What I'm going to explore in this piece is the relationship between spiritual realization and political awakening. Does one inevitably entail the other? Are they mutually exclusive? Or are they distinct but potentially compatible realities?
The relationship between spiritual realization and political awakening is perfectly encapsulated by the terms awake (spiritual) and woke (political). Grammatically of course woke derives from awake (wake up, woke up). But in practice I’ll argue the distinct form of the term speaks to a very distinct conscious reality.
To preview my own answer: There is no inherent connection between spiritual and political awakening. They can be united but neither automatically implies the other. Becoming politically woke does not necessarily bring spiritual insight. And (as we’ll see in plenty of detail) spiritual awakening does not imply any specific political outlook, most especially a radical or revolutionary or woke one.
In this talk (at Google of all highly strange places) Slavoj Zizek digs into this question. The whole thing is worth listening to but the most relevant section for our purposes here starts around the 30 minute mark.
In his discourse Zizek cites a lesser know work by Aldous Huxley called The Grey Eminence. The book describes the life of Francois Leclerc du Tremblay (aka Father Joseph), a political advisor to French foreign minister Cardinal Richelieu during the Thirty Years War that ravaged Europe, Germany especially. Fr. Joseph was a political manipulator and practitioner of what Dick Cheney would call the “dark arts.” This included torture, murder, blackmail, kidnapping, the whole gamut of brutality. Yet, as Huxley noted, Fr. Joseph would go home at night and write stunning, absolutely luminous Christian mystical meditations.
Huxley noted there was no way to write off Fr. Joseph’s mysticism as inauthentic or second rate due to his brutally evil behavior. There is truly a paradox: two things that shouldn’t go together but absolutely do. That is, Fr. Joseph was a first rate brilliant mystic and an absolutely horrific human being.
If you think this is an extreme case it sorta is and sorta isn’t honestly. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was one of the most lyrically beautiful mystical writers in Christian history. He’s also almost single handedly responsible for the 2nd Crusade. Mother Theresa received heaps of dirty money from Papa Doc Duvalier, which he used to claim the blessing of the church for his tyrannical regime.
Zizek notes that Huxley’s solution to this dilemma was to blame Christianity as such, that there was (for Huxley) something inherently pathological in the religion with its emphasis on the suffering of Christ, of sin and human guilt. For Huxely the only salvation was therefore to be found in Eastern religions which he argued would be free of such spiritual disease.
Here is where Zizek rightly skewers Huxley. As a counterargument to Huxley, Zizek mentions the book Zen at War by Brian Victoria (himself a Zen priest). The book explores in gruesome and painstaking detail the massive support for Japanese Imperialism that came from mainstream Japanese Zen Buddhism. Again it’s too simple to say “That’s not authentic Buddhism” as these were deep practitioners and teachers of the art. Like with Fr. Joseph we have true genuine mystical insight married to brutal horrific politics. They sit uncomfortably side by side but by side by side there they are nevertheless. One does not invalidate the other (in either direction).
Genuine musical insight can easily be married with imperialism, ethno-nationalism, not to mention racism, sexism, and homophobia.
There’s a long history of multiple spiritual traditions of deepest mystical insight advocating the view that the Emperor/King/Pharaoh/Ruler was ordained by The Divine and whose autocratic rule was heavenly sanctioned. Plato is one of the greatest and arguably most influential mystics in the history of Western thought and yet his ideal Republic advocates censorship of the arts, cult indoctrination of the youth, and concentration camps for large swaths of the population.
On the other hand, plenty of other spiritual awakening traditions are actually quite apolitical. Think the long history of hermits, monks, forest dwellers, and yogis in caves who basically renounced the world in total, including, maybe even especially, the political world.
Or consider a point raised in Gary Lachmann’s book Dark Star Rising: Magick and Power in the Age of Trump. Lachman details the way in which occultism became a part of extreme right wing ideology and the alt-right in a figure like Julius Evola (an intellectual godfather to among others Steve Bannon).
Occult mysticism in fascism is well known. As Peter Levenda has shown, the Nazis were a cult. In fact, they still are. As Zizek also points none other than Heinrich Himmler himself carried a copy of the Bhagavad Gita in his pocket (Gandhi did too by the way*). Once more it’s far too easy to dismiss that data point as some spiritual patina over the “real” of Fascism. The Gita does famously have the god Krishna commanding Arjuna To Remember the Lord and fight. As in literally fight in a war and have it be spiritually blessed.
There have been enlightened spiritual masters who were narcissists, abusers, and addicts. Check out the history of New Religious movements and cults from the 1960s up until today for proof of that. Additionally many of these movements were intimately involved with military intelligence and the deep state.
