Arts Culture Pop Culture

Praying for Aesthetic

“Something vaguely religious, vaguely insane and inevitably the result of a victim of serotonin syndrome. These accounts are often diaphanous and purposely indecipherable by nature.”

This article originally appeared on pages 128-129 of the Spring 2023 issue of Coulture Magazine.

Your altar is wherever you kneel. What does it mean to pray for aesthetics?

Let’s set the scene. You open Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Your perfectly tailored algorithm feeds you just the right posts to keep you always hungry-but never full-on digital content. You open the “explore” page and see an image that sticks in just the right grooves of your digitally massaged brain. It’s a cryptic, pale-toned image of a soft bed in a dilapidated, vaguely eastern European building with a crucifix hanging over it. The caption? Something vaguely religious, vaguely insane and inevitably the result of a victim of serotonin syndrome. These accounts are often diaphanous and purposely indecipherable by nature. The captions seem to spin some narrative, the truth of which is impossible to discern. The posts string together a cohesive aesthetic of ashed cigarettes in a pearl bowl, a rosary necklace, washed-out pale color palettes, grainy images of “Jesus Saves” billboards, lips brushed with Dior lipstick, Burberry miniskirts, Saint Laurent tights (inevitably worn by Lily Rose Depp) and Miu Miu tops. Key music includes Lana del Rey, Ethel Cain, Emma Ruth Rundle and Gregorian chants. Girl Interrupted, Black Swan, Buffalo ’66 and The Virgin Suicides are required viewings. The Secret History, Lapvona, Prozac Nation, My Year of Rest and Relaxation and The Bell Jar are seminal texts. Before reading any further: make sure to genuflect and light your votive candles, then come with me as we explore the rise of “godposting,” where it’s from, where it’s going and who’s perpetuating it. 

To trace the full lineage of the modern-day Joans and Johns of Arc, I’m tempted to take us all the way back to Golgotha, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll fast forward approximately two thousand and twenty-three years from the crucifixion. Many modest internet historians (like myself) generally agree that the rise of personal religiosity mixed with autofiction, the ubiquitous feature of all femcels, waifcore and tradcath godposting accounts, initially began with Nick Land. In the early 2000s, Nick Land was a prolific writer, publishing many essays and his magnum opus Fanged Noumena, a study of the internet landscape as he saw it, a prosaic diagnosis of present and future. Many credit him as the “father of accelerationism” (a term recently co-opted by the far right). Put simply, accelerationism functions as a secular eschatology, a live study of the last rites of western society. At any rate, Land’s more subtle influences include the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), and being the mentor to many of the foremost British philosophers of the early 2000s, such as Mark Fisher (see Capitalist Realism and k-punk). The CCRU was a cryptic collective that churned out writings steeped in numerology, angel theory and demonology, all mixed with contemporary internet culture. These writings form the basis for godposting ground 0: Angelicism01

Angelicism01 is by far the most prolific godposter. This cryptic account has a ridiculously convoluted aura, first appearing in the online sphere in 2020 via Twitter, then Instagram and TikTok. Now it runs a Substack with writings about topics such as Simone Weil and Donald Trump. One of the more novel aspects of Angelicism01 is its diaspora, as it has spawned about a thousand clone accounts across Instagram, Twitter and Youtube, each of which is impossible to discern if they are the real thing or not. The original account almost certainly began with reading the CCRU and vomiting out the core tenants (as quotations often appear in long, pseudo-academic captions). Unfortunately, primary sources on the matter often are deliberately obtuse probably to give the impression of depth. What’s important is the aesthetic change it heralded: long, liturgical-esque captions with language ripped straight from the old testament, vaguely incoherent ramblings with references to events both real and imagined, social fractionalization due to abstract thought and huge text-based images so steeped in performative post irony that you’ll never be able to determine whether they’re actually serious or not. Angelicism01 percolated a bit more, being mentioned by podcasts like Red Scare and Wet brain, until the vibe shift of 2021— a term that actually originated with this account, in their own words, “a transition in the global consciousness.”

