Ask the Puritans for Your Money Back

Recently, I made a little post on Facebook. It read simply:

“Does anyone have a recipe for money drawing oil? Much obliged!”

Hardly headline news, right? I certainly didn’t think it was going to be a request that merited a full-blown blog post. But before I tell you more about what I intended when I wrote those two sentences, why don’t I give you a little tour of the responses?

Some of the people replying to me made a lot of assumptions right off the bat. These included:

  • The assumption that the money drawing oil was for me, or for a working I was doing on my own behalf, rather than a friend or client.
  • The assumption that I was not aware that I could purchase the oil already made.
  • The assumption that I asked about the money drawing oil because I was currently in financial difficulty.
  • The assumption that I was unemployed.
  • The assumption that I wanted to use “quick and easy” magic in place of hard work to earn a living.
  • The assumption that I was looking for any financial workings I could find, rather than something specific.

That’s quite a few assumptions to make about a two line post!

I also got responses asking me about my goals, and several different versions of the recipe. I had originally made the request because an enchantment for a cash box in a book I was reading called for money drawing oil, an ingredient which comes to us from rootwork and related traditions.The box is for me, but it’s not because of any financial emergency. I also happen to have a job, and run a business on top of that. I was interested in doing this as a proactive financial working–you know, the kind you’re supposed to do? And who wouldn’t like to be wealthier?

A lot of people, actually.

How do I know? Those assumptions people were making about my post didn’t materialize from thin air. They come from mindsets and worldviews that we have about money, how to earn it, who deserves it, and what we can do with it.

Many of modern America’s assumptions about money–the culture I’m best situated to comment on–spring from badly-cribbed Christian ideas on the topic. Quotes taken out of context, later thinking that changed how the Bible was interpreted, social roles getting blended into the religion, that sort of thing. In particular, we are dealing with a societal foundation that was based on the Puritans, a collection of Protestant denominations that were reacting to the excesses of a corrupt Catholic church and looking to set things right. They did so in many ways, including dressing solemnly, denouncing luxuries, and casting a suspicious eye on anyone who acquired or flaunted too much wealth. Hard work, especially physical labor, was both the correct way to earn a living and the correct way to earn God’s approval. The New World was a “city on a hill”, an example to the rest of the world of righteous living. If you failed to live in this morally upright and proper fashion, you weren’t just letting down your family and your town, you were disappointing the entire world, and ultimately, God. You might even be helping the devil prey upon the souls of the righteous. Serious stuff indeed!

This worldview flourished for centuries, even after the Puritans themselves ceased to be a driving force in their newly-founded country, It has shaped every aspect of American culture, from the ideal of the American dream to the “In God We Trust” printed on our money. It’s also the root of the moral superiority we believe we hold over the rest of the world, such as being the “greatest nation” or the “home of the free”, even when we directly violate those ideals. Notice how vehemently people react if you even question America’s inherent superiority. (“Love it or leave it!”) If you’re the city on the hill, it’s imperative that you always be the shining example. To fall short is to incur the wrath of God and risk eternal damnation, for yourself and your entire community.

If you’re reading this article, it’s unlikely that you yourself identify as a Puritan, or even a Christian. Despite that, if you grew up in America, you’ve taken a long, deep drink of Puritan views on money, work, and moral living. It’s unavoidable, and it’s everywhere in our culture, whether anything religious is overtly mentioned or not.

Before we even get back to magic or religion, what does this mindset do to your life? A lot. It affects what kind of work you think of as real or valid, as in, deserving of pay. It affects what you think you have to do in order to be worthy of living in society. It affects whether you’re willing to ask for help when you’re in trouble, and how guilty you feel about doing it. It affects what kinds of gifts you’re willing to give or receive, what kinds of opportunities you will notice or take advantage of, and how big of a piece of the cosmic pie you feel you deserve. It even influences your notion that there is some kind of cosmic pie–that is, that if you have more, others must have less, and vice versa. It affects how you think of others: have they earned what they have? Do they deserve it? Are they flaunting it too much, or conversely, making you feel bad by behaving more “piously” with their money?

How then, is such a mindset affecting your magical or spiritual life? Are you praying fervently for abundance, but turning down blessings you don’t think you’ve “earned”? Are you doing workings to draw money towards you, but missing opportunities to make more because you’re locked into the idea that making a living has to be hard?

