Life Coaches and the White Women Who Pay Them

From Prosper Bonhomme: “This isn’t the Catholic Church ladies, you can’t just buy your way out of your entitlement and suck your thumb until the mean, scary intersectional people go away.”

“Who the fuck even listens to these people?”

Day after day, watching this mountain of war crimes climb in front of me, what was once an incredulous question posed with a half-laugh and an eye roll has now turned into a seething catch phrase. I had hoped this bubble would burst. I had hoped this was a simple flash in the pan that would meet its end in a spectacularly quiet fashion, but oh no, this conflict of attrition continues to wage on. I would say that I fear myself succumbing to exhaustion, but in reality, that would be too swift a social media death, too kind for my liking. Instead, I endure, and in doing so I watch this enemy grow stronger, gaining power in the form of keystrokes and page views:

Life Coaches.

But no, not just any life coaches, kids. They are the Spiritual White Woman. They believe in Law of Attraction. They can help you do that same, provided you pay them enough. But let me break down this beast for you so you know what you’re looking at: I’m talking about bleach blonde white women, all of whom craft their social media battlements with eerily similar headshots of themselves in business casual suit jackets as their waving flags. Their banner men hoist their colors in the form of quickly edited stock photos of sunsets and misty forests with inspirational quotes slapped in the foreground. (And if they’re misattributed, who cares? After 500 shares, the truth of anything is relative.)

It isn’t hard to find them, as they want to be found, they build their fortresses with open gates, all the more eager to shepherd in their waiting flocks to become their armies. Their swords are honed from the contracts of their upcoming book deals, their shields are the hundreds of women in their Facebook groups who are glad to serve, much like worker bees for a queen. They are even willing to do the heavy lifting.

They are third wave feminists who sit at the top of the social hierarchy, they’ll hawk “intersectional” feminism like carnival barkers while simultaneously using the emotional labor of women of color to build their foundations even higher. They will do anything in order to make hand over fist in profits for themselves, building their clientele through thinly veiled lies and crafted deceptions. They care only for feminist thought so long as it means they don’t exclude anybody that might be willing to hand them money, which means their morals are circumspect at best. They preach love and tolerance while quietly accepting and preening TERFs, and nursing the emotionally stunted women who can’t seem to handle the mere notion of “white guilt” being something that applies to them.

Now, there’s a part of me that watches this miasma of bullshit with a skeptical laugh and a hearty sip of cider, and there’s another part of me, a part that grows larger every day, that simply squints, hard, at this cycle of battling across social media that I’ve become privy to, all while the same question twists, reforms, and burns in my mouth:

“Who the fuck even pays these people?”

But, the truth is, I know exactly the sort of people that would.

When I was younger, in a desperate attempt to get out of a small Midwestern town I despised, I packed my things and I moved to a house in Dayton, Ohio—which, unsurprisingly, turning into another place I despised, because it is Dayton, Ohio—but I lived under the watchful gaze of a thirty-something blonde woman named Nicole, who sold Mary Kay and also managed a pop culture convention. Living in her house was, in a word, the most hellish experience I’ve ever had in my life, for a multitude of reasons, but up until recently, while I was watching this fantastic shitshow of blonde life coach after blonde life coach come under fire from the privacy of my Facebook scrolling, I never could put my thumb on why I hated living with Nicole so much.

But now, now I understand.

See, Nicole was not a life coach herself, but instead was involved with a much broader, well-known pyramid scheme: the multi-level marketing hellscape known as Mary Kay. Her most poignant tactic in running her business was to hold “fishbowl contests” in order to draw in customers; she would leave glass bowls at local businesses for women to put in their contact information, hoping to win a prize, and she would call them to let them know they won a “free” consult (even though consults were always free) and she would call every single person who left their name and number. It was a scam, pure and simple. Lure them in with a prize that was already free, and hook some money out of them with overpriced facial scrubbing products that didn’t work.

