The Poor Pagan
Ever heard of the stereotypical “poor Pagan”? The one who barely lives paycheck to paycheck, drives a hunk o’ junk around because s/he has no credit, and never seems to get ahead? This stereotype, when it comes to money, is justified by the idea that being poor is virtuous. The rationalization is that it’s okay if you’re in debt, and/or don’t have much money — you’re keeping it real by not being too materialistic or capitalistic. But this virtue of being poor isn’t really a virtue at all. For many (but not all), it’s a rationalization for why a person is poor, so that s/he can feel better about his/her decision to stay poor. Pagans aren’t alone in this, but it seems that we are pretty good at providing reasons for accepting poverty over wealth. For those Pagans who are disabled or chronically ill, poverty may not be a choice, but instead an unfortunate reality that can’t be avoided. Even so I have a suggestion at the end of this article as to how we as a community can help the members of our community who aren’t as well-off because of situations radically out of their control.
While you don’t have final say on how much you’re paid at a job, or the social situations you’re in that can negatively or positively impact your life, you can decide what you choose to do with your money. Even the debts you pay were debts that you took on, whether it was to purchase luxury items on a credit card or to deal with an unfortunate situation such as a car accident. You may never have complete control over your life or the situations you’re in. But you do have control over your reactions and how you choose to deal with a situation.
You also have complete control of your attitude when it comes to money — but you might not learn you have that control until after you’re knee deep in debt and sinking further. The problem that many people face (not just Pagans) is that they aren’t educated in financial literacy, i.e. how money works. High schools generally don’t teach many classes on finances and other real-world issues and unless you decide to take courses in college about accounting or other related majors you likely won’t get the education there. At home, unless your parents talk to you about money and how they handle it you likely will only learn how they handle it from observation. (And, of course, if your parents don’t handle money well, chances are you won’t either if you use them as examples!) Most of us learn what not to do with money, and that through hard experience, which is the absolute worst way to learn about finances.
This is because you usually have to make costly mistakes to learn. Run up some credit card bills and you’re stuck with high interest rates and struggling to pay the debt off. Don’t put money away into savings or investments and you may find yourself working a fast food job in your eighties. Spend too much on books, video games, and other luxuries and you may not have enough money for the bills, therefore accumulating even more debt. Live paycheck to paycheck and when something big comes along, such as the transmission going out on your car, or an uninsured medical emergency, you’re not going to have any way to pay for it. None of those experiences strikes me as particularly virtuous or desired.
Pagans don’t have to be poor. I suggest, in fact, that we adopt the attitude that having money is a good thing. Money is good to have because it can insure relative self-sufficiency, and it can pay for unexpected situations, such as an accident or sickness. Money can pay for education and provide security for old age, and it can allow you to travel to other countries and experience other cultures at their source. Of course, those are just a few reasons why having money is good; I’m sure you can think of plenty of others.
We first need to look at our current attitude toward money. Take a moment and look at a bill or a checkbook or something else that’s financially relevant. Take a pen in your hand and on a blank piece of paper write down your initial impressions when you look at the financial artifact and think of your monetary situation. If you find yourself writing and/or thinking of money in negative terms then you need to adjust your attitude. The reason you need to adjust it is because your attitude about finances is sabotaging the conscious choices you make when you have money.
Because most people haven’t been taught financial literacy we usually have negative experiences with money. This negativity imprints and we soon regard money as an affliction or a problem as opposed to a means of offering potential security and/or freedom from bad circumstances. Certainly this was the case for me, up until recently. I always had some form of debt that needed to be paid off and yet no matter how I tried I just couldn’t seem to get ahead or feel confident that my money would last beyond the current paycheck. But one day, having complained about money for the umpteenth time, I happened to pick up a book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money–That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! by Robert Kiyosaki. The core concept I got from this book was that I alone was responsible for how I spent my money and that my education about money and how I thought and felt about it greatly shaped my spending of it1. This seems like such an obvious point, but to someone who felt that money was an amorphous force that controlled his life, I found it to be liberating. No longer did money control me. Instead I could take control of it.
I suspect that many other Pagans, were they to examine their attitude about money, would come to a similar realization. Although this awareness is liberating, we still need to undo the negative attitudes we have. There are a couple of ways to start doing this and I’ve found both of them have really helped me get a handle on my financial situation.
