I’ve started and then, electronically torn up several posts about money for Pagan Values Month. I don’t have the final and definitive thing to say about Pagans, values, and money. And so, please consider this post not so much a grand essay as a gumbo of thoughts about Pagans and money.
First, you don’t have to be a member of the Pagan community for very long to figure out that there are a few issues that seem to “cause problems” for us. Money. Time. Bodily health. Someone else’s success. And, I’d argue that those issues are all, if not precisely the same problem, at least all bound up together and indicative of a bigger, deeper, root problem. (It’s not, IMHO, an accident that all of these issues relate to the element of Earth.)
Second, it’s counterintuitive (at least to me) that Pagans would have these issues. It is, after all, the Christians who are supposed to believe that matter is fallen, that money is the root of all evil, that bodies are evil, and that seeing others get attention should not inspire jealousy or guilt. It’s Buddhists who believe that matter is illusion and that transcending it is the ultimate goal of our journeys here in the material world. And it’s Pagans who are supposed to believe that matter is not fallen, that there’s nothing wrong with prosperity, that our bodies are starlight and magic made manifest, that life here on Earth is to be enjoyed, that all acts of love and pleasure are rituals of the Goddess, and that the Universe has enough for everyone.
And, yet, here we are. The Christians have clearly worked out their issues with money. The Buddhists go merrily along transcending Maya. And Pagans keep losing their shit, individually and collectively, over financial well-being, body issues, and success.
Third, John Michael Greer points out that money (as opposed to other systems of wealth distribution such as, for example, household, gift, or exchange economies) does some interesting things that often go unnoticed. (1) It “tends to draw all economic activity into its own ambit by supplanting other forms of exchange with money exchange. That can (and very often is) used for political control, but this is a side effect. The principal effect of money is to turn a society into an economic monoculture.” (2) It “makes it harder, not easier, to value certain very large classes of goods. What [are called] primary goods are the most obvious example. . . . Most traditional societies around the world, by contrast, have no trouble whatsoever recognizing the value of primary [aka natural] goods and finding ways to integrate that value into their own systems of exchange. . . . The Salmon People are perfectly capable of participating in a gift economy, but there’s no way they can cash a check — or, for that matter, write one.” (3) “Money functions as a good in its own right, and the right to use it functions as a service. [Thus,] it becomes profitable to exchange money for money. . . . When money dominates a society, so does the world of finance, and the amount of money being traded for money can exceed by many orders of magnitude the amount of money being traded for goods and services.”
Fourth, anyone pondering issues of real wealth would be well-advised to consult Wendell Berry:
But I would insist that the economic arts are just as honorably and authentically refinable as the fine arts. And so I am nominating economy for an equal standing among the arts and humanities. I mean, not economics, but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth: the arts of adapting kindly the many human households to the earth’s many ecosystems and human neighborhoods. This is the economy that the most public and influential economists never talk about, the economy that is the primary vocation and responsibility of every one of us.
“The making of the human household upon the Earth.” That’s where, IMHO, gardening, keeping a few chickens, knitting warm clothing, knowing how to insulate a home, reading stories to grandchildren, reading Tarot, and figuring out how to brew tea from plants along the hedges comes in. As JMG, notes, such skills are likely to become far more valuable in the next decade or so. It’s also where learning how to manage money comes in. I’m not suggesting that all Pagans need to become hedge fund managers. I am suggesting that they all need to learn the basics that allow one to stay out of debt and live within a budget.
So, is there, Fifth, anything that can profitably (heh) be said about Pagan Values and money?
I’ll begin by admitting my own Moon in Taurus which leads to my preference for a safe, warm, tight little cottage stocked with rice & bean soup, firewood, linen, lavender, and surrounded by the trees and plants of my landbase; to my desire for over a year’s worth of salary tucked away in savings; to my own pleasure in long-term-disability insurance, a well-written will, canned goods and bottled water enough to survive a v bad storm; a snug roof; to my need for whatever safety and security is possible in this (as Starhawk said) interesting, but not perfect, universe. Those are, in fact, the pre-conditions that allow me to do magic, to be the Witch of This Place.
In my own humble opinion, there are two ways for Pagans to approach this issue.
My madcap friend R represents, for me, one way.
It’s v important for her to have plenty of free time to head off to Pagan festivals, to take off and go camping in the woods, to always be able to tell an employer to sod off. And, so, she takes jobs that provide more time off than money, counts every penny, figures out ways to stretch every dollar, and never wastes anything. She has made an art form out of living within her means. She’s done v well at it, having just bought her second house. And that’s what lets her do her magic.
And I represent the other way.
I have a job that stimulates me intellectually and that pays rather well, but that can, and often does, take away my weekends, my late nights, my staring-at-the-ceiling-at-two-am moments. I can’t easily head off to the woods even when I may want for several weeks to do so. But I make enough money to be very secure (at least as much as is possible in these rough times) in my nice cottage, in my tea-stocked larder, and in the warm blankets in my lavender-tucked linen closet. I have a wine cellar that will accommodate any guests blown in by Autumn winds and a guest room that will keep my friends dry in the strong Summer rains. And that’s what lets me do my magic.
