A New World Apocalyptic Eschatology

Sandy Krolick, Ph.D.

1.

Frustrated and weary from their own victimization in the ‘Old World’ — and in search of a better life in the ‘New’ — boatloads of European explorers and pilgrims stole their way across the North American continent, eventually occupying every corner of this territory from sea to shining sea. But in their mad dash of territorial conquest, these predominantly ‘white’ settlers turned right around and proceeded to victimize the ‘red man’ — those indigenous inhabitants already occupying the land for generations. These new Anglo-European ‘immigrants’ forcibly, and in many cases violently, took possession of once indigenous lands; it is no secret that native Americans suffered brutally and often fatally at the hands of the white immigrant settlers and their cavalries. 

            But wait! Perhaps the tables have begun to turn by some odd twist of fate. More recently a small but rather paranoid contingent of our settled compatriots have been agitated by waves of other, darkly-complected immigrants, whom they imagine are trying to ‘take’ from them the very land their forebears stole from native Americans. Such paranoia is borne not simply of an enduring, if unjustifiable, sense of white privilege. The fear is emblematic of their own pre-disposition; it is a reactionary posture grounded in both distain for and distrust of the Other. Such apprehension is ultimately the instantiation of misplaced aggression — a slow simmering reaction by those who have been weaned on the mother’s milk of suspicion and a proclivity for violence. Remember, ‘If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.’ Paranoia and fear thus lie at the very foundation of white privilege in America; like twin stigmata, these are part and parcel of the white man’s burden here, insuring the continuing eruption of violence if these emotions are left unchecked.

            This is the unstable foundation upon which our country and our democracy now rest — awkwardly, tentatively, precariously. We are teetering on the edge of an existential crisis borne on the wings of fear — a posture clearly seen in the machinations of congresswoman and unabashed QAnon adherent, Marjorie Taylor Greene. But she is not alone among her colleagues, not by a long shot. Indeed, this fear and the attendant proclivity to violence that results from such pathologies has come to define reality for a growing swath of our citizenry including our political class. Yet, such pathologies are grounded in a mental image whereby the ‘Other’ — now quite heavily mythologized — is seen as an existential threat. Although such imagined threats are patently false, the symbolic referents continue to guide the pre-conscious choices of a growing number of our compatriots, reinforced by an unbroken lineage of presumed privilege and fear of losing it. It is long past time for us to acknowledge this fact. We are, after all, at a crossroads — an inflection point in our history — and we must reign in the vile and the suspicious among us before it is too late. To do this, we should look at the coalescence or convergence of concurrent conspiratorial forces: white supremacy on the one hand and QAnon on the other, and the attendant challenges these raise for the future of our democracy.  Here I will only explore the linkage between these two reactionary conspiracies.

II.

            The recent notoriety surrounding QAnon (Q) — this uniquely American-style millenarian cargo-cult guided by some of the same presumptions of white privilege that we see in its would-be savior, Donald Trump — has thrust into the open undeniable elements of a haunting American eschatology. In fact, it is not surprising to find both blue and white-collar Christians among Q’s most ardent supporters, especially among the evangelicals. For its part, Q is emerging as an apocalyptic Christian nationalist movement demonstrating a unique pedigree harkening back even to the Book of Revelation

            Of course for Q-believers, marching elbow-to-elbow with their white nationalist brethren, Trump was and remains a ‘once and future king’— their anointed savior; his executive role was certainly evident in fomenting and directing the violent attack on the Capitol. With sticks and stones, body-armor and battering rams, Trump’s cult-followers sought to destroy those who would dare oppose his leadership. With perhaps a touch of irony, and not unlike Jesus’ overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple of Jerusalem, Trump unleashed his own legions on our temple of democracy to overturn an election. The symbolism here is thick and rich. Led-on by their would-be shaman-prophet (Jake Angeli) — a privileged white nationalist demanding organic food in his holding cell — the insurrectionists hammered away at the Capitol as they continued hammering out elements of their own contemporary mythical journey (perhaps to Valhalla). With a blend of Norse, Neo-Nazi, and more archaic mythology, the insurrectionists literally sought to “carve-out” a new mytho-historical reality, one delivering a new heaven and a new earth.

