The Rise of the Instagram Priestess
It starts out harmless enough: a gauzy image of a woman, perhaps centered serenely in a dreamily filtered forest.
Some benign words of wisdom superimposed, usually around getting free or self-love. Or, increasingly popular, the integration of her Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine.
The Emancipated Woman telegraphs this all with her knowing smile, sometimes eyes closed in rapturous presence with the Natural World, other times eyes gazing at the camera… You’ll have what I’m having.
The main page photos are interwoven pointedly with beige or rose squares of text. Quotes and platitudes in simple golden fonts against pastels. (The soulpreneur’s aesthetic is nothing if not profoundly inoffensive.)
Sometimes she quotes some spiritual leader du jour, sometimes she quotes herself. Most often, these images are interspersed with “offerings” for courses, masterminds. Mysteries revealed, spiritual secrets, feminine wisdom, abundance.
And as you scroll, these images keep coming. And coming. And coming.
It’s to the point that my explore page is now only an increasingly crowded field of smiling women, offering their counsel and wisdom. The effect is so profoundly homogenous it’s like a Divine Algorithm.
I’m still always surprised how similar these images are to one another, the unabashed conformity of visuals, the relentless regurgitation of the same vocabulary, sentiments, and clichés. Funny how for being Sovereign they all seem to be in the same echo chamber, one Instagram Priestess increasingly indistinguishable from the next.
They must know all the same secrets! Or at least they’ve taken all the same “conscious branding” courses…
At the end of last year, I went down to Brazil for many reasons, but one of them (and it sounds silly when I say this out loud) was to try to work through my squeamishness around “putting myself out there” on social media, in an effort to start using my voice in a way aligned with my personal ethos and aesthetic. Basically, to figure out my brand.
And yet, like a kid turning away from a determined spoon shoved towards her mouth, I just didn’t want to open up and swallow. I watched other women around me suddenly become content machines, endless quotations and beatific photo shoots: holding candles, dropping someone else’s wisdom, quietly exuding mastery of self while producing moody teasers (sizzle reels?) for their online courses.
Everyone is doing it. Despite my queasy reluctance, I felt low key panicked to join in the fray. I’m spiritual too! I felt confident in my own credentials and ability to look hot and beatific on Instagram. And the message was implicit. The increasing participation around me left me with not a lot of wiggle room: This is how we must play the game.
So why didn’t I want to play it?
Surely there was a way for me to market myself that was In Alignment. The cognitive dissonance would resolve once I was On Brand with myself.
For weeks, living in the jungle, I ruminated on how to make peace with the Instagram Priestess hustle. But nothing was there. I would journal ideas for websites, for something to promote on IG. I had a lot of cool ideas and was happy with my brainstorms, but it didn’t all snap into place, into that deep inner fuck yes that I was waiting for.
If anything, I could feel myself pushing, reaching, attempting to contort myself into the ever-expanding mosaic of Spiritual Hustlers. Because if you start to really feel down into it, just below the surface, you start to sense an urgency, the desperation to sell oneself. The fomo. And the underlying competition of it all.
Imploring the spirits of the jungle to help me, one afternoon mulling things over in my tent, I felt a deep whoosh of energy blast through my brain and got the message clearly: STOP IT. Stop it or this will all have the opposite effect of what you actually want.
And so wide-eyed, I said meekly, Okay. I’ll stop. And I put it out of my mind. It was a relief. Doing so was easier than I thought it would be. And doing so allowed me to unfold into a deeper, more relaxed observer position, rather than the position of being a late arrival, trying to psych myself up to jump into the dizzying whirl of Spiritual Instagram Double Dutch.
And suddenIy could see it all for what it was: the unending desperation for a seat at the table of capitalism. The inability to know what to do when faced with how to square your heart’s desire to be a good, “spiritual” person in a noxious, extractive system, other than to perform as one on social media. The urgency to make a living off of what’s most sacred to you because you don’t want to work a desk job anymore. The attendant fervor to appear as the most evolved, the most novel, the most Worth the Investment.
And to be clear, I feel that urge, too. Of course. We all do. IT’S BY DESIGN. But that doesn’t make capitulating to that urge the right thing to do. It doesn’t make you a “witch” or a “priestess” just because you have a spiritual practice and a carefully crafted image that people pay for: it makes you a performer. It makes you, like everyone else, just another willing co-participant in the long arm of capitalism twisting into every last nook and cranny of human endeavor in search of something to extract. And that shit’s the opposite of witchy.
Here’s what capitalism is when you get down to it: the process of turning the world into capital.
Being a witch is about coming into relationship with the living, animate world, rather than atomizing every last thing including your morning ritual into discrete consumable packages and putting it up for sale. Commodifying is what capitalist patriarchy does. Sorry, your unintegrated masculine is showing.
It was all so obvious. I was sort of surprised it had taken me that long to articulate what that feeling was in my body.
