Once regarded as the purview of ageing hippies, a new form of spirituality is being eagerly adopted by a generation looking to find meaning in their lives.
“The general theme of your life during this period is to contemplate the vastness of the universe and reconsider what role you want to play in it.” This is a notification I was sent from Co-Star, an astrology app beloved by millennials, which raised $5.2 million in funding earlier this year. Co-Star is just one example in a litany of products, services, and events targeted at a new shift in consumerism. Astrology apps, crystals, and gong baths are, amongst others, the hallmarks of this moment in popular culture: religion may be on the wane in the West, but spirituality is a multi-billion Euro industry.
Spirituality and mysticism have been gradually attaching themselves to the world’s wellness industry over the past number of years. The idea that your health is about more than your physical wellbeing has seen the mindfulness app Headspace be downloaded more than 16 million times. The Global Wellness Institute – a not-for-profit organisation that unpacks where we are at with health, wealth and self – valued the global wellness economy at $4.5 trillion in 2018. The industry grew by 6.4 percent annually from 2015–2017, nearly twice as fast as global economic growth.
Far from being the purview of mystics and kooks, this new spirituality is a staple of pop culture. The likes of Kim Kardashian, Katy Perry, and Adele all carry crystals. Gwyneth Paltrow’s infamous website Goop includes a wellness section with articles exploring everything from psychedelics to dreamwork and the meaning of Mercury in retrograde.
It is important to remind ourselves that none of these practices are new. Quite the opposite – many of them predate organised religion. However, their resurgence in the lives of millennials tells us a lot about the times we are living in. Personal and collective anxieties have festered in unpredictable political climates and a society pervaded by technology. It is no surprise that people are looking for some mystic reassurance. Yet, what was once the domain of priests, altars and prayer books, is finding expression in positive affirmations, moon circles and burning palo santo.
The Catholic Church for all its ills, provided a sense of community, guidance, purpose and meaning for previous generations. Mass attendance may be plummeting in Ireland, but that does not mean those needs have evaporated. New spirituality offers people the chance to reflect and connect on their terms. Rather than the dogma that shaped much of our relationship to religion, new spirituality invites people to take what they need from it, leaving the shame and self-loathing at the door.
Add into the mix that these practices translate well to social media – words of affirmation or a horoscope update are highly digestible and shareable – and new spirituality’s rise feels obvious. In difficult times, we’re looking to ancient practices and updating them to suit our needs and reflect our situation: welcome to a new phase in the Irish mindset.
Founder of The Trailblazery and Moon Medicine
“We all need space to drop into our own empowerment, whatever way that looks like.”
How do we begin to process the pains of the past? Thanks to Repeal and Marriage Equality we have slowly started healing the injustices that Irish society perpetrated on its people through religious orthodoxy and sheer poverty, but these past injustices leave their imprint on a collective psyche.
Kathy Scott wants, among other things, to provide a space for women to process their trauma. “I saw there was an upsurge from Me Too to Repeal where women had really put their lives and stories on the line and there needed to be a space to come back, and be minded, and lean into our greatness,” she explains over the phone. “We all need space to drop into our own empowerment, whatever that looks like.”
Kathy is a stalwart of the culture world. Working in strategy and communications, Kathy lists the Galway Arts Festival, the ireland : iceland project, and Wonderlust – a bespoke cultural stage at Body&Soul Festival – amongst a myriad of events, activations, and experiences she has created. One of Kathy’s most recent endeavours is Moon Medicine, a mystery gathering for wild women. It’s an element of The Trailblazery, a platform created by Kathy to tackle questions of national identity, creative development and mentoring.
At every Full Moon a hundred plus women gather at a location in Dublin. Here they listen to guest luminaries – from psychotherapists, to medical anthropologists and wisdom holders – they practice yoga and engage in ritual. They make intentions and listen to live music. In Kathy’s words, it is “good craic.”
Yet within the confines of that space, and within the timeframe of those few hours, serious topics are explored: sensuality, trauma, community, and womanhood, to name but a few. As we grapple with the pains of the past, Kathy’s work holds space for women in Ireland to connect and process; it brings them together to reflect, look inward and empower each other.
“There is a piece of collective trauma that was frozen over. In the individual psychotherapeutic map we’d say parts of it are frozen,” explains Kathy. “So, on a collective level parts of our collective identity are frozen and when something like [the Tuam Mother & Baby Home] comes out into the open it takes a community to heal it.”
