The Pitfall of Consumer Paganism

I don’t buy “pagan stuff”.

No crystals (mined destructively from the Earth), no chalices or blades or wands or new Tarot decks.

Sometimes I’m tempted, but I don’t do it.

Well, other than candles. I already have enough incense to last the rest of my life, stored carefully so as to remain fresh and pungent.

I don’t take great pride in this, because the fact is that 25-30 years ago, I DID accumulate some of that stuff. I have enough “things” to dress a Focus (altar) and to symbolize all the various qualities and attributes I might wish to include in a ritual. I’m a bit short on ritual clothing, but it’s quite rare that I might need it, and I make do (I have plenty of other costuming, some of which can be adapted in a pinch).

But mostly, now, I simply work with what I have. Or I make stuff from found materials.

And I’m a little torn about this, because I have friends who make their livings selling “pagan stuff”: masks and headdresses and ritual tools and costuming…yes, and candles and incense and statuettes and all that witchy occult stuff that the ritualist may desire.

But I have become a radically minimalist consumer. I have more than enough “stuff”, and feeding the machine that grinds the Sacred natural world into money is not consistent with my values.

The machine named capitalism.

Talking about capitalism and its impacts is complex. None of us alive has even handed-down memories of a time when we did not live under some variant of this system*, so it is hard to imagine how things would work under any other. But as income inequality continues to rise and it becomes clear that all of us but the very rich are to some degree in harness to serve those very rich, it is past time for us as activists, as Pagans, to talk about what it is, how it affects ourselves and our world, and what possible alternatives there could be to this terribly destructive, imminently environmentally catastrophic system.

There are things we need to think about. Like the ideology of constant growth on a planet with finite resources. While the world does create energy and biomass and so forth every year, we strip more than twice as much out of it than it generates annually.

This cannot continue. Whatever you think about the merits of capitalism, it is a fact that it cannot continue indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the desire to consume more by humans across the globe drives spiking energy production and atmospheric carbon emissions, and brings the day that the Greenland ice shelf slides into the ocean and sea levels rise by dozens of feet that much closer.

My point in writing about this is probably already in practice by many Atheopagans, but I’ll spell it out anyway: consume less.

Buy less. Drive less. Travel less.

I know it’s a sacrifice. We are indoctrinated to believe that we “deserve” the “rewards” we can afford with our money.

But it’s not about what you can afford. It’s about what we, collectively, can afford.

As to creating new ways of relating to the Earth and economics, my approach has been to support new models, such as cooperatives and employee-owned enterprises and shareholder rebellions against destructive corporate actions. ALWAYS to support the small local enterprise instead of the corporate monster (no Starbucks for me, thank you). And, as an activist, to fight the destruction locally. Trump has proposed reopening the entire West Coast of the United States to offshore oil drilling, for example, and any implementation of that idea will take place over my literal dead body.

Unlike many in the Pagan community, I am not an anarchist. I do not believe that anarchy squares with fundamental, biological human nature, which is to look up to leaders and create hierarchies. That’s lizard-brain stuff: it’s wired in. All primates do it, and we are primates.

Short term, I am a democratic socialist: I believe that policies and programs should be put in place which ensure that people have access to health care, food, shelter and education, no matter what their economic circumstances. And that funding should flow from those who are most affluent to pay for these services. But I understand that whatever supports we implement for the common people, the MACHINE will keep gnawing away at the Earth for so long as endless growth and profit are the core ideologies of our economