New Frontiers in the Personal Growth Industry
From Baba Yaga's Hut to Miraval
So… I know that we’re not all brothers and sisters in Christ, despite the memes. It’s actually relatively rare to find a Spiritual Person who is Christian-identified. BUT I have not met a spiritual man or woman that doesn’t adore the concepts of Christ Consciousness, the Magdalene connection, the “Sacred Masculine” archetype Jesus represents, etc. etc.
And yet He Himself specifically said It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom.
Now, I’m not saying you should be poor (although Jesus certainly seemed to at least heavily imply that, as do most spiritual traditions 🤔). I’m just saying a lot of lovers of Christ Consciousness on Instagram have bios that flaunt that they are “6-fig mamas” with photos that imply that they’re still fitting through the eye of that needle.
Cognitive Dissonance runs rampant on Spiritual Instagram, flowing as abundantly as the Feminine Urge to let your followers know you are in your Luteal Phase.
Because let’s be honest: it’s always easier to love the idea and aesthetic of spiritual poverty than it is to actually deny yourself something you want. If you’re limiting your consumption of consumer goods, then where’s the self-care? Are you even worth it? Jesus just had a real bad case of Scarcity Mindset.
Recently I saw a self-identified “Priestess” declare that being a “Priestess” is the “next frontier” in the “personal growth industry”. This was hot off the heels of a story about her impending “sacred” home renovation.
It’s as stupid as it horrifying. But we’ve so normalized seeing “the sacred” as an industry, one in which we sell sacredness back and forth to one another using our aspirational life as the resume we shill on Instagram, that we barely even notice anymore that what passes for a spiritual curriculum vitae is demonstrating that you have mastered material success.
Btw, this isn’t some rando spiritual IG account. This is a blue-check verified “Priestess” who ushers thousands of women into online courses & subscriptions to live more like she does: a life of readily available childcare and luxurious weekends away at aspirational places like Miraval.
And based on my time observing this Spiritual Pioneer of the Next Frontier, her followers are resoundingly suburban white women, playing dress up with “spirituality” in an attempt to conjure more material abundance and bring a veneer of meaning into their lives while doing so.
It’s all deftly coded in Spiritual Speak, but if you read through the lines it’s the same story over and over: I was a sad suburban mom, unsure how to justify my unhappiness and wealth, but now I create posts about empowering women and use oracle decks to give my life meaning. Look! I manifested an immigrant to clean my house!
For all the de-patriarchalizing lip service, it feels like no one wants to truly name any sort of societal or systemic structure as the reason they’re unhappy, perhaps because of what that might actually entail. They just want to figure out how to use the patina of spirituality to justify their continued participation in Capitalism. To just keep living consumptive lives, comforting themselves with solipsistic rituals and “empowering” branded photo shoots rather than Burning Down the System.
That’s the American Dream I guess: YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL. No sacrifice required. It all begins and ends with self-absorption.
It’s not Magic these women are selling, it’s warmed-over & watered-down Second Wave Feminism. But this time, instead of making women more like men, it’s making witches more like capitalists. Making the sacred feminine more like the patriarchy. As went the hippies and punks and any vital subcultures before that, expect a plant medicine, Joshua Tree-inspired Target commercial in the near future.
And you can thank the six-figure Instagram Priestesses for teeing up the low hanging fruit of that “next frontier”.
So ok. What’s the problem? Sure, it’s boring and embarrassingly mediocre, but who cares if people want to learn how to build a Shopify store with a branded prosperity candle lit to attempt to burn through legitimate money trauma? Truly, whatever blows your hair back.
It’s just that we seem to have this hive mind delusion that any of this Spiritual Business is something other than selling the most fundamental and perniciously capitalistic thing of all:
Much like the promise of free land in the New World offered to entice European peasants to be cheap labor for the capitalists that wanted to rape the continent, or the diet pill that’s gonna make you hot enough to be worthy of some man’s patriarchilized nightmare idea of femininity, it’s just commodified aspiration, designed to keep you in a wheel of consumption. We sell you a dream, you contort yourself financially, emotionally, physically, & spiritually to make it happen.
Now we have Sacred Instagram. A place to look at beautiful women holding flowers in the shimmering golden hour sun, promising that for a wild InVeStMeNt you too can learn her secrets. It’s just “I’ll have what she’s having” with a little bit of aestheticized “divinity” sprinkled in. “Get rich” swapped out for the more palatable abundance.