R needs my secure little cottage. I need R’s involvement with the woods.
I think that we Pagans need to learn from each other’s relationships to money.
Which kind of Pagan are you? What’s your relationship to money, financial security, bodily well-being?
Picture found here.
JMG would point out that there are more than two ways to approach this, and every other issue.
I used to live more like you, Hecate, and now Iive more like your friend. Having lived both ways, I find I miss the security I felt but I appreciate my freedom more than I ever could have imagined. I think there are as many ways to approach this are there are people. It’s something I think about a lot.
It may be my Moon in Taurus or my Virgo Ascendant that keeps this Pisces Sun Witch slaving for “The Man” all those long days, nights, and sometimes weekends that my very well-paying career extracts from my life. Maybe. I suspect it is as you write; a fulfilling challenge that stimulates me intellectually and also affords me the money to be a benefactor for the many causes and people I love to support. A dear friend called me a deep well of abundance and I took that as the best and perhaps my most favorite compliment. He was not talking about money, though. He meant it in the sense of my capacity for offering what was needed, when it was needed. I too, live in my own much-loved little cottage, but I feel that because my basic needs and more are met, I can offer so much more to others.
Staying out of debt should also keep the preassure away from being told what to do, ie, making more money. In my humble opinion the economic and ecological crisis exposes a fundamental wrong of the entire system, is it currently is an abstraction not tied to natural possibilities of what we can extract without risking damage. For me implementing a perspective along these ways has nothing to do with guilt, but much more to do with a fundamental flaw of how we conduct our economy.
Good one, reffering to John Michael Greer too. 🙂
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Buddhism has a lot more sects and is a lot more complex than that, this article would have stood fine discussing what you and your Pagan sources think about money.
Actually, the Bible says that “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Don’t know if that helps any with the money issue.
I much prefer to “work to live” rather than “live to work.” It was a decision I came to the first time I was diagnosed with cancer, and I re-affirmed that notion during my second and third recurrances. Thankfully, I’ve a job that pays well enough to support me, and yet is flexible w/r/t taking time off when needed. And sometimes the large debts we Pagans incur is not from living frivolously, but because of things we can’t control (e.g. cancer-related medical bills; health insurance doesn’t cover everything).
But I also don’t feel a great need for scads of wealth. If it were dropped in my lap, sure, great and thanksverymuch. But I am not compelled to desire lots of material things. Acquiring “stuff” just amounts to a need for a bigger house or more storage.
“[…}all acts of love and pleasure are rituals of the Goddess”
That’s very Wicca-esque though, isn’t it?
A thought-provoking post. Here are a few of my thoughts.
First, pure numbers. Paganism is a (way, way, way minor) minority religion in the US, so you don’t get to play with big numbers and “natural sifting.” Most Christian churches struggle to pay their bills, and are filled with lower-middle-class and poor people. But there are enough Christians in the US to make up a whole cathedral out of one-percenters. A natural sifting process takes place: lower-income folks aren’t going to feel comfortable parking their Jetta in the middle of a bunch of Beemers. Similarly, the high-income folks are going to feel pretty isolated parking their Beemer in a lot full of junkers. So you’ll get “rich” churches, and they’ll have big programs and a performance-class choir and a radio talk show and…. They’re very visible. You don’t tend to see the two hundred marginal churches that live in the shadow of the Big Churches.
Paganism is a more level playing field, simply because there are so few of us (by comparison). Our Colorado Dragonfest gathering hosts 1000 people drawn from all over Colorado. The one-percent would be only ten people. I’d be willing to bet we could find five to fifteen “rich” Pagans at Dragonfest. Maybe more. But the numbers are so small that it’s hard to say if Pagans are, on average, more or less “successful” than Christians.
Second, Paganism speaks to women in a way that patriarchal religions do not, and it draws a lot of women who are trying to make it on their own. Fact (abysmal, but true): women earn less than men. Paganism could thus be expected to show a lower average income than an equivalent sample of Christians, Jews, or Muslims, where unhappy marriage is institutionally supported over divorce or single womanhood.
Third, neo-Paganism in the US is still made up of first-generation refugees from Christianity — in many (most?) cases damaged by our upbringing and religious history. Dealing with that damage draws away a lot of energy that would otherwise go into good health, prosperity, family stability….
Fourth, there’s a reverse-causality in the system: rich Christians aren’t rich because they’re Christians, they are Christian because they are rich. If you want to own the biggest car dealership in a midwestern town and then run for mayor with any hope of winning, you are going to be a Baptist. Or perhaps a Methodist. It isn’t a matter of faith — it is a matter of political expediency. None of these high-profile people will be openly Pagan, because it would kill them in the polls; it would sink their businesses.
I try to strike a balance between work and play. My family is fortunate to have enough money to get by comfortably. We stretch that money to afford to attend several events throughout the year. My job (I’m the primary bread-winner) is secure, with long hours, but when I do decide to vacay, they do not complain (too much 😀 ).
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