Meditation, Magick, & Consciously Loving Money
My first solution involved meditation. I prefer using Taoist meditation practices that involve dissolving internal energetic blockages. These energetic blockages usually also have emotions, beliefs, and attitudes attached to them. By dissolving the blockages I can allow myself to feel those emotions, beliefs, and attitudes, and then consciously change them so that they no longer sabotage me2. However, any technique will do provided it allows you to enter into a state of mind where you are receptive to examining and changing your beliefs on a particular subject. The reason this is important is because our everyday mundane consciousness tends to operate on autopilot, which means we don’t always examine why we are doing what we are doing. By being contemplative and reflective about the problem we can see it from a perspective outside the everyday tunnel vision. This in turn can lead to conscious change.
Once you’ve examined the attitude and decided you want to change it, you need to determine what you will change it into. For example, I changed my attitude of money from dislike into love of money. I decided that I would love money and in return invite it to love me. Using meditation, I changed my memories of bad experiences with money into positive experiences where I learned to love money. I visualized myself in the various moments where I’d gotten negative imprints about money. I then visualized myself changing the actual occurrences into ones that were more positive in terms of how I handled money and felt about it afterwards. Through these meditations I was able to undo the negative imprints and create more positive ones that helped me feel more comfortable with handling money.
To reinforce this positive attitude further I decided to create an entity that would encourage my wife and me to love money and become more knowledgeable about it. My wife made a pouch out of blue leather (we associate the color with money). In the pouch we placed a couple of coins and other personal effects that represented our desire to change our attitude and approach to money. I then came up with a phrase: “I love money.” I took out the repeating letters, condensing the phrase into “Ilvmny”, which was now the name of the entity. To bring the entity to life we decided that the energy that would feed it would be both the spending and receiving of money. Every transaction would give the entity energy to perform its task, which was to help us cultivate better financial habits. Our first transaction was to go out and buy books on money management. After each purchase and every time we make a sale, deposit a check, or invest in stocks we hold the pouch and say, “Thank you, Ilvmny.”
Although my first solution was to use magic to help me change my attitude, I also knew I needed to learn more about money. It wasn’t enough to have a positive attitude about it. Something I’ve noticed in myself and many other people, Pagan and otherwise, is a decided lack of knowledge of how money works. Living from paycheck to paycheck illustrates this because it involves using money strictly for day to day survival with little preparation for the future. My second solution was to acquire financial literacy.
Financial Literacy: Making Money Work for You
When you live paycheck to paycheck, you’re working for money. This is what seems to happen to a lot of people. We go to work, we make money and we spend it, putting little, if any, aside for a rainy day or retirement. When a situation does come up we wish we had more money to solve it, even though it’s not really more money that will solve the problem — it’s making money work for you.
First, you first need to learn how money works. If no one talked with you about money and how to use it responsibly then what you need to do is educate yourself. This doesn’t have to involve evening classes at a college (and in fact that would probably be the most expensive and least successful way to learn about money in the immediate real world). Instead, I’d suggest going to your local bookstore or library and looking in the business and finance section. You’ll probably want to get several books on how to handle personal finances because you never want to get just one person’s opinion on any situation, let alone how to handle money. I’ll list a few recommendations at the end of this article, but you might also want to see what members of your family or friends have read about personal finances. Speaking of family, if you have kids, start talking to them about money as you learn. You can never educate your children about money too early. In fact, you may help them avoid mistakes you made and come out ahead when it comes to retirement and other financial matters.
Many people don’t pick up books on money because they think such books will be loaded with technical financial jargon and hard to read. But a good book will explain the different terms and principles in a clear and concise manner. They also may think that money management is boring. While it may not be as riveting as, say, a mystery novel, once have a basic understanding you may find that it’s actually an interesting subject to learn about. Even if you still don’t find the subject fascinating, it’s important to educate yourself about it. You don’t need to know the intricacies of the daily life of a stock broker, but knowing the basics of how money works and how you can make it work for you will make your life a lot less stressful.
Making money work for you means learning how to invest in stocks and IRAs, maximize your 401k plan, and getting the most out of your bank accounts. When you know how to make money work for you, it becomes its own magic, with the result being more numbers than you had before, provided you take advantage of the systems in place. For instance, with stock investment, you don’t have to invest stocks through a broker. You can invest in a company directly. This allows you to make your money work for you and know where that money is going. At the same time the wealth that is generated isn’t wealth you had to earn. Instead you let other people (i.e. the employees in the company) earn it for you. To use another example of making money work for you, there’s a lot more to a bank than free checking or savings. Do you know the interest rates of your account? Do you know the other options available to you at a bank? Do you know the differences between a bank and a credit union? Knowing the answers to those questions can impact how much your money works for you as opposed to you working for it3.
