Pagan Finance: Supporting the Pagan Economy

Anyone who tells you that money and religion don’t mix is either blind, naive, or some combination of the two. Take one look at a mega-church or posh synagogue and you can see just how lucrative religion can be, spiritually and monetarily. But the blog post isn’t about turning the pagan community into some grand money making scheme. Granted, many writers and leaders have made a tidy little sum selling watered down religion or ‘socially conscious’ fanaticism; but for the every day pagan, our religious economy is…well…paltry.

Why does this matter in a series of blog posts specifically about finance? Because many pagans have been hit by the recession as hard, if not harder, than other religious groups. One can’t get on a social networking site without seeing another one of our own asking for a little bit of help; and while we should all do what we can to nurse those attempting to get back on their feet; it is a sad fact that some will never truly be “free” in a  religious community that can do little more than throw good money after bad.

The issue doesn’t lay so much with the unwillingness to purchase pagan goods, rather the fact that pagan services are severely lacking and, aside from finding a tarot reader or an astrologer, it’s nearly impossible to find service providers outside of the spiritual sphere.

After all, one needs only so many candles, herb pillows, and bars of Magical Soap ™. Hand made clothing items are one thing; a mass produced Salwar given a 200% mark up is not. Unfortunately, the pagan shop, one major representation of our economic power, often shows just how ill planned and advised these business ventures can be. Items available are often of mediocre quality but with astronomical pricing. Inventory is based on owners’ preference as opposed to actual market research and workers lack professionalism and, sometimes, any working knowledge of their inventory.

Some shop owners seem to forget they are running a business, while hoping the tendency of pagans to “support our own” will allow them to skate along despite having a failing business model. Those that do well expand, those that do poorly, eventually resort to “renting” a back corner of a store, and asking for donations, in hopes of recouping lost revenue.

(Lykeia over at Beloved in Light does a rather good job of explaining her view on pagan shops.)

You’ll also, rarely, find a bulletin board offering the services of a pagan tax-preparer, accountant, editor, chemistry tutor, translator, carpenter, etc. In fact, it’s almost as if pagans have an allergy to circulating marketable skills among our communities. The pagan economy, as a whole, is based on niche consumer goods, allowing those who are capable of rarer talents the ability to charge premium pricing for their work. I’m not saying this is a bad thing.

There are a few ways, I believe,  our economy can be secured while helping build the wealth of the pagan community as a whole.

  1. Pagan Professional Networks: And not just for the woman who does Reiki, but the woman who is a professional event planner, research analyst, etc. Even if the job is a simple contract, reputations are built on exposure and word of mouth.
  2. Embrace business acumen and free trade ideals: In other words, there’s a difference between supporting a successful pagan business and supporting a terrible business just because it is pagan. Capitalism is a ruthless, yet effective, mistress. Pagans who succeed within the community should be rewarded with continued patronage, while failing business, organizations, and business models should be allowed to dissolve. Mom and Pop Store on the corner of Main Street doesn’t ask for donations because their accountant didn’t know how to properly balance the books.
  3. Support Pagan Apprenticeships: Apprenticeship programs are all but dead in America, who better to bring back a tradition that translated into sustainable employment than the same pagans who often learn “lost” skills as hobbies? Not only would these programs be able to attract pagan young adults (older teens) but secular and agnostic individuals as well. The artisan is paid for their work, the student learns a valuable skill, and becomes another contributor to our economy, and the economy overall.
  4. Get Over the Idea that Money is Evil: It’s not. Plain and simple.

 

Most of these ideas are a bit far-fetched. Creating an apprenticeship program aimed at pagan young adults and teenagers would take massive amounts of time and resources, but these are investments in a religious economy dominated, primarily, by big publisher book sales and charity.

The current global crisis presents unique opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs who are able to make use of their networks to build business relations. The first way to sustain the pagan economy is to shift away from one based on donations, and turn it into one based on an actual market.

 

About Pythia Theocritos
  • http://syncreticmystic.wordpress.com/ Soli

    it would be wonderful to see networks like this set up. To be able to bring all sorts of businesses to people based on our out of the norm religions. There are plenty of people in other faiths doing exactly this, why not us?

