologies do not simply go away when they are swept under the rug or into a corner. They fester. They grow. They mutate.
The poison remains, only now clothed in the garments of current events, seemingly new, but really just telling the same sad old story: from the depth of our feelings of powerlessness and insignificance, we turn to crutches and to the vice of small-minded ideologies because we find comfort in them. We find comfort in them because they make us feel larger than others, and that, to a wounded ego, is what we think will bring us healing and satisfaction.
The followers of QAnon truly believe that they are in possession of special knowledge and that they are truly awake, while the rest of us remain asleep. This is a tactic used in cults to help separate members from “outside influences;” it is employed in all the cults that are effective, even cults that have are typically called religions, including Christianity, Mormonism, Scientology, and the like. If members can be separated into “Us vs. Them,” then the battle is already half-won.
Right now, that battle is very real. I have been personally shocked at some who have suddenly “turned to the dark side.” People whom I casually knew but whom I thought were sane, balanced individuals, now spouting pro-Trump memes that draw directly from racist propaganda, without a flicker of conscious awareness of what they are actually serving. In one recent exchange, when confronted with the argument that there was no scientific basis for any of their spurious claims, their response was, “Well, who funds your science?” (I hadn’t realized it was my science. I sort of assumed it was for everyone.) And that, as they say, was that.
For practitioners of spirituality, this level of unconscious bypassing is alarming as many of these individuals have positioned themselves to be authorities in their largely insular communities, creating the perfect environment for the rot of cultish thinking to flourish.
It is important that we research for ourselves but not limit ourselves to social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, or 8Chan. (I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.) If one were to assume that the corporate media is lying to the public, then what exactly do we think these platforms would be doing any different? If the goal is to suppress free speech, as is alleged, then what is stopping the corporations that own Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and 8Chan from doing the same? The goodness of their hearts? How is social media more credible than the Associated Press? Or BBC News? Or Reuters? I’m supposed to get my news from the same place that made PewDiePie famous for – I’m checking my notes – being anti-Semitic and racist?
It used to be funny. Oh, that person believes in chemtrails. That one is a flat earther. This one believes that they have alien DNA. But now it isn’t funny. Things are getting serious. Trump has praised and courted the conspiracists and now this shade of crazy is just a shade away from being brought into Congress. We are already on the precipice of a functional democracy, experiencing a pandemic during the most closely watched election cycle of more than a century. And now we have another pandemic, one born of denial, cognitive dissonance, racism, and propaganda. And it’s so much closer than we could have imagined. It’s in our neighborhoods, maybe even in our covens. Qanon believers see Trump as a savior, and they intend to keep him in office.
The world holds its breath.
Author’s note: check to make sure you are registered to vote! Click here.