Covering my bases religiously any number of examples could be drawn from jihadist Islam as well as contemporary militant Zionist Kabbalists where deep genuine mystical insight is merged with reactionary, violent, or destructive status quo politics.
And no indigenous aboriginal traditions are not themselves pure and pristine and holy and replete with perfect politics. That’s a Romantic Western “noble savage” view of history which doesn’t line up with the actual history of human cultures, aboriginal or otherwise.
The typical response to these charges is to deny the legitimacy of the mysticism in one of two ways. The secular way (think Marx) is to see the spiritual as opium. Religion, spirituality, mysticism in these views should be thrown out entirely in order to support the revolution. Or from the spiritual perspective people deny the dark side of their own histories. They too easily dismiss any individual with questionable ethics or politics (from our retrospective view) as not really genuinely spiritually enlightened or authentic. But both of those positions are too simplistic.
The harder point to face is that these individuals both are deeply spiritually realized and spiritual realization doesn’t really offer any automatic implications ethically and politically.
What all this boils down to is that spiritual realization is more like art. We all understand a person can be a great artist and a terrible human being. The same, it turns out, is true of many of the great mystics, who are essentially in my mind artists of the spirit realm. A great artist can also be a kind, wonderful human and many great mystics were. But the two are not necessarily juxtaposed.
And certainly in no way does spiritual realization bring with it any automatic great political insight or praxis.
Woking Up: On Alternative Political Realization
So that covers the Awake part of the equation, showing very clearly that genuine spiritual realization does not automatically bring with it a clear political insight (nor ethics for that matter). Which brings us back to Woke, which we might consider something like a political awakening. Does being woke automatically bring with it any genuine spiritual insight? I’ll answer no. But in order to do that I first need to define some terms.
The wikipedia entry on woke is an instructive one to get a sense of the history and usage of the term. The term originates in the African American experience. Some precursor references take place in the 1960s and 70s, with even earlier references to be found in Marcus Garvey and the great bluesman Leadbelly.**
The term referred originally to political and social consciousness of issues of racial injustice and oppression, originally towards African Americans specifically. More recently, in 2008 Erykah Badu recorded a song with the repeated line, “stay woke.” Badu herself then later tweeted in support of the Russian group Pussy Riot after their arrest, repeating the phrase “stay woke”.
From here woke started spreading from specifically African American issues of racial injustice to wider systemic oppression though it still held its roots deep in the African American experience and community. It particularly came into wider mainstream public awareness due to the events in Ferguson Missouri and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
As the term continued to spread from those roots it became linked in with a series of more left-wing social issues. As it did so it became a more and more social justice warrior, white centrist liberal identitarian posture. The term increasingly became subsumed by capitalist left wing social causes, thereby losing its social sting. It became a buzzword within the US liberal left “resistance” to Trump complete with virtue signalling and slacktivism so characteristic of white liberals.
Hence the Urban Dictionary entry for woke:
“The act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue.”
The Brazilian pedagogue Paolo Freire coined the term “conscientization” (conscientizicao in Portuguese) which meant the formation of a critical social conscience and consciousness. Though conscientization is not a term that ever took off in the English speaking world it’s woke by another name. Freire’s crucial insight is that such a critical social, political, and ethical conscience does not come automatically. One must cultivate it. One must work at it just as in the phrase, “stay woke”. For this reason the development of a spiritual realization and worldview does not automatically bring with it a critical social consciousness. Though the reverse is equally true. One can work very diligently to stay woke (politically, socially, critically conscious) but that does not automatically bring with it deep spiritual insight. Political (woke) and spiritual (awake) consciousness are two distinct forms of consciousness and each must be developed on its own terms.
I've detailed on the site the spiritually initiatory failure of the Men's Rights Activism and #metoo movements on precisely this point. They sought to become woke (in their various ways) without becoming awake, leading to further suffering and traumatization.
So becoming awake does not equal becoming woke nor does becoming woke automatically bring with it awakening. Now this site is a series of experiments in ontological flooding which is itself an attempt to embody greater wakefulness both spiritually and politically. Consequently the woke I’m interested in exploring here isn’t a centrist liberal postmodern one but rather alternative research/conspiracy themed critical consciousness.
My argument is that alternative/conspiracy thought is the political expression of ontological flooding just as something like the Holofractal Theory of the Universe is the physics equivalent of the ontological flooding. In cinematic terms think of The Matrix where both spiritual and political forms of awakening are explored in the film (as covered on the site in extensive depth here.)
The process of understanding the key concepts in the alternative research & conspiracy world is it’s own form of awakening as in the constant reference in conspiracy land to “going down the rabbit hole.” The rabbit hole is a reference to Alice in Wonderland of course but more deeply a reference to shamanism with its practice of journeying to the lower world, often by traveling through a hole next to a tree (just like Alice).