Don’t let the sacred flowers fool you! It’s not the secret to feminine wisdom that’s on offer, but Prosperity Gospel.
Prosperity Gospel has long held the New Age crowd in thrall, everyone from Charles Fillmore to Abraham Hicks to Yogi Bhajan assuring us that personal material wealth was akin to godliness (GOD WANTS YOU TO BE RICH). When The Secret was unleashed, we finally had a distilled Manifesting Bible. Turns out, if you’re not rich, you’re not doing spirituality right. Centuries of systemic evidence to the contrary be damned! And it’s hard to overstate how deeply all of this has soaked into our spiritual subconscious.
We’ve all become familiar with the concept of “Greenwashing”, slick marketing that coats status quo extractive bullshit with an eco-buzzword glaze. I’d like to introduce the word “Spiritwashing” to describe the bulk of Spiritual Instagram: aspirational marketing that not only peddles the status quo with an empty aesthetic of spirituality, but does something even more subtle and toxic: Assuaging the conscience of the privileged by assuring white people that they deserve comfort and material excess because they’re spiritual.
There’s an increasingly popular duo of Los Angeles Spiritual Types (one of them a white woman who calls herself an “Ambassador for Ayahuasca”) who cater to High Impact Individuals. “High Impact” means they intentionally seek out white men who are influential (in fact, the woman cheekily boasts she “loves patriarchy”).
Put plain and simple: courting rich white dudes to assuage their guilt about the shitty things they did to get that money.
As the beneficiaries of this noxious symbiotic (or parasitic?) relationship, they boast openly about how much they charge for their spiritual services (White Ayahuasca Ambassador = $$$, if that math wasn’t obvious) while “changing the world.”
This duo proclaims that they are affecting “real change” because they’re working with douchebag CEOs who went to Burning Man and had the revelation that they were indeed douchebags, but it’s all ok because they are now “spiritual.” (Cue promotional montage of white men crying and breaking down)
It’s like participatory Indulgences. It’s the same performative spirituality we get from reels of men hugging in “Sacred Sons” circles. You can feel them looking over their shoulder to see if any hot sacred babes are watching them. Maybe this will get me laid?
As the world crashes and burns around us, grappling with privilege has turned into embracing privilege in order to Use Your Platform. Which, at best, is meaningless and perhaps harmless. At worst, it’s deeply insidious, co-opting “spiritual” vocabulary in service of the narcissistic tools of capitalism to make those tools more palatable to people who are losing their appetite for capitalism. Spiritwashing.
Sure, we could rage against the machine. Or we could just tell ourselves that’s what we’re doing when you fly to attend my Spiritual All-Inclusive Weekend in the Caribbean. It might look like we’re just laying around on a beach while the last intact ecosystems on earth are being desecrated by mines and chainsaws, but this isn’t, like, boomer tourism, we have crystals in our suitcases! You’re learning spiritual secrets in this palapa! Greasing the gears of the world-devouring machine with the wildcrafted anointing oil we sell on Etsy.
Look. Witches got burned at the stake during the “primitive accumulation” phase of capitalism. Centuries upon centuries of imperial agricultural patriarchy, the Roman empire, and capitalism with its enclosure and eradication of the commons crushed our ancestors. Crushed them. Indigenous European cultures with thousands of years of intact spiritual traditions ground into dust by violence, coercion, and slavery despite mounting full-throated, armed resistance over and over for hundreds of years.
Now here we are, desperately grasping at any culture or practice that has any trace of indigeneity left, only to tear it apart in a commodifying frenzy because we are so starved for some semblance of connection with the whole and with “nature” while the Amazon burns and the CIA facilitates Latin American coups.
And you think you're going to game the system with your Spiritual Branding Techniques.
It seems silly to have to say it explicitly, but: Capitalism plays you, not the other way around.
Creating a “brand” for yourself as a “witch” or a “priestess” is like going to Vegas and thinking you’re going to beat the house.
The house always wins. And the machine thrives by letting you think you have a shot. But really, all you’re doing is teeing up the next subculture-cum-Target commercial.