When she would bring clients into the house, I would make myself scarce under threat of death (or worse, eviction) and slink into the shadows to listen in on whatever she told her clients. Every honey drizzled word out of her mouth was sickeningly complimentary, with a hint of up-sell in every syllable. She would worm her way into the personal lives of her clients, asking about their kids, their work, their dreams, all with the intent to utilize her feigned interest as a way to market herself as “believable”, because the person who cared about your personal life would never scam you out of your money.

Pair this, then, with the sickening way she treated her housemates, examples of terrible behavior which included extorting me and another young roommate who shared a prison-cell sized room for outrageous amounts of rent, treating her ex-husband like a dog that deserved to be kicked, and even forcing another roommate to sleep on the floor when there wasn’t enough room in the house for her, and it wasn’t hard to see how duplicitous she was.

We were not allowed to inhabit any more space in her house than was absolutely necessary. We were not allowed to make the house our home, because it would encroach upon her space, and she would feel cheated. It was clear by these behaviors that she was, and still is, a woman that only is interested in her own well-being, and will gladly step on anybody in her way to make herself come out on top. She is a woman who thrives in drama and chaos, because she knows how to connive her way to the top of the heap.

And this, I realize, would make her an excellent life coach. It is not a thought I care to dwell on overmuch.

I see the same behaviors in the life coaches and spiritual guides and religious teachers and “culture makers” that I find scattered across my social media feeds. They all bear the same whitened teeth and flashing smiles that I’ve seen in card sharks and Mary Kay consultants, disingenuous and capricious. They care for intersectional feminism only insofar as how much money it puts in their pocket, and while they preach self-acceptance and self-tolerance, they refuse to allot space for those who may even dream of encroaching on what they see as rightfully theirs. Worse yet, they carve out any sign of negativity in the same vein that I would be carved out of my place of residence if I even dared to show my face during a Mary Kay consulting session—it’s bad for their image if their empowerment branding doesn’t work.

Look now to the life coaches who claim that those who participated in the #metoo solidarity were simply “manifesting” what happened to them, and that in order to be “freed” from it, they had to “forgive” instead. Let that sink in—a culture of entitled, middle aged white women telling people that their abuse, their rape, their pain was merely “manifested” and victim blaming the flocks of women they cater to.

Let me shout it louder, for the women in the back:

“Who the fuck even pays these people?!”

At the risk of sounding like Buzzfeed, the answer may surprise you:

White women.

This isn’t news to me, as a romany. I saw these women when they were still in their infantile stages, hastily picking up the culture of the dead in order to market a “free, bohemian lifestyle” to those who possessed “a gypsy soul” before making a face—heel revolving door a couple years later with a newly minted “woke” hashtag to admonish those who use “that ugly g-word.” (Myself included, which makes me shake my head in disbelief that they can’t even keep track of their own word politics long enough to understand reclamation, but that’s an article in of itself.) They were marketing minority subculture as a lifestyle long before Hillary Clinton took feminism to a more mainstream audience. But bohemia was too confining for them, and it only looked good when they could gentrify a high end production of RENT, so naturally they latched on to a much more marketable “feminist” model instead, and now, shock and awe, they’re running themselves aground.

See, with their former choice of stolen culture, there was no unified voice to tell them to fuck off. Now, as a disclaimer, I’m no scholar on modern romany culture—and guess what, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone within the romany community who is, anymore—but in my experience, we’re still infighting over who actually belongs in our culture and who doesn’t, much less what we think of outsiders using certain words about us. Some say yes, some say no, and without a unified opinion, well, we end up just fighting ourselves while somebody stamps the word “gypsy” on yet another clothing shop selling belly dancing costumes at the Renaissance Faire.

But the fragility of white women continues to hold in the same pattern I’ve seen before, which is why this has blown up far more spectacularly in the last few months than it has in the past. If you want some colorful examples, my suggestion is to simply look at the comment section of any trending status in Pantsuit Nation and watch in horror and revulsion as women of color have to fight for every fucking inch of space they can even hope to claim in a conversation. Do you want an example of something a little closer to home, something a little more personal? Perhaps you should follow the saga of Kelly Diels, and watch that particularly foul shitshow. The group was titled “Culture Makers.” Ha. That has that same “Gypsy Soul” reek to it that I’ve been smelling since my middle school years.

