I was asked by a few friends my opinion regarding an analysis of the current global pandemic by a somewhat celebrated occultist. That analysis comprised mostly a repetition of someone else’s analysis, accompanied by leading and empty questions following the pattern made popular by the History Channel’s conspiratorial program, “Ancient Aliens.” In that series, between every cut-scene, artfully-crafted rhetorical questions are asked repeatedly in such a manner to leave the viewer feeling as if they’d not been asking questions at all, but rather stating conclusions.
That particular sort of narrative is a neat and shitty trick of conspiracists, as it enables the propagator (or propagandist) to inculcate a kind of certainty within the audience while still maintaining an apparent “critical distance.” That is, because each statement was framed as a question, the conspiracist is able to claim they “never actually said” whatever conclusion the victim reaches: they were merely “wondering aloud” and letting you “decide for yourself.” They thus escape culpability, slipping out from any demands of responsibility to those later harmed by the conspiracies in the same way an abuser might manipulate a victim into believing their abuse was really their fault.
So I’ve not much interest in addressing that particular conspiracy further, except perhaps admitting I’m not as surprised as my friends were regarding this particular derailment. It’s a common trap in occultism: once a person considers themselves ascended to a particular level of elite knowledge, their analyses get pretty wild. Years ago, I had a rather messy interaction with such an ascended mind, who claimed in person to me that he knew he saw the world as it truly is and no one else could. He apparently hadn’t foreseen I’d publicly recount that conversation, nor that I would publish his subsequent legal threat against me, nor that his former status as occult “leader” would soon disappear and no one would listen to him any longer.
As in any Greek tragedy, the moment hubris manifests it becomes hamartia, excessive pride becoming the “fatal flaw” which leads to downfall. And as in Marx’s formulation, this repeating form is so tragic it can only become comedic, something for us to satirize and mock because it’s so inevitable.
It’s hardly limited to the sorts of people we think of as “occultists,” a term we generally reserve for people steeped in Western “high-magic” traditions. The term ought really to apply as well to people we’d not usually call magical at all. Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, David Icke, and all the other popular right-conspiracy theorists are also occultists, as they claim to have access to occulted (hidden) knowledge about how the world really works. They’re also quite happy to share what they’ve learned with you, to lead you into their true way of seeing the world, and perhaps make a bit of money doing so along the way.
We tend to label this latter group of people as mere “conspiracy theorists,” which is for us a very lazy way of dismissing the deeper importance of conspiracy and hidden motives in politics. That is, by saying “conspiracy” we mean “nonsense,” ignoring the fact that all the concentrations of power within the world are literally conspiracies. As Peter Grey states in his essay, “The Sacred Conspiracy,”
Does the state then require the conspiracy, as Christ requires Satan? It does, because the state is the conspiracy, the imposition of the sovereign in whom resides the power of life and death over its corralled citizens, and all those over whom it can extend its reach. The law is violence, established by a state of exception. It is in this way, killing and imprisonment, that the state constitutes itself…
That is, a state is a conspiracy, as is its government: multiple actors conspire together to accumulate power and keep others from accessing that power. This is as true for the most “democratic” governments as it is for the most authoritarian. In the United States, senators, representatives, and presidents conspire to get into those positions of power, and then conspire to keep that power as long as they can. Too, they conspire with business interests and the rich to accumulate the necessary money to run their campaigns or return favors, as well as setting themselves up for advantageous positions after they leave office (if they ever do). And more generally, the government of the United States is a conspiracy: countless people conspiring together to maintain state power over the territory it rules and to maintain and expand its influence over other territories.
Put more simply, politics is a conspiracy. So, too, are economies. So, too, are revolutions. In the second half of her short but brilliant book, Occult Features of Anarchism: With Attention to the Conspiracy of Kings and the Conspiracy of the Peoples, Erica Lagalisse asserts that conspiracy theories should be seen as a pre-political formation, or as a kind of pre-political proto-theology. They arise and are formed when there’s a recognition that something both profound and difficult-to-understand is occurring and, in the face of such a thing, we make wild (but not always incorrect) conjectures as to what has caused it all.
Conspiracy theories around the terrorist attacks in New York City on 11 September, 2001, are a great place to see how this plays out. Just after the event, countless conspiracy theories quickly became currency, though now almost 20 years later we remember only one of them. The “9/11 truth” conspiracy theory is that the sky scrapers were not actually destroyed by the collision of airplanes full of fuel: “jet fuel cannot melt steel beams,” as they say. But alongside this one were many others, some quite absurd and demonstrably false (belief in faked footage akin to the moon landing conspiracies) or deeply antisemitic (Israel did it all). Informing all of these, however, was the unstated and vague certainty that a very powerful group of people (Jews, the Illuminati, bankers, NATO, etc) had engineered the event in order to claim more power over the populations of the world.