From personalised horoscopes to mindfulness apps, much of the products born from this upsurge in spirituality circle around the individual. ‘Self-improvement’, ‘self-actualisation’, ‘self-healing’ are centrepoints of new spirituality’s lexicon. Moon Medicine feels refreshing in that community is at its core. For Kathy, trauma exists not only in individuals but also in the collective system, and therefore needs that collective to overcome it. Not only is Moon Medicine a time to process trauma and reflect, it is an opportunity to form bonds and collaborate with other women. Moon Medicine is social as much as spiritual.
Kathy hopes her work provides people with the tools and resources to let their wild woman free. Oftentimes, providing a space and template to explore that wildness is all they need. “People are looking for maps: what’s going to help me navigate my way through this life? Because the old system is falling apart,” she says. For all the talk of cosmic cycles and spiritual awareness, the connections drawn by women coming together may prove the most powerful map of them all.
Co-Founder of InwardBound
“We’re creating a safe container for people to access the wisdom of their own inner healer.”
It was while working with ayahuasca – an intensely hallucinogenic potion made from boiling woody Banisteriopsis caapi vines with chacruna bush leaves – that Rob Coffey received a message: it was time to utilise Ireland’s native medicine in his practice. “Psilocybin which grows in the land and is an ancestral medicine of Ireland was used by Celtic and pre-Celtic cultures,” he explains as we chat on the phone. “It was a journey of healing, a journey of coming back to my true self.”
A journey of healing and a return to the true self are the intended outcomes of InwardBound, Ireland’s first psychedelic retreat business, founded by Rob, Dr. Darragh Stewart and David McNamara. The programme is a five-day retreat in the Netherlands, where psilocybin-containing truffles are legal, that claims to offer healing for psycho-emotional illnesses that modern healthcare systems are not always able to address.
Before the retreat those looking to attend are screened for suitability and carefully prepared for the experience should they be accepted. Under the supervision of its founders and extra facilitators, attendees are provided with psychedelics in order to allow them to journey deep into their own psyche. “We’re creating a safe container for people to access the wisdom of their own inner healer,” says Rob.
The efficacy of psychedelics in treating psychological disorders has been gaining traction. InwardBound is symptomatic of a growing body of knowledge that links psilocybin to the safe treatment of a range of issues such as depression and addiction. “For those who are skeptical, the science is there,” explains Rob. “We don’t impose any belief systems on anyone. In InwardBound we fuse spirituality and science because we’ve realised at the end of the day they’re the one path.”
If taking mushrooms in a ‘container’ sounds a little reckless or intense, Rob is quick to stress their role as guides. These are strong substances and should be taken under supervision. Rob and the team do not promote the consumption of psychedelics, or supply psychoactive substances: instead, InwardBound’s focus is on offering a retreat service for people who have decided they want to partake in a psychedelic experience.
InwardBound is paving the way in Ireland for plant based medicine and spirituality. Rather than seeing themselves as tripped out hippies, Rob and his team are practitioners doing their part to raise consciousness and enable people to connect with who they truly are. For Rob, this change is urgent. With the climate crisis at a tipping point, spirituality isn’t just a means of self reflection, it is a tool for collective action.
“There’s many ways of expanding your consciousness, from vision quests, to walking in nature, to yoga and meditation, but personally I found that plant medicines offer the quickest way to help people change their consciousness,” says Rob. “At this time in the planet it’s necessary to help as many people as quickly as possible, because there’s a crisis occurring. InwardBound is there to allow people experience what I’ve experienced; to expand their consciousness and connect to their true selves.”
“It’s not necessarily that the planets make anything happen to us, but it’s that we’re interconnected. It’s a mirror.”
Katrina Brady facilitates New and Full Moon Circles, and works with clients one-to-one through the mediums of astrology, healing, and tarot. Katrina’s work is to help people tune into themselves and their own cyclical nature, what Katrina refers to as co-creative responsibility. “This is premised on the idea that the more we understand ourselves, the more we can make fulfilling choices,” she explains in an email following our meeting. “Astrology helps one develop their psycho-spiritual awareness and gives perspective as to what we are moving through and how we can make the most of the energy available to us as reflected through cosmic cycles.”
