Why do some New Age influencers believe that Trump is a “lightworker”? What do they mean by that? Nicole Karlis examined these questions for a report in Salon, published Thursday.
Karlis interviewed me for the piece, because many of the influencers I podcast about on the conspirituality beat adore the term “lightworker”. I told her that the first time I’d heard it was in the late 1990s, in the context of my membership at Endeavor Academy, a now-mostly-defunct cult in Wisconsin Dells. The charismatic leader was an ex-alcoholic WWII vet and real estate salesman who used A Course in Miracles — a 1300-page book supposedly channelled from a New Age Jesus—for his sermon material. While in the cult, I memorized large portions of the text, and made audio recordings of whole chapters for the propaganda department.
“Lightworker” does not appear in the tome, but “light” appears on almost every page. It features prominently in the training affirmations called “Lessons”, of which there are 365. Some examples:
Lesson 44: God is the light in which I see.
Lesson 61: I am the light of the world.
Lesson 62: Forgiveness is my function as the light of the world.
Lesson 69: My grievances hide the light of the world in me.
Lesson 73: I will there be light.
So yeah: the book is all about the “light”. Light is God’s promise. It’s your source of healing. It’s your duty and essential nature. You can hide it under a bushel, as old-timey Jesus says, but you will never put it out. New Age Jesus says that your destiny is to shine. At Endeavor Academy, we couldn’t avoid being lightworkers, and we referred to ourselves as such.
Anderson had been teaching for more than a decade by the time I arrived, and I assume the term had been in use the whole time. It was also popular in UFO-oriented spiritual groups, who invoke a more science-fiction type meaning, i.e., lightworkers travel here over light-years on the beams of collapsing stars. Whatever the origins of the term, there’s no question that A Course in Miracles, and the groups that taught it, gave “lightworker” the depth of quasi-scriptural authority.
Karlis also reached out to Marianne Williamson, noting she has also used the term “light-worker”. Williamson’s prominence as a New Age influencer stems from her 1996 book A Return to Love, which catapulted her onto Oprah and beyond. The book is her popularization of A Course in Miracles. Williamson currently teaches from its lessons every morning for devotees around the world.
Karlis asked her by email what she made of the Trump-as-lightworker idea.
“I think it’s insane,” Williamson wrote. “Like many others, I don’t understand it, but I find it deeply disturbing.”
I have no doubt that Williamson finds the idea disturbing. But if she doesn’t see the connection between the book she teaches from every morning and the New Age vulnerability to seeing Trump as a “lightworker”, perhaps she’s too close to the book for perspective.
“Trump is a Lightworker”: 2020 Background
In August, Lorie Ladd, who says she channels messages from aliens in “The Galactic Federation”, released a strange selfie sermon entitled “Is Trump a Lightworker”. The title is phrased as a question, but there is no question mark, because it’s not a question for Ladd. According to her, Trump is indeed a lightworker. The video has over 370K views, and close to 10K comments, most of which express deep relief that Ladd has been able to articulate this difficult, yet sublime, truth.
In addition to my quotes in Karlis’s piece, I’d add the following:
- Positioning Trump as a “lightworker” allows for Ladd to both sanitize and spiritualize the macabre QAnon fever-dream. Whereas Q prophesies that Trump will preside over a literal slaughter of Deep State operatives, Ladd can reframe the gore as the pink dawning of utopia.
- Ladd is engaging a peak form of “conspirituality”, by which influencers whipsaw her followers between traumatic visions of the world and her promises to guide them towards salvation.
- The “light” of “lightworker” is an embodied spiritual virtue that is both material and esoteric. Understanding that, contrary to appearances, Trump is really working for the benefit of humanity, requires sufficient light, which is gained through prayer. Once the insight is stable, the New Ager is ready to proselytize by radiating light outward. Ladd is doing this as a producer, but simply consuming Ladd’s content can be seen as a kind of radiating-outward, which will brighten the world.
- By identifying Trump as a “lightworker”, Ladd and her followers are able to take the moral high ground, and appear to avoid partisan hatred. They too are lightworkers, and so they can identify with him. Claiming Trump as one of their own allows them to feel as though they are transcending politics. But until Ladd releases a video about Biden being a lightworker, that transcendence will be one-sided.
