Pagans and Money, part 2

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.

 

 

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Many Gods, Many Peoples, Many Experiences
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About Niki Whiting
  • Henry Buchy

    why is there a need of a ‘wider community’? Why not focus local and support/build local ones?
    as far as independent crafts persons, artists and writers are concerned, if what they produce isn’t of interest to me, why should I support them?
    perhaps folks who expect support from others ought to consider how to get right with money, especially when the ‘others’ also have to work 60+ hours and tend family and keep food on the table. I’m not so sure blending and harmonizing spiritual and mundane or ‘service to community’ needs to translate into making spiritual practice a lucrative career.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      Well, I’m trying to use ‘communities’ – plural – because I don’t think we need to be monolithic or even united on a national or broad front. I recognize local and personal communities. I also use communities plural because I want to include people who may not consider themselves part of Paganism, but perhaps overlap with parts of it. Of course starting local is the best step forward.

      I am not saying that you should support people and stuff just cuz it’s Pagan. Of course not. There’s a lot of crap out there. I for one have no interest in cat tarots, and there are a lot of those out there. So I don’t buy them. But I do need money to support the artists and practitioners that I *do* like.

      Regarding your last sentence: I never said that. You are putting words into my mouth. I don’t think spiritual practice and service needs be a) a full time paid career, nor b) a lucrative one. I can understand that this is a sticky subject/aspect of the money discussion. But I do believe that time, effort, and skill should be compensated when possible. Of course, I’m a fan of barter, too. Doesn’t have to be money.

  • An Elder Apprentice

    Niki, I appreciate that you ended your post with a hope that we “. . . really support one another in our struggles to ‘get right’ with money. . .”, for your emphasis on both ‘support’ and ‘struggle’.

    Jacob Needleman, in his book “Money and the Meaning of Life” stated, “. . . We are meant to live in two worlds. . . Money is an instrument of what we can do: that is what money means. It wasn’t always so in other cultures. There have been other sorts of instruments — weapons, tools, all sorts of things that represented and served as a key to what man can do by his own efforts. Today, it’s money . . .” Money is a primary, in many cases ‘the’ primary, agent in our world by which will transforms desire into manifestation. Money is solely a magical agent, as it exists only in the context of human relationships and achieves its value solely through our beliefs, rituals, and its ability to mediate the conversation between conscious agents.

    To attempt to ignore money in my spiritual endeavor will leave a huge money shaped hole out of which significant amounts of my power will escape while an excessive attention to money inflates the sphere of money’s influence over me which will push out or suffocate whole realms imagination, relationship and possibility that are outside the realm of money’s sphere. Thus I agree to ‘get right’ with money must be a dynamic struggle for which there is no trite answer.

    If money is a magical instrument pervasive in my life, but in the past there were other tools, Needleman’s statement invites me to imagine emergence of a ‘better money’. That is an enhanced tool for the relationship desire, will and manifestation in our world. What would I mean by ‘better’ in the sphere of money? I understand you want to avoid the issue ‘pay for spirit’ but wrestling with the issue of paying spiritual teachers for their teaching might provide some guidance on ‘getting right’ with money. My intent in undertaking my studies is to ‘get right’ with all aspects of my existence including the sphere in which money lives. In these studies how I make my way in the world, pay my bills, and support myself and my beloveds, of necessity becomes part of my spiritual practice. To do otherwise is to make a money shaped hole that I cannot be touch by what is being learned. Yet in my world I can not eliminate money, it is part of the flow and use of mana by any human who walks in our world. I may be stimulated by the Gods, or changed by my studies so that I change how I earn my living but money will remain of import. My teacher must also make her way in the world and faces the same issues with money, the urgings of the Gods and with Spirit. Also, in providing teaching she is giving me part of the time of her life and I desire this very much. She is more then a empty channel for the teachings but a creative artist in a deep relationship with me. Yet the teachings are not of realm of money, they involve truths about consciousness that existed before money existed and will continue when a ‘better money’ is imagined. And these truths are in no way her property.