Key concepts in this so-called alternative body of work include social engineering, psychological operations (aka “worldview warfare”), surveillance society, the military-industrial complex, the deep state, false flags, controlled dialectics, the revelation of the method, banksterism, and so on. It covers an enormous and vast interconnected dark web of influence through sports, religion, culture (music & film especially), politics, espionage, alternative views on history & archaeology, cults, covert intelligence involvement in the drug trade, dark financial alchemy, exotic science and technology, magic and the occult, “paranormal” phenomena, and much else.
This process takes effort and it takes time. It takes heavy duty reading and exposure to these viewpoints. It takes discernment to sift the insightful alternative research from the just plain wrongheaded and wacky. It takes time and energy to learn about The Phoenix Program, MK Ultra, Project Stargate, COINTELPRO, Operation Paperclip, and many many others. A very good place to begin is this glossary of terms from Catherine Austin Fitts ("Missing Trillions").
Like in They Live one has to put on the glasses to see world according to this viewpoint. Doing so is very much like spiritual awakening in that it proceeds often via traumatic initiation and disorientation which is meant ultimately to lead to a new orientation but which can lead to failed initiations (e.g. depressive suicide).
Now I've been saying that political awakening and spiritual awakening do not necessarily need to coincide and that is true. It's also true however that the spiritual interconnection with alternative/conspiracy thought is very strong. Much of conspiracy culture has its roots in evangelical American Christianity. More recently much conspiracy literature overlaps (or is explicitly adherent to) a gnostic worldview. There is also a strong crossover between certain segments of conspiracist thinking and New Age spirituality, especially among the Contactee phenomenon. So modern alternative research/conspiracy has roots, often unconscious, in theological and spiritual positions (e.g. the consistent conspiracy fascination with the story of the Nephilim), though typically in very fractured and fragmented ways.
Mystics and spiritual realizers tends to be marginalized, if not outright persecuted, within their own religious traditions. They find themselves on the fringes. Similarly the process of political awakening to this worldview leaves one marginalized from traditional everyday politics–with it's managed left vs. right binaries—as these are seen as a more surface-oriented division which masks a much deeper (and typically nefarious) unity.
On a personal level, just as with spiritual awakening, it can be a very isolated and isolating experience. It becomes hard to find other people who speak the same language who have had the same types of experiences and with whom one can resonate.
The veil separating us from the great and all powerful Oz has been getting thinner of late, in synchronicity with the mainstreaming of conspiracy thinking. As Ezekiel73 argued here the Jeffrey Epstein case was a particular evental moment in such a larger movement, really pulling back the curtain for a moment. Even so, connections can be very hard to make. Much of the journey ends up being a very solo affair. Moreover, just as with spiritual pursuits, conspiracy world can be a form of bypass for many traumatized human beings (that’s a whole topic unto itself).
So there are many points of deep parallel and overlap between spiritual awakening and (alternative) political awakening but again one does not necessarily imply the other. As I argued earlier, there clearly is no inherent relationship between spiritual awakening and political awakening (woke). Nor is there any inherent relationship between becoming alternatively or conspiratorially woke and genuine mystical insight.
Plenty of conspiracists maintain a secularist materialist worldview—even when it comes to “aliens”, rather than allowing the weirdness to be (which speaking as a “alien” I find the weirdest thing imaginable). Others get lured via alternative/conspiracy world into many of what I would argue are ultimately false spiritual paths: occultism, gnosticism, New Age-ism, and fundamentalist evangelicalism.
As with spiritual awakening, there are many forms of ersatz political awakening. I’ve explored the strange incestuous relationship of erstwhile enemies the social justice warriors and alt-right, strange theologico-political marriages between fundamentalist Christians and Israeli occupiers, as well as contemporary forms of neo-fascism as examples that could be cited along those lines.
Wide is the path of perdition. Narrow indeed is the true gate.
Awakening does not imply "awokening" nor vice versa. Ideally however they can come together into a deeper unity. Both ultimately are aimed at a deeper gaze into and realization of the whole. In the spiritual case it is the whole of Reality as a conscious phenomenon. In the case of woke it's a view into the whole of human history, especially it's financial, military, political, and social reality. Ultimately I would argue they are two sides of one typically broken and fractured coin. Seeking to heal that split will be key if we are to have a life giving future.
*In terms of Gandhi we have the very uncomfortable data of his abuse of underage girls.
** There’s not time to go into it all but Garvey is a particular interesting character in this regard as he both has the strong woke quality but also a strongly awake quality. Mitch Horowitz arguably the best contemporary scholar-practitioner of The New Thought movement points out that Garvey was in fact a serious practitioner of The Science of Mind, which is a popularized form of occult Renaissance and grassroots magical technologies.