  • Hecate_Demetersdatter

    What you said.

  • sunfell

    Excellent thoughts.  Every single Pagan shop I’ve seen has failed- except one, and I really ought to give my new car a workout and go visit it. (http://www.goldenleavesbookstore.com/) Perhaps I should interview the owner and find out what her secret of her success is.

    Sadly, one of the problems in the Pagan community that I’ve seen is a persistence of poverty. Maybe Paganfolk don’t know how to handle money, or think it’s somehow evil- but far too many seem to be marginalized- especially here in the South (might be cultural). And we’re so darn independent that any potential proprietor of a shop or community center has to either be agnostic, or hopelessly eclectic (I’d pick the former over the latter) and have a good business head to be successful.

    I’ve seen people abuse the small bit of power and klout having a business gives them- to the detriment of the entire community. Once you cross that line, trying to rebuild a community is nearly impossible.

    It’s sad, but one telling thing- for me, at least- is this: should I win a lottery like that one guy did- the idea of creating a Pagan center isn’t even on the list.

    • zendodeb

      I can’t speak to the business side of the issue, but on the individual side… Some progressives will always view money as evil. They will never have any.

      For the rest of us… I find most people need to start with a level
      of financial literacy. (Yes, finance requires math – it isn’t that scary!)

      I know people who smoke close to a pack of
      cigarettes per day, pay 80 dollars a month for cable, go out to eat at
      least once a day (usually lunch) and rely on over-priced, under-healthy
      convenience food the rest of the time. They always complain they can’t
      get ahead/make ends meet.

      I do know some people who truly struggle to get by, as well, so I know the difference.

      But a lot of people in the first group, would benefit from a budget,
      getting rid of cable, cooking at home, brown-bagging it once in a while,
      etc. You don’t have to change everything – just a few things. (A decent
      internet connect plus something like Netflix or Hulu is less than 50 a
      month – there is an extra 30 bucks. Crackle is free, and they usually
      have movies – for free – at your local library.) Change one thing, and
      go from there.

      Debt is not your friend. Cut up the credit cards – or put them away for
      that rainy day. Don’t have car payments; pay cash. (Want a new car?
      start making payments to yourself. In 4 years you will be able to pay
      cash. And the total cost to you for the car will be anywhere from 40 to 100 LESS than if you paid the dealer.)  Have some money ready for that emergency – the new tires, the
      busted window, whatever.

      Finally, learn something about investing. 50 bucks a month may not sound
      like much, but it is better than nothing. The earlier you start, the
      more you will end up with. (“Time is money” is a statement about
      compounding of returns.) Start at age 18, and 50 bucks a month can be a
      couple of million dollars by the time you retire.  Some of the mutual
      fund companies will exempt an account from minimum deposit requirements
      if you sign up for auto-deposit of at least $50 per month. If you aren’t 18, and you can afford more…

      But start somewhere. We live in a world of fiat currency, and most people have no idea what that means. Is it any surprise that they can’t cope with the realities of an economy they don’t understand? (This isn’t rocket science, folks. You learned most of the math you will ever need – and all you need to get started – in middle school.)

      • http://hellenicpolytheist.wordpress.com/ Pythia Theocritos

        Gotta love compound interest. It’s like monetary sex. 

  • LaceyNichole

    These are great ideas!  Sites like Witchvox would probably a good place to start.  I wish we could use the pentacle (or other symbol) by business names like christians do with the fish thing.

    • Elizabeth J. Salix

      Who says we can’t use our religious symbols by our business names? My family’s business shirts have a Valknut surrounded by the Elder Futhark on them.

      • LaceyNichole

         That’s great!  I have never seen that in my area.

