An interesting discussion occurred on my personal Facebook page when I brought up Pagans and money. I realized that so many of hang ups I see and experience around money can be tied to Christian theological influence and the struggle to mix the spiritual and the ‘mundane.’ Christianity is deeply conflicted about money. Since the overculture in the United States is very Christian and many Pagans started out as Christians, it’s not surprising that some of that confusion and ambivalence has filtered into Pagan thinking about money.
While the actual Biblical quote says “Love of money is the root of all evil,” most people (me included for most of my life) seem to have it in their heads that the quote goes “Money is the root of all evil.” Jesus also said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. Is it the money that’s the problem? Or is the attachment to money, the comfort and clinging to the power that money can provide, that is the problem? I’d wager it’s the latter – Eastern religions and philosophies would also claim that it’s the attachment that causes problems, not the money itself.
But if money is sticky and problematic, then perhaps, like the body and its desires, it should be cast away all together? This is where asceticism and ridiculous notions of the nobility of poverty come into play. Deliberate renunciation can be very clarifying. For some, severe asceticism can be liberating. But for most of us, life time deprivation often leads to struggles that enmesh us even more deeply in the world, rather than freeing us from it. If poverty is so noble, why don’t more people choose it? Theologically, neither wealth nor poverty (nor anything in between) is the problem. Wealth is a resource – what we do with it is what is important.
In the Western Christian world, wealth was often looked upon as a divinely sanctioned right. We’d like to think that feudal ideas of ruling by divine right were left behind in the Middle Ages. But they weren’t. The idea morphed into Calvinist ideas of election and predestination – vestiges of which are still floating in modern American discourse around money. ‘If you just work hard enough you’ll be worthy of success.’ ‘God helps those who help themselves.’What’s missing from these aphorisms is the reality of entrenched systems and that usually poverty comes with multiple obstacles to overcome.
The attitudes I see and experience in the US today are that the wealthier you are, the more worthy you are of respect and admiration, basic courtesy, and special treats. The poor get shitty customer service, half-assed help, mockery, and are assumed to be stupid and lazy.
Pagans may not buy into all of these tropes, although I have heard plenty of general, liberal stereotyping of the wealthy as evil, soul-sucking, horrible people. This is frustrating because Pagans need people with money. We need them to buy all the beautiful, awesome things that our communities make and provide! When independent crafters, writers, herbalists, etc are getting paid fairly for their work, all of the communities benefit! We need people with money to help support our causes and communities!
Another complication in the issue of Pagans and money is the perceived split between the sacred and the mundane. We don’t want money sullying the spiritual.* Yet in order for many people to offer their skills to their communities tangible support is often necessary. There’s some notion that what we do for money in this world is ‘mundane’ and that our spiritual lives are separate and holier. I see Christian ideas of being ‘not of this world’ in this false dichotomy. In my understanding of broad Pagan thinking, the entire world is sacred (perhaps not Divine, depending on your theology, but sacred nonetheless). Most Pagans I know seek a united, holistic life – where one can live out their values in all they do and in all their communities.
Separating our jobs and our engagement with commercialism from our more sacred activities is problematic. Yes, doing the dishes or working a minimum wage job probably doesn’t feel holy, but we take ourselves with us where ever we go and we are holy. If I’m being honest, sometimes (more than I’d like to admit) sitting in front of my altar feels like rote work, not a numinous holy encounter. But I don’t see a split between the sacred and the profane. Any split that exists is of my own making, and perhaps a hangover from Christian thinking that this world is not worthy of the divine.
Supporting the spiritual side of our lives can be tricky. It’s hard to feed the kids and pay the bills if we are dedicated to a demanding devotional practice. It can be really hard to minister to our communities if we have to work 65 hours a week plus commute – or if our day job already involves heavy caring for others. It can get very expensive traveling to serve our wider communities if we cannot afford the gas, food, and lodging.
I’d love to see the wider Pagan communities really support one another in our struggles to ‘get right’ around money. I’d like us to stop name calling the poor and the wealthy. I’d like to see us start supporting the good works and efforts of our fellow travelers. I’d like to see us support all of our holistic efforts. I’d really like to see all of us thrive, in whatever ways that may mean to you.
*I am not going to get into the issues of paying spiritual teachers for teaching. This has been a divisive issue in my own tradition. We can get into specifics over tea.