I took a closer look at my desire for “spiritual purification.” Here’s what I discovered.
In response to the events of this past year, I’ve been reexamining many aspects of my spirituality. This is part 3 in a series about old beliefs and practices that I’ve decided to clarify and shift. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.
In Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach writes, “Those who feel plagued by not being good enough are often drawn to idealistic worldviews that offer the possibility of purifying and transcending a flawed nature.”
When I first read that sentence, I recognized myself.
“Spiritual purification” has been an obsession of mine for many years. I’ve written lots of blog posts and created lots of videos about it. I’ve literally written entire books about it. I’m talking about things like space clearing, aura cleansing, and purifying crystals and other objects with sunlight, sage, salt, and running water.
I still find value in these things. But I see them differently now.
Or, rather, I see myself differently. And the world.
Reading that sentence in Radical Acceptance – “Those who feel plagued by not being good enough are often drawn to idealistic worldviews that offer the possibility of purifying and transcending a flawed nature” – helped me realize that often, beneath my desire to purify, was the belief that I was toxic. And that the world was toxic. That there were scary spiritual cooties floating around that I needed to combat. Maybe even that there were bad or lonely spirits that wanted to attach to me and sap my energy. Those were sort of my unspoken, unexamined assumptions.
On PsychologyToday.com, David Ludden, PhD wrote about three studies recently conducted at Hope College. In those studies, researchers demonstrated there is usually “some ‘religious residue’ in the moral thinking of those who abandoned their religion after childhood.”
You don’t just leave a religion, it turns out. That religion stays with you. It shapes you.
Luckily, its power over you does appear to fade over time. But it takes a while.
In the article, Dr. David Ludden explains,
Early childhood is the formative period in which we learn our language and culture, and our personality and attitudes are largely shaped during this time as well. Even when we intentionally reject the religious teachings of our childhood, we’re still greatly influenced by [its] implicit attitudes…
As I’ve written about before, my childhood experience with religion led me to live in fear of satanic or demonic possession. (It didn’t help that I grew up in the 1980s, during what’s now known as the satanic panic.)
And, as you may know if you’ve followed my work, I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. So it’s not too difficult to see why I might have believed myself to be toxic, or why I would have been drawn to the idea of spiritual purification.
As I’ve also written about previously (last week and the week before), the pandemic inspired me to look more deeply and attentively at my spiritual beliefs and practices; to analyze and question them. But even before the pandemic, one day I was listening to an old Doreen Virtue meditation (yes, I still listened to her meditations every once in a while, even after she converted to Christianity), and I remember being somewhat taken aback when I heard these words:
Very often, psychic attack takes on an etheric form that looks like and feels like daggers, arrows, swords, and other instruments of attack. And as Michael magnetically lifts swords, arrows, daggers, and other instruments of attack out of your back, out of your shoulders, out of your neck, head, and other parts of your body, feel your muscles being refreshed.
At that point, it had been a while since I had heard a Doreen Virtue meditation, or since I had been in contact with her work at all. I was surprised to her her say that we may be psychically attacked with energetic weapons “very often,” to the point where we would need to regularly perform a meditation remove them. But then I looked back on all the times I listened to her radio show and remembered how frequently she mentioned things like “earthbound spirits” and the danger of them “attaching to your aura” so they could “drain your energy.”
Reflecting on this now, I can see that one reason I was drawn to Doreen’s work (and other teachings like it) was because it put words to what I was already afraid of – invisible spiritual toxins and spiritual attack – and gave me advice about how to protect myself from it.
And, actually, I think it helped! Over time, all that spiritual cleansing helped me to feel more powerful and less afraid. Perhaps, as I repeatedly visualized myself as spiritually clear, whole, and protected, I slowly began to believe myself to actually be that way.
Still, it would have been valuable if someone had said to me, early on, “When you engage in any kind of spiritual purification work, remember that you are not inherently toxic. Let purification (space clearing, aura cleansing, etc) be an act of self-compassion and self-care, rather than a way of trying to make yourself better, or or more worthy of love, or more deserving of wonderful things.”
Similarly, I remember judging myself if I got sick, or ran into hardship. I would think, “I must not have purified myself enough. My vibration must not be positive enough. Otherwise, why would this be happening to me?”
