Archives For Aristophanes

I think we have a money problem. I’m not really sure. Yes, we’ve been through the Great Recession, and it did take a serious toll. And yes, I agree that the deck is stacked in favor of the wealthy, but I think it’s more serious than that. I keep witnessing a deep reluctance to understand wealth and money, and I think we — as a community and to our detriment — have anathematized wealth.

Many of us ruminate that money is about energy exchange. Others question whether we should have paid clergy or pay for services like spiritual consultations. We question the value of vendors, artists, and craftsmen when they charge for their wares and services.

[photo credit: S. Ciotti]

[photo credit: S. Ciotti]

Too many of us appear to be uncomfortable talking about money, categorizing it with other subjects to be avoided, like religion and politics. We treat it as a necessary evil as though a more perfect society can exist without it. But, the theme is certainly clear: money is ruinous, corrupt, and even shameful. And, I see evidence of this money issue in quite a few places.

First, I see a lot of attention to the idea of prosperity, while at the same time focusing on spiritual rather than material wealth. Don’t get me wrong, I think spiritual wealth is incredibly important. But I also think that few things stifle spiritual development more completely than worrying about being able to pay for your child’s medication, education, or clothes. We seem to categorize material prosperity as a flaw; even a weight on spiritual development. We describe material wealth as a counter-current to spiritual progress even invoking — as I have heard — Christian theology to gird the opinion.

Second, I notice a palpable Pagan avoidance about discussing money, let alone participating in financial systems that create material wealth. For example, at a recent Pagan event, a workshop focused on building a financial future attracted exactly one participant out of several hundred attendees. We don’t discuss income or saving, but we are quick to lament not having enough resources or financial security. We are open about not having any money; we will easily say that we cannot afford something. But we seem less open to discussing what to do about it or our responsibilities on a personal level.

Again to be clear, that’s not a criticism; it’s a concern. Because sometimes, I don’t understand what someone means when they can’t afford something. Is it just the thing they’re looking at buying? Is it more serious, like basic needs? Like food?

I raise that questions because, third, in my own research, I find evidence that Pagans do in fact struggle with money in both practical ways as well as actual incomes. In a set of random interviews, Pagans who participated in my investigation described the usual challenges with money including a lack of understanding about it, its use, and how to save. Their comments were no different than those made by members of other faiths.

But in one random sample (Tejeda, 2015), Pagans reported an annual household income of about US $51,000 –- a healthy sum. However, the paired sample of Christian households reported an average annual income of over 25% higher at about US $67,000. And that difference — over a period of 35 years — represents a deficit of almost US $3 million in retirement assets. So while the interviews pointed to similar concerns about money, as we might expect in the general population, the actual reporting of income made the context far more serious and sobering. The sample was random, and may not have been representative. But, it raises a possible and important concern.

Fourth, I notice how our frugality seems to suggest something more fiscally serious. We quadruple up on hotel rooms (but that’s also fun); we split meals (but that can also be healthy); we carpool (but that’s environmentally conscious). We look to the community for help with medical and funeral expenses; and we come through, because we’re a community. Yet, those requests, that frugality, that caution with money always hints at something more fiscally grave.

Many of us also often use language from the edge, the language of worry and sometimes of frustration and resignation as it relates to wealth. I’ve heard it before. I recognize it not as desperation but as an anxiety about money. A worry about our own capacity to care for ourselves and our families.

I wasn’t raised in poverty, but my parents did struggle. I never had to have sleep for dinner but we did have to make choices. Decades later, my appearance and behaviors still describe my socioeconomic status of childhood. And I did experience the excuses and embarrassment needed to decline invitations to social gatherings during high school and college. I went to a great university, but was also keenly aware that I was from a financial place that was very different than my colleagues. They had experienced more, had access to more, and simply had more. This plays out in subtle but very real ways with very real physical, emotional and social consequences.

