One of the most annoying mindsets I find expressed in the pagan community is the poverty chic mentality, which is generally expressed in some form of poverty = spirituality meme. Because having money means the spirits don’t like you, because only Christians and Republicans are allowed to have money, or something. I have addressed this previously, while discussing prosperity magic, and, well, while discussing prosperity magic.
Well, someone else has decided to spew more “Real Witches (TM) reject money” crap all over the internet.
There are few issues I have with this.
First off, I cannot stress enough that there are some religious and personal paths that embrace aestheticism, and that’s fine. If your gods demand that you give up material comfort and devote yourself to a life of austerity in their name, by all means do so. But to insist that all pagans must follow such dicta is a bit self-centered at the very least. Many pagan gods encourage, promote, and reward with prosperity and fortune, and I cannot off-hand think of any ancient paganisms that encouraged or demanded poverty outside of a few select classes or mysteries. The only religions I can think of that glorify poverty are Christianity, Buddhism, and some classes or schools of Hinduism.
And there is a real big issue I have with poverty chic. It is largely a Christian holdover, exalted and selectively glorified by certain anti-capitalist political movements that have if not helped to define neo-paganism, then at the very least heavily infiltrated it. And this shows through in our target post.
Speaking of which, why not start picking apart the post in question:
It’s cool to be Pagan right now. Being so makes one hip, edgy, a demi-anarchist.
We start off with the implicit association of paganism with anarchism or some other manner of “hip” left-wing political stance. Because praying to at least one gods and maybe more is so damn edgy, or something. (But I suppose the conflation of paganism with activism is another issues altogether.)
It would also, it appears, make one financially prosperous. I am talking about the The Big Sell Out; the “Pagan for Profit” mentality that has taken over our computers, our lives and most sadly, our traditions, paths and beliefs.
Type “Pagan” into your web browser and you will be bombarded with thousands upon thousands of sites offering to sell you everything from amethyst studded wands to faux zebra-skin mojo bags. We have purveyors of “safe” flying ointments (they were never meant to be SAFE), herbal remedies for body and soul, spells for every occasion and ailment, tarot divinations, (“Call in the next 10 minutes and I’ll throw in a complimentary astrological reading”).
We start right out with some meaty accusations. This particular iteration of the pagan poverty chic is the one the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Make Money Via Any Means Related to Mag(j)ic(k).” The specific complaint here is apparently selling spells for money. I don’t know what the author thinks of prosperity magic, but based on the given assumptions of paganism and money, it doesn’t look too favorable.
Artists of all kinds are now coming out of the woodwork too, flogging their mediocre “occult” work like they are the “witchy” equivalents of Ansel Adams or Picasso. Their self-promotion is shameless and frankly embarrassing to behold. They throw out a few people in black cloaks, add a smoke machine (or worse, Photoshop) and all of a sudden, you are supposed to believe you’ve stumbled upon a clandestine gathering of the Ancient Ones in a forest riddled with dark and dangerous Spirits. Fuck me.
Holy shit! Pagan artists! Such a thing has surely never existed before, and is obviously an affront to the gods. As is, apparently, the notion that an artist deserves to reap financial benefit from his or her work. This is very unpagan, to be sure. (Historical side note: much of the inscriptions on ancient Greek pottery were trademarks and artist advertisements.)
This is also where we start encountering the “Ancient Ones,” whoever they are. My gods have names, they are very active in the modern world, and they rather like art. Oh, and they congregate on a mountaintop, not in a forest.
I would expect such behaviour from Christians. The church has always been a big proponent of riches (even though their own scriptures denounce it). The Catholic Church is one of the world’s richest organizations worth literally untold billions. According to some sources, the Pope, as head of this conglomerate, is the wealthiest individual on the planet.
From this hypocritical mindset, I would expect a sellout. From a movement supposedly started by an illiterate, desperately poor carpenter, that has devoured the world and left millions in spiritual slavery and poverty, yet, ironically, is worth billions (some say too many to count), from THIS type of institution, I would expect a sellout.
Here we go. We were overdue with unwarranted (and unrelated to the discussion) Xtian bashing. Evil, hypocritical Xtians! hey have money, and stuff! And they’re hypocrites! And they raped and destroyed the world!
Call me old-fashioned or old school, but I remember growing up with people who lived in mobile homes in the New Mexico desert who would be considered almost destitute by today’s standards. They worked outside; they grew their own herbs (only 3 or 4). They made their own tools for their Craft. They believed that actually making the magical item yourself added to the power. The intent of the Worker was transferred bit by bit to the item being created. It was useless to buy something someone else had made for a “magical” working. It had THEIR web strand embedded in it. To change and influence our individual reality, our OWN essence and our own thread of being needs to be inherent in our tools. Not a stranger’s. That is the lazy man’s way of Crafting. It is also the weakest way.
They followed their intuition. They talked to the Spirits and were guided by THEM, not by some red-eyed, well-dressed, over-fed “witch” who got her information from brightly illustrated books and the latest episode of “Charmed”.
They worked with what was available. They couldn’t have two-day delivery with a Prime membership. They had to get outside, in the sun and dirt, making talismans out of adobe mud, infused with grasses, rocks and the Power of the Shaman. They spent time with themselves and the Ancients. They chanted, they prayed, their bodies swayed in time with the Universe. The blood flowed and the magic thundered. It didn’t cost a dime; it cost their lives.