And yet, you keep feeding them. The drama escalates, the mountain rises taller and taller. How many clapbacks are we going to call for? How many calls for kept receipts are going to go up? Is it truly such a desperate time that we’re paying these women to ease us of our privilege? Is this the point where we have to make like Martin Luther and say “enough is enough” to frantic white feminists trying to pay their way out of white guilt? This isn’t the Catholic Church ladies, you can’t just buy your way out of your entitlement and suck your thumb until the mean, scary intersectional people go away.

Is it that it’s just not being taught? I was introduced to the theory of intersectional feminism first and foremost, above all other theories. It was ingrained within my first women’s studies class, within the first week. I was taught to unpack my baggage and see it laid at my feet, to accept it, to utilize it. Why is it that I look around, and the only other truly intersectional feminists that I ever see are all under thirty? Why are these legions of white women flocking to the banner of insincere pyramid scheme bullshit? Is it just a hard concept to grasp, or are we the only generation that bothered to pay attention to the lesson? Are we really the only generation that’s learned that throwing money at somebody else isn’t going to make the problem go away? I’m romany and my ass still finds time to unpack my whiteness. It’s about time you started unpacking yours.

I’ll ask again, and I will keep on asking:

Who the fuck is paying these people?

Because it certainly isn’t my generation.


Prosper Bonhomme

Conjured from the detritus of the Great Black Swamp, Prosper Bonhomme is a nonbinary, egoist anarcho-queer witch. Their writing can be found on Gods & Radicals and Bonhomme Rouler. Bon is also on twitter.


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Capitalism: The Religion?

“A corporation doesn’t need to convert anyone to destroy a person’s spirituality, it only needs to hollow out your spirituality and then sell you back the rotten guts.”


The idea of Capitalism as a religion is nothing new, though recently I heard the sentiment once again expressed. We here at the Patæconomical Institute for Sociological Study do not, cannot, shy away from ideas such as this, and a thorough study followed. Well, a study followed. Much of mundane economics is, as related by the character Shevek in Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed, “like listening to somebody interminably recounting a long and stupid dream.”

So, a study was undertaken. But no ordinary study, a Patæconomical study, in which we look at Capitalism, in all of its glory, without the human. What we found may astound you. Or it may stound you. It depends on how stoundable you are, I guess.

What exactly defines religion? That is a question which has had many a theologist, sociologist, philosopher, anthropologist, and various other forms of gist, er, and izer up late writing, arguing, and hand wringing over. The almighty G (Google not GOD, not yet at least) is helpfully unhelpful in giving no less than three definitions.

Religion: noun — The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.

That seems fair, but also seems limited in scope by the preconceived notions of Abrahamic religions, or at least Mediterranean religions.

Religion: noun — a particular system of faith and worship

This is frustratingly vague.

Religion: noun — a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance. Example: “consumerism is the new religion”

Oh my! That is frustratingly vague as well, despite the confirmation bias baiting example. Almost as if Google knows what I’m writing about…

But anyway, since I am only seeking to establish a common meaning to a word, and not sell anyone on any meaning, I’ll say that when we discuss religion in the Patæconomical sense, we mean to say:

A system of activity, which someone ascribes both belief and importance, which may or may not involve some notion of power or Gods or truth.

Still frustratingly vague, but at least we crammed all that crap into one sentence!

Capitalism certainly seems to have features of a religion, but who actually writes down their religion as “Capitalism” on a census form? I’m willing to go out on a limb and guess vanishingly few, if any. Who then is Capitalism a religion for? Would you believe that it is a religion, but not a religion practiced by humans? If you had read my other article, “What is Patæconomics?” you may have guessed where this is going.

Since Patæconomics is the study of economics minus the human, a study of Capitalism minus the human would have to be the study of a religion of those non-humans. The measuring stick we will use to gauge the effects of the practice of that religion will be the gaping whole left over from our removal of the human to study these matters. The human element therefore remains invisibly visible. Or visibly invisible?

