This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
In the days before the UK population began to WFH or get furloughed, there was only one thing on everyone’s minds: hand sanitiser. On a COVID-19 mission, I scoured the high street for the rare item. I ended up empty-handed in Planet Organic, in front of an enormous display of organic natural hand-sanitisers. A few spirituality-slash-wellness brands and small business owners followed suit that week, and soon spiritual Instagram accounts were sharing "how to make your own hand sanitiser" at-home videos and tips.
It's unsurprising that modern spirituality and wellness have risen to the challenge of coronavirus. Day-to-day life has been stripped back to basics; we've been left with a lack of control over our situation and a deafening silence. Spiritual practitioners of all kinds have stepped into that space. From reduced rate psychic readings to Instagram live meditations, the spiritual industry of self-made business owners and part-time influencers may come out of the pandemic doing well. Whether it’s female lifestyle brands like Free People and Daisy London or media organisations like Dazed Beauty, companies have enlisted practitioners to do Instagram lives and takeovers about various spiritual practices. Even Vogue recommended reiki, sound healing, breathwork, expensive essential oils and Ayurvedic medicine to stave off anxiety around coronavirus.
None of it has been flogged into a void. In February, people around the world began Googling "astrology coronavirus", making it a breakout trend and the most popular astrology-related search term between 22nd and 28th of March. Indeed, astrology held something in the way of “answers” to the pandemic: according to most popular astrologers, like the infamous Susan Miller and millennial favourite Jessica Lanyadoo, certain transits of planets appeared to point towards this global virus happening. They've even predicted when it will end (dying out during the summer and returning with a vengeance in November for the Christmas period, by the way).
Analysts have suggested that many of us have been drawn to buying cheap luxuries during lockdown. But this doesn't just mean fast fashion tracksuits and face masks: it can also look like plant medicines, aromatherapy oils and candles – even crystals, astrology and psychology books and tarot cards.
The ease with which spiritual businesses have managed to retain visibility online is clear. The vast majority of spiritual practitioners – reiki healers, past life regression facilitators, astrologers, to name a few – do much of their work online anyway. Although many do house visits or rent space at a wellness centre, this usually accounts for a portion of income. Workshops that were planned for April and beyond have moved online to Instagram lives or Zoom, and continue to be scheduled successfully. Tamara Driessen, a crystal healer and the author of The Crystal Code, tells me that her work has easily shifted from in-person to online, and that she’s impressed with how her community has responded to the pandemic.
“There’s such a big focus in the spirituality community on looking after yourself and other people so this comes naturally when there’s a crisis. It’s like ‘we’ve got the tools’,” Tamara says. “Healers are people who have gone through crises in their own lives and found these tools and have cultivated practices that make us feel more stable and connected and clear-headed.” During this period, she says she's pleased with the ways healers have wanted to reach out to people and share those tools in easy ways.
People are able to engage with spirituality in ways they otherwise wouldn't do because our lives look and feel so uniquely different at the moment. “A lot of people have been saying to me in DMs that this is all ‘stuff’ they’ve been interested in for a while but now they’ve got time and space and can buy the books, read them, and buy the crystals,” Tamara says. This lockdown has allowed people to “tune into” a different side of themselves as well, she adds.
I’ve been tuning in by watching bi-weekly live tarot readings on Polyester magazine's Instagram. It’s comforting to watch as an artist and tarot reader draws cards for individuals on the chat – the Tower, Ace of Wands, the Lovers – and everyone interacts with each other and the reader herself. I've seen people on there ask about their problems or share things they’ve learnt about themselves recently.
Ione Gamble, the founder of the magazine, is about to launch a series of IGTVs teaching Polyester followers the ins and outs of reading tarot, after a huge surge of interest. “Tarot definitely offers power to marginalised and femme communities in particular; it's comforting, helps bring people together and also helps us all open up a bit, I think,” she says. “So often proper supportive infrastructure doesn’t exist for these communities – and tarot is just a really nice way to offer a bit of comfort, hope and distraction.”
With many young people in lockdown for the purpose of protecting others from the virus, our focus has shifted to the our wider communities. As Ione argues, spirituality generally provides a sense of community, and much of this is now being given away for free online where it might have been otherwise paid for in real life. London-based "conscious lifestyle brand" and wellness centre, She’s Lost Control, for example, is running sessions under the hashtag #communityculture providing pay-what-you-can meditation, crystal healing, spells, emotional management and herb magic.
This might seem like a fairly niche topic to those not acquainted with crystals and tarot cards, but the desire for some sort of spiritual connection is growing for many people. The number of people searching for the word "prayer" on Google skyrocketed last month, doubling with every 80,000 new registered cases of coronavirus, according to a University of Copenhagen working paper. A new poll for Pew even found that 55 per cent of Americans have prayed for an end to the pandemic.
Once the immediate danger of the pandemic is over – a shifting period of time that first seemed like a month and now may be a year – there may be positive and personally beneficial elements of lockdown life that individuals will adopt long-term. People will argue for working from home hours; they might keep baking bread and cooking three home-cooked meals a day. They also might keep one out of ten of their quarantine hobbies – and one of those forever hobbies might be keeping a woo-woo wellness practice in their lives.
It might be a small thing you do now that doesn't feel "spiritual" per se: mindfulness while walking, praying at night for loved ones, writing gratitude lists or in a journal in the morning. Certainly, the worlds of wellness and spirituality – correctly criticised for many things, including its cost – will have gone much further to legitimise themselves.