  • http://profiles.google.com/thorncoyle T Thorn Coyle

    I like your idea of Pagan Professional Networks and apprenticeship models. That latter speaks to something I wrote about awhile ago on the concept of apprenticeships paving the way for a variety of initiations: http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Opening-the-Mystery?offset=0&max=1

    Professional networks can be helpful not only in networking and skill sharing, but in knowing that, for example, there is a lawyer or insurance agent you can trust with your establishing your temple or advocacy group, or that a therapist won’t need a 101 talk to start helping you.There is one other thing I’d like to address: “Granted, many writers and leaders have made a tidy little sum selling watered down religion or ‘socially conscious’ fanaticism” 

    I think is this often the perception people have of so called “BNPs” and it is usually not true. Most authors and leaders I know hold down other jobs, or barely squeak by. Those with the most financial success are usually just able to pay their rent or mortgage. Books, in general, don’t make much money. Relative fame in our small pool doesn’t necessarily equal financial success. 

    That said, I’m glad that you are writing this series. Thanks for doing so.

    • Torchandlyre

      You are right. Perhaps I can turn dowm my own rhetoric a bit to clarify. Using “many” is a regrettable exaggeration, but I can say that some have used the means I have named for financial gain.

      Complete financial freedom? No. But I did not mean to imply that pagan authors were rolling in the dough behind their endeavors. If anything I take no issue with pagans charging what the market will bear while marketing themselves.

      My cynicism comes from seeing authors of dubious quality placed on pedestals for subpar work simply because the product “introduces people to paganism.”

      It’s the willfull mediocrity that expects to be subsidized by the faithful. And this subsidization takes money away from actual talent and merit. Considering the “BNPs” I’ve had the pleasure of knowing, they wouldn’t last four seconds in a financially competitive market.

      Thank you for reading. I’m typing from my phone so there are bound to be typos.

      • http://profiles.google.com/thorncoyle T Thorn Coyle

        “It’s the willfull mediocrity that expects to be subsidized by the faithful. And this subsidization takes money away from actual talent and merit. ” 

        Interesting thought. I want to ponder that. I wonder if it isn’t a case of those who, at core, want to serve vs those who, at core, only want a certain type of success. Which is not to say that success and service cannot coexist! 

  • kadiera

    My thought is, as always, how do we make this work in the real world?  I think there are 2 problems: (1) convincing “the community” that there is value in keeping our money in the community and (2) having business owners who understand how businesses run.

    Eons ago (google says 2003….oh my, that makes me feel old), I attempted to start a Pagan “Chamber of Commerce” here locally. We were running a print shop at the time, and even though I offered lower prices than local chain printers, I couldn’t get my foot in the door with any local Pagan businesses or festivals – it just wasn’t in their minds that they could seek such things in the community.

    And then of course there was drama – the self-published author who felt the email list of business owners was a place for daily posts asking us to buy her book. Attempts at publishing a directory of members’ businesses were met with complaints that asking everyone to chip in to cover the paper it was printed on was not in the spirit of community – after all, even $10 was too much for some businesses to afford, and how dare I suggest that bartering for crystals wasn’t a viable answer.

    Sigh.

    The email list still exists, abandoned a couple years ago. There are other listings locally now, even with some mainstream businesses, but no attempts at networking between business owners. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Seshat-Anqet-Het-Her/100003473686448 Seshat Anqet Het Her

      Kadiera, kudos to having the presence of mind to having attempted a Pagan Chamber of Commerce.  I believe that a lot has changed since 2003 and perhaps as people are thinking more about upgrading their quality of life, they may be more willing to be holistic in their commercial and networking approach.  

      To answer your question as to how to make it work in the real world – I think it starts with us acknowledging that we do live in the real world.  There is no “Diagon Alley” where we all hangout apart from our daily lives.  We all have jobs, careers and businesses. 

      How we think about ourselves spiritually will inevitably influence how we look at ourselves in other more ‘mundane’ aspects.  I think having discussions like this is a good first step.  We are planting the seed here by being open to the possibility that being Pagan and business-finance-savvy aren’t mutually exclusive.  
      I don’t need to put “Pagan” on my business card.  But if there is a networking event targeting Pagans in business, it would be safe to say that people attending the meeting are Pagan or Pagan-friendly.  I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my business ventures in a Pagan forum.  I think we do ourselves a disservice to not discuss it, especially for us who believe that we are capable of changing our circumstances in accordance with our wills.  Isn’t it safe to assume that we have an advantage over non-practitioners in our financial endeavors too?  What would happen if we dedicated more of our altar space to prosperity, abundance and great business contacts?As for the Christian looking to stir up the waters, depending on where we live, I don’t think that’s an issue.  The proof is in the pudding.  If you’re good, you’re good and people will hire you, regardless of what the raving lunatic talking about hellfire is saying.  If anything, those types are too quickly relegated to the loony bin, and good riddance.

