Owning Things

Yesterday I wrote about owning things, and some of my readers were displeased with the idea of “owning” being something good in a spiritual context. My post yesterday was not great, and some readers mistook my unpolished stream-of-consciousness scribble for panic. I am far from panicked. I do not believe that the sky is falling on our heads. I am trying to see us and our place in the world clearly, free of projection and illusion.

I have reached a point in my life where I don’t own anything beyond some books, clothes, a few sticks of furniture and a little bit of cheap tech. I no longer own anything of substance. I do not own a car. I do not own land. I don’t even own a musical instrument, as the mandolin I bought with a tax return years ago ended up being exchanged for money for food and bills. What my father left me when he died was sold by someone else, and I don’t know that I ever benefited from the sale. I don’t own anything. My belongings could all very likely fit in a large pickup truck.

I have streamlined my life over and over again. I have purged my clothing, books and furniture several times, and not always by choice. I have given things away. I have had them taken from me. I have lost things through stupid thoughtlessness on my part. The truck my father taught me to drive was taken from me by a careless driver who owned a much nicer vehicle. The insurance company didn’t give me enough money to replace it. I learned the hard way that what something is worth and what it will cost you to replace it are sometimes two very different figures. I left for work one morning in no particular hurry only to find that when I arrived the fire department had been dispatched to my house because it was belching smoke. I came home from work one day to find my husband had taken the computer, his books and his clothing and left me with the dishes and secondhand furniture. I had a job I was excellent at taken from me piece by piece in a scary merger over several months until being fired was a blessed relief. I’ve lost things I’ve owned.

I have a well-worn Scofield KJV Study Bible that I have spent hours of my youth pouring over. I had a remarkable grasp of scripture, church history and Evangelical thought once. I owned my faith. I didn’t merely inhabit it or acknowledge it or visit it on Sunday. I had mastery and understanding. I owned my faith. I lost that, too.

In this economy, people are losing their homes, their cars, their jobs. They are losing the ability to support their children. People who had a good grasp on their life, who owned property and believed they had security saw all that crumble when the bank they worked for collapsed like a sad circus tent. People who owned tickets to the hottest movie in town lost their lives a few days ago. There is a lot of loss in the world right now.

Migrant children in California. March 1935. Photo by Dorothea Lange.

My grandparents grew up during the Depression of the 30′s. During rations and unemployment and people losing their family farms. They saw young men of their generation leave to fight in WWII only to be lost overseas and far from home. To say it made an impression on them is an understatement. My father took me to see Eddy Arnold perform once. He was a country music troubadour, and he must of been in his late 70′s when I saw him in concert. On the way to the show my told a story of Arnold packing up everything his family owned when he was a child and sitting on the back of the truck as the family drove away from the farm they had lost in the Great Depression. It affected him so profoundly that when he was the hottest act in country music his agent would have to coax him to buy a car, because Arnold was determined to save as much as possible to ensure his kids never lost their home. That story may not be true, but my dad told it to me, and I remember it.

When I was a small child my parents owned a few acres and a house. It wasn’t fancy but it was home. I had such a profound sense of security and identity because of that. There was a wide-world out there full of scary things, but this place was ours and I was safe there. I could play in our yard without some kid coming along to take away my ball. I could pick flowers, play in the dirt or sit on the steps slurping on a sweet tea popsicle. There were a lot of things I lost as a little kid: my favorite grandmother to cancer, my education, my trust in my parents, contact with my sisters, my grandfather and cousins to a feud, several pets, my first church family and my innocence of open-heart surgery. But we had that house. My small world had a firm foundation and boundaries. Then dad sold the house and moved. I still dream about those tree in our yard. We moved a few times and my parents looked at a lot of houses, but they didn’t expect my dad to die so young before getting settled. I never felt safe after we left that first house. What little security I had was gone.

I have tried my entire life to take ownership of my own soul. I tried desperately to own the role of wife a couple of times, but I lost that because the men involved didn’t want to own the role of husband. I’ve done a decent job of owning my sanity through the years, even thought it did get repossessed once or twice. One of those times long ago I tried to own my death, and thankfully failed. I have many faults and flaws I try to own, but do not always succeed. I have past full of women’s shelters, poverty and really stupid lonely decisions that I sometimes wish I could escape rather than own, but I try to own it even when it hurts.

There is no transit where I live, so to survive I need to own a car again. It is my dearest wish to own a small piece of land with a small house on it that belongs to me and no one else. I’d like to own the role of wife again, and if I can pull that off successfully for a couple of years, I’d like to try to own the role of mother as well. I’d like to work on owning my better nature, even if I never have a clear title to it. I’d like to own enough to give any children I might have, or my nieces and nephews, more than was given to me. Not just material goods, but other things I own: love, joy, wisdom, patience, perseverance.

Owning something, and more than that being able to name it, is a profound thing. Magic workers know this. Your ritual blade is useless if it is not unequivocally yours. Being able to own something gives you a sense of security and wellbeing, even if the only thing you own is a warm winter blanket. At least then you know you won’t freeze.

There is a profound joy in being able to share something. Humanity needs company and love needs to be given freely rather than hoarded. But you can’t share everything. You have to keep something for yourself to stay sane. Maybe it is your diary, your spirituality, your intimacy with your partner, or your solo commute to work. We all have something we own, and we cherish being able to depend on it. If we are lucky it is a house to shelter those we love or a respite from the stress of the world. It is something solid, a sanctuary in a storm. It gives us identity, form, purpose.