According to Marx, Capitalism gets over the crises of over-production by enforced mass destruction of creative forces, or by conquering new markets (or more creatively exploiting old markets). Joseph Schumpeter later elaborated the concept and made it central to his concept of “creative destruction”, the foundation of his economic theory which became the “Austrian School” of free-market thought.

aslyu4lksuu-matheus-ferrero

Patæconomicly, it is not enough simply to point out the self-destructive nature of Capitalism, and either admire/condemn or admire/admire the creative destruction of Capitalism as Marx and Schumpeter do, respectively. We must look to the Patæconomic reason for this, not in the context of dialectical materialism or free market thought, but as the activity of a religion made to serve the vampire spirits we know as corporations. Certainly, this activity of destruction or new market conquering allows for a glut of money (crystalized time, or blood if you like).

It is not enough that corporations exact a certain amount of loyalty from their employee/consumers. The engagement from the humans that corporations feed from must be total. The war is then against all non-human entities that could possibly distract from (or allow for escape from) the employee-consumer lifestyle. Do not mistake things like television or movies for such distractions or escape. That type of escapism is actually part of the employee-consumer lifestyle. On rare occasions, you may actually get a piece of Art snuck in there, but the damage is minimal and already accounted for.

religion-pullWhat I then mean as escape or distraction is contact with the spiritual (or otherworld, or astral, whatever you prefer to call it). A human being who has had a genuine encounter with spirit, if not immediately freed of his gilded cage, is well on the way to picking the lock. This is why virgin forests are cut down even though recycling and forest farms are things that exist. This is why pipelines that can be easily diverted from sacred sites are instead planned right through the area.

It is also why spirituality is being carved up and sold wholesale. Every human, unless they are dead inside, has this yearning to contact the spiritual. Understanding this, Capitalism aims not only to cut off this avenue of escape, but in true corporate fashion, to use it to its advantage. By selling spiritual knock offs cheap and easy, it both cuts humanity off from spirituality and distracts with something that seems spiritual, but only feeds our diminished ego in the same way every other product produced by a corporation does. The search for spirituality that is conducted under the auspices of consumerism is the never ending search for peak experiences that add to the ego’s relenteless self-fellating narrative. The new territory, the new market, that the true servants of Capitalism the Religion mean to conquer, is the spiritual. And the battle is and has been well underway.

nephrite-jade-yoni-egg-670x670

In these periods of market demolition or expansion, the powerless are always the first to suffer. You’ve seen the first blows of this war already delivered. One manifestation of spiritual consumerism is known well enough as “cultural appropriation.” But, being as many radicals are staunch materialists, they take the apparent at face value, and only see this on the spectrum of race relations. And though “cultural appropriation” does have that element to it, it at the same time exists in the context of spiritual consumerism.

religion-pullSpiritual consumerism is not only a threat to minorities, it endangers everyone. Even if you manage 100% to avoid willfully engaging in cultural appropriation, you may have fallen victim to spiritual consumerism. Cultural appropriation by dint of it being a matter of race is bad enough. But cultural appropriation does not just hurt those whose culture is stolen, shredded, and sold to the spiritually hungry. Those who partake of the spiritual that has been profaned in such a manner also suffer a grievous blow.

Yes, to engage in cultural appropriation, or any other form of spiritual consumerism, is to engage in self-harm! To become poisoned, one need only eat poison! When things of the spirit world: songs, dances, rites, prayers, etc. are turned into consumer goods (or outright stolen by the spiritually hungry), something private, personal and spiritual is turned into something material, mass produced, and very public. Not public in the manner that some personal interaction with a public rite is public, and yet also very personal, but public in the ego feeding Facebook way.

Public in a way that feeds the narcissism and disconnection required to perpetuate the employee/consumer lifestyle, “Oh, look at all the pictures of me at the crystal chakra alignment and sweat lodge spirit animal quest workshop that I went to! It only cost me 999.99 USD, and I got this cool medicine pouch with an AUTHENTIC amethyst! LOOK AT ME AND HOW SPIRITUAL I AM!public like that.