This last part is where the conspiracy theory becomes important, because as LaGalisse points out, those who engage in such theories or buy into them all possess a kind of pre-political sense of how the world “really works.” That is, their conclusions aren’t important (or correct), but their unstated certainty that powerful people conspire to fuck them over is both vital and anyways completely correct. Again, that’s what governments are: conspiracies. The people who influence governments (from within or without) are engaging in conspiracy. And those who attempt to overthrow governments via revolution (be they from the “left” or “right”) conspire with each other towards that end.
The Empty Throne of God
Conspiracies are occulted specifically because they cannot be spoken openly. If you and I planned to do some massive political action and didn’t want the police to show up before we arrived, we’d need to occult (hide) our conspiracy until it manifested. Similarly, powerful groups occult their intentions from others until their will is made manifest: secret meanings between investment bankers and politicians, “back room” negotiations, and other hidden collusion.
But knowing that secrecy is a feature of conspiracies doesn’t protect us from another of its core feature: misdirection. Because we know that conspiracies exist, that something hidden is happening, we then begin to look for the conspiracy and fall quickly for manufactured, false leads. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a conspiracy document which itself was created by conspiracy, is a perfect example of misdirection. Detailing Jewish banker plans for world domination, The Protocols… were published in Russia in 1902 and then distributed widely in the United States and elsewhere.
It was all false, but its popularity cannot be put down only to antisemitism (which was undoubtedly a huge influence). While industrialists like Henry Ford (who funded the publication of half a million copies in the US) were antisemitic, increasing pressure from anarchists, socialists, and communists on their financial interests gave them another good reason for propagating such a conspiracy. Convincing the lower classes that it was the Jews who were controlling the world and making them poor made it a lot easier to fight those who thought that it was the rich (like Ford and the other industrialists) who were actually conspiring to make them poor and miserable.
While not wanting to belabor the point too much here (books could be written on the bait-and-switch trick of replacing class analysis with Jewish conspiracies), antisemitism still remains one of the most common conspiratorial mis-directions. September 11th was “done by Jews,” for example, the Iraq war was “orchestrated by Israel,” as another example, and there are some already who think COVID-19 has Mossad’s fingerprints all over it.
This last point brings us to the point of this essay, the “occulted” aspect of COVID-19 and the false-lead conspiracies around the virus. But rather than recount the specific conspiracies I’ve seen thus far (spend just a couple of minutes on YouTube if you really need to know), it’s more useful to summarize the general assertions they make, which are that COVID-19 is:
- is not actually a real public health threat,
- is not responsible for the illness
- is not natural but rather manufactured
and in almost every example, the final conclusion is that this pandemic (false or true) is a weapon in some cabal’s plan (NATO, the United Nations, China, Jews, Lizards, the EU, the Deep State, etc.) to seize more power. But here we should note that every other conspiracy theory that I can think of (9/11, the Lunar Landing hoax, Flat Earth, Climate Change denialism, Christian Identity, Chemtrails, the Protocols of Zion, etc.) comes to this same conclusion: someone or some group is behind the thing, and their goal is dominance.
It’s a funny thing that in times of crisis and calamity like this, we suddenly find ourselves with an awful lot of faith. In the medieval period, the Black Death was taught by the Church to be a weapon of punishment by an all-powerful God; in our age, every geo-political crisis is a weapon or plot by a group of all-powerful god-like people. Nothing’s changed: we still believe “someone” is in control, is planning and plotting and designing all this, and has some ultimate, occulted reason for this which we will not learn until its made manifest.
To this tendency we should interject occultist and artist Alan Moore’s statement:
“The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory, is that conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that is is actually chaotic. The truth is that is is not the Illuminati, or the Jewish Banking Conspiracy, or the Gray Alien Theory. The truth is far more frightening—Nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.”
COVID-19 is a plague, and plagues aren’t new. One of the founding myths of the entire Western world has at its core a plague story: Passover. The “angel of death,” invisible, enacting its will upon the first born of every household in the middle of the night, families waking to find a child dead from an unseen killer, and those that escaped fled into the wilderness.
Much more recently was the Black Death, which killed between 30% and 60% of Europeans less than 700 years ago. Though no ethnic religious tradition arose from those that escaped its ravages, the Black Death led to the fall of Feudalism and (as Silvia Federici notes) a short period of freedom for the poor before the subsequent counter-revolution of the witch trials and eventually the birth of Capitalism and the modern Nation-State.