Yes yes, I’m sorry, that was not the most positive of vibes. Let me light some greenwashed Palo Santo to slough it off. Luckily, you don’t have time to dwell on all that too much: the calendar wheel keeps you at a hectic pace. Literally every two weeks there’s a new moon and then a full moon, and you best believe that Spiritual Instagram monetizes that shit to the fullest. A gong workshop or a spell circle that you must attend if you even give a shit about your hyper-individualized self and its spiritual progress. DoN’t MisS the PoRtal.
When I was in my 20’s in the LA Kundalini scene, I felt that breathless wheel, and often struggled to keep up with affording it. But you see your cohort around you making it to all the events. You don’t want to miss out. This could be the eclipse season that finally brings your life into alignment! You don’t want your yoga pals to upgrade without you and leave you behind, living that 3D life when they’ve all moved on into the 5D.
And that was a long time ago! When Golden Bridge was still at its first studio on 3rd street. What sweet summer children we were. Since then, there’s been an uptick in the novelty of “teachings,” fused in an unholy union with internet marketing tactics.
I recently watched an IG live replay where a woman spoke about how a friend of hers had channeled some teaching about 11 Sacred Gates, but that she had channeled 16. 16 gates! That’s five more! Oh, and her availability was imminently running out. Scarcity! Manufactured urgency!
Capitalism is a system based on “exchange value”, not “use value”, meaning that prices can change willy-nilly and there’s no value inherent to anything, just what people are willing (or forced) to pay for it. So when she dedicated an IG live around how there were only a few slots for VIP one-on-one work with the 16 gates at $11k before the experience became $18k ($18k!!), all I really heard was “I exploit spiritual aspirants using hardened market principles.”
The Sixteen Gated Oracle then proceeded to go on and on about how while that may seem like a lot of money, the first time she paid that much for a teaching, just the act of paying that much was life-changing.
I have yet to see a person who charges an exorbitant amount of money not say that the first time they spent that amount of money on themselves, it was akin to mainlining liberation. What a joy! Spending money as self-empowerment! Where have I heard that before…?
Oh yeah, it’s the same neoliberal bullshit we get sold everywhere else we turn.
Does anyone else not feel this way? I’ll go first: I don’t. I have paid large chunks of money for things, and it always makes me want to throw up. I never got some empowered high that was like, I’m so worth it. My self-esteem is off the charts now. Money trauma (which I have, of course, a great number of us do, by design) is complex and an ongoing healing process. To flippantly say that shelling out huge chunks of cash is something to get off on spiritually sounds like Patrick Bateman at happy hour, not the road to my enlightenment.
Again, you’re not actually selling me your Channeled Gates, and it doesn’t matter how many gates there are. You’re selling me the idea that spending my money on you is gonna empower me. Okay, siSTAR. Seems like my money sets you free, not the other way around.
In all of this spiritual gobbledy-gook, I ultimately hear the Song of the Individual, sovereign and consuming, solitary in achievement and goal.
It’s hard to rewire though. “Westerners”, particularly of European descent, are inheritors of the Enlightenment. (Enlightenment here being the European philosophical moment, not the dude on IG who has a course and a self-published book about how his positive thinking got him that million dollar house in Sedona.) It’s hard to decouple our thoughts about anything, let alone spirituality, from the internalized cultural stew we inherited regarding “progress” and “growth”.
Thus we have to constantly find the “next frontier,” and the destitute peasants clearcut the jungles of that frontier, and brand the
cows spiritual influencers that will graze upon it. We have to appease the shareholders of both Capital and the soul. Did you achieve 10% growth in spirituality this quarter? And are you on track to do it again next quarter?
I recently heard Gene Keys author Richard Rudd on a panel where he said that when you start a business, the first question you should ask yourself is, “How do I want this to end?”
I don’t think we think of endings enough. We don’t think about death enough. Like a mirror of our youth-obsessed culture, we’re obsessed with the waxing, the abundant, the juicy, our growth, our business, our solipsism.
Aspiration is inherently oriented towards the future. But look at anything real, anything alive and growing, and you’ll see that the future of that thing always includes decay and death. The idea of a limitless, aspirational future of infinite growth and abundance is an ancient marketing technique devised by sociopaths to make the destruction of the living earth palatable to desperate people.
So speaking of endings, I hope we can find a way in which this all ends with us in the woods together, an enchanted glen, no more screens, just howling under full moons and singing around bonfires until we decay back into the living earth.
In the meantime, I’ll be here on Substack!
Next time: unpacking the bizarre fetishization of crypto and DeFi by the Spirituality crowd. Talk about Money Trauma!