The Fake Esoteric

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It all started with anger. Anger about an industry whose goal is to ruthlessly exploit people in a life crisis. No less than two friends of the Austrian photographer Klaus Pichler fell for esoteric charlatans, which motivated him to slip into the role of a fanatic esoteric and infiltrate the New Age scene for two years. He captured this self-experiment in the book This Will Change Your Life Forever, published in 2017. In his quest for the irrational he came across homoeopathic globuli for unconditional love, harmonizing cat litter, and an energy button that makes traumatic experiences simply disappear.

“You have the nose of a philosopher!”

When you visit an esoteric fair you’ll find sincere gurus, who are convinced of their presented goods, but above all there’s shrewd salesman types, who know exactly how to squeeze money out of naïve people. The business around filling the inner void with the consumption of esoteric products mainly relies on one rhetorical strategy – affirmation. The photographer Klaus Pichler could observe this firsthand at one of the many eso fairs he visited in the course of his research. 

One of the saleswomen jumped out of her booth and said to his companion that she had the nose of a philosopher and was the most special of all visitors at the event. “Imagine you are in a crisis situation and someone tells you how special you are. Esotericism is based on the technique of affirmation. This flood of compliments and love gags people,” says Pichler in our interview. This bonding through displays of affection ends up making people feel obliged to give something back, which in esoteric world always means money.

“Esotericism is an egoistic machinery.”

For his book This Will Change Your Life Forever Klaus Pichler worked on a series of eso photos in which the models and himself are multiplied to illustrate the egoistic machinery of esotericism. “Find yourself,” “Reach the next level,” “Salvation of your soul” – in esotericism it is all about you and rarely about others. What began in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the New Age movement as a retreat to a space where there is only love and no war has become a pure marketing scam over the last 20 years, which has nothing to do with spirituality anymore. 

Even the “ lassic sect”, where people sign over their entire property and give up their old life, has become “a bit old-fashioned” in the meanwhile, remarks Pichler. In contrast, nowadays you have to function economically, above all, in order to purchase as many esoteric products as possible and keep the industry alive. In an ever more complex world, which many people find overwhelming, esotericism offers simple answers

“We find ourselves confronted with a new irrationality – facts are no longer modern, straightforward knowledge is replaced by belief. I find this extremely dangerous.” The fact that there are many people from the esoteric scene among the Corona deniers confirms his concern, which he had harboured for a long time in advance.
Following studies in landscape architecture, Klaus Pichler has been a freelance photographer since 2005. Camera Austria, British Journal of Photography, Süddeutsche Zeitung, DIE ZEIT belong to the list of magazines that have published Pichler’s work. Besides his photo book This Will Change Your Life Forever (2017) Pichler has published five other books, among them Golden Days before they end (2016) and Dust (2015).