  • Lisa

    There is just one problem with having a listing of Pagan services/providers. They have to be willing to be “out “. Just as some Pagans will not go to a business that advertises their religion (ichthys on a logo or business card). Some customers who are Christian will do their best to ruin your business or practice by telling people you are a devil worshipper or worse.

  • Meghan Runyon

     I think it’s really more of an over saturation and lack of diversification in an niche market. You can go to almost any new age shop and find the exact same things, at varying arrays of prices, but everything comes from what the same 10 wholesalers that also sell direct to the public at lower prices then the shops. You can be a Pagan, and a business person, you can even be a pagan friendly business but if your business is based on the fact and only appeals to pagans your success is going to be stifled and probably not sustainable.

  • Jackson

    Money is evil. You just jumped the fence and bought in. Don’t be shy, tell it like it is sister. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/EricStix Eric Stix

    For anyone who may be looking, there’s a Pagan Professionals group on LinkedIn.  Because lots of us agree with this sentiment.  :)

    • http://hellenicpolytheist.wordpress.com/ Pythia Theocritos

      Thanks for sharing this with us Eric! Do you have any contact information on Google+? I’m not a member of LinkedIn but would love to share your network with others.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Seshat-Anqet-Het-Her/100003473686448 Seshat Anqet Het Her

        LinkedIn is the ‘gold standard’ of business networking.  Even if you don’t think you’ll get much use from it, it will help your online brand to have a completed  LinkedIn profile.   Plus you never know down the road whether your network might lead to a lucrative opportunity.

        In a recent article, it was recommended that people have a LinkedIn profile as a ‘decoy’, preventing nosy would-be employers from Googling other online activities you might want to keep private as Google ranks LinkedIn profiles higher in their searches.

        I’m a small business coach and would be happy to serve as a knowledge resource on LinkedIn and other things pertaining to business, if anyone’s interested.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Seshat-Anqet-Het-Her/100003473686448 Seshat Anqet Het Her

      Awesome!  Thank you for point this out, Eric!  I, too, am happy to see this topic brought up because as a start-up entrepreneur, I am becoming more conscientious of where I choose to buy my goods.  I would not go to a service provider JUST because they are Pagan.  I think this sort of knee-jerk myopia fails to embrace the larger significance of promoting Pagan-owned enterprises.  

      We need look no further than the Jewish community and how they’ve thrived for centuries despite adversity because Jews support their own.  Do other non-Jews also benefit from this, yes.  But it’s the strength of a people to invest in themselves and their interests and to wish them to prosper further.  Anyone who continues to promote this myth that Pagans are poor and constantly looking for hangouts is doing a gross disservice to our collective identity and abundance consciousness.  People are poor because they are. If they choose to be poor and Pagan, that’s their business.  I am looking to be a role model, as a Pagan, Kemite, Black woman, Haitian-American, and whatever labels I choose to operate under.  AND I am looking for other sources of Pagan inspiration and mentoring as well.  Bring on the networking.  

      And I will definitely check out that LinkedIn group.  

      Live long and prosper!

  • http://www.facebook.com/marienne.foxwood Marienne Hartwood

    Part of the reason I don’t market my skill set as an editor to pagans is that I’ve found that almost every time I’ve put that out there, I get told that I should either give a steep discount (read: minimum wage or below) because “We’re all brothers and sisters, and you shouldn’t charge family”, or I’ve been told “Well, you know that pagans aren’t wealthy, so I can’t actually afford to pay you, but you should be willing to do this for me because it’s a gift to the Goddess.” There’s a couple rare exceptions, but I’ve gotten the same song and dance often enough that I don’t actively seek pagan clients. If I happen to get a client who is pagan, I’ll usually give a discount, but something that is still a liveable wage for me. Although I don’t know if others in service-based careers have similar experience, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

       When dealing with other Pagans, over matters sacred or mundane, I never haggle. It’s one of the Wiccan laws I internalized and hold fast to.