            For the most part, these Q-led white-and-disgruntled insurrectionists communicated in a veiled tongue as well, a language laced with symbol and metaphor. One favorite symbol was that of The Storm, itself serving as place-holder for an apocalyptic event heralding the day of reckoning. This was to be the day when Trump’s salvific return would explode across the national stage and the infidels — those weak liberal blood-drinking pedophiles of the Deep State, along with other assorted undesirables — would finally receive their long-overdue and divinely mandated retribution. Such sentiments bring us awfully close to an eschatological vision of the End Time, much as we find described in the New Testament’s Revelation of Saint John the Divine, and specifically its reference to ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’.  As we read in Revelations

I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. (6:2)

Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword. (6:4)

I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. (6:5)

I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. (6:8)

            Surely these lines give us some pause when considering the events surrounding the recently attempted insurrection. Again, the use of imagery and symbolism is key to Q’s message, just as it was in the apocalyptic vision of St. John. So perhaps, and by way of paraphrase, it is not too far-fetched to say the following: Donald Trump sought to wear a crown on his head and, with a pair of scales in his hand, ride out like a conqueror, destroying peace on earth as men slayed one another, leaving death and destruction in his wake.

            It is, of course, no accident that Q-believers are steeped in religious myth and symbol. And given its predilection for apocalyptic eschatology, the energy of this cult is able to draw in millennialists and extremists of all stripes, including white supremacists, Christian evangelicals, and many others factions in-between. If we look back to the founding of our country, the roots of such a cult can already be detected percolating in the earliest stirrings of white privilege (supremacy) witnessed with the emergence of the American spirit (an incipient nationalism) centuries earlier. And now this nationalism has been unleashed through the progeny of immigrants who first invaded this land centuries before.

            I suggest that the violence exercised and witnessed at the Capitol recently is merely the tip of an iceberg that is bigger and has been growing for much longer than we care to admit.  Its origin is as old as those first explorers or pilgrims who dared set foot on this territory and decimate or enslave its indigenous inhabitants. In short, the mythologically-infused movement of that seditious mob has been baked into the cake since before our founding, just waiting to explode.  I’m afraid to say that while we’ve already seen some of its fire and brimstone, the hot lava is about to engulf us. This uneasy but not unlikely alignment or political convergence of an apparently religious millenarianist movement with a violent and broadly nationalistic conspiracy is leading us fast and furiously to a potentially apocalyptic conclusion. As the congressional representative Donna DeGette remarked in the Senate hearings, we now can see “the first stab in a greater revolution.”

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The QAnon Shaman ~ and his Modern Cargo Cult

What I found most fascinating about this month’s insurrection and attempted coup at the Capitol was the cult-like instantiation, or was it a resurrection, of America’s own QAnon shaman  fully outfitted and replete with horned buffalo-skinned headdress along with his tattooed midriff. The question that begs consideration here is the underlying significance of QAnon as a modern day cargo cult and, in light of this, the character and function of their would-be shaman in the events that transpired.

            In his classic study of cargo cults, The Trumpet Shall Sound (1957), British sociologist Peter Worsley compiled an early overview of this principally Melanesian phenomenon . . .

[In these] strange religious movements… a prophet announces the imminence of the end of the world in a cataclysm which will destroy everything. Then the ancestors will return, or God, or some other liberating power, will appear, bringing all the goods the people desire, and ushering in a reign of eternal bliss (11).

            Worsley correctly identifies these cults as being in large measure messianic and millenarian movements bent on prosecuting an agenda of social unrest heralding the end-time… a genuinely proleptic anticipation of an apocalyptic end to the old and arrival of a new and glorious world order. Our own QAnon cult followers, along with their self-proclaimed shaman, were in fact awaiting just such salvation from their cult savior-designate… their Deliverer-in-Chief, Donald J. Trump, along with a few of his dutiful acolytes including Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, as well as Representative Mo Brooks and, lest we forget, the scabrous Don, Jr.