And yet, I must be in the vast minority observing the cognitive dissonance between spiritual work and business-as-usual, because like a snowball glibly rolling down the mountain, the Sacred Feminine Instahustle is cascading into an avalanche of meaningless echo chambers.
Soulpreneurs and Femmepreneurs breathlessly peddling coaching and mentorship and how they used to be like you, but after some ayahuasca tourism and thousands of dollars to hug/cry it out at an Aubrey Marcus summit later, now they see The Matrix and the way out: through sacred business.
Now I’d like to be clear: I have nothing but empathy for the radical shifts that can come from having a life-changing plant medicine ceremony.
There’s no quicker way to realize your life and the capitalist machine are incongruent with who you really are and who you want to be than a night with ayahuasca.
But no one really knows what to do from there. And that’s because it is (by design) next to impossible to exist in any meaningful way outside of late stage capitalism. Because we’re all swimming and suffering within this matrix, the question is always and only: how can I best turn my spirituality into capital? Because capital appears to be what we need to acquire if we have any hope of avoiding lifelong alienation.
So there appears to be really no avenue of escape except to commodify your plant medicine revelations into something that can be converted into capital, while telling yourself that you’ve found a way out of the matrix by labelling this activity “conscious.” And besides, at this point, everyone else is doing it. If enough people do it, it counts as resistance, right? We’re all packing into some kind of Trojan Horse, right?
And suddenly you’re hustling your belief system, the things you care most deeply about, and the more people do this, the more it feels normal to do it. We HaVe a sAcrEd BuSinEsS.
The devil works hard but the Instagram priestess works harder.
I am truly gobsmacked at the use of the word Sacred to describe the most profane things. Sacred Shopping. Sacred Tax Preparation. Let’s just cut to Sacred Fracking and call it a day. Sacred Capitalism is still Capitalism.
Like most signifiers, slapping sacred on whatever you’re selling is just another way we keep trying to brand our way out of something super dark.
But the thing is, the machine isn’t impacted by whatever branding you use or whatever the content of your product is, even if your product purports to be “witchy” or “subversive.” No carefully crafted words or individual spirituality can stop the machine. The only thing that can stop the machine is refusing to continue to allow everything to be liquified into capital, commodified, branded.
The etymology of the word “sacred” is “set apart” and “to consecrate for god”. Okay, so if we’re consecrating ourselves to the gods of capital, we got it on lock. If not, we might need to reconsider.
Otherwise, we’re just part of another “subculture” that got co-opted and repackaged. A tale as old as time. And not only are we all relentlessly commodifying the sacred, we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re doing the opposite, that we’re somehow sacralizing commodification! Collectively, it’s like we all agreed that the way to make our Ayahuasca Nights make sense was to just slap the word Sacred in front of our biz and keep it moving.
But that’s not dissent, it’s capitulation at its finest. And the machine is well underway in coming for spirituality, plant medicine and “indigenous wisdom.” Turns out no one wanted to protect the sacred, they just wanted to create content out of it.
The unoriginality of it all is astounding.
Call me crazy, but I’d prefer my priestess/spiritual guide to be off doing spirit things, not relentlessly churning out content on social media. Because even when the Instagram Priestess is off doing spirit things, you best believe she is first and foremost filming herself doing her spirit things.
The Revolution may not be televised, but the Divine Feminine Revolution will be live on IG at 11:11.
I left Brazil firmly committed to being like a rave. The good ones in the ‘90s, not whatever Burning Man quarterly gatherings have become (you can watch those on IG live, too). The kind where you have to go to a record store to get an address which will lead you to another address where you get a riddle, and then maybe you can find out the location if you solve it.
That’s about as far as I’ve gotten with this, so far. I live in late stage capitalism, too. I don’t have the answer. I want other people to sound out this conversation with me. But we can’t figure out where to go from here unless we call it out and name it, and refuse to transmute the things we purport to consider “sacred” into branding exercises. That’s my line in the sand, and I’m disheartened to see the mental gymnastics “spiritual” people are doing to justify commodifying every last inch of the actual sacred, including themselves.
Where will you say you were in these times, when the planet was burning? Packaging the sacred for your own profit in a TikTok video or saying enough?
(And if you do follow me on IG, I promise that if I want to post a thirst trap, I’ll post a thirst trap and spare you the requisite inspirational quote about how I cracked the code and you can follow me into the promised land. I promise I will never peddle you aspiration.)
On that note, more on The Spectacle of Aspiration next time.
Thank you for putting this out there. I feel the same struggle, and I feel that finding an answer – however imperfect it may be – is one of the big quests I feel myself on these days. I’ve been looking for people who share the same questions and contemplations and would absolutely love a conversation, if that’s of interest to you.
I could have written this - except that I couldn’t 😅. Thank you for so eloquently writing this down and make it so clear where the rotting roots of my discomfort with ‘spirituality’ on IG start.