Nov 12, 2014

Sturgeon's Law of Spiritual Practice

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

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A friend asked me recently if the whole new age arena was just a lot of escapism for wounded people and ultimately another trap. It's become a recurring theme. A lot of what I'm hearing lately from people is frustration, fatigue, and even disgust with all things "spiritual." Many are feeling disillusioned and even betrayed. Some of them have actually been betrayed by spiritual practitioners, so that's quite understandable.

What I said to my friend, though, is that I feel I have learned and grown a lot through my experiences and study in things that fall under the very large umbrella of "new age." I have had some excellent teachers, but Sturgeon's Law applies.

Sturgeon's revelation, commonly referred to as Sturgeon's law, is an adage commonly cited as "ninety percent of everything is crap." It is derived from quotations by Theodore Sturgeon, an American science fiction author and critic: while Sturgeon coined another adage that he termed "Sturgeon's law", it is his "revelation" that is usually referred to by that term.

The phrase was derived from Sturgeon's observation that while science fiction was often derided for its low quality by critics, it could be noted that the majority of examples of works in other fields could equally be seen to be of low quality and that science fiction was thus no different in that regard from other art forms.

Given my own fairly extensive experience in what I shall broadly call new agedom, I feel very comfortable calling roughly ninety percent of it crap. Much of that crap, I ignore. I know my assessment is subjective and that one man's trash is another man's treasure. In other cases, where I think it's destructive, or even dangerous, I am not able to ignore it in good conscience. In particular, I have criticized The Secret and related law of attraction material. I have also included new age teachers such as James Arthur Ray and Teal Bosworth Scott Swan in discussions of religious abuse.

There are major pitfalls in the new age landscape. Many of us have wandered into them. I certainly have.

My error, when I first set off on the spiritual road less traveled, was in assuming it was paved with good intentions. I forgot that such defines the road to hell. I thought it to be so high-minded in its aspirations that it could only really draw the best and kindest of people. I had not begun to understand that it is precisely this high-mindedness that fosters denial and self-deception.

I assumed that being "spiritual but not religious" would put me in an environment free of the hierarchy and power imbalances that characterize antiquated and hidebound institutions. I learned the hard way that power trips and deference to authority are really intrinsic to human nature and express themselves in even very loosely organized groups. Worse, the mechanisms that many organized religions have in place to counteract these inherent problems are generally absent in new age groups because they don't think they need them.

Some years ago, I was taking a class on energy medicine with Christina Pratt. She described the new age zeitgeist as a best of times, worst of times scenario. We gained wide access to information about a range of spiritual traditions from across time and space. But grabbing things piece-meal from a kind of smorgasbord of spiritual food doesn't necessarily provide a complete or healthy diet. Religious traditions provide foundation and context. Many of them come with certain safe-guards that it turns out are kind of important.

As Christina put it, as we grow spiritually, we become "tasty." If we are not learning how to ground and protect, our increasingly vibrant and expansive energy with clear, healthy boundaries, we begin to attract psychic vampires. Some, I would even say most, of the people who siphon energy don't consciously intend or realize it. They don't set out to weaken you. They're just hungry and feel fed when they're near you. Often this will feel like a mutually beneficial interrelatedness, or friendship, but it's really codependency. The way you feel after interacting with them is usually a good indicator. If you feel either drained and fatigued or unusually energized and elated, start checking yourself for energy leaks, such as cords, implants, and auric holes.

Unfortunately, some psychic vampires are aware that they're stealing other people's power. Too many of them end up in positions of leadership. When people look up to you, maybe even have you on a pedestal, it's all to easy to steal their power. As the Milgram experiments demonstrated, human beings are innately deferential to anyone they perceive as an authority. And as Phillip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment showed, even the well-intended leader can very rapidly be seduced by power and start abusing their authority.

The problem is compounded in both the new age and traditionally religious contexts because leaders are seen as having insight into the metaphysical -- things that seekers may have glimpsed, but cannot see with the kind of consistency that these leaders often claim to. We are, after all, seeking them out as teachers because we think they know more than we do. All too often these seekers undervalue their own innate knowing. And all too often these spiritual leaders keep them doing exactly that, even as they grow and expand. These students become tastier and tastier, but are constantly undermined -- usually subtly but sometimes overtly -- by the teacher who "knows" more and better.