So when I talk about Paganism and other indigenous religions owning polytheism, this is here I am coming from. In a world where loss is an every day occurrence, it is nice to know we own this one thing. This one thing we don’t have to share or feel marginalized within. Polytheism is ours. It is our house. We are busy painting the trim and sanding the floors. When non-polytheists walk in, they are the guests. They are the other. We are the ones with the authority to invite people to spend the night, or to insist someone leaves before we call the cops. This is where we can feel safe, sound and secure.

It is a small thing, and to many people it may seem silly, but it is important. You need to have at least one thing you can own that can’t be taken from you. For Pagans, I believe that polytheism is that one thing.

About Star Foster

Polytheistic Wiccan initiated into the Ravenwood tradition, she has many opinions. Some of them are actually useful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/JediCass Daniel Castaneda

    I know how you feel. A two years ago, I was in bad shape, my job was about to let me go due to the lack of work, I was unable to pay my rent and I had a van that was broken more often than it was functional. I am now in much better shape, with my own place a good job and a car that works. Owning things may not seem important to some, but after  being a few steps a way from having nothing, I can tell you how great it feels to have something of my own again. I hope that you get the things that you want as well. 

  • Aine Llewellyn

    I am just going to go cry in a corner because that was really beautiful and spoke to a lot of what I have been dealing with emotionally (not owning anything) and thank you for writing it.

  • Michelle Bryant

    Wow. Paganism and polytheism mostly aside, this is a damn powerful post Star. And it hit home for me on many levels. Its continually interesting to see parallels between my life and yours when we chat. I too have had most everything I owned or thought I owned taken from me at one point or another throughout my life, including home, family, innocence, jobs, cars, material possessions, security, safety, relationships, friendships, my church, my faith, my sanity, my education, my health…the list could go on. So, again polytheism aside, I appreciate a post about owning your life, your soul, your faith, and your hopes, and putting all those things together in order to build something you can be proud of, a life you can share with others. 

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

       Yeah, we need to hangout. One day I will not be such a hermit!

  • Nicole Youngman

    I still dream about childhood trees too. Big maples in the front yard, just the right size for climbing.

  • PhaedraHPS

    Thank you for the powerful honesty in your post.

    I like to say that three times in my life, I’ve lost everything and had to start again with nothing. Right now, I’m counting on my fingers and it’s more like five times. One ex — after maxing out my credit cards — left me jobless and homeless. I couldn’t even live in my car, ’cause a few months before he’d totaled it. He took the only other car with him. I have often said that if it wasn’t for the loving help of friends, I’d be pushing a shopping cart around the streets of Kernersville, NC. But I had the loving help of friends, and I survived and rebuilt.

    It’s maybe way more than five times, depending how you count it. Some losses and restarts were voluntary, some were not. Some involved failed relationships, some did not. But each time I survived, moved on and rebuilt. I know I can do it. But that doesn’t make it easier, especially when you’re older each time it happens. I’m not young. It’s getting harder.

    When Isaac died, I couldn’t afford to live in the area where we were living, where we had settled so he could be near his son. I gave away all our furniture, my kitchen stuff, almost everything we owned (I kept the magical stuff and the books. Thousands of books.) My mother kept telling me to have a yard sale, but the rent was so high where we lived — and it was considered a cheap dump by local standards — that I saved more money just by getting out of town as quickly as possible. It really hurt to see some stuff go. Those muffin pans I got from my mother when she downsized. Isaac’s bookcases. The computer desks we’d sat at, side by side.

    When I left NY, everything I owned, everything that was left from both Isaac’s life and my life with and without Isaac, fit in a small U-Haul (including those 50-60 boxes of books). Two people, 119 years of living, and that’s what was left. Once I got to NC, everything fit in a bedroom and a half-filled storage locker (mostly books–is there a theme here?) And I got rid of more stuff in NC.

    It was oddly liberating. The biggest realization for me was that I had held on to many things
    simply because I had lost so many things. The fear of loss was a chain
    with which I had bound myself to things that ultimately didn’t really
    matter. I chose to free myself of things that I had to care for, and pay storage for, and pay moving for, but were ultimately just things.

    When I arrived at my new home in Oregon, the first things that came out of the boxes were magical things (even before the desktop computer!). The books are in boxes because the few bookshelves I have are filled with statues and chalices and altar odds and ends. Images of the Deities are hanging on the walls. They comfort me. They are a reminder of — dare I say it — my faith.

    I still have stuff to get rid of.  I kept most of Isaac’s stuff, almost all his little personal things, but I know over time they will be things, better to be passed along than to weigh me down. But I suspect the magical, ritual and deity objects will be the last to go.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    If you own a thing, it has real value. A family heirloom, for example, could be a flea-bitten scrap of fabric that no antique dealer would ever consider giving a bent penny for, but it could be the most precious rug in that family’s world.

    On the other hand, so many things are not owned in modern society, it is a miracle that anything has value.

  • Kilmrnock

    Altho my case is not as extreme as yours …………..having survived a divorce ,and coming out as pagan at the same time  basicaly starting over again , no house , few possessions etc . I know how valuable a home and owning a few things is .My life and possesions are now streamlinned as well. After re examining my life i have found what really matters and how i want to live my life  .We now live in a smallish townhouse ,live greener.  Things are better now , have a new life , wife and home all is well again , for now at least . At 57 years old my head is on mostly straight i do own my  heart , soul , religion , and a few material things .     Kilm