The confusion and argument over cultural appropriation, what it exactly is and where one draws the line, is then understandable. It was not being analyzed by those who are conscious of the spiritual, nor was it being examined in this larger context. It was a topic of examination and discussion for intellectuals analyzing and experiencing it third hand. But spiritual consumerism doesn’t stop with cultural appropriation and may even come in forms not readily identifiable in their outward appearance.

The most powerful shamans of Australia’s aboriginal tribes are initiated by the spirits of the dream time themselves. The spirits will put him to sleep, and perform a surgery on him, in which their old organs are removed, and new organs, as well as stones that convey power unto the shaman, are implanted. The shaman is then lead back to his people, and after a few days of light craziness, will begin training with other shamans. The use of objects implanted or worn to convey power of some kind exist the world over, and is a feature of many of mankind’s encounters with the spiritual.

 

Gwyneth Paltrow wants you to put jade eggs in your pussy. Assuming of course you have one. If you are not fortunate enough to have a pussy, and instead have your gonads on the outside, do not worry! I’m sure there is soon to be a jade cock ring coming your way. Anyway, according to GP’s website GOOP,

Yoni eggs, once the strictly guarded secret of Chinese concubines and royalty in antiquity, harness the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice. Jade eggs’ power to cleanse and clear make them ideal for detox, too.

“This particular jade, nephrite jade, has incredible clearing, cleansing powers,” says Shiva Rose; “It’s a dark, deep green and heavy — it’s a great stone for taking away negativity — and it’s definitely the one to start with.”

yoy-crash-courseNow, I am no one to tell you that you can’t put things in your pussy. You can do what you want. But you don’t have to pay 66.00 USD for the experience (Eris why not 666.00 USD for fucks sake!?). Also there’s a risk of toxic shock and infections, but like I said, you’re an adult, you do what you want. But if you are going to risk infection and death, at least don’t pay some corporate vampire for the privilege.

Kale chips taste like punishment. In fact, there is a lot of food out there nowadays that my wife categorizes as “punishment food.” Eating it tastes like punishment. The eating of food otherwise avoided is nothing new. The Jewish people eat bitter herbs and unleavened bread as a remembrance. Certain Tibetan rituals involve long life pills that, I can tell you, don’t taste great. Some religions have observance through the avoidance of food. The idea of food connecting you to the spiritual, either by ingestion or avoidance, is as old as religion itself.

It is this connection to the idea of food = spirit, or food = purity, et cetera that give health (punishment) food and crash diets (punishment fast) their appeal and continued commercial success. One need only examine the terminology used in speaking of diets or health food or “unhealthy” food to see this connection at work. What was once a spiritual ideal, that one ate certain things or avoided eating certain things to embody, is now the ideal of the “perfect body”, as defined by the current consumer fad (but usually always some variation of skinny/muscular).

Of course this is part of the war of conquest of the spiritual being waged. To fear something used the world over, by every culture, to connect us to the spiritual, as a way to alienate us from the spiritual, and our food, and our own bodies, is a fell blow.

I could go on at length in all the ways that the human need to connect with the spiritual is exploited, turned against itself by the faithful of Capitalism. I shouldn’t have to. Now that I’ve told you about it, you’ll start seeing it more and more. Corporations instinctively know that the jig is up if you connect with the spiritual, and have been actively waging a holy war on spirituality, at behest of their god, for as long as corporations have existed.

Even the word, “spirituality,” is now so tainted that it sets eyes rolling when someone uses it as an adjective or description for themselves. A corporation doesn’t need to convert anyone to destroy a person’s spirituality, it only needs to hollow out your spirituality and then sell you back the rotten guts. As radicals, revolutionaries, and as people of the spirit, it is time for us to take back what is rightfully ours.

Some of you already have, some of you are on the way, and for those of you newly awakened who now see this threat for what it is, your fight starts now! The Invisible hand of Adam Smith, the fell god of these vampires, is at your throat! Fight damn you! Fight!


