Coronavirus

​Swedish Tantra Festival Becomes Touchpoint For Organic Anti-Vaxxers

"Conspirituality" is what some are calling the movement of those spirituality seekers and organic food devotees who don't trust the vaccine. It's highlighted in the fallout from a summer peace-and-love festival of Tantra followers that became a COVID cluster.

Photo of people dressed in white standing in a circle with arms interlocked

Tantra-conscious camping in Sweden

Angsbacka via Instagram
Carl Karlsson

In rural Sweden, what was supposed to be six days of summer love turned into a COVID-19 superspreader event as more than 100 people became infected during a tantra festival. At the time, the June gathering in the town of Ängsbacka for enthusiasts of the peace-and-love eastern rites created a minor (and brief) storm in Sweden, and beyond.

But even though they have mostly faded from view (and recovered from COVID), the attendees are now being mocked as everything from filthy hippies to sex-obsessed anti-vaxxers, according to a recent interview with event organizer Lin Holmquist in Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter.

Conspirituality: When new age ideas blend with conspiracy theories


"This whole event has triggered people's desire to judge others," Holmqvist said. "Of course many people think this is great — tantric getting infected with Covid."

In late June, some 500 people from around the world descended on Ängsbacka in the central Värmland region. After the first infection was discovered on the third day of the event, the number of guests testing positive eventually reached 107 — with the majority of those being unvaccinated or having just received their first jab.

The outbreak caused such a spike in regional COVID-19 rates that neighboring Norway announced it would once again classify Värmland as a "red region" and tighten travel restrictions along the border.

Holmquist said in the Oct. 2 interview that the majority of people attending her events are, in fact, vaccinated. Nonetheless, she understands why the public might draw such conclusions. As The Australian daily reported, the blend of new-age philosophy and conspiracy theory has grown at an extraordinary rate since the beginning of the pandemic — an unlikely collision of realms increasingly referred to as "conspirituality."

photo of two women touching each other's heart

Tantra conscious Camping in Sweden

Angsbacka via Instagram

QAnon on wellness forums 

Indeed, in countries around the world, both misinformation and general anti-vaccine messages are spread by social media influencers who focus on natural remedies, holistic health and new-age spirituality.

In the US, where the term "misinformation" typically conjures up images of right-wing online chat rooms, reports of various forums of wellness influencers spreading conspiracy theories like QAnon have multiplied throughout the year.

New-age spiritually was a response to the challenge science posed to Christianity.

This pandemic-fueled turn from alternative religion and medicine to alternative facts is in a sense counterintuitive, especially as new-age spiritually emerged in the 19th century as a response to the challenge science posed to Christianity.

Without making any direct comparison to the current phenomenon, some have noted that overlaps between new-age ideas and far-right ideology predates the pandemic: Adolf Hitler, Rudolf Hess, Heinrich Himmler and many other prominent members of the Nazi Party embraced organic farming, vegetarian diets, forest conservation, as well as natural healing — many of them also tended to be anti-vaxxers. Other musings included paganism, Indo-Aryan mythology and astrology (Himmler even hired a team of astrologers to locate the missing Italian dictator Benito Mussolini after his arrest in 1943).


Still, the broader proliferation of "conspirituality" remains a recent phenomenon. One yoga instructor and social media influencer said in a recent interview with CBS News that conspiracy theories flourish because certain followers of yoga and wellness communities were "already inclined to question and diverge from mainstream authorities on health and science."

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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