And even more recently, though you might not think this is your history if you’re white, have been all the plagues which swept through the indigenous populations of the Americas during colonization. Just as Passover is a cultural memory for Jews and also acknowledged by devout Christians, smallpox and other diseases remain as recent cultural memories for First Nations peoples.
COVID-19 is a plague, and the problem is that we’ve convinced ourselves that we were done with plagues. No real pandemic has occurred in the world since the Spanish Flu, though plenty of smaller epidemics have slaughtered specific populations (AIDS in Africa and gay populations, Ebola also in Africa, and Malaria, Zika, and other plagues in the Global South). There’s also been SARS, outbreaks of MRSA, Mad-Cow disease, and numerous other epidemics affecting civilization in recent years.
And yet we’ve convinced ourselves this pandemic is somehow false, or possibly engineered. Because as Moore says, it’s more comfortable to believe someone is behind all this, that someone’s in control, and we’ll happily conjure a malevolent mastermind if we can’t conceive of a benevolent one. The theories that suggest COVID-19 is some banking conspiracy, or a manufactured disease designed to terrify the populace and make them more subservient, or even an electoral conspiracy to make sure one candidate or another wins, are desperate attempts to find refuge in a greater power rather than face the horror of our real circumstances.
Not Cabals, But Opportunists
This is hardly to deny that powerful conspirators aren’t planning to take advantage of this plague. While there may be no Illuminati or Cabal behind all this, opportunism is even more nefarious. Soon after the terrorist attacks in New York City two decades ago, the US government implemented policies constructed by Dick Cheney and other political architects which put in place startlingly intrusive surveillance technologies and created entirely new state powers and departments (the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, etc). The swiftness of this implementation startled many and led others to assume 9/11 was planned, but the truth here is both more mundane and more terrifying. The government didn’t engineer the crisis, but had been preparing for years for such an event in order to push their plans upon the public.
This is Naomi Klein’s point in The Shock Doctrine and with her concept of “Disaster Capitalism.” When the public is “shocked” by some traumatic event (hurricanes and other natural disasters, civil unrest, terrorist attacks, and pandemics), they’re a lot more compliant and much more willing to accept authoritarian policies which limit their freedom or take away their economic benefits. It’s hardly a theory; rather just an observation of a pattern anyone looking at the history of modern Nation-States will notice. It’s also the core of the Carl Schmitt’s theory on the State of Exception: exceptions are declared (as the Nazis most famously did, but so also has every other government) during which more authority can be accumulated by the rulers.
This isn’t all so occulted after all, but its absolutely still a conspiracy. No one’s behind COVID-19, but plenty of people are trying to take advantage of the chaos and fear to claim more power. In the United States, the Department of Justice has already demanded from Congress the power to detain individuals indefinitely without trial on account of the pandemic, a suspension of the core human right of habeus corpus. Rather than construct a theory that the DOJ is actually behind COVID-19 or that it’s not really a real crisis, the most obvious conclusion is that they’re taking advantage of this in the same way individuals hoarded hand sanitizer to price-gouge panicked people during the pandemic.
This reality seems a lot less glamorous, of course, but it’s also more troubling. If no one’s behind this but lots of people are being opportunists, than there’s no center of power we can attack to stop it all. It’s not just one small group of people, it’s hundreds and thousands of them, all scrabbling for advantageous positions for the time the angel of death has finally passed over.
To my mind, however, the most terrifying thing of all is that this will happen again, and again, and again. Novel viruses jumping from isolated animal populations into human populations has always happened, but it will happen more so as industrial civilization groans under the weight of its over-reach. We’ll delve further and further into the last bits of wilderness left looking for food, for fuel, for profit, and the more we reach, the more we’ll see. Old viruses long dormant are thawing in the northern permafrost as the planet warms, while urban density increases and public sanitation becomes harder and harder to provide in nations where water becomes scarce and states de-fund infrastructure.
This will keep happening, and it will happen more frequently, and there’s nothing much we can do about it. Worst of all, there’s no elite cabal pulling the strings, only powerful people and groups conspiring and competing with each other to divide up the ruins to their own benefit.
No one’s behind this. That’s the true occult knowledge behind COVID-19 and every other catastrophe which will continue to define our lives.
And while that may appear to give no solace, it is the most liberating of truths. If magic is defined as changing the world according to our wills, than magic is the most valuable tool we could possibly turn to in these crises. Since no one is pulling all the strings, we are string-less, un-tethered to dominators controlling our actions. We’re in charge, any of us who desire to be, and we can shape these crises to the advantage of not just a few, but for as many of us—human and other-than-human—as we desire.
So let us conspire together, friends. Death has come to our civilization, dancing through our streets. And though it may visit our homes to bring us its dark gifts, it has a greater gift to give us: the end of this crumbling empire, and the birth of something else entirely.