#paganvalues – our screwed up money problems

The talks about money this year have been fascinating, and warming to my heart. At last! Progress! That said, this is partially a vent, but also intended to get across an attempt on untying the knot that has us all bound up in the self-imposed portion of the Pagan financial consciousness crisis.

A diagram of cognitive dissonance theory. Diss...
A diagram of cognitive dissonance theory. Dissonance reduction can be accomplished in various ways, broadly including the addition of more, consonant elements, or else changing the existing elements. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of things that has bothered me about the Pagan religious movement since I was about 28 – after practicing from age 19 – is that many groups talk a big line about owning our issues and resolving our personal problems, but then we don’t. We really, really don’t. If you operate on the adage about insanity being doing the same thing over and over expecting different results, then it is everywhere. Everywhere you see people having the same conversations over and over, repeating the same conclusions, clinging to the exact same beliefs in the face of changing situations. Tradition of the stability-creating kind suddenly becomes tradition of the stagnating kind. “Think this.” “Don’t do that in private practice– it’s not in our tradition.” “You’re not legitimate to the Pagan community unless you’re endorsed by our tradition.” In a somewhat recent conversation, I was told “Well, my tradition doesn’t have dogma but it does not allow x.” To which I responded, “OK, so if someone DID x, and they don’t have dogma, what would happen?” No answer. “Not allowing x” IS dogma. Some dogma – like “abusing a minor is not acceptable,” is necessary yet unnecessary. But don’t say you don’t have dogma when you do – that’s where cognitive dissonance begins.

This is not the only inconsistency, but one of the more recent. It’s been horrific to watch, especially as our most inconsistent, cognitive dissonant, flat out crazy ideas in Paganism are expressed about money. This is especially true after the economy tanked and I had to see one plea after another for financial assistance posted. Those will probably not end in my lifetime.

The Communication Dysfunction

It wasn’t money alone that caused me to do it.  At some point, I withdrew from most direct Pagan community interaction because I was becoming second-level insane: I was doing the same things over and over and expecting different results from other people. That is the point where I more or less gave up on public discussion forums online or off. Even now, doing work where I have to, it’s actually a miserable experience for me – rarely on a Pagan public forum do I feel like things are discussed, explored, or learned from. They’re debated, or attacked, and there’s just so much chest-pounding and patronizing as people don’t explore enough to know what the other person might have to offer. From where I sit, every topic, especially the topic of things that need to be changed the most, are seen as adversarial, as though we’re leaning towards “there can be only one, and I HAVE TO WIN!” Somewhere along the line way too many people have put “winning” and “being right” over “making progress” and “solving problems.”  People hop on forums to show themselves off as teachers – and don’t bother to see if it’s perhaps a colleague rather than a student on the other end of the communication line.

the Monkey on My Back
the Monkey on My Back (Photo credit: magickalrealism)

Worse, those who are actually empathetic are often not trained well in practical communication and then they end up sorting through (or not sorting at all) wildly misapplied empathy for people who don’t accept that personal responsibility includes managing our own emotions ourselves instead of demanding other people manage around our emotions.

So for me, spending time on Pagan discussion forum – ANY forum – is the most onerous part of my week for these reasons. Rarely do I walk away happy that I spent time there. Being around the minds of the majority of other Pagans is almost as bad as going to family reunions where I’m asked why I don’t have babies but I’m really being asked why I’m not just like everyone else there.

There are things often said with pride and affection that are actually part of the dysfunction. So in some ways, a lot of us – and not just Pagans, but people everywhere in the abundant west – are proud of our screwed up money problems.