I’m far from being the only writer to point out these problems. But for some reason, they hold on relentlessly, even within our religious communities. Everyone wants clergy services, physical temples, festivals, campouts, beautiful altars, and well-crafted ritual gear. No one wants to actually contribute, fundraise, or handle the nitty-gritty business of making the money to fund it. Whether it’s because we’re still drunk on Puritan ideas like the belief that money and spirituality can’t coexist, or because we’re still feeling taken advantage of by the fundraising practices of our religions-of-origin, just suggesting that people attending an event contribute financially to it in some way is enough to start an internet fight that will rage on for weeks (or until we start fighting about something else).

Pointing out these issues, as I am in this article, and as so many others have in their writings, hasn’t proven to be enough to change these issues on a community-wide level. And why should it be? We’re competing with a dominant culture that’s been taught to everyone since birth, stretching back for dozens of generations! The solution is going to involve not just continuing to talk about money and money related issues–a forbidden topic indeed for Puritans!–it’s also going to involve lots of folks leading by example.

So even though I was a bit taken aback by the response to my money drawing oil post, I’m going to go ahead and share my cash box working in a future article. I’m going to perform and talk about money magic. I’m going to talk about clergy, mystics, diviners, magicians, and spiritual counselors receiving pay for their services. I’m going to continue to patronize Pagan and Polytheist craftspeople, and contribute to spiritual organizations whose services matter to me. I’m going to talk about hospitality, gifting, and reciprocity, which are quite literally the spiritual foundations of all the Indo-European religious traditions. (That’s everything from Iceland to India, kids!) Let’s start acting like the pagans we are, and leave the Puritans in the dusty annals of history.

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9 thoughts on “Ask the Puritans for Your Money Back

  1. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. I love this piece, Stevie! It’s so even-handed and thought-provoking.

    The tagline for one of my main projects, Rethinking the Job Culture, is “toward a world beyond earning a living.” I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about how American work culture has affected people’s responses to my critiques of job culture and the Protestant work ethic. Beliefs about money and work are very deeply held and highly emotionally charged, and calling them into question (or even just pointing them out and suggesting that we take a closer look at them, as you are doing here) can open up a huge can of worms. But you’ve posed your questions in ways I think are likely to have maximal impact on your reading audience, with minimal defensiveness. Nice work!

    I’m particularly fond of the paragraph starting with “Before we even get back to magic or religion, what does this mindset do to your life?” I may want to quote this in future writings I do on these themes, as I think your explication could prompt many enriching discussions (see what I did there? Heh.)

    Also, as someone who has run a solo business for many years and has extensive formal and informal education in accounting and taxation, I appreciate sound financial planning; I believe it is an important part of money magic, actually. I have so often been dismayed at the attitudes I’ve encountered among Pagans about money, particularly when it comes to payment for spiritual work. We need to work through this stuff and collectively get beyond the “adolescent” stage about money if we’re ever going to have the extensive religious infrastructure we say we want. Thank you for providing these prompts for productive, healthy discussion about money. We need it badly!

    I’m excited that you’re going to write more about money magic and the question of funding religious service work. I’ve seen very few writings on these matters in Pagan circles that I respect. Plus, reciprocity, gifting, and hospitality are all central to sustaining my monastic service path, and I’ve been thinking lately about the reasons that something like a stipend would be best for funding the sort of religious work I do, so I’m sure I’ll have a lot to think about when I read your future posts.

    Did I mention this is brilliant? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for the kind words and thoughtful reply! I’m glad that you found this piece useful and I’d be happy to be quoted by you in future articles. I would actually really love to see a lot more discussion generated around this topic. Even though there’s been a lot put out there already, people don’t seem to be making changes around it, because the problems persist. Talking is the first step!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Is this why televangelists are all about the money and not so big on the God? Is it because they don’t know how to balance money with spirituality, so they just make money instead?

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    • Quite possibly! They seem to have forgotten about making the money serve the spiritual mission and the community, and in some cases, are just accumulating it for themselves as they take advantage of their followers. Large churches could do a large amount of good if they cared to.

      Like

  3. Reblogged this on MystikNomad and commented:
    I’ve blogged about some of these topics before, as have many others, and I’m sure we’ll keep seeing stuff like this until we’re all better able (and more willing) to get out of our own way. Always good to have a reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

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