And now we have the nostalgic romanticism of having lived in poverty.
Look, there can be a simple honor in living in poverty or doing with less. But I’m rather fond of my modern conveniences, like easy transportation, access to a variety of foods, clean water, and all that fancy modern medicine and stuff. The very notion that calling someone well-fed should be considered an insult boggles my mind. My education and most of my involvement in the occult is possible largely due to modern technology. I rather like this modern living, and every day I rejoice in the ingenuity and inspiration that has developed these wonders that permeate our lives. I have conversations every day with people who enrich my lives, whom I have never met in person and who live thousands of miles away. How in the nether regions of Hades is that not fantastically magical?
I am not an artist or craftsman. If I can visualize something I want, I am very hard pressed to construct or create it. But I can usually find something some else has made that is just what I’m looking for. Some of my most powerful tools are items that have been crafted by others, or even mundane objects I have re-purposed. And the objects that have been made for me are made by talented artists that use their gods-given gifts to create these works, and I see no reason why they cannot trade them to me for some manner of compensation. In fact, I would view it as an affront to not compensate them in some manner, and money, as an agreed-upon placeholder for this kind of energy, works just fine.
And I fail to see how using an object built by another lessens the efforts I put into consecrating and purposing that object. I don’t pray? I can’t be in tune with the Universe? My blood doesn’t flow? My life doesn’t fuel my magic? Apparently it doesn’t because I don’t live in poverty in the desert.
We all need money to live. I get that. In fact, truth be told, I am probably one of the most money hungry people you will ever have the unfortunate distinction of meeting. But I will say one thing; I have never made a penny off of my Path. My dad told me it was wrong to do so. He said that what was given by the Spirits and the Gods should not be sold. To do so was to trivialize the Power. To do so was to weaken the Gift and to make it a thing of ‘men’, not of the Divine.
I personally think that is why this Pagan sellout is such a success. Most are weak. Their rituals dry, tasteless and rote, their spells ineffective and paltry.
If the author’s path specifically says not to profit from crafting, fine. Some paths have this injunction, and it is common in many Native American religions. But my religion has no such proscriptions, and most of the religions that neo-paganism draws from did not as well. One of my biggest magical successes was a project I did for money: my biggest regret is that I didn’t charge more, given how well it worked.
You want to be more powerful? You want to rock the world with your magic? Here’s an idea; get the hell away from computer, from the TV, from the cell phone, from PEOPLE. Shut your mouth, shut your wallet and sit in silence in the dark. Fast. Pray. Meditate. Talk to plants, talk to the Gods, talk to the Spirits. Stop buying into the hype that you need newer and better “things” to be a Worker. You don’t. You need dedication, discipline and that burning lust in your heart that will turn you insane.
I know plenty of people who rely on technology every day for their livelihoods, as well as their magical work. Online resources have made much of my work possible. I would never have found many of the people I have worked with in real life and exchanged knowledge with had I not resorted to the evil, evil technology that connects us all. It is frankly disingenuous to speak of “webs” connecting us all while counting out the World Wide Web – especially to do so via a blog post.
So, in summary, I like modern technology, and I like money and the things it brings, and resent any implication that these facts somehow rob my paganism of authenticity or my magic of power. Because what this really comes down to isn’t the article’s glorifying of poverty, angst over Christianity, or neo-Luddism, but of the very simple belief that the author is Doing It Right, and so everyone else is Doing It Wrong. that my paganism isn’t Real Paganism, that my magic isn’t Real Magic, and that therefore I will always be spiritually and magically inferior to the elite that have it Right.
And if there’s one thing that drives me crazy, it’s people who tell me they’re better than me Just Because, and that I should defer to them.
And since I’ve been droning on for so long, here is Lupa with her take on this sad tale of woe:
[S]pirit vs. material anything is also a false dichotomy. You don’t just have the pure, good, wonderful spirit-workers who never charge a dime on one side, directly opposed to the fake, money-hungry wannabe pagans who don’t do anything real on the other. It’s not that simple, either in form or function. Again, there are lots of gray areas and overlaps and personal boundaries that aren’t as simple as either/or. I have a very fulfilling and intricate practice, which includes (among other things) making money from selling books that I wrote based on my practices, AND also doing purification rituals on ritual tools and other dead critter art I’ve created and sell to pay my bills. My income and flexible schedule from being self-employed full time as an author and artist allow me MORE time to go out in the woods and be immersed in the source of my spirituality than what I had working in a cube farm. And I’ve had plenty of customers remark on how good the energy of the art I make feels, and how happy the spirits in my art are. I think that’s a decent indicator that I’m not just in it for the money, don’t you?
Ooh. Feel the ownage?
Which reminds me of another point. The internet and technology is an integral part of our culture now. As Phil Hine said, magic is about become more effective in the world, rather than withdrawing from it. And being effective in today’s world means being adaptable and accepting the permeation of high technology in all aspects of our lives, including spirituality. Opposition to the Internet juggernaut is as futile as the opposition that the first printing presses saw, and demonstrates a lack of adaptability than is anathema to magical processes. Magic is about change, and resisting change is a sure way to foster impotence.