    I have been wondering lately if the old stories of fairy gold, which always turns to leaves the next morning are more a problem of culture difference between humans and fairies and not fae trickiness at all. Perhaps the fae being is thinking ‘What good is that gold stuff, I have given the human such a gift. All the relationships I can have with a leaf, all the the power. With a gold coin, not so much’. The human of course is pissed on finding the treasure is last years leaves. In my world, I think of all the human relationships facilitated by a pot of gold. Moldy leaves, not so much. Perhaps by diving directly into this paradox I might better understand money today, and what it could become in the future how to ‘get right’ with it.

    • yewtree

      I love that thought about faery gold, and having better money in the future.

      I think one sort of better money is barter and exchange. Also I have thought that perhaps one of the reasons there is a taboo against paying for spiritual training is that paying someone the exact value of something ends the relationship of mutual obligation.

      http://pagantheologies.pbworks.com/w/page/13621993/Charging%20money

      • An Elder Apprentice

        I agree that questions of debt, gift and obligation are pervasive in any working with money and your question is a strong one. One question I have is what exactly is being paid for, the teaching, or perhaps ‘the upkeep of the temple and the upkeep of the temple keeper’. In my life I have been in ritual where we have been encircled for nearly a month and the leader has spent untold hours in preparation. The effects of this ritual continue for me over 20 years later. It is not clear that any honorarium paid in anyway discharged the mutual obligation or any obligations to the Spirits f that ritual.

        • yewtree

          Indeed, the worth of many experiences cannot be measured in finite ways, as the effects ripple onwards and outwards.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      I really wanted to avoid the topic of money and teaching specifically, as it’s a very difficult topic, particularly for my community. But yes, you’ve grabbed onto my key words: support and struggle. Each person is going to have slightly different struggles around money and come to different conclusions. I’d like us to honor the struggles we all have.

      • An Elder Apprentice

        It is true that I dishonored your specific request not to discuss the issue of ‘teaching and money’. If my action caused you pain, I apologize.

        Unfortunately, nothing draws this readers attention to a particular point like a footnote indicated by an asterisk. The light of the little typographic star I find very bright and the request in the note became the focus of my thought and feelings about your post.

        The specific controversy that you speak of has affected me personally and the issue of money and teaching has been an issue of import in my other practices for many years previous to beginning my current studies. However, my exploring the issue was not to take sides in a complex dispute or to attempt to resolve it but to underscore that the question that was raised by your footnote seems to highlight so many of issues related to my struggle as a Pagan to ‘getting right’ with money. I do wonder that you asked me to ignore an elephant while shining a bright star on the beast indicates something of intensity of that issue for you?

        I agree understanding that we all have our struggles and that support perhaps best begins with just honoring that another struggles. Again I thank you for interesting, important and challenging post.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

          Oh I’m not offended in the slightest! It’s a thorny issue. One I have opinions on, I just didn’t want to muddy the waters of this post anymore by diving into the particularly controversy of which we are clearly both aware.

          If you want to talk about this issue, feel free. But I am not prepared to go into it right now. Yes, it’s a bit disingenuous to asterisk the issue only to walk away from it. But I guess I felt I needed to give the nod to the issue seeing as how I am involved in the Feri/Faery tradition.

  • Spiritscraft

    Its come out in the comments, though its not a part of your article. But the sense of entitlement in the pagan community is high right now. There are a lot of people that seem to make it a social justice issue that what they are pushing isn’t popular enough to earn the best slots at conferences, to sell enough of their products, to make it rich off a book they wrote. And they begrudge other more popular presenters, authors, and artisans who they assume must be making the big bucks somehow unfairly. Now if it is actually a social justice issue, based off of racial, sexual, gender expression, class, or ability prejudice, then we must address it. But much of what I am seeing has nothing to do with social justice, as other people of those same minority statuses are in the good time slots, selling lots of books, and arts/crafts. The comment below is perfect. Some of these folks complaining about these things, you would have pay me to go to their workshop or read their books because what they provide is not even remotely interesting and the fact that they are so pompous and patronizing as to behave as though they deserve the money and attention just for existing is so dull. There are folks doing the same kinds of things they are better and those folks are filling that place in the market. And so yes they won’t be making money off of it.

  • Spiritscraft

    Great article! You touched on some really important points.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/awitchsashram/ A Witch’s Ashram

      Thank you! And I really appreciate your thoughtful and insightful comments.


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