Again, that’s changed over the years. As I wrote about in this blog post, I now realize that was a form of victim blaming. Even though the victim I was blaming was myself.
So, why did the past year bring all of this into greater focus? Because QAnon.
The particular brand of confusion we call QAnon – which has unfortunately claimed so many new agers – has clearly demonstrated the problem with holding a worldview that includes an invisible spiritual battle between pure and impure, also known as good and evil.
While I like to think my personal obsession with purification did not veer into ableism, racism, or anti-semitism, this is not the case with the QAnon worldview. (Much of QAnon’s anti-vax, anti-mask rhetoric is ableist. As in, if you’ve eaten pure enough food and practiced pure enough spirituality, the virus can’t hurt you. And you need look no further than the Capitol insurrection to see the links between QAnon, racism, and anti-semitism.)
Like so many of you, I was initially shocked to learn of the QAnon/new age connection. But it turns out the new age has had this issue before.
In Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation, author Mitch Horowitz writes about a wildly popular article from 1928 called “Seven Minutes in Eternity,” written by author William Dudley Pelley about his reported near death experience, where he met
…the “Spiritual Mentors” who tutored him, as they would many times in the years ahead, on karma, reincarnation, and the realities of the afterlife.
…Revived by the “cool, steadying pressure of [the Mentors’] hands,” the nude Pelley was gently directed to bathe in a soothing marble pool. The magical waters seemed to remove his sense of nakedness, and he then strolled through the illuminated Roman porticos of the Higher Realm, where he encountered “saintly, attractive, magnetic folk…no misfits, no tense countenances, no sour leers, no preoccupied brusqueness or physical handicap.”
(Note that first, upon entering this rarified realm, he was spiritually purified. Then, he noticed that everyone he saw there fit his personal description of healthy and attractive.)
The article was a huge hit. Pelley popularized “the near death experience” and became a new age superstar. Soon, however, he leveraged his his metaphysical platform to become
one of the nation’s most notorious hate leaders: an avid admirer of Hitler, the organizer of America’s prototype Neo-Nazi order, a literary influence on the anti-semitism of poet Ezra Pound, and [still] a popular writer who reported receiving “hyper dimensional instruction” from “Spiritual Mentors.”
…By 1933, acting under “clairaudient” instructions from his cosmic Mentors, Pelley started the Silver Shirts, a paramilitary neo-Nazi order that served as a template for some of the worst hate groups of the twentieth century.
Still later in life, after serving time in prison for spreading conspiracy theories about the US government, Pelley created
a massive output of channeled writings from his higher messengers, which he called the Soulcraft teachings…[He] crafted an astral-Spiritualist religion based on cosmic messages from interstellar guides.
I was surprised to learn that Guy and Edna Ballard, founders of the I AM Temple (which helped popularize the ascended master Saint Germain and his purifying violet flame) were greatly inspired by William Dudley Pelley’s article. And, they saw their spiritual mission as intrinsically patriotic. According to the podcast Cults, they believed they were protecting the United States through their spiritual work.
I was also surprised to learn that the prolific new age author Elizabeth Clare Prophet – author of such books as How to Work with Angels and Violet Flame: Alchemy for Personal Change – spouted conspiracy theories that inspired extremist behavior. According to Mitch Horowitz, while she led the Church Universal and Triumphant in the 1980s, “church members dug an elaborate network of underground chambers near Yellowstone National Park, stockpiled weapons and provisions, and awaited American-Soviet nuclear armageddon.”
It was George Santayana who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I certainly didn’t remember that time a new age guru founded a seminal hate group.
I also didn’t remember that time a couple founded a new age church with a mission that included spiritually protecting the United States.
And I most definitely didn’t remember that time a new age author instructed her followers to stockpile weapons and hide underground to protect themselves from an imaginary threat.
And I know a lot of you didn’t either.
So QAnon showed up in our spiritual community and many of us were blindsided.
But now, while we probably don’t remember these QAnon foreshadows firsthand, at least we know about them. And we may even have a little insight into how they came to be.