Ideally, when money works for you, you have money to pay your bills, some set aside in savings to take care of emergency situations and some applied toward investments for your eventual retirement. You want your money to grow in such a way that a lot of the money you make isn’t even money you had to work for. Your goal isn’t necessarily to end up rich (though that doesn’t hurt) but it is to end up financially secure, without having to worry how you’ll pay off your debt or take a day off work without pay or even retire. If you do want end up rich you may have to take some risks, and that involves a different level of financial literacy, which focuses on how to take those risks and hopefully come out ahead4.
Are We Getting Too Materialistic?
I suggested earlier that the poor Pagan stereotype is not virtuous, for the simple fact that being in debt and/or having to worry whether you’ll make your ends meet each week or month is never an ideal place for anyone to be in. But is having money evil? I think, in and of itself, money isn’t good, evil, or any other moral value we may place on it. It is however a force, one that must be acknowledged and respected because it’s one we interact with everyday. Even learning how money works won’t necessarily make you more or less materialistic, though it will help you become better informed about your spending habits.
Where the virtue (or lack thereof) comes in is with you and your choices. Once you know what your spending habits are you can choose to change them. If you find yourself spending most of your money on luxury items for yourself, perhaps it’s time to stop purchasing them. Find other uses for your money such as your child’s college fund or funding for that trip to Europe you’ve always wanted to take, but never had enough time or money for.
Another stereotype that Pagans are accused of is of not offering enough public services or charities that help the community at large. As Pagans become more successful with money this perception can be changed. When you have more money to spare you can put some of it toward the charity or public service of your choice. Better yet, you can help those members in your community who are poor and have no choice in it. Adopt a Pagan family or person who’s less well off. Donate money or food or other goods to help them out. Support your community and in doing so create a closer connection so that everyone can benefit. Remember though that money alone won’t solve the world’s problems or even that of a local community. Devoting some time to public service or giving some food to food banks or doing some other form of community work is equally valuable and worth doing.
Loving money doesn’t mean you’re a materialist and out to steal from the poor. Loving money merely means that you enjoy being prosperous and prefer it over other circumstances. You won’t turn into a yuppie or a snob by choosing to love money, unless you want to. For me, loving money isn’t about putting money before everything else; it’s really loving the idea that I don’t have to worry if I’ll be able to pay this or that bill or feel guilty because I wanted to buy the latest Jim Butcher novel. There’s enough to worry about in life. Security about money or bills or buying a book without clean out your checking account is something all of us can have provided we accept that having money doesn’t equal being materialist. Remember, it’s your choices that define how you think of yourself and who you are.
Money is a medium. Without it, we can’t easily survive. With it we can enjoy what life offers while establishing financial security for the rough times and old age. Remember that it’s not how much you make that insures a good relationship with money. It’s how you use the money you do make that determines if you have a good relationship with it. Even someone who doesn’t make a lot of money can still come out ahead by using the resources s/he has wisely. And you can always help other members in the community who aren’t in as good a situation as you are. None of us have to be “poor Pagans.”
- Kiyosaki, Robert T. (2000) Rich Dad, Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money–That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! New York: Warner Business Books
- Frantzis, B. K. (2002) Relaxing into Your Being: Breathing, Chi, and Dissolving the Ego Berkeley: North Atlantic Books
- If you don’t know the answers I’ll leave it to you to do some research. It’s worth your time, trust me.
- More on this in a later article, as I’m still learning and researching!
- The Motley Fool: You Have More Than You Think : The Foolish Guide To Personal Finance by David and Tom Gardner
- The Richest Man in Babylon: The Success Secrets of the Ancients by George S. Clason
- Smart Couples Finish Rich: 9 Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner by David Bach
© 2007 Taylor Ellwood. Edited by Sheta Kaey
Taylor Ellwood is the author of Space/Time Magic, Inner Alchemy: Energy Work and the Magic of the Body, and Pop Culture Magick, among other works. You can visit his blog at http://magicalexperiments.com/.