And then, on a broader level, I notice that many of our Pagan institutions are struggling, failing or simply lacking. To be blunt, our community is embarrassingly weak in resources for those we serve. We have no real networks that parallel Catholic Charities or the Jewish Community Centers Association. And our apparent lack of wealth has resulted in having no real parochial system for education, no health systems, no elder resources nor retirement communities. We are abundant in community love and support, but we lack community infrastructure.

Those are all echoes of hardship with money at its core.

The Crown of Oyá [artwork credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

The Crown of Oyá [artwork credit: M. Tejeda-Moreno]

I’m not sure why. Asceticism — or other forms or material avoidance — are not theologically prescribed in the Pagan movements with which I’m familiar. Moreover, there are gods of prosperity. Plutus is one of them. Our ancestor Aristophanes tells us that Plutus was blinded by Zeus so that the gifts of prosperity that he offers would be dispensed without prejudice and accessible to all. Mercury is the god of commerce and profit. Our ancestor, Lucan, describes the Celtic god Teutates as a dispenser of wealth and protector of the tribe. And Freyr and Freya are witnessed as gods of wealth. Lakshmi embodies both spiritual and material wealth. The list goes on.

And what they are saying is that it is okay to not have money. And it is also okay to have money. Just use it wisely and share your wealth.

Orisha Oyá — my mother Orisha — is the fiercest of warriors. Her crown is made of copper and holds nine tools which she uses as needed. She is swift against her enemies riding into battle with host of weapons that include winds, magic and money. While she is often recognized as the Orisha of storms and the gates of the dead, she is also the Orisha of the marketplace. And there, like in no other place, she means business.

As her story tells us, Oyá lived a solitary life in the forest and suffered tremendously. People called her ugly and shunned her. They detested her intelligence, especially because she was a woman. She lost her children, nine of them; each one dead. After, she dressed in nine different colors, each representing one of her stillborn.

Her life drove her to be a loner, a characteristic that she imparts to her spiritual children. While she remembers when her community humiliated her for being without children and treated her like an outcast because of her suffering, her intelligence and her power,  her experiences transformed her. She became independent and nurturing, and she rails that her spiritual children never endure such burdens.

Oyá teaches that we must build our own future, our own independence in recognition of the vast instability of the world. She is the Orisha of change and demands that we prepare for it and we submit to it. Without change the elegant process of the creation cannot unfold. But more importantly, there was a time when no children added poverty upon suffering. So she became shrewd in business and took command of the marketplace because of its chaotic nature.

But Oyá is also particularly concerned that her children have the needed resources so they will never suffer as she did, so she whispers to them her secrets of change, of magic and of markets. She wants her children skilled in business and insists that they — especially the women — become adept with money. She becomes enraged when others try to subordinate her children; so she wants them to have the resources to not fall to envy, to fortify them against the shocks of change and perhaps most importantly to have the financial stability to promote their self-determination and their community’s prosperity.

Like Orisha Oyá and the Gods of other peoples, our ancestral cultures didn’t appear to see wealth or money as a problem. It was only a problem when it failed the community.

[Courtesy In Guadalajara]

[Courtesy In Guadalajara]

And, possibly to some surprise, capitalism was conceived in exactly the same way; it was to be an ethical pillar against social ills from corruption to poverty. That capitalism was described by another ancestor: Adam Smith. He called it the “commercial society” and it was built upon liberal realism; the kind that requires a deep attention and commitment to freedom, equity and justice rather the pursuit of profits as a singular goal. The kind of capitalism Smith wanted promotes economic prosperity through rational self-interest and competition in the context of equality and economic justice.

For those unfamiliar his seminal work, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” (1776), Smith was obsessed with defending an economic system sternly rooted in a morality of social and economic justice. He keenly understood how his “commercial society” could be hijacked to become amoral and unrestrained. As he underscores over and again, that there must be fairness and justice always present for his system to produce amd ethical wealth.