  • http://quakerpagan.org/ Cat C-B

    I see no real reason to favor a Pagan tax preparer or hairdresser, for instance, over one of a different or no religion.  My idea of a Pagan community is not one that exists in isolation from those of other religions; I don’t want to live in a polytheist ghetto OR monastery.

    I do, however, long for a time when we have Pagan non-profits we can rely on.  And before that happens, we will have to get over our sense that the ability to plan financially and manage money is irrelevant to a spiritual community.

    • http://hellenicpolytheist.wordpress.com/ Pythia Theocritos

      What exactly would a “Pagan Non-Profit” that worked look like? 

      And I never said anything about people shopping pagan only. That would be extremely costly and lead to the same issues we face now; lack of viable competition, stagnancy, and mediocrity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/MaryAnne-Anja-Bues-Bartlett/714224147 MaryAnne Anja Bues Bartlett

    Having a pagan shop of my own (Ancient Light), I’m a little miffed about some of your complaints.  What saves you from me being annoyed is that little word “most”. I know my stock. I have a business plan. I don’t have a massive mark-up on product, but materials do cost… and time spent on something should be paid for. My “sister” business is my husband’s “Magycke Mower”, which is mostly patronized by the community at large because he’s just that good. One way that we have made ends meet is making quite a bit of product in (free) classes at the shop. I don’t charge for the classes because the labor saved pays for my time in teaching. However this still means that in materials a beeswax and dragon’s blood votive candle in a candle glass will cost $4 (and makes me less than 50 cents). Since petroleum and chemical fragrance candles manufactured in China cost 50 cents apiece, I can only compete with quality, not price. …and book sales….which used to be 1/2 of my profit in a year….have dropped to nothing because folks come in and browse and then buy on Amazon after they’ve picked my brains about what books to buy. I’m working hard to serve the community in exactly the ways you describe. I don’t think that scolding pagan businesses as a whole helps any of us, since it gives the impression that folks might as well just not bother because a pagan business is a failure before we start! I’ve been in business since 2004 and I’m still hanging in there!

    • http://hellenicpolytheist.wordpress.com/ Pythia Theocritos

      I see this is a topic very dear to you and can understand your sentiments. First, I did state that successful businesses should be rewarded with continued patronage. 

      As someone who has an interest in business and economics, coddling the feelings of randoms who take issue with points that do not apply to them  isn’t really on my “to-do” list. Obviously, from the experiences of some responders, I am not the only one who has experienced the crap pagan shop. Having lived in up and down the east coast I’ve been to quite a few.

      The fact that yours is run efficiently is a testament to what sound business practice can be like within our religious sphere and yours is the kind of business I would happily toast to. Viva la Market.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/LODEEL4JJF752TPM46DEDDOSUY Rev. Cher

       MaryAnne for the books, you can buy them at thrift stores or online discount bookstores. They are in good shape and yes you can find find Pagan books there, we have found a lot of ours in Christian based second hand stores like Impact or Good Will.

  • wiztwas

    Whilst I have a spiritual bond to fellow Pagans and whilst I do do some trade with some of them. 

    There are issues, I am not sure I want to win work because of my faith. 

    If I want to help youths, then why should I exclude youths of other faiths?

    I don’t see life as about me and mine, I see it as about us and ours. 

    I try not to support the big supermarkets, I try and buy from local, independents but that is not because the supermarkets are not Pagan.  

    I believe in nature and nature embraces diversity so I embrace it too.  Perhaps the reason that Paganism is so good is because it is not insular, it does not waive it’s flag, it is not a profit centre.

  • http://www.facebook.com/EdAHubbard Ed Hubbard

    Thank you so much for this. This is my biggest theme this year, and a focus of my life direction. Having done many successful and unsuccessful projects within the Pagan community, I find this refreshing.

    Here is my motto of the year, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” – Buckminster Fuller.

