Writing is a hard and lonely business and personal motivation can be a real challenge. I often go for weeks without a single idea and then, when I finally begin to focus on a project and lever open the lid of my dusty trusty Mac to tap at the keys in an effort to make magic happen, five new competing ideas leap, distracting antelope like, into my mind. Instead of writing, I procrastinate and, instead, check Twitter to see what Boris Johnson and our other world leaders have decided to lie about today and what new conspiracy theory has leapt to to the forefront of the hive mind. While busy not writing, it got me thinking, how do conspiracy theories begin and how do they propagate through a society?
Conspiracy theories are nothing new, although when I was a kid they were confined to such fanciful but brilliantly chilling tales about folks randomly spontaneously combusting or staggering into deadly quicksand. And, of course, the hardcore staples of the Bermuda triangle and the fake moon landings.
As it almost always turns out with these types of theories, I spent way too much time as a ten year-old worrying about quicksand.
But why do people believe and even propagate such bunkum? COVID-19 was a stellar case of such a phenomenon. Most people, around the world, believed that the virus began as a mutation in a wet market in Wuhan China, but in the United States as much as 28% of the population believe it was manufactured and distributed with malign intent or simply did not exist.
I was doing some research for a new book which is centered around the Wiccan religion. Wicca is the name given by its practitioners to the New Age religion of Witchcraft. The word ‘Wicca’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for witch and has been used since the religions founder, Gerald Gardner, coined it in the 1930’s. Turns out spirituality is one of the three groups of motives that can be seen as crucial in drawing individuals to conspiracy beliefs.
Turns out, people cannot help themselves but to seek meaning in randomness and try to obtain definitive knowledge of any given situation. People also have a tendency to find patterns in random events, named Illusory Pattern Perception (IPP). Both of these were found to drive conspiracy beliefs. This can be viewed as an Epistemic behavior.
Existential Motives, are reflected in the desire for control and security (Douglas et al., 2017). Lacking individual control, people turn to external authorities, such as government, David Icke or religion…
Which leads me back to spirituality and the Wicca. Spirituality, like religion, has been consistently seen as a way to seek meaning in life, feel secure and connected with others. A solid reason why spirituality might have an important role in conspiratorial thinking comes from the combination of ethnology and sociology: as Ward and Voas (2011) noted, a new philosophy named “Conspirituality” has emerged, based on the core convictions of New Age spiritual beliefs and conspiracy theories, namely the idea that nothing happens accidentally, and that everything is connected.
As Gardner himself put it “Witchcraft was, and is, not a cult for everybody. Unless you have an attraction to the occult, a sense of wonder, a feeling that you can slip for a few minutes out of the world into the world of faery, it is of no use to you.” (Gardner 1954, p.29).
Bit like reading a good book then! Join the blog and give me a follow below or click here to check out (and buy) a book on the website!