Much of this problem stems from the insecurities of these leaders and lack of awareness of their own shadows. Sometimes, though, it's a conscious agenda on the part of "spiritual" con artists who are really just after your money or, worse, your power.

A skilled psychic vampire will seek a way to tap into your vulnerability or weakness and exploit it.

There must first be some kind of emotional or psychic connection established which they can latch onto, and they must also be invited into the life of their victim in some manner.

It's probably a good idea to keep in mind that psychic vampires-just like their symbolic, mythical representations-are shape-shifting creatures who take on various forms designed to mystify and seduce us.

When we want to change something about ourselves, or are going through a rough time, it's natural for us to look to others to inspire and help lift us up, but sometimes this can lead you right into the hands of one.

Spiritual gurus who profess to have the answer to whatever troubles you readily come to mind here.

As stated above, feeling drained is a good indicator that you're dealing with a psychic vampire, but so is feeling strangely elated or euphoric. This is as good an explanation as I've read of this phenomenon.

There's a method to this kind of covert psychic attack, which some would characterize as a form of "black magic". Some very powerful psychic vampires are able to hold extremely high levels of energy they have harvested from others, sort of like a human battery, and they are also able to transmit it to others in dosages.

When a psychic vampire establishes a connection with his or her victim, they are able to give their victims a energetic "lift" or "boost" through the imparting of this stored up energy in controlled amounts, which is calculated to be perceived as a 'healing' in one form or another. This little taste of energy hooks the victim, and keeps them wanting to come back for more.

In an energetic sense, a mental and/or spiritual bond is created between the psychic vampire and their victim, and through this bond the vampire can continue to feed their disciple with energy, like a slow IV drip.

But what people often don't suspect or realize is that a connection or bond like this may be used to direct energy both ways.

I don't know that I would use the word "powerful" to describe such sorcerers and would be more inclined to call them "charismatic." But this strange, almost narcotic effect of some energy theft is one I'm all too familiar with.

A couple of other articles outline some indicators of toxic spiritual leadership that are also worthy of consideration. This piece provides a list of indicators of the fake guru.

There’s an influx of ‘enlightened masters of the universe’ pervading the spiritual sphere these days. Gurus and spiritual teachers are popping up left and right. Many of them seem to provide an easy way out of the voids many people feel they have within their lives, and as a result these gurus and teachers make a ridiculously massive amount of money… even earning social ranks akin to being glamorous superstars.

Om Times has a brief article on how to avoid the spiritual sociopath.

Genuine spiritual leaders seek to empower their followers. Any leader who fosters extreme dependence among their followers is in reality, just someone who wants to control them. A sincere leader welcomes questions and challenges from their followers; anyone who forbids dissent or punishes it is not sincere.

A true spiritual leader will never ask someone to separate from their family or community, nor give away their material possessions or money. These are requests made only by cult leaders who seek to have control by isolating and disempowering their followers.

True spiritual leaders inspire people to be their best selves; spiritual sociopaths rule with guilt, trickery and intimidation. The spiritual seeker may want to believe that their leader is loving and good, just as they wanted to believe that their parents were. Sadly, the parent-like sociopath fosters a childlike loyalty in their followers which keeps them in control.

Any of these articles and blog posts on avoiding spiritual traps and snares, including mine, should be weighed carefully. Bounce the ideas against your "truth cord" or however you characterize your inner knowing. Cultivating that awareness and connection to spirit, whatever that means to you, is far more important than what any human teacher says. This is something a lot of spiritual teachers say, in some form or fashion. Do their actions back that up, or do they still need to be right when all's said and done? This is one of the many questions to ask yourself when you're selecting a spiritual practitioner.

Every one of us starts out on this journey with the innocence of The Fool. Not only will we invariably encounter The Devil, we will likely run into the darker manifestations of The Magician, The Priestess, and so on. Every one of these archetypes has a shadow aspect, as do all people. That includes spiritual leaders, no matter how enlightened they claim to be.


  1. Wonderful article! Thank you, LaVaughn.

  2. And thank you, thank you again for providing The Fool's Journey link! Touched by this tale.

  3. HI Elena. Glad you enjoyed. Nice to see you.

  4. Oh, I am here almost daily, hehe, I'm sure you've seen from your stats:-) But I refrain from commenting on Teal cs I've stopped keeping up with her and was kinda feeling similar to what you describe in the first paragraph. Though I still enjoy your noncasts and articles, and what you share via newsfeed. Always something good.


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