If the godposting vibe shift began with Angelicism01 in the summer of 2021, it reached its zenith with Addison Rae’s Praying post. For those unfamiliar, Addison Rae posted a fairly provocative photo in a Father, Son, Holy Spirit bikini from the brand Praying, igniting the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah and eventually taking down the photo. I’m tempted to claim that microcultures are only affirmed when monetized, solidified and sold to a wider audience. Indeed, godposting’s capitalist culmination can be found in the brand Praying, whose Times New Roman tops emblazoned with “God’s Favorite,” the Hail Mary and other religiously charged imagery sold out instantly. Of course, Angelicism01 claims Praying stole from the vibe shift they initiated, without due credit. The Praying event marked the culmination of Angelicism01’s hyper-conscious posting at the speed of thought, and now the account holds far less sway. However, its presence is perpetuated in a contemporary comedown of dispersed accounts more concerned with the aesthetic curation, personal religiosity and fictitious narratives that Angelicism01 popularized. It’s time to look at resurgences, small and large. 

Admittedly, my personal relations with Angelicism01’s diaspora began on a casual late Saturday morning post-wakeup pre-get-out-of-bed scroll. You know how it goes, endlessly flitting through digital spaces but always alone. I stumbled upon a few blurry images of a dilapidated church captioned “head empty no thoughts only the wordless ecstasy of divine love,” and a few neurons began to fire at abnormally high levels. Who was this person claiming, “I live outside of God’s light and by consequence his love” (@waifcigs)? It was just specific enough to provoke intrigue but vague enough to leave me unsatisfied. I had to know more and thus began the rabbit hole. As I clicked on suggested account after suggested account, I noticed a pattern. Each one I encountered had a certain ability to transmit and receive and then apply layers of affection, longing and doubt through seraphic religious imagery. It started to make an alarming amount of sense. In our daily scrolls, we put ourselves into a digital fugue state, heightening the already somnambulant motions of daily life and subsuming ourselves into a trance to achieve “divine” knowledge in the network. What better form to represent the digital age other than the embodiment of the network itself? Another key feature was the narrative aspect of the accounts, with many posting Whisper app confession screenshots, ambiguously rambling in captions ending with “I will always land on my feet because I am blessed and cherished by the lord,” or through full-blown Substacks. Pivotal to each account was the use of autofiction, a genre that plays up the mundane to provide a thin veil of elusive yet compelling meaning. Perhaps because of the recent cancel culture, these users opt to escape their digital watchdogs via auto-fiction to write about intimate and possibly damaging personal experiences. Autofiction’s allure is that you can never quite ascertain the borders of truth from rambling. The rise of autofiction is exemplified by the proliferation of Substacks, which can simultaneously intrigue us and satisfy our voyeuristic impulse to get inside the heads of others. Clearly, I’d stumbled on a full-blown phenomenological movement. 

To get close to the source, I reached out to a friend, Len Thomas @everymessinvested, who I’d noticed rubbed digital elbows with some godposting accounts to ask about what drew them to the aesthetic. “I know I’ve used a lot of religious imagery to write things before, and a lot of my friends are super influenced by the writing in the Bible,” they wrote. “With all the grandiose and esoteric explanations, you can talk about your emotions or even the most mundane boring things but use religious imagery and make them so fantastical.” In captions like, “Medieval femcels, anchorites, we are the modern-day Julians of Norwich,” godposters craft personal scriptures using incredibly powerful language from the old testament in the spirit of Christianity itself (@honoraryeldestdaughter). In a sense, the godposters of today form one more link in an unbroken chain from past to present of Christianity’s syncretism, weaving it all into performance and hyper-curation of the self. And it isn’t just language, as accounts like these with large amounts of followers deftly mix highly alluring images (such as mentioned in the opening paragraph) with scraps of theory and theosophy (a belief that knowledge of God can be obtained through personal spiritual events), providing a potent aesthetic which many are beginning to catch onto.

Artists of the moment like Ethel Cain, written about beautifully early in this issue by Oliva Dela Cruz, are reclaiming the age-old and immensely powerful symbolism of the crucifix and God in a grand reverse-apostasy of the western image cannon. New generations come forth to confront the past, flipping the script on traditional Catholicism’s intolerance and oppression. Godposting offers the alluring draw of thousands of years of charged symbolism to break old narratives for positioning yourself as interesting online. The answer is simple: Convene with God through the machine. Perhaps philosopher Byung-Chul Han puts it best: “As a modern-day devotional object, the smartphone acts as a rosary, and to ‘like’ is to pray digitally.”

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