He argued that when markets are free and fair, society will benefit from economic gains. He further argued that it is the poor that would be the marker of that benefit. “No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, cloath [sic] and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed [sic] and lodged.” (I. viii. 36)

Adams saw endemic poverty as the consequence of injustice and its remedy as the most urgent of issues on behalf of children “But poverty, though it does not prevent the generation, is extremely unfavourable to the rearing of children. The tender plant is produced, but in so cold a soil, and so severe a climate, soon withers and dies.” (I.viii.37). Smith saw taxation as a sign of freedom and necessary for effective societies. He called for taxes on luxuries, and he wanted the rich to pay their way proportionally.

Now, he did get other things wrong; the benefits of colonization being one of them. But, his economic system, on the whole, was free and fair commerce for the purpose of poverty elimination. He wanted the government to use those taxes and the power to make laws specifically on behalf of creating a just and fair environment to help the poor and the workers.

Returning to Oyá for another moment, she teaches us that the power of consent is also the power to withhold. She wants us to have resources to build our independence and equality because subservience will never be a path for her children. She insists we understand that we only have power when we can walk away, and that money is the path of voice, power, independence and protection: to serve the poor, to protect the workers and to promote personal and community freedom.

What she demands that her children understand is that money is a tool. Nothing more. It does not incite anything by itself. It does not create greed or war; nor does it save lives or stop poverty. Like the nine tools of her crown, money is simply another device. Sometimes you need a machete. Sometimes you need a sickle. But you fear neither, nor make them forbidden. They simply help you accomplish your task. In doing so, they also reveal who you are. The machete can open the coconut for a neighbor and it can murder them as well. That is what money does too, like any tool, it manifests the ethic of the user.

We, as a community still  have much to manifest. There is much work to do against poverty. There is much work to do against injustices. It’s perfectly fine to be wealthy and continue those struggles. In fact, I think, wealth will strengthen one’s resolve to see more of us out of hardship, hunger and worry.

Our community history has never shied from experimenting with tools: magical, spiritual, even pharmaceutical. We have always embraced the radical and celebrated the taboo, and money is no different. We can build the skills to master the tool, and we have the discipline of magical, traditional and spiritual practice to guide our use of money and learn to use it well. We study the most complicated and esoteric pieces of our existence. There is no tool we cannot master; no situation we cannot understand and prepare for. We can learn how to use it effectively and to manifest our ethics on behalf of our community to give us a stronger voice for equality, justice and equity. Like a hammer and chisel, we can use it to carve institutions and manifest the ideals demanded by our paths that we can call to benefit our society. We can begin to sculpt some very Pagan futures full of community resources — from elder care and justice to housing to environmental healing — all, I think, are ripe for manifesting.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