Patacelsus

mal1A Discordian for 20 years, Patacelsus finally got comfortable when the 21st century “started getting weird.” When not casting sigils, taking part in Tibetan Buddhist rituals, or studying the unfortunate but sometimes amusing stories of the dead, he’s been known to wander the hidden ways of the city, communing with all of the hidden spirits one can find in a city. As Patacelsus sees it, we’re all already free; after completing the arduous task of waking up to that we can then proceed, like a doctor treating a patient, to try to rouse others from the bitter and frightening nightmares of Archism. He laughs at Samsara’s shadow-play in lovely California, in the company of his wife, two cats, and two birds.


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Words for Sale: A Critical Political Economy of Paganism

by Jonathan Woolley

Image from flickr. Creative Commons Licence.
Image created by Tax Credits, sourced from Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.

A couple of days ago, Rhyd wrote an excellent essay on the Faustian pact of Google Analytics, and other similar software packages. Sure, you get all sorts of interesting information out, he explained, but at its heart, this seemingly benign, innovative means of objectively assessing impact and reach – the sort of thing authors endlessly agonise about, particularly in such a crowded forum as the internet – allows Google and other organisations to collect detailed information about your readership; for sale to the highest bidder. Like so much in our society, when you reflect upon the ways in which influence, money, management and labour intersect within SEO, social media, and the like – a form of reflection called “political economy” – an unsavory commercial logic emerges from the undergrowth.

Sadly, Paganism is no different.

Going Critical

It is possible to write a political economy of any human community. From tiny Amazonian villages, to vast multinationals; all can be understood in terms of flows of power and produce, that are quite literally the meat and drink of our existences.

It is interesting, therefore, that despite the universal scope of this method; nobody has yet – to my knowledge, anyway – attempted to explore Paganism in such a fashion. Magliocco focuses on folklore; Luhrmann on logic; Salomonsen on gender; Hutton on history; Harvey on cultural comparison – in all their analyses, they touch upon the political and economic activities of Pagans, but no scholar has yet attempted a full-bore political economic analysis of contemporary Paganism itself. Of course, this generation of scholars belong to a very specific project; seeking to normalise Paganism in order to protect it from accusations of spuriousness from academics, and immorality from the mainstream. As such, they tend to stress the extent to which Pagans are also “normal people” – with normal jobs, normal houses, normal relationships, and the normal range of political and social opinions. Irrespective of our eccentric dress, our fantastic language, our rites, spells, conversations with gods and poetic madnesses; we are, first and foremost, part of the modern world. Because of this, the study of Pagan political economy becomes a non-subject; our economic relations are simply the same as those of everyone else. In such circumstances, the development of a critical account of Pagan political economy – that problematised this “normalness” of Pagans, and attempted to unpick it – was intellectually unnecessary, and politically undesirable. But in the past 20 years or so, Paganism has matured, and so now the time is ripe for such an analysis.

When one takes this critical stance, the forms of organisation normally described within Paganism – covens, groves, traditions and so on – fade away, and a very different structure emerges. Different, not just from how we describe ourselves, but from the social orders we find in other religions. We find few churches, monasteries, temples, or mosques – those that do exist, often struggle. In Paganism, centre stage is taken a small circle of private individuals – primarily authors and teachers. In Britain, this means names like Philip Carr-Gomm, Vivianne Crowley, Nigel Pennick, Prudence Jones, Caitlin and John Matthews, Pete Carroll, Rae Beth, and Emma Restall-Orr. They make their living – partly or wholly – by selling their ideas; through writing books, and holding workshops. Around this core of content creators, you have a network of bookshops, occult suppliers, robemakers, celebrants, and healers – all working in ways inspired by the writings of those at the centre of the network.

Surrounding this central core of those who are primarily or solely employed in Paganism, you have a second group – employees of the muggle world. Some – like those working in Forest Schools, or Counselling – have employment that dovetails neatly with the ideas at Paganism’s core. Others – those working in more “ordinary” jobs – from Estate Agency, to Local Government, from IT to Retail – do not. In both cases, however, Paganism is something they have to fit in to their spare time, and is something through which they spend their wages, rather than earn them. Financially, this outer corona supports the core – those at its heart would not be able to make a living speaking, celebrating, and writing if those employed outside “the Pagan business” did not buy their products. And, of course, those in the corona are supported emotionally, creatively, and spiritually by those in the core – if they were not, they would not buy what those at the core have to sell.