    One thing about business is to find where people are spending money, both in the form of necessity and of luxury. It is called Lifestyle Displacement Products. What can we offer everyone, including the mainstream, that is a product we need. Take something as common Dishwashing Liquid, and that almost everyone uses it. So if a Pagan soap maker could create a dishwashing liquid soap that looked good in packaging and sold the green message, then they would have a product that many people may actually want to buy.

    Another area is Catfood. By my estimates, the average Pagan Cat Owner has 2.4 cats, and spends around $500. a year feeding them.  So why can we not find a pet nutritionist that would be able to create a catfood that fits our community, and then offer it to the public. Not just Pagans again but the mainstream. This is a multibillion dollar industry and the small niche markets that are emerging are often multimillion dollar operations.

    When I was at Heartland Pagan Festival, I was talking to Sherree Ross, a Certified Health Nutritionist, about the evils of energy drinks which are my weakness. We spoke about the possibility of creating a Pagan Healthy Version, which I would buy. That is $2.00 to $5.00 a day I would spend, if I could get a equivalent product. How many others would do the same?

    The Green Lifestyle should be where Pagans should be, and are often not. But this is just one area where we could thrive if we could find the cooperation.

    Now quietly, as part of my “Seeking One Million Pagan Friends” class and campaign, which I am sharing across at any festival which would let me speak directly deals with creating networks of Professional services, products, and creatives. I am getting allies aross the board to do this. I am talking Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding, and social living in ways we can support. This alliance is forming with the discovery of one or two great people in business in each city and country we touch.

    One step I am taking is starting a new platform this fall called PaganFunding.com which will deal with a lot of financial issues. This is instead of some community projects I was working on which dealt directly with how we can be a more unified community. It was revealed that we need to discover ways to really help our community financially, and build the long term assets we need. Ownership, financial success, and access to community is the only way we will ever alliveeate the poverty of our community, and a community that can care for the day to day needs with abundance is a healthy community to live, work, and raise families in.

    Thank You Pythia for this and providing yet another chance to talk about this in my heart.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/LODEEL4JJF752TPM46DEDDOSUY Rev. Cher

      May I run with these?

  • mysticheathen

    I’m a little surprised there aren’t more people disagreeing with the premise of this article. I know business and religion are mixed, but I see that as a bad thing. I don’t see why it would/should be necessary, but I can think of a lot of reasons why it shouldn’t be.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1135635570 John Robertson

    Having been in the Pagan Community for over 30 years, I have seen a lot of Pagan Businesses come and go. I do try to frequent the local Pagan owned/Friendly stores in my home town of Dallas.

    Several things that I would like to comment on…

     First.. Where is it written that we cannot haggle over the prices that we are charged? That was poor propaganda passed down by someone who thought their stuff didn’t stink.. GO read History.. Haggling was around LONGER then Christianity was. Haggling is a way of life in many cultures and isn’t a bad thing.

    Second: Where is it written that you have to be poor and unemployed to be a Pagan… I have been middle class most of my life and have no problem enjoying the fruits of my labor and most importantly PAYING my bills.

    Third: Money is not Evil.. it is how you use it. I choose to ignore those Pagans who had the nerve to tell me who and what I should support and how I should spend my money. Hell I was criticized by other Pagans for my choice of Careers when I was selling Diamonds for a living. Of course it was mostly by Pagans who didn’t even have jobs and I ignored my detractors.

    Suffice to say, Pagans as a community, really need to get their act together and NOT BE AFRAID of Money. Learn how money works and lose the fear.

  • nihilix

    Money has complex karma. Money given for labor or effort, time I spend on your project or on your item, that’s pretty decent karmically. Money made on trading third order derivatives is karmically way different than ‘I load 15 tons and what do I get’ money. 

    Money is a human construct, and all human constructs have ethical components. I have thought long and hard about ‘embracing free trade ideals’ and I cannot embrace them. They so obviously result in broken markets, depressions and recessions, and currently organize wealth in a disasterously imbalanced manner. I like the apprenticeship concept (as long as the historic abuse of apprentices does not occur) and I agree about basic economic competence being a good thing to have.


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