- If Trump is a “lightworker”, the fears of Democrats, progressives, and anti-racists are unfounded and even delusional. Becoming fearless is crucial, because fear is at the root of all suffering. (This easily merges with COVID-denialism conspiracies that suggest fear of the virus is worse than the virus itself. Dr. Kelly Brogan’s breakout COVID-denialism sermon was called “A Message to Dispel Fear.”)
- It’s obviously absurd to utter “Trump is a lightworker”. But absurdity in New Age and other spiritual discourses is commonly used to provoke a cognitive crash that can be interpreted as an epiphany or breakthrough. If Trump is a lightworker, nothing is as it seems. We can think of this statement as breaking the dam on a flood of conspiratorial excitement. If Trump is a lightworker, anything is possible.
- According to New Age logic, “Trump is a lightworker” is both a truth-claim and a ritual utterance that will help people purify their world. Ladd must both believe it and declare it in order for it to be true. This is part of the ideology of “manifesting”, or “perception makes reality”. The result is that the goalposts are never fixed. If we see Trump as a two-bit narcissist and sexual assaulter, that’s who he shall be. But if we listen to Ladd, who in turn listens to the “Galactic Federation”, we’ll manifest our way into a new vision that reveals Trump’s true nature, which, like our own, is separable from the divine.
The focus on “light” allows New Age politicos to interpret all real-world events in terms of their own internal ecology. To them the world is a mirage that reflects the amount of inner light they are able to manifest and tolerate. This attitude allows them to be spiritual spectators and performers in a movie they either believe is destined to turn out well, if it’s not already accomplished.
Remember when Jacob Chansley, aka the Q-Shaman, entered the Senate floor on January 6th? The first thing he noticed was that a fellow stormer had been shot and was bleeding. “Look at this guy,” Chansley says, in a tone that’s ironic or dissociative. “He’s covered in blood. God bless you man.” And then he walks right by to mount the rostrum like it’s an altar. He’s not there in tactical gear and carrying flex cuffs. He’s there as a priest, tasked with sublimating the corrupt state with prayer and chanting. Chansley in that moment is a lightworker, blessing the space on Trump’s behalf.
Ladd’s declaration that Trump is a lightworker is absurd, but also predictable, given the landscape of New Age jargon and technique that dates back over decades.
Though self-help guru Byron Katie does not use lightworker lingo, she presents a cognition scrambling message that mirrors Ladd’s upside-down world in which Trump is to be welcomed, not feared. Katie‘s presentation — through her brand “The Work” — is more educated and nuanced front than Ladd’s, performed in charismatic encounter events disguised as cognitive behavioural therapy. Here’s a 2017 exchange in which Katie suggests that the volunteer is deluded about being afraid of the Trump presidency.
Previously, I’ve argued that the cognitive scrambling on display here is a form of emotional bullying. Leaving that to the side, the outcome of the encounter aligns with Ladd’s declaration: Trump is not to be feared. In fact, he is to be welcomed as a kind of spiritual disruptor who helps to expose your fears so that you can transcend them. If you flip your thoughts about who Trump is, you and the world at large will glow with grace. But if you are afraid of him, you are only harming yourself, and this will infect the world around you.
Seeing the light in Trump allows you to see the light in yourself. And if the New Age has taught you anything, it’s that it’s all about you.
A Course in Miracles: A Primer
In 1965, New York clinical psychologist Helen Schucman heard a voice in her head that she believed came from Jesus, so she started taking dictation. She felt possessed by the authoritarian and patronizing tone. She wrote in shorthand, in notebooks that have never been released.
A colleague, William Thetford, both egged her on and did the initial typing from Schucman’s dictation. Strange side-note about Thetford: he was a research psychologist who worked on a part of MKULTRA, leading some folks to speculate that A Course in Miracles is actually a mind-control plot.
Schucman and Thetford didn’t stop working on the text until about 1972. The original typescript is a fascinating hodgepodge of personal diary, psychological shoptalk between Helen, Bill, and Helen’s inner Jesus, extended sections (some puritanical, some Freudian) on the meaninglessness of sex and the “greater error” of homosexuality, commentary on the pros and cons of Jung, Otto Rank and others, along with notes on a grab-bag of spiritualist keywords. Various drafts, titled by Jesus himself through his initial dictation (“This is a Course in Miracles. Please take notes”) were circulated amongst Helen and Bill’s associates via photocopy.