Perhaps unhealed trauma, lending itself to an unexamined sense of toxicity and unworthiness, was at the root.
And perhaps the “religious residue” of the good versus evil paradigm was also playing a role.
So, moving forward, when we engage in spiritual purification work, I propose that we first remember that we are not inherently toxic.
Next, I suggest that we remind ourselves that the good verses evil paradigm (just another way of saying the pure verses impure paradigm) is not only overly simplistic, but it’s also divisive. It flows right into the us versus them paradigm: the vilification of the other.
Finally, I think it would be valuable to ask ourselves: what exactly are we purifying? Why are we doing this? What is the intention? If we want to reset our personal energy, or open up to a new way of being out of compassion and love for ourselves and the world, great. If you want to reset the energy of a crystal after you buy it at the store or use it in another ritual, fantastic. If you want to clear the energy in your home after you and your partner have a fight, or just to get energy moving in a positive direction, fabulous.
But if what you really want is to get the cooties out – to unconsciously strive to make yourself feel more worthy or deserving, to attempt to feel less inherently toxic, or to get rid of etheric arrows or knives that seem to attach to you “very often” – it’s time for some loving shadow work. Bring those underlying, disempowering perspectives out into the light of conscious awareness so you can dissolve them and build something new, more loving, and more true.
So in some cases, you’ll be incorporating another dynamic of cleansing: releasing the reasons you thought you needed cleansing in the first place.
I hope it’s clear that I’m writing this series of posts not because I suddenly dislike metaphysical spirituality and want to dismantle it, but because I care about it so very passionately. There actually is a baby in all that dirty bathwater, and I want to get it out of there.
Did this post resonate with you, or bring up any thoughts you’d like to share? I’d love for you to speak up in the comment section below.
I posted earlier and have been fascinated reading the following comments. My Bachelor degree was in Psychology and because of that I still maintain contact with several psychology research sites.
Several years ago there was an hypothesis about what is called the “Mother Wound”. It was an interesting review and I followed it briefly. I had always had a strained relationship with my mother. I could never seem to please her. At one point she even told me about when she found out she was pregnant with me, she was forced to go back to my “father” which she hadn’t wanted to do. She had also abandoned her first husband and son.
Fast forward to 2020 and I suddenly find out that the man who raised me and I loved, wasn’t my father. My mother had an affair. Talk about getting hit in the face. I was angry, hurt and grieved.
Early this week another article showed up about further understanding regarding the “Mother Wound” and this time it brought a lot of clarity to my life. And now looking at this blog again in a different light I wonder if many of these folks are trying to find solace from a life that has been damaged by a mother that just wasn’t there for them (physically, mentally, emotionally) or was more focused on their needs and not their children. Are they trying to cleanse and purge so they can release something they aren’t even aware of? Are they clinging to crackpot theories or deranged spiritual leaders because they are still seeking what they didn’t get from their mothers. I don’t know, but it is an interesting thought when I look back to my life. Fortunately I had a strong “father” figure that gave me strength to face a lot of things without flinching. But I see some areas, where I too, felt I needed to cleanse without realizing why. I have released the anger and hate toward my mother. I have severed all karmic ties with her. And now my life is my own.
Sam Owens says
I’ve decided that whether something is deep or shallow, it’s all shallow unless I know what I want, have the clarity to conceptualize it, and actually have the will to carry out my desires.
Desires aren’t random. They are the part of me that that wants something. The part of me that’s honest.
The problem with a lot of people who seek gurus is that they decided that wanting anything was evil, and so they decided to serve the arbitrary whims of someone else who actually does know themselves and what they want. Not that learning from someone else is bad. Its just that many people checked their brain at the door and assumed that someone else could be a saint so that they could be a mindless sinner or a victim.
To do good means being honest about the fact that desire is inescapable, and that certain Buddhist philosophies are deeply irresponsible to that fact.
Sam Owens says
Desire is the only thing that can protect a person from selfish codependency.
If what I want is to be the best poet I can be, then that’s a desire that I can own that gives me joy.
If my desire is to be a world famous scientist, then that’s a desire that the world can own and can take from you.
The trick to never being had is to want something that can’t be taken from you.
