Monday, May 20, 2024

Roots of Conspirituality: 2012 and the End of History


Is the 2012 end-of-the-world conspiracy to blame for QAnon and spiritual commerce? Conspirituality co-host Julian Walker explores.

In our last installment, we talked about the popular religious belief in a Great Awakening in 1844, calculated as the Second Coming of Jesus by William Miller. This concept was, as it turns out, remixed and resurrected by people involved in the QAnon religious conspiracy theory in 2020.

We also looked at the tragic 1997 mass-suicide of the Heaven’s Gate group who believed they would ascend on their deaths, leaving behind their body suits, to find themselves on an alien spacecraft hidden behind the Hale Bop comet.

Today we’ll look at the 2012 apocalyptic prophecy that captivated New Age circles, and how it prefigured the spirituality to QAnon pipeline — and offer a possible evolutionary explanation for these archetypal fixations.

2012 and the end of history

In 2012, new-age yoga and wellness communities were obsessed with the end of the Mayan calendar, and a prophecy of cataclysmic proportions. The story went that December 21, 2012, marked the end of a 5,126-year-long cycle. This apparently lined up with numerological and astrological calculations which indicated a new era for humanity and global spiritual transformation. Less hopeful versions of the prophecy included Earth colliding with a mythical planet called Nibiru. A blockbuster disaster film, aptly entitled 2012 was hugely successful, in part due to a marketing campaign that blurred the lines between the film’s story and reality with a fake website claiming to represent the Institute for Human Continuity, featuring a lottery that would include winners in a small group to be saved from global destruction. 

A fellow yoga teacher in Santa Monica actually sent out a long and detailed email to his list about these coming events, as foretold in a viral YouTube video that cut together big-budget sequences from science fiction action-adventure movies with an overdubbed female voice “channeling” the Mayan prophecy about the coming collision with Nibiru. For those who survived the great destruction, assured the calm lady, a new golden era for humanity lay in waiting. My friend’s email announced that he was moving out of LA and into a less populated area away from earthquake fault lines and oceans so as to avoid the disaster. 

Image courtesy Girish Dalvi on Unsplash

I told him in good humor I would be happy to buy him a beer sometime in 2013 and explain why this was all complete nonsense, but he did move away and did not issue any kind of apology or recant after what I imagine might have been his own personal great disappointment that Los Angeles was still there. 

This 2012 fixation was all so widespread that several new-age figures, amongst them Daniel Pinchbeck and David Wilcock, made a small fortune selling books and audio programs about what it all meant. I wrote an article on Elephant Journal in early December of that year calling for them, as well as the dominant spiritual book and digital media platform, Sounds True, to all publicly apologize and refund people’s money when nothing happened. I even replied to marketing emails from Sounds True about its 2012 products to that effect. Needless to say, I never heard back, and on December 22, 2012, the day after the prophecy was meant to have come true — crickets.

Pinchbeck was at that time also immersed in mediumship, crop circles, and flirted with 2012 as a transition into contact with alien civilizations, but it was Wilcock who would later go all-in on QAnon via the intersection with a supposed ascension into 5th-dimensional reality. That’s the thing about these prophets, though isn’t it? There’s always a new special date to hype.

Back to the future  

All of which brings us to 2020, the pandemic, and inevitably, to QAnon. In case you’re unfamiliar, QAnon is an online conspiracy theory that positions Democrats and Hollywood elites as a secret cabal of pedophile blood drinkers. It gained global traction during the pandemic, absorbing multiple conspiracy threads about 5G, vaccines, child sex trafficking, and the supposed evil mastermind, Bill Gates, as it accelerated toward the presidential election. As covered on the Conspirituality podcast, some spiritual social media influencers got red-pilled into spreading QAnon memes woven into a great awakening narrative that included guidance from benevolent aliens, and a coming cosmic ascension that would change everything.

Sound familiar?

An early exponent of this conspirituality cross-over between the far-right conspiracy theory and New Age spirituality was the author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, and frequent Oprah and Dr. Oz guest-expert, Dr. Christiane Northrup. In April of 2020, she started her Great Awakening social media video series on Facebook and Instagram. The name is a direct reference to the widespread religious revivals that mostly took place in the 18th and 19th centuries in America, which included the aforementioned William Miller’s Great Disappointment. 

The religious fervor of those historical periods was also interwoven with great social upheaval, more widespread access to media (in this case the printing press), demands for freedom of belief and speech, and a changing world as the civil war, abolition of slavery, and campaign for women’s rights was all at play.