What I am describing here is quite unlike other religious communities; these are first and foremost collective enterprises – funded by donations, or the state. For all the world, the Pagan community sounds less like a church or a network of temples, or an ummah – for its social order is fundamentally commercial in nature. The corona of those who do Paganism in their free hours is fundamentally a space of consumption – wages spent on services rendered. It is often said, that the difference between Paganism and the New Age is the number of noughts on the workshop ticket prices. This joke is a sword that cuts both ways: although it points out the rapacious greed of certain New Age gurus, it also highlights that Paganism is just as fundamentally market-oriented as they are. With this consumer-vendor dynamic in mind, what becomes clear is that Paganism is less a religion – in terms of its political economy – and more akin to a literary genre, with an accompanying fandom. If we compare worldwide Paganisms to some of the more established fan communities – such as Trekkies, for example – the similarities become almost painful. Both hinge upon a small circle of content creators at the hub of the wheel, whose writings and performances inspire all sorts of sub-creations from fans. It is fitting, therefore, that the largest Pagan gathering on Earth should be a “Con[vention]”.

Pagan Business

With this in mind, we can see how consumerist logic has leached through Pagan culture, even though elements of it that do not carry a price tag. What is the moot, if not a book group? What is the public ritual, if not a LARP? The fact that these things are done for free by passionate and often very well-intentioned supporters, does not negate the fundamentally capitalist exchange that preceded them. The authors, makers and the shops that stock their wares could operate without moots and open rituals; but moots and open rituals – in their current form – could not exist without the “Pagan Business”.

The point here is not that those who make their living through Paganism are being greedy or venial. On the contrary, writing words, speaking spells, crafting holy things, and making ceremonies that heal, enlighten, and empower is important work, and those working in these ways cannot survive on mere air and good wishes. The problem arises from how we are currently supporting the work that they do, and the centrality of this (commercial) arrangement in our community. Before all else, you have to pay. By relying upon the Market to directly transmit our lore, to fund our gatherings, to supply our goods, we become complicit in it. It means the fortunes of our traditions turn not with the wheel of the year, but with the shifting fashions and stock prices of the global publishing and wellness industries. Our community is directed less by the will of the gods, and more by Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. The heartbeat at the core of our living traditions becomes the ring of a cash register.

This dominance of the logic of the Market within Paganism is not surprising, even if it is disquieting. Paganism is one of the few religions to have arisen within the Modern Age, when Capitalism was in its ascendency. This has very real consequences for us all. Let us not forget the prototypical “gateway experience” for a seeker – traditionally – was buying a book from an occult book shop. The fact that the internet and Amazon have replaced the knowledgeable local bookseller is to be lamented; but it is not so meteoric shift as we might suppose. Whether your spirituality is expressed through buying knowledge from a kooky shop on Glastonbury High Street, or from Amazon, your spirituality is still being expressed through shopping. Equally, this shift demonstrates the extent to which our infrastructure is dependent upon the vagaries of the market to survive: the rise of the internet has caused many Pagan bookshops to close; depriving local communities of an invaluable opportunity to meet, learn, and socialise. Indeed, it is precisely because we have relied on the Market that this transition – from a friendly, in-community, low-profit enterprise, to a distant, global, high profit one – has taken place. The very means by which our lore is spread has been transformed for the worse by the dictat of the Market.

The most fundamental problem, though, is how this allows unhealthy class dynamics to spread within our community. For every one successful Pagan author, there are many many more who dearly wish they could make it in the “Pagan Business”, but instead work in some mind-numbing office job to make ends meet. The vocation of the former, is bought and paid for by the drudgery of the latter. Even those who do succeed are constantly threatened under Capitalism – whether it’s through being out-competed by multinational competitors, exploited when your publisher is bought up by a Market leader, or being ruined when your austerity-hit consumer-base can’t afford your £30 tarot readings or £8 herbal poultices anymore. This is not a game any of us can win.