Like the song says, if we’re all born to die, then we’re all born to live. Codependency is the lie that human beings need to compensate for that craving for oneness that isn’t there. But it is there. And doesn’t need to be fought for. Just allowed and responsibly cared for while wanting something for myself that no one can take from me.
When I did that, I discovered that doing good for others was just debt, but having a home is something I just have to allow.
Sam Owens says
Any blessing that comes from the world can only be given by the free will of the world.
Meaning you can’t aspire to be a world famous scientist.
You can only aspire to be a great scientist.
The world will be the world.
Tess Whitehurst says
Barbara, fascinating. I can definitely resonate with this.
Sam Owens says
If I had to answer this question directly but not to be rude it’s because overly spiritual type folks didn’t learn the lessons of social skills first so as to create a roof that would prevent personal slavery to ones sexual instincts that were over valued as sex magic that sublimated into temporary connection to God but without a social light to make that connection permanent with other human beings, and so y’all fell into sexual prisons that was only stalled into becoming a hell by sex magic into temporary purity.
That’s why I let things get dark and learned self respect first so as to properly have a personal outline that could process light sex magic in a sane way so I don’t have to fall ever again and make my progress permanent.
Sex magic without a roof is short money and a slippery slope into a personal hell, and thats why self respect and social skills should be learned first in a sane manner BEFORE ANY ATTEMPTS at sex magic!
Lisabeth Robinson says
I very much appreciate this article. I have, for a long time, been dismayed by the New Age distrust of modern medicine. Ancient systems of understanding the body and the physical world are often great for developing a good routine of daily self care that can promote good health, but they do not address illness or serious medical challenges when they arise. The resistance to vaccines, as a historian who teaches global health, is mind-boggling. So many diseases that killed and maimed millions of people have been eradicated or made less deadly with modern medical technology. As a yoga mentor once said at a workshop I attended, “if I’m hit by a truck, please take me to a surgeon, not a yoga teacher, or new age practitioner.” I’ve been on the “cleansing bandwagon” for over a decade as well and you are right to question what that says about self-image. (In the wellness sector, we are consistently messaged that we aren’t yet good enough, clean enough, pure enough–yikes, it’s “virginity culture” all over again!). A few years ago, I went low carb and a colleague asked why I wasn’t eating bread–“I gave that up to improve my diet” was my response. “But all you eat are salads anyway–what are you giving up next, air?” I’ve been thinking about that exchange ever since. Purification is a toy that we often play with and we should always consider what it says about how we view ourselves. I tell my students that we’d have a better world if we worried less about the size of our rears and more about each other. To me QAnon is all about a disgustingly self-focused worldview where self-preservation and the interest in one’s own personal rights outweighs public health, research and logic. Thank you for your investigation into your own motivations for cleansing and alerting us as to how we may be unwittingly support this deplorable mindset.
I once had a person obsessed with purity who thought that she was the only person who existed and that everyone else were robots and that everyone was picking on her.
I has the opposite view and still have the view that all these people are people who need their humanity just like I need my humanity. The fake lessons were leverage to people who were deliberately obtuse and narcissistic.
By viewing people as needing something and realizing I needed something I was willing to negotiate and keep my word and that’s why the world looks friendly and human to me now.
Sam Owens says
But the reason I’ve had contempt for many religions is that within a small ball of light people learned to hate their own humanity. And that ball of light would only get smaller and smaller until that turned into a hell.
Humanity is beautiful and someone once said I had something good. And it’s just because I’ve committed myself to my humanity.
And that’s the sad and funny and tragic thing of all these religions. People just seem to want to run from the very best part of themselves.
People just run to hell to avoid their humanity. And that’s the tragic thing about it.
Tess Whitehurst says
Lisabeth, exactly! We are on the same wavelength here.
Jennifer Aguiar says
You are such a blessing to this world! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and thoughts in such a loving genuinely and no nonsense way. Keep shining you are such an amazing and beautiful soul. You have taught me great things! Blessings to you always!
Tess Whitehurst says
Jennifer, that’s so nice! Thank you.
Tess Whitehurst says
Once again, I am honored to read all these comments, and glad to know I’m not alone. Thank you all so much for reading and for sharing your thoughts.