Tag Archives: Pagan Values

Money & Pagan Values


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.

Leaving with Her Lord

There are several things that make me love this song, above and beyond, well, duh, Leonard Cohen.

One of them is the inherent appeal to the completely Pagan value of honor. This song is, for me, all about Cohen’s call to Antony (and, thus, of course, Cohen’s call to Cohen) to behave honorably, even in, especially in, defeat and loss. It’s his call to a lover to live up to the virtues of the love affair at exactly that moment when the love falls apart.

Another of the things that I love about this song is the way that it’s essentially a well-played move in the The Glass Bead Game. Cohen’s song is based upon Cavafy‘s poem, The God Abandon’s Antony, which says:

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive — don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say [that]
it was a dream, [that] your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, [not with] the pleas of a coward;
listen — [as] your final delectation — to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.
– Constantine P. Cavafy (1911), Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard

Wiki explains that Cavafy’s poem:

refers to Plutarch’s story of how Antony, besieged in Alexandria by Octavian, heard the sounds of instruments and voices of a procession making its way through the city, then passing out; the god Bacchus (Dionysus), Antony’s protector, was deserting him.

And, so, well-played, from Antony, to Plutarch, to Cavafy, to Cohen, to the person who paired the pictures with the music on YouTube. The city of Alexandria becomes the woman Alexandra, becomes anything both worth attaining and, when lost, worth losing with honor. I’ve sometimes thought that I’d lay down my life for The Glass Bead Game. Ascendent in Gemini, there’s not much that I enjoy more. And it just delights me when I come across it.

Finally, I love the way that this song fits like a puzzle piece with some of Cohen’s other songs about loss. One thing that his songs say to me — as a lawyer, as someone who goes every day into the gladiator’s ring and either wins or loses (and we lawyers, we’re great, huge, honking examples of people who come too easily to love our own arguments and to be sure that we have to win (it’s an occupational hazard of lawyers, gamblers, and prize fighters and one not well-enough explained by law school profs)) — is that even a bad loss can be ennobling when you face up to the shadows involved, integrate them, and take your loss like a person of nobility. Being noble doesn’t always mean winning (ask Boudicca, Arthur, the ancestress eaten by the cave bear). Being noble means behaving nobly, whatever comes. (No, I haven’t had any losses recently. But one thing I know is that, in this job, as in life, they come, they come, they surely come.)

Here’s one of Cohen’s best songs about the nobility of at least admitting when you’ve lost:

And, here’s Cohen in a bad mood about losing:
.

And, here’s Cohen resigned to loss and still making love to it (to her):

“I’m old, but I’m still into that.”

That’s how we come to accept our losses.

With the thin veils, I’ve been making peace with old loves, mostly in dreams and with early-morning sex magic.

“It’s been too late for years. But you look good. You really do. They love you on the Street. If you were here, I’d kneel for you, a thousand kisses deep. . . . And I’m still working with the wine, still dancing cheek-to-cheek, the band is playing Old Lang Sygn, but the heart will not retreat. I ran with Diz, I sang with Ray. I never had their sweet. But once or twice they let me play, a thousand kisses deep. I loved you when you opened like a lily to the heat. . . . But you don’t need to hear me now. And, every word I speak, it counts against me, anyhow. A thousand kisses deep.”

Cohen may have written this years ago, but he had to get this old to honorably perform this poem.

May it be so for you.