“Watch what they say, watch what they sell.”
A few months into the first Covid lockdown, a friend called to tell me a weird story. “My yoga teacher’s gone nuts,” she said. All of a sudden, this gentle, resolutely apolitical woman was interrupting her Zoom meditations with rants about masks, 5G radiation, pedophiles, and “the plandemic.”
It was odd, for sure, but the lockdowns were hard on all of us, so surely she’d get over it? My friend decided to take a break from the class for a few weeks, but when she went back, it was even worse. Covid vaccines had been launched, and well… we all know how that went. Pretty soon everybody and their auntie was talking about adrenochrome and vaccine shedding.
It was in the midst of this that I first discovered the podcast Conspirituality by Derek Beres, Matthew Remski, and Julian Walker about the links between the wellness industry and various conspiracy theories. Now, the three have coauthored a book: Conspirituality: How New Age Conspiracy Theories Became a Health Threat (2023), which analyzes the rise of wellness gurus like Christine Northrup and the problematic roots of things like mainstream yoga with keen insight and a sense of humour.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Conspirituality is its balanced and nuanced approach. While the authors examine the rise of conspiracy theories within the spiritual and wellness communities, they do so with a deep understanding of the broader cultural and psychological factors at play. Instead of dismissing these beliefs outright, they invite readers to understand why people are drawn to such theories and how they intersect with our desires for meaning and connection in a rapidly changing world.
What sets Conspirituality apart is the authors’ willingness to turn the lens inward and question their own assumptions. They ponder the possibility that the very act of discussing conspiracies could be seen as a conspiracy in itself. This self-reflective approach adds a layer of complexity to the book, challenging readers to question not only the content but also the motives behind conspiracy theories and those who explore them.
Throughout Conspirituality, the authors maintain a respectful and empathetic tone, even when discussing controversial or fringe ideas. This compassionate attitude sets the book apart from many other discussions of conspiracy theories, which often devolve into mockery or condemnation. Beres and Walker’s willingness to engage with these ideas on a human level fosters understanding and encourages readers to approach these topics with empathy rather than judgment.
The book also explores the role of technology and social media in the spread of conspiracy theories, providing valuable insights into the challenges we face in the digital age. It calls for responsible media literacy and the importance of critical thinking skills, offering practical suggestions for navigating the sea of information and disinformation that surrounds us.
The authors are generous in talking about their firsthand experience with cults, supplementing it with well-researched accounts from members of the “conspirituality economy” to uncover the anxiety and disaster profiteering behind it. As Derek Beres said on the podcast, “Watch what they say, then watch what they sell.” They have a lot of threads to weave together, and sometimes it sounds like they’re creating a new conspiracy theory of their own as they try to connect them through anxiety. But in truth, that’s what makes the book so compelling.