            As Lamont Lindstrom wrote in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology:While ethnographers have noted that the term ‘cargo’ originally referred to highly sought-after Western commercial goods, it just as easily signaled an “expectation of moral salvation, existential respect, or proto-nationalistic, anti-colonial desire for political autonomy.”  The term ‘cargo cult’ thus became synonymous with any social movement aspiring to renewed religious or political relevance. As Mike Davis wrote in 2017, “The Great God Trump and the White Working Class,”

The millenarian aspects of the Trump campaign — the magical nativism and promise of a world restored — have received surprisingly little comment although together with his erratic ravings they were perhaps its most striking features.

            As I’ve elsewhere suggested, the QAnon crowd represents just such a delusional modern-day cargo cult, believing that the end-time is near, that an apocalyptic moment is at hand; and under appropriate leadership, this is what precipitated the attack on the US Capitol — an event whose teleological intention was clear, the ushering in of a new age with Donald J. Trump as their “cargo prophet.”  

            The quasi-nativistic and presumed spiritual nature of this modern cargo-cult ‘Q’ raises significant questions regarding the proto-religious basis of this political movement along with  its associated practices and beliefs. And this unfortunately brings us directly to the issue of the shaman of QAnon. But to grasp this variant correctly, let’s first briefly consider shamanism in its more pristine form among both archaic and other, traditional cultures.

            Shamans are typically and principally found among hunter-gatherer, pastoral, or simple agricultural societies around the world. As well, their societal roles are generally held to be continuous with older forms of magico-religious practice dating back perhaps even as early as the late Paleolithic. Since the beginning of the 20th century, ethnologists and anthropologists have used the terms shaman, medicine-man, sorcerer, witch-doctor, and magician somewhat interchangeably to denote individuals possessing special mysterious healing and sacred powers found in nearly all of these more traditional societies. Furthermore, the same term has been nominally applied in describing similar ‘religious’ phenomena among civilized peoples as well. In this respect we find, for example, discussions of Indian, Iranian, German, Chinese, even Babylonian shamanism. In the USA today, shamanism itself has apparently become the new age, avant-garde spiritual pursuit, replacing Buddhism as the hot religious phenomenon in the 21st century west.

            As we can well imagine, shamanism is of course a rather tricky term to pin down because it has been used in so very many different contexts. And such conceptual complexity can often serve to confuse our understanding of the authentic phenomenon. But at its core, we can safely say that shamanism refers to a magico-religious or proto-religious phenomenon found originally in Neolithic societies and other indigenous cultures.  And while there have certainly been cases of shamans leading groups into battle — for example along the Yenisey River in Siberia, or among the Buryat tribes resisting Russian colonization in the 17th and 18th century — traditionally, the shaman’s role is that of healer (or medicine man), maintaining the health of the collective; as well as psychopomp — conducting the souls of the departed safely into the afterlife. 

            Of course, numerous traditional and indigenous peoples have pushed back against the modern bastardization of their sacred traditions. As early as 1993 during an international summit of US and Canadian Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples, about 500 representatives from 40 different indigenous tribes and bands unanimously passed a declaration against the exploitation of their spiritual traditions.  As one of the resolutions from the declaration plainly states…

We assert a posture of zero-tolerance for any “white man’s shaman” who rises from within our own communities to “authorize” the expropriation of our ceremonial ways by non-Indians, all such “plastic medicine men” are enemies of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota people.

            While in traditional indigenous societies, the shaman functions as healer, prophet, and custodian of sacred traditions, working to insure the maintenance of cultural harmony and the continuity of society; apparently Q didn’t get the message or quite understand; and they were determined to do quite the opposite, seeking to overturn the social order, destroy our cultural and political integrity. 