Sometimes Beliefs Must Change – and not just because of science

The old saw about Pagans “being like herding cats” is one I have disproved before – to the flat out disbelief of one woman who was quite smug in her repetition of the Litany of Bull. Pagans are not flakey at all when we put in the work necessary to communicate with each other properly. In the money conversation, it’s repeated often we are all poor because of our morality; this assumes falsely that wealth = immorality, as though a group that includes magic workers – people who supposedly work daily to strengthen their will – would immediately lose the will to control their morality in the face of the opportunities that money opens. I think that’s a pretty self and other loathing assumption to make. Yes, I have an open distaste for my “rich” uncle and his family. It’s not their wealth that I dislike, it’s how they treat people. Take away his hard-earned money, and my uncle still would have been encouraging his kids to bully me when I was as young as seven. If his daughter hadn’t accosted me after a funeral to blather on about a car, she would have probably accosted me to blather on about something just as obnoxiously shallow and inappropriate at a funeral…but cheaper. The girl that ran around school telling people I climbed out my bedroom window at night and ran around with the boys in my town was dirt poor, and rotten. Also, a bad liar since my smallish dog could not fit through those damn windows. Character and intelligence has no relationship to prosperity. The money problems Pagans have are absolutely not specific to Pagans – they are endemic to the West. You are not poor because of your Pagan morality. You are also not temporarily embarrassed. You are where you are, and you can do the work of dealing with it, or you can keep doing the same thing over and over, whether or not you expect different results.

Various neopagan religious symbols (from left ...

I am Pagan. It is who I am, to my bones. I am a magical person, with a love for the Earth and what it produces. I am a Pagan with a love for the Cosmos, and all that it holds. I’ve been Pagan, and in conversation with the Gods since before I realized I had religious choices other than those my family tried to limit me to. I got to my spiritual life by looking at what was presented, and then thinking otherwise. Why would I stop questioning just because I converted to Wicca?

These behaviors among Pagans all the freaking time tell me I am not a member of the tribe as I know it. At least, I sure as hell don’t feel like I’m a member of the tribe. Most of the time I feel like I’m treated like some combination of heretic and idiot. Since only certain Pagan religions can even have heresy, the first is the problem of inappropriate authoritarianism poisoning the works, and the second is simply people continuing to do the same stuff over and over again on both a personal and an organizational level.

I am also a writer, a professional, and a profit-seeker. The first magicians practiced magic not to hug the earth because they wanted to eat. Food comes easier to me, but the principle of my magic – survival – remains the same.

So no, money is not bad. Also, Pagan morality is NOT what has caused us to have trouble with our money. It goes much, much deeper than that – and yes, Pagans need to address their financial problems on a personal level before they attempt to address financial issues on an organizational level. Doing the work for yourself, to make yourself a better neighbor, community member, priest or priestess – that IS doing the work for others.  As much as we pride ourselves on our collective skills, we are NOT all mind readers, and we do NOT know the situations even of other Pagans. All we can do is get our own stuff straight, first.

Morality (Photo credit: tdietmut)

Because Just Complaining Doesn’t Help

So for those reading it, the question is “what now?” First, you have to do the work. It is not possible to do the work all at once, or to fix ANY deep-rooted money issues in the course of an afternoon. You know that saw about “time heals all wounds?” Time doesn’t. Time is what you need to do the work to heal all wounds.  Believe it or not, “work harder” as you know it might NOT be the answer – rather, “work differently.” Work “harder” just encourages you to keep doing the same thing over and over – and has that gotten you a different result? Again, old adages no longer work – college guarantees absolutely nothing in a job market nowadays. Most people don’t know that there are scads of options for managing their student loans, some of which are preferable to “crippling payment” and “forbearance.” What’s working for me is the Money Drunk/Money Sober work – and I do recommend it. But if that doesn’t work, you might want to try:

  • Visiting a financial advisor. Credit unions often have such people available free to members.
  • Seeing if your public library offers job training services or business consultations.
  • If in the US, looking for your chapter of S.C.O.R.E if you run a business or wish to.

When you go talk to these people, they’re going to suggest changes. You have to be willing to try the different approaches than what you’ve been doing, or you’re wasting everyone’s time.

Often you can change things, but you might not make more money – you might have to use it differently. You will have to reconsider the “supposed-tos” handed down from dominant culture that Pagans cling to. Many want to own land, or live on a farm, or go camping. These are reasonable goals, but are they what you really want – or what you’re supposed to want? I know I’m having an annoying time with people telling me to buy a house when house ownership absolutely does not suit my lifestyle or temperament – and comes with larger carbon footprint than I want.  I’m not caught up in the “supposed tos” and that’s taken some work. What are your “supposed tos?” Now, what are your “really wants?”

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