Wednesday Woo is a weekly column written by my partner and chief advocate of all that I write, Jennifer. Each week she will describe some aspect of New Age Spiritualism and the logical flaws that each of these things contain. She comes from a very different direction than I did with Pentecostalism but I think you will see, New Age Spiritualism can be just as dogmatic and harmful as mainline organized faiths. Thank you for reading!
“Synchronicity is an ever-present reality for those who have the eyes to see it.”
– Carl Jung
As living beings, we continuously seek out patterns in life as a survival tactic. This is left over from a time when we had to rely on our senses to detect predators hiding among the flora, track food sources, or navigate our way around terrain to find resources. If we did not have this trait, we would not be here to discuss whether or not we have ascribed some sort of deeper meaning to the patterns found than are actually there. If you’ve ever heard the stories of Mother Mary being seen on a piece of toast, or witnessed the face on the moon, you recognize this ability of human beings to come to the wrong conclusion with this ability.
The New Age movement has taken this superstition to a whole new level, conflating pattern-seeking behavior into something far more metaphysical and often dramatically solipsistic. They identify this pattern “synchronicity”, a term coined by the infamous Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Gustav Jung, who defines the phenomenon as “temporally coincident occurrences of a causal events.” The most common attributions are numerical, like 11:11, 2:22, etc., but can be geometrical, topic based, or even take the form of seeing certain objects they had discussed, thought about, or seen elsewhere. New Agers will relate these patterns to messages from angels, aliens, ascended masters, or what they call the “higher self”. Of course these things cannot be verified or demonstrated by any means, because they’re in the 7th dimension, the unconscious mind, or some other invisible realm of existence. According to them, if you see the pattern repeated, it means these entities are trying to get your attention, confirm that you are on the right path, or whatever specific idea they deem relative to the symbology. It’s a great way to sell books or products that aid in translating these symbols and their determined intuitive meanings.
“In a desperate attempt to psychically reconnect with her, as well as lift myself up from the rut of sadness, I opened my mind to woo. As a result, my brain pretty much fell out of my skull.”
How do I know about the New Age philosophy of synchronicity? I was a believer for about four years after my mother passed away from liver disease. We were really close – so close that we could exchange a glance from one another, from across the room, and begin laughing, because we both knew what the other was thinking. There was a huge void in my life, and I was so overcome with grief from her death that I had a nervous breakdown. In a desperate attempt to psychically reconnect with her, as well as lift myself up from the rut of sadness, I opened my mind to woo. As a result, my brain pretty much fell out of my skull. Astrology, numerology, dream interpretation, astral projection, kabbalah, tarot… you name it, I was into it, and spent a great deal of money, time, and effort to pursue my quest. It felt good for a while, and the pain of my mom’s death seemed to fade. There was a huge fellowship online to discuss all of these things with, and it felt as though I had found my tribe.
Now, you may be wondering why I left this belief system if it felt so good and helped me connect with people. That’s a great question, but I’m afraid there is no simple answer. It wasn’t any one particular thing that made me abandon the philosophies of woo, but a heaping pile of stuff that just kept growing bigger and bigger until my brain could no longer justify the inconsistencies and far-reaching logic in the system. If not for my very helpful and logical husband who presented me with great questions and kept an open dialogue on these philosophies, I may still be stuck. He challenged me on some of the beliefs I held, which prompted me to really wonder if I was wrong about my New Age ideas. When it came to the subject of synchronicity, I started to feel like I was some sort of conspiracy theorist, making ghostly connections, and the entire universe had been the conspirator. Contemplation of this made me feel quite silly, so I began searching for other explanations to the patterns that kept showing up in my reality, and what I found was elegant and actually quite simple: a concept called “confirmation bias”.
Confirmation bias is the tendency for us to only view information that conforms with our already existing belief systems. So if I see 333 everywhere I go, it’s because my brain was actively seeking it. That’s what it does to aid survival, but I was giving the patterns a deeper meaning because I desired so badly for my beliefs to be true. Yet seeing these things over and over again did not make me psychic or special; it only highlighted my wishful thinking and genetic disposition to pattern seek. I simply wanted this to have deeper meaning because, for one, I didn’t want my New Age beliefs to be wrong, and two, I longed for the universe to hold my short life in high regard. My bias simply had to be important, and no one could prove me wrong better than myself. Thus, I learned more about confirmation bias, and subsequently threw the idea of synchronicity into the garbage.
“I want to believe as many true things, and few false things as possible.”
Sometimes we struggle to be right so much that it can actually feel like we are attempting to survive. After all, if our outlook on reality is incorrect, it takes a lot of effort to relearn how to view things with more skepticism. We are not our worldview, and must find a way to separate these things from our actual identity to get beyond them. For me, it took seeking the contrast to my beliefs to really pull myself out of the mind of woo. Every day is a struggle, since I’ve surrounded myself with bias confirming people from tribes of the not-so-distant past. I have had to take a hard look at my previous self through others, and it’s never easy. But, in order to have a rational, more accurate outlook on life, it’s well worth the effort to me. In the words of Matt Dillahunty, “I want to believe as many true things, and few false things as possible.”