            So when this middle-class Caucasian Navy veteran Jacob Anthony Chansley, aka, Jake Angeli ~ self-proclaimed and self-initiated QAnon shaman ~ rose up to lead a violent gang of insurrectionists into the U.S.Capitol wearing his fur ladened headdress, he was neither a ‘metaphysical warrior’ nor the ‘compassionate healer’ as he had recently claimed to be on  his Facebook page. As a self-described “con-spiritualist” (something at the intersection of conspiracy theorist and New Age mystic), he was convinced that a second Trump term would bring about a new world order, perhaps like the Ascension of Christ or a new Great Awakening. And this self-styled shaman was himself prepared (in theory) to capture and assassinate elected government officials in order to realize that end. Indeed, many QAnon followers held tight to their belief that a battle would ensue between the forces of good and the powers of darkness. According to this line of thinking…

 [A] biblical rapture of sorts or “storm” would rain down on the country during the inauguration at noon on Wednesday — when forces amassed by Trump would appear to arrest Biden and other Democrats on live TV while Trump would be sworn in for a second term. (Samson Amore, January 20, 2021 The Wrap)

            And so, the dumb-and-dumber middle-class white girls and boys, emboldened by their unlikely neofascist bedfellows — the Proud and the Boogaloo —  became the unwitting foot-soldiers of our very own incarnation of Mephistopheles, Donald Trump.  Then obediently, like a strained and distorted rendition of Moses in the wilderness, the Q-shaman played his part as the unwitting fool, marching the insurrectionists over and into the Capitol.  There they would seek-out enemies of the ‘once and would-be future king’ in a feeble attempt to destroy the adversaries thereby assuring the resurrection of the anointed one. But, as we can all see clearly now, the delusion was just that, and the anticipated rapture never quite materialized despite the efforts of a misanthropic messianic apocalyptic cult to bring it all crumbling down. But that leaves us with the challenge of what on earth to do with the remainder of the Q crowd, not to mention the tattered collection of millenarianists and insurrectionists, together with the armed marauders accompanying and fortifying them.  Perhaps this is the end my friends!

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After ten-years in academia, and with a doctorate in religious studies from University of Virginia, Sandy Krolick spent the next twenty years in executive ranks at several of America’s largest international firms, including Ernst & Young, General Electric, and Computer Sciences Corporation.

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Distraction, Deflection, Diremption

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The TRUMP strategy is really not so very hard to grasp. It does not require any special deciphering; it just demands head-on confrontation.

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A BRAVE ‘NOVEL’ WORLD

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Notwithstanding all the apparent benefits of globalization, and the civilization that spawned it, we have also laid the the foundation and created the conditions for the real possibility of our own demise, as one crippling, novel virus leads inexorably to the next… and so on…

Despite current circumstances, we seem to turn a blind eye to the real conditions on the ground. By this, I mean not simply the emergence of a new, and as yet not well understood, virus threatening the global population. The real challenge is how the trajectory of our culture, our civilization, with its characteristic drive towards universality (globalism), has brought us to the edge of this dangerous precipice.

Specifically, we in the West have promulgated and fostered an agenda of global connectivity and commercial dominance, giving and, in some measure, taking from older, more exotic lifeways. We have uprooted populations, intentionally or not, thereby upsetting critical balances within diverse and radically different societies. The resultant expression of discomfort and disease is a direct consequence of such global-crossings.

I’m not against the removal of international boundaries or engaging in cross-cultural exchange. After all, I’ve done my share of travel as well as lived abroad on several occasions, for ten years in Russian Siberia alone. But such free-flowing interdependent connectivity comes at a cost. And in some instances those costs can be rather steep, medically, psychologically, existentially. Quite simply, they can become matters of life and death. The effects of these global interstices, are what lead, ineluctably, to emergent crises like the pandemic currently infecting our diverse international populations. But as well, the lack of more localized community or village relations, is another area of impact, a major cause of distress. And the threat that such a crisis now poses is never going to vanish, not completely. We have crossed a threshold whose violation cannot be reversed, neither in terms of physical or social issues.

When collectively we left the tribe and the clan, for small villages and towns, it would not be too long before we would cast our lot with city walls and, finally, international conquest and integration. And it was here, in these moves and with that huge stretch, where we slammed up against the limits of growth, and the unfavorable realities of dis-integration on a very personal level. Our current dilemma cannot find resolution simply through social distancing. We are, by nature, social creatures. This is existentially incompatible with who we are. So what can we do? Well, we can begin by restructuring the way we live, the demographics, the density, the very instability of the old structures. They are fragile and ultimately incompatible with life in this brave new world.

Sandy Krolick

KulturCritic

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Myth, Mystery, and Magic: Religious Imagination in Ancient Egypt

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