Image courtesy Pixabay

Grandmotherly holistic former OBGYN Northrup kicked off her Great Awakening series of often daily straight-to-camera videos to her half-a-million Facebook followers by promoting an April 4, 2020, global meditation. She explained that the date was numerologically significant because, you see,  April is the 4th month, and the 2’s in 2020 add up to 4!

It’s deep. See for yourself here.

What followed would become what we at Conspirituality think of as the classic case of the red-pilling of a wellness influencer. The series, which would extend beyond the January 6th, 2021 Capitol Insurrection, become more and more openly anti-mask, covid-denialist, anti-vaccine, and explicitly influenced by QAnon and its overlap with supposedly channeled messages from the Galactic Federation via Lorie Ladd. The Federation apparently wanted us all to know that the 2020 election, the planet’s coming ascension into the 5th dimension of spiritual awakening, and the exposing of the reptilian alien pedophile cabal were all converging — with Donald Trump as the trickster-savior of this auspicious moment.

More and more, videos from Ladd and Northrup included references to being ready for chaos and violence — which, Ladd especially, framed as being necessary, illusory, and just part of a spiritual game that shouldn’t be judged from a human perspective, because it was divinely perfect. Referring to her followers as “warriors of the radical light,” in amongst talk of essential oils, psychic healings, and saying no to vaccines, Northrup would inject mentions of the constitutional sovereignty of sheriffs and militias, the rigging of the election, and, just like all the other QAnon messaging, urged followers to “trust the plan,” because the climactic moment was coming soon.

Now that all those Q prophecies have failed, the good doctor is back to doing what she did before; promoting anti-menopause supplements, fear-mongering about vaccines, doing affiliate marketing for something called “structured water” and sharing tips on keeping your eyes healthy for life, oh, and the healing frequencies of frogs.

An evolutionary side effect 

So what is going on here? Why are these sorts of preoccupations with prophecy and otherworldly intervention in human affairs so consistently present? What follows is not so much scholarship as my own contemplation.

Picture the earliest humans trying to make sense of their place in the world.

They wondered, just as we all do at some point: Where did we come from, how did all of this begin, why do things happen the way they do, where was I before I woke up here, where do we go when we die?

These universal questions have an appeal that will not be denied. Our brains evolved very effectively to solve problems. Our survival and, for better or worse, dominance on the planet, has depended upon being able to understand causality — to see connections and relationships in accurate and effective ways.

But that practical success is not without quirky mistakes. We have an open-ended ability to identify meaningful patterns — even when they aren’t there. When we look up at the vastness of the twinkling night sky full of stars, dizzying distances are disclosed that are so much greater than what we know; an enormity that makes us tiny, and a sense of eternity that holds both our experience of limited time and the larger cycles of the terrestrial world around us, as if we are a mote of dust suspended in the void. That feeling carries a sense of spiritual awe.

Early astronomers were esteemed for their ability to accurately map the cycles of nature with the movements of the stars, which they then also imagined to be metaphysically significant and astrologically predictive. That second part has turned out to not be true in any literal sense — but it still tickles our sense of mythopoetic wonder.

Image courtesy Robert Stokoe on Pexels

There’s an architectural term that is useful here. When you look at the impressive arch in an imposing medieval church, the area created on either side of it, in between the arch, the wall, and the ceiling is called, in architectural terms, a spandrel. Spandrels are often decorated with ornate flowery or angelic imagery. We can borrow this term to talk about evolution so as to make a distinction between something with a specific adaptive benefit, like using the stars to map out the seasons, and a byproduct or spandrel of that adaptation that just comes along for the ride. 

Even when that byproduct itself then gives rise to developments we now find central to our humanity, like art and religion, and philosophy, it can still be a spandrel, a piece of the evolved structure decorated with trumpeting angels and burgeoning flowers that itself has no evolutionary purpose besides joining the archway and the roof of our survival architecture. 

The problem here is not the angels or their trumpets or perceiving patterns in the stars, it is our propensity to confuse these metaphorical abstractions with empirical information about the material world. In its extreme form, a fundamentalist pathology emerges that can make us believe these mistakes fervently — at the expense of reason, ethics, empathy, and human life itself. There’s a long, dark history of passionately misguided metaphor and false pattern recognition (animal and human ritual sacrifice, burning witches, and persecuting gays all come to mind) that brings us to examples like Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown, 9/11, and QAnon.

I am not suggesting that the depths of our humanity and our relationship to the cosmos are unworthy of our attention. Rather, that engaging fruitfully with those depths requires learning from past mistakes, and asking better questions — which takes a little more work than being swept up in cultish conversion, conspiratorial beliefs, or longing for an end of the world that supposedly begins our freedom from suffering. Perhaps the first step is finding the compassion and mindful awareness to come back down to earth and deal with the world and our imperfect humanity on their own terms.

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