Astrologers and tarot card readers can suffer from a certain amount of prejudice. You would be forgiven for thinking astrology was a set of generic sentences assigned to a birth date at the back of tabloid newspapers or women’s magazines. The image of a mystic rubbing a crystal ball, reading tarot cards and wearing outlandish costumes is popularised and perpetuated by figures like the astrologer Mystic Meg. A lot of what’s out there lends a superficial layer to something that is quite complex. “Horoscope astrology is made for consumption in a way, it’s created for entertainment,” says Katrina. “It doesn’t even scratch the surface on what astrology is.”
For Katrina, astrology is a means to achieve deep personal and spiritual growth. “Astrology is a tool for self development, spiritual development,” she explains. “It’s not necessarily that the planets make anything happen to us, but it’s that we’re interconnected. It’s a mirror.”
Katrina had started having supernatural experiences when she was young. While she was in India as part of her degree in visual anthropology these experiences started happening more intensely. While working with an Indian astrologer, she began to speak about these experiences openly for the first time. The astrologers and healers reassured her that what she was experiencing was a source of power and a sign that Katrina had a calling: “I realised if I went down that route I was going to be able to understand what my experiences were, and maybe help other people with it as well.”
Old habits die hard and much of our perception of, and approach to, spirituality has been learned over decades. Katrina sees how some of our fear-laden sensibilities when it came to organised religion are playing out in new spirituality.
“With the Mercury retrogrades, there’s a lot of talk about how bad things will happen to you. Underlying that is this fear-based ideology that comes from people’s religious upbringing. It’s as if something spiritual has power over your circumstances and is making bad things happen to you, whether that be a religious deity or whether that be a planetary deity.”
Katrina’s work is attempting to undo those learned mindsets and transform how we consider our relationship to the planets in a bid to live fuller lives. For Katrina and her clients, astrology is not a set of generic statements or a crystal ball, it’s a way of life.
Theologian, Kinesiologist, Life coach
“It’s the difference between feeling creative and sensual and sexual, or feeling locked.”
“There’s few things that we’re all stuck on and we’re all blocked on in varying degrees. There’s love, money, careers, family, health. So they all mingle in,” says Judith McAdam as we chat in her studio in Rathfarnham, occupied with crystals, soft furnishings and a table for Reiki. Judith is a theologian, kinesiologist, life coach, course facilitator, inspirational speaker, and the author of ‘The Source’, a book which shares Judith’s seven principles “for creating your own reality and living out your life’s purpose.” (An audio version of ‘The Source’ just came out this month.)
Much of Judith’s teachings are based on her lived experience. Following a divorce, Judith completely restructured her life and her goals after what she suggests were years of ignoring her own intuition. “I was living according to somebody else’s dream,” she says, discussing her marriage. “I wasn’t living according to my own and that really doesn’t work. It wasn’t anybody else’s fault and it wasn’t even my fault per se. There’s no blame. It’s just that when you realize it, then you have to change it.”
Judith has been practicing for over ten years, yet her spiritual awakening started from when she was young. In her twenties she spent time with an ex-nun who taught her Reiki, an anomaly in 1980s’ Ireland. Since then, things have changed. A new openness to spirituality has seen Judith’s career flourish.
Judith’s work is life coaching of sorts, intertwined with new spirituality. In her sessions you identify what thoughts and behaviours you hold due to societal conditioning and then you start to change the direction of these thoughts and allow yourself to think freely. A lot of this is achieved through reflection and discussion with Judith. She might also release some of your trapped energy through Reiki (she will also give you a blanket and make you a cup of herbal tea). It’s all very soothing and reflective but, according to Judith its potential is huge.
“It’s the difference between feeling creative and sensual and sexual, or feeling locked. Or it’s the difference between standing in your own power, or not standing in your own power and being.”
As a theologian, Judith is aware of the role of religion in new spiritual dialogues but is reluctant to damn religion for its failings. “This is all becoming more popular because we all thought that we had to be religious to have that energy,” she says. “And then when religion let us down in a small way, we still had that energy inside. It didn’t go away just because the religion went away.”
Tapping into your subconscious mind and the energy that you’re a part of sounds lofty, however in many ways that process involves simply sitting down, putting a blanket around yourself, drinking a cup of herbal tea and hearing someone say, “You sit in that chair and you just get it all off your chest.”
Words: Anna Burzlaff
Photos: Johnny McMillan