The dominance of consumer goods – books, candles, incense, space enough in your home to cast circle, salt and so on – within the Pagan sphere sets up obstacles for poorer people wishing to participate, and often relies on exploitative labour in Chinese or Indian factories as part of their manufacturing cycle, or the use of precious resources from fragile ecosystems. Although many fee-charging camps and festivals have ways you can work to earn a ticket – through volunteering in the kitchen or setting up beforehand – even this can create a gulf between those who earn enough to pay outright, and those who have to work.

In all these ways, Paganism is little different from wider society. Our community, like any other under Capitalism, is shot through with consumerism. But it doesn’t have to be this way. What’s more, it shouldn’t.

Disorganised Religion

I find the most frustrating thing about the political economy we currently have – of two concentric rings; of the Content, and the Consumers – is not that it’s undesirable, or unsustainable: rather, what really sticks in my craw is that it’s not even planned. It’s not as if some dark coven, or evil magician has concocted this – that would, at least, give us somebody to blame, and me somebody to castigate here. Rather, this set up has appeared entirely organically; merely as a result of Pagans also being (largely) liberal Western individuals. We simply are repeating the economic patterns that govern our society as a whole, without really thinking about the consequences of this choice, or if there might be a more truly Pagan alternative. Indeed, I suspect many of us doubt that such an alternative is even possible.

It’s common for Pagans to describe the fact that we express “disorganised religion” with some degree of pride. I firmly support the moral of this boast – that there should be no compulsion, no Byzantine hierarchies, no exploitation, in matters religious. But the liberal individualism that many Pagans treasure does not automatically create a utopia, in which we are free to do as our consciences and our gods dictate, in contrast to the rest of society. Rather, the true result is that – without a firm commitment to a different vision of how society might be organized – we just end up replicating the unhealthy relationships that we all experience everyday under capitalism.

Used under Creative Commons, sourced from Wikipedia.

Beyond the crossing of palms with silver

What we need to do is find “cracks”, where our communities, like pavement weeds, can grow. In these autonomous spaces, the strictures of capitalism are held in abeyance, and we are able to live instead under our own laws and principles.

There are many ways in which such cracks can be formed, depending upon the legal and political jurisdiction you find yourself within. I first experienced one such crack with the tribe at Four Quarters Farm in Pennsylvania where I did my undergraduate fieldwork. I was so inspired by their heady mix of sustainable ethics and earthy magics, I resolved to find a tribe living in a crack close to my own landscape. I found such a crack – or the beginnings of one – with the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids here in Britain. Philip Carr-Gomm has written an excellent piece on his vision of how Druidry should be organised – not as an ashram, with a guru-like Archdruid ruling the roost at the heart of it all, or a clamorous New Age fair, but rather like a Maori village, with all the people contributing different skills according to their own abilities, and obtaining what they need from others. Societies have existed happily without the Market for thousands of years: providing resources and mutual assistance along ties of love and kinship, rather than through the medium of money and debt. As the OBOD community matures, this is exactly what it is starting to feel like – a network of friends and family, whose common culture and bonds of friendship is beginning to annihilate the distinction between “The Pagan Business” and those who consume its products. Instead, people are beginning to give what they can, to those that need it, for no other reason than they’re part of the same tribe. We might not be able to escape the Capitalist system – yet – but we can at least try to create our own spaces where we can liberate ourselves as far as possible from its pernicious influence. We certainly can change the way we live together, so that our philosophers and ritualists don’t have to hawk their wares, our relics are made sustainably, and our seekers may learn for free,  I’m sure other examples must exist of this nascent “living Paganism” – a network of villages, thriving in the cracks as Capitalism begins to fall. I’d love to hear about them.

There is much more still to be done. Personally, I wonder if what we need now is more ambition within the Pagan community – a drive to build our own structures and spaces, that have the strength and clarity of purpose to resist capital, and to attract like-minded others to our cause. Let’s not have our seekers running the gauntlet of Amazon and MBS-bullshit, wasting money they don’t have before, they can be made welcome into our tribal federation. As a people, we are not averse to seeing visions; let the visions we have now be political and economic visions, and may all the good that we see in them come to pass.