Helen proceeded to edit it several times with Thetford and another psychiatrist named Kenneth Wapnick — who ended up adminning the copyright for a while . The first formal publication came in 1976, and by the mid-80s it was a New Age hit. There are over 2.5 million hard copies in print. Williamson was an early adopter. She says she has meditated on one of the 365 daily lessons of A Course in Miracles on every day since 1977.
So: what does this book that Williamson has been meditating on, and endorsing for her followers, say?
Daily lessons 7–14 of A Course in Miracles give a good sense of the cognitive scrambling method of the text, by which the devotee comes to believe that nothing is as it seems. This is the precondition that Lori Ladd and Byron Katie are working with: basic human perception — including political positions— are delusional.
- I see only the past.
- My mind is preoccupied with past thoughts.
- I see nothing as it is now.
- My thoughts do not mean anything.
- My meaningless thoughts are showing me a meaningless world.
- I am upset because I see a meaningless world.
- A meaningless world engenders fear.
- God did not create a meaningless world.
After an extensive cognitive-scrambling section, there are dozens of lessons that function to reprogram the devotee’s thought processes, such as 189–199:
- I choose the joy of God instead of pain.
- I am the holy Son of God Himself.
- I have a function God would have me fill.
- All things are lessons God would have me learn.
- I place the future in the Hands of God.
- Love is the way I walk in gratitude.
- It can be but myself I crucify.
- It can be but my gratitude I earn.
- Only my condemnation injures me.
- I am not a body. I am free.
Outside of the lessons, there are 31 chapters filled with mind-numbingly boring jargon. Based on having been immersed in this book for three high-intensity years, having memorized long sections of it and poured my heart and soul into trying to understand it and live up to it — I’ll paraphrase the general lived meaning of it here, in seven points.
- God is perfectly everything and everywhere, and nothing else is real. If you don’t feel lovingly at one with all things at all times, it’s the fault of your own disturbed mind, which mistakenly has decided it is not part of God. Everything is always-already perfect.
- You’re sleepwalking through your life, having a nightmare about unreal, non-God-type events like racism, war, getting sick and dying.
- Your body doesn’t really exist, and while you think it does under the spell of your insane ego, you’re pathetically denying your union with God, who doesn’t even recognize your body, because He didn’t make it. God doesn’t make or recognize imperfect, corruptible, vulnerable things.
- You’re even more of a denier of God if you feel pain, if you believe you are sick, or if you believe you are constrained by racism or poverty. God did not create pain, racism or poverty. These are perceptions that come from your failure to recognize the oneness of God.
- You are responsible for the murder and war you perceive in the world —and now a pandemic. These are manifestations of your victimized grievances and perverse desires for vengeance against a God you were never not in union with.
- Any enemy you think you have is a projected vision of your own self-hatred, and your own denial of their brotherhood in God. Your so-called enemy is your most precious teacher, for they will show you the necessity of absolute and total forgiveness. You would make them the devil, but they are really here to save you. (Emphasized to return to in a moment.)
- You can instantly transform the world by surrendering your heart to the Holy Spirit. In the magical moment you do this, you are accepting and co-creating the miraculous truth that you’re not in this world, you’ve never been born, time doesn’t exist, you can’t get sick, no one really dies, and none of this is really happening.
Just to review: this is the book that Marianne Williamson not only endorses, but preaches from every morning to a group of paying online subscribers. She might have ways of making these points seem less bizarre, less dissociative, and more applicable to everyday life. But there’s no doubt that much of the book stands in direct opposition not only to a progressive view of the world, but to the relevance of politics at all.
Nothing about A Course in Miracles lines up with the pro-social and inclusive messaging that forms the political half of Williamson’s public persona. She has been an outspoken proponent for slavery reparations, for example. But A Course in Miracles would explicitly reject this stance as being motivated by victimhood mentality and grievance, and a delusional attachment to a history that doesn’t really exist. (Time doesn’t exist in this book, FYI.)
Williamson can’t help but to present a schizotypal message as priestess of the New Age on one hand, progressive reformer on the other. Somehow her personae remain connected, as she can teach from A Course in Miracles in the morning, and then interview Ro Khanna or Dr. Cornel West in the afternoon.