XKCD by Randall Munroe

XKCD by Randall Munroe

  • Considering how many times Wicca has been called the “fastest growing religion in America,” by both supporters and detractors, the latest XKCD comic reminds us to not get too wrapped up with the numbers, because they can be deceptive.
  • At Religion Dispatches John Morehead writes about Burning Man, and the fear it generates of an “alternative Pagan social order.” Quote: “For evangelicals like Matthews, Burning Man embodies deep-seated fears which can also be seen playing out in other aspects of American culture. Many conservatives fear that America is undergoing decay, and this is taking place in the spiritual realm as well. A lingering economic malaise, coupled with our continued cultural fascination with apocalyptic scenarios, provides a context in which Burning Man functions as a Rorschach test.” The whole thing is worth a read.
  • The University of Texas at Austin has published a new psychology study in the June issue of Child Development that shows a “reliance on supernatural explanations for major life events, such as death and illness, often increases rather than declines with age.” Study lead author Cristine Legare noted that “the data, which spans diverse cultural contexts across the lifespan, shows supernatural reasoning is not necessarily replaced with scientific explanations following gains in knowledge, education or technology.” 
  • The Americans United Wall of Separation blog critiques efforts by Focus on the Family (FOF) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to carve out exceptions for religious bullying at public schools. Quote: It attempts to carve out an exemption for protected “religious” bullying. In several states, Religious Right groups have attempted to exempt bullying and verbal harassment based on sincere religious beliefs. In other words, a fundamentalist Christian kid can harass a gay student as much as he wants as along as he sincerely believes what he is saying. Some yardstick there!” You can read the FOF-ADF document, here.
  • A married couple’s strife leads to arson, and hospitalization for both. Both admit on the record to having marital issues, yet the headline, and part of the article, is about how the wife believes in Voodoo due to past instances where she called the police with, quote, “bizarre accusations.” There doesn’t seem to be anything Voodoo related with this incident, so why include in the headline? Seems prejudicial to the wife, and distorts what could be a tragic, and sadly common, case of domestic violence escalated to extreme levels.
  • Rev Dr Peter Mullen must live a small, sad, life. How else can you turn watching the opening of the opening ceremony of the Paralympics into a concern-trolling editorial about how we’re descending into Paganism? Quote: “But then I looked further and thought, at least, that I glimpsed a little of what this confusion says about modern society. We are indeed eclectic. And the old word for this, when applied to widely held beliefs and practical behaviour was “paganism” – the worship of many gods: that mountain of confusion classically represented by the panoply of argumentative deities on Olympus. Only an eclectic contemporary paganism could allow the godless Big Bang to walk hand in hand with the sacred flame.” Seriously. Can someone take this guy out to a movie or something?
  • The Republican National Convention is now over, and I know everyone wants to talk about Clint Eastwood’s interview with Invisible Obama, but I wanted to point out this exploration of Tuesday night’s closing invocation by Samuel Rodriguez, a member of the radical spiritual warriors of the New Apostolic Reformation. Quote: “Blessing the convention was National Hispanic Leadership Conference President Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who has served as an apostle in C. Peter Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles and has extensive ties to Wagner’s movement.” I’ve covered this movement quite a bit over the years, and their ascendancy/integration within the Religious Right is troubling for those hoping for a “big tent” religious conservatism, or a more moderate conservative Christianity.
  • Erynn Rowan Laurie, author of “A Circle of Stones” recently completed a pilgrimage to Ireland, and she has posted the first installment of her write-up. Quote: “Our visit to both of the wells was held in a deluge. I think every well we visited while we were in Ireland, with the exception of Brigid’s Well in Mullingar, was rained on. We certainly connected with the watery side of Brigid’s powers during our pilgrimage! Prayers were offered for Brigid’s blessing on our work, offerings were made, and intentions set in the pouring rain. I remembered all my friends and the folks who had donated to my travel funds for the pilgrimage at her well, offering prayers for them, as well.” I look forward to future installments!
Northumberlandia (Banks Mining/PA)

Northumberlandia (Banks Mining/PA)

  • We carved and shaped a giant goddess image into the earth, but please don’t think it’s Pagan, says a spokesperson. ”Northumberlandia is just a lady, she doesn’t represent anything, but I think it’s understandable that people have their own interpretations.” Chas Clifton retorts: “Check back at one of the quarter or cross-quarter days.”
  • For those inspired by Aristophanes classic play Lysistrata, you might wonder, do sex strikes really work? Slate.com says “yes,” but mostly as way to draw attention to an issue. Quote: “The Togolese group cites as its inspiration a strike organized in 2003 by a women’s peace group to encourage the end of the Second Liberian Civil War. (The effort was chronicled in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.) Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace did force an end to the war, but their tactics were more complicated than a simple sex strike: They also staged sit-ins and mass demonstrations, which were arguably far more effective than the sex strike. Leymah Gbowee, the leader of the peace group, wrote in her memoir that the months-long sex strike had little or no practical effect, but it was extremely valuable in getting us media attention. Until today, nearly 10 years later, whenever I talk about the Mass Action, “What about the sex strike?” is the first question everyone asks.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.