Have you ever seriously questioned the origin of your current beliefs? If you were to investigate your views on a given topic, would you be able to identify the source of your perspective? Even when observing others’ behaviour, have you pondered the deeper reason for their actions? I have lately come to the realisation that our beliefs and, indeed, our faith isn’t always what it seems. Religion, Spirituality and the Occult are fundamentally complex social groups; while we can debate their individual definitions and distinctions, it remains nonetheless true that these groups and communities are bound to basic human social principles. It is in this understanding that I have analyzed my own beliefs and now present to you a question which must be seriously considered: Do your beliefs arise from genuine personal contemplation and investigation, or have you been manipulated into your present paradigm through peer pressure and social compliance?
Social psychology is focused primarily on the idea of group influence. Defined as the effect that the words, actions, or presence of other people (real or imagined) have on our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and behaviour, social influence is the greatest factor behind our tendency to comply. Our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are all subject to social pressure, and the techniques of persuasion and manipulation often utilize this force to attain the submission of others. However, while these influences are pervasive, affecting our everyday behaviour, their effect is rarely noticed.
Social compliance is something to which we are all subject, although to varying degrees. While most social and personality psychologists focus on a broad societal spectrum, we are going to look specifically at their fields’ relation to religious, spiritual and occult communities. Spiritual Sociology if you will. Many sociological experiments have indicated that humans have a subconscious desire to conform and comply based on their present social conditions.
The Milgram test, for instance, illustrates very clearly that we are more likely to obey orders, suggestions and commands from someone in a position of perceived authority; even when their instructions conflict with one’s own knowledge and conscience. This experiment involved a group of individuals who were tasked with administering shocks to a non-existent test subject when the subject answered a given question incorrectly. At the insistence of their supervisor, almost without exception, these individuals reluctantly increased the strength of the administered shock to lethal levels.
Other experiments, such as the Asch test, have demonstrated that if enough people in a group answer a question incorrectly in the presence of the others, it is more likely that the subject of the test will repeat the incorrect response while doubting their own knowledge. Ultimately, what becomes apparent is that a large majority of people have a strong desire to fit in, and the fear of not fitting in is sufficient to coerce us into intentional conformity.
Within many occult groups, I have found that people take pride when they say they are a “rebel” in the sense that they are non-conformist. My question is, do they rebel because they genuinely want to rebel or due to a need to belong to a community which prides itself on rebellious behaviour? What about beliefs involving astrology, spirit animals and psychics? Do we adopt them out of genuine conviction or because so many in the community seem to follow suit? Do we pursue our own conclusions on these topics or simply the words of supposed experts? It is undeniable that there are trends within these communities and general popularity in regard to specific topics. Hence, it becomes difficult to separate temporary fads from lasting innovations which carry occultism forward.
It is my personal view, after years of observing these communities, that many practitioners adopt information solely because it is given by those considered to be an authority. I also believe that many areas of practice are pursued due to popularity and trendiness rather than personal interest. This is further complicated when money is involved. For instance, tarot is very popular and also presents the opportunity to industrious tarot readers to profit from its popularity; as such the temptation to comply with a trend can both satisfy a need to belong to a group as well as a desire to make profit. This is a common theme in any industry where financial gain exists. Public figures are prone to stop producing the content they believe in in order to provide something else that will make them more money.
In our various spiritual communities, we are working with beliefs which can have very real impact on people’s lives. In the same way that some Christians will donate their entire life savings to a megachurch faith healer, our community has a large potential for the vulnerable to be taken advantage of. Psychics have in our day and age developed a tainted reputation due to how many charlatans have been exposed. The key to avoiding such situations lies in individual accountability for one’s views and the behaviours which extend therefrom. I think that if we are truly looking for self-development we must continually question the root of our own beliefs, enabling us to better understand them. In so doing, we can increase our awareness of manipulative social compliance and further understand the nature of our own minds.
So where do we go from here? Question everything. Truly ask yourself what you believe and why. Only in understanding the origins of our beliefs can we understand their nature. I pass this question off to you: Do you really believe in the things you say you do? Or are you just trying to fit in?
Written by Darren Taylor Edited by John Cody