Understanding how Williamson squares her New Age circle with progressive politics would require a doctoral thesis. Is A Course in Miracles a reality principle for her and her followers, by which they link meditative insight with political altruism and enlightened goals? Or is it a therapeutic resource that allows for restful meditation on eternal principles before heading back out to the battlefield? Does A Course in Miracles help or hinder Williamson’s political clarity and influence? Can it be as motivating as the faith of Civil Rights leaders, or will it continue to pacify and paralyze white liberals within fantasies of world peace? It’s unclear.
“I thought that Trump was a predatory narcissist. I thought he was my enemy. But now I see he is the opposite, and that by hating him and fearing him I was creating enmity in the world.”
In my view, part of what Ladd is trying to do with her absurd statement is to provoke a crisis hinged on transgression and transcendence. I believe she’s aware that her audience is predominantly female, white, and tilting liberal. What she is able to do with her absurd claim, delivered in earnest deadpan, is to say to that demographic:
The stress you feel over escalating political conflict is an illusion. What’s really happening is that apparent conflict is heightening your awareness that a new way of seeing things must emerge. Surrender to it.
For Ladd’s audience, nothing could symbolize a new way of seeing things more dramatically than surrendering into the epiphany that a narcissistic super-capitalist sex assaulter is really a “lightworker”. Nothing would present a more robust challenge to their sense of who the real enemy is—or their sense of conventional reality. “Trump is a lightworker” is not a standalone claim. A more complete rendition would be: “I thought that Trump was a predatory narcissist. I thought he was my enemy. But now I see he is the opposite, and that by hating him and fearing him I was creating enmity in the world.”
If Ladd’s followers had been anywhere near A Course in Miracles —including osmotically, via the countless New Age movements that use the text—they would have been primed for this flip.
In the following excerpt, A Course in Miracles instructs the devotee to believe that any external enemy is a projected version of oneself. To maintain a vision of Trump as an enemy, therefore, you must be hating on part of yourself. This is an error, for if your true nature is God-like, Trump’s must be also. If you can see this truth, you will dispel fear. As A Course in Miracles Lesson 332 says: “Fear binds the world. Forgiveness sets it free.”
Reviewing my paraphrase #6 from above:
Any enemy you think you have is a projected vision of your own self-hatred, and your own denial of their brotherhood in God. Your so-called enemy is your most precious teacher, for they will show you the necessity of absolute and total forgiveness. You would make them the devil, but they are here to save you.
This sentiment is laced throughout the book. Searching the text for “enemy”, we find dozens of pertinent passages. Here’s one:
W-pI.196.10. There is an instant in which terror seems to grip your mind so wholly that escape appears quite hopeless. 2 When you realize, once and for all, that it is you you fear, the mind perceives itself as split. 3 And this had been concealed while you believed attack could be directed outward, and returned from outside to within. 4 It seemed to be an enemy outside you had to fear. 5 And thus a god outside yourself became your mortal enemy; the source of fear.
In her public-facing work, Williamson’s “Politics of Love” has wide appeal. But is it too wide? Does her relentless focus on peace and unity encourage political clarity? With A Course in Miracles next to the La Croix in the green room behind the debate stage, it’s not hard to see that the New Age proverbs with which Williamson attempts to shake up global politics are also at the root of a delusional political disruption that finds its peak in QAnon.
It’s little wonder, that when Williamson bravely spoke out against QAnon in November, she faced backlash from followers, incensed at her selling out to the conventional narrative of political division. They accused her of “darkness”, “confusion”, and “pointing fingers”.
“So much for love and light, hey Marianne?” sneared one of 4K commenters on the post. “Tolerance? Compassion? Heart-centeredness? You’ve gotten sucked into a very dark place, Marianne — that’s what’s disheartening.”
The betrayed commenter has a point, if she’s referring to A Course in Miracles.
“Every aspect is whole, and therefore no aspect is separate,” says the book. “Perception can reach everywhere under His guidance, for the vision of Christ beholds everything in light.”
Shouldn’t this light include Trump? Shouldn’t it include QAnon? Some of Williamson’s followers will be puzzling this out for some time. Not because she doesn’t speak clearly to the issue, but because the book that gave her fame does not. For all of its obsession with light, that book now casts a long, confusing shadow.