From September 1st to January 1st in any given year, the majority of charities will see sixty percent of their annual cash donations.[i] In fact, on December 3rd, 2013, #GivingTuesday will happen again. This effort by charitable organizations sets aside a day dedicated to giving in an effort to coordinate the same way retailers coordinate around Cyber Monday and Black Friday.[ii]
All of this focus on giving usually drives Family Covens to think about charitable donations. The Washington Post, however, offers this revelation:
Quite possibly the greatest holiday giving pang for a charity is that a surge in giving happens only once each year. While many charities depend on the generosity of Americans this time of year, charities hope people can have a plan for giving all year long.
“We are incredibly blessed to have an abundance of volunteers, but people are hungry and need jobs all year long,” said Michael Curtin, chief executive of DC Central Kitchen.[iii]
Along these same lines, after devastating events like the typhoon in the Philippines, a surge in a desire to give is often seen in Facebook posts and media outlets. Though devastating events should be given some consideration, I often wonder about the different ways that pagans should be giving at home.
Because of how a majority of pagans celebrate the Sabbats, a mass effort by pagans months before the charitable rush happens could have a great impact on local organizations both pagan and non-pagan. An argument can be made that the harvest festivals, starting with Lughnasadh and moving through Samhain, are the best times for pagans to live their spiritual beliefs through the giving of time, not just money, toward something that they feel strongly about. Yule is seen as a celebration and time for personal reflection more than a time to go out and give to others.
How giving is done varies family coven to family coven and often is directly linked to the family coven’s central tenants, the Family Coven Virtues. Giving is then related to the appropriate virtues. Kindness, respect, devotion, courage, efficiency, helpfulness and humility are all virtues for Dragonstone Family Coven. These virtues answer the questions Sam has had around why we should give to others and what that giving means to us and to our larger community.
If Dragonstone Family Coven is kind, then we do things that reflect our kindness. Buying an extra meal at a drive through and giving it to the person holding up a sign for donations reflects this. Paying it forward by paying the toll for the vehicle behind us is another way to show our kindness without being prompted by the urgings of specific time of the year.
When any of Dragonstone Family Coven volunteers at the local organic farm, we are honoring the virtue of respect: respect for the earth by partnering and learning about organic ways to help produce food goods, as well as helping the farm feel that it is a respected member of our community. These are ways to live out this respect for the earth, which is a spiritual being in much the same way we are.
Devotion is another virtue that shines when my family coven gives. Our devotion to our spiritual paths is reflected in the devotion of time and personal effort giving requires. Whether a family covener believes that there is one God or believes in many god/desses, devoting our time and talents to help an effort within the greater community is an act of worship. Spiritual paths lift up those who seek and follow them and those same paths, in turn, encourage seekers to lift up those around them. As we give with our hands, we are actively worshiping that which spiritually defines us.
Although courage in relation to giving seems out of place, sometimes it is required. The tough things to do are often the things that most need doing. If that means sheltering a stray cat until a new home can be found for it, then that is what should be done. If it means bending and picking up trash when we are hiking even though everyone else would walk past, then it should be done. If it means volunteering at a pet shelter, inner city school or going to where the homeless are to feed them, then the courage of our convictions should walk with us in those places others would not go. It is a virtue of our family coven that when going to those places, we are held steadfast by the depth of our convictions rooted in courage.Efficiency is another virtue of my family coven, which may seem at odds with the ideas of giving. However, efficiency is a core idea behind why my family coven gives. In our society, there is a lot of discussion around the rightness and wrongness of the Affordable Healthcare Act, food stamps, and other government organized funding. Most of the arguments against these programs depend on the idea that a government is not efficient enough to provide these services. This argument is not without its merits.
Dragonstone Family Coven often tells Sam and its coveners that we cannot complain about the efficiency of government-provided programs if we are not offering an efficient alternative. It is true that each individual could improve the efficiency of these programs by volunteering their time or talent to a specific cause. However, this requires actual involvement in these causes with more than just money. The virtue of efficiency demands that our family coveners take our complaints and address them in physically manifested ways. Complaining is not efficient; action given in the right way, at the right time, on a consistent basis, is efficient.
Of course, any kind of charitable giving meets the virtue of helpfulness… although I find myself reminding my family coveners about this virtue more when there is not a desire to set the table, cook dinner, cycle laundry or vacuum, rather than when it comes to reaching outside the confines of our family coven.
For me, though, the biggest challenge is to teach humility during the act of giving. I find many efforts around community service also serve to bolster the person giving the time, money, or service. To a certain extent, public acknowledgement of giving can serve to encourage others to emulate the service being given. However, giving done in ways that no one else will know about is important. I often buy donation stars at grocery stores and pharmacies. Instead of putting my family coven’s name or even my own, I will put, “In Memory of Cora” or “Gwinnett Area Pagans.” My hope is that I can honor my mother or shed a positive light on the larger pagan community rather than directing a spotlight onto my action. Humility also reminds my family coveners that we are never far from need ourselves. One bad car accident, one serious illness, one house fire and our own family coven would find ourselves confronted with need that a community would have to help us address. Humility says, “If not for the grace of the Lord and Lady, there go I.”
As you think about thankfulness and service this Thanksgiving week, consider putting together your own Family Coven virtues and trying to promote them with all your family coveners. When you give, why do you give? What issues are important to your family coven? Where can your children or partner(s) go to demonstrate the foundational tenants of the Family Coven’s beliefs? What virtues drive your Family Coven to give?
[i] NPR News
[ii] www.charitynavigator.org, Giving Facts
[iii] The Seven Worst Ways to Give to Charity During the Holidays; The Washington Post; Vanessa I. Small; November 24th http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-giving/seven-worst-ways-to-give-to-charity-during-the-holidays/2013/11/24/9cfa2e3a-53b3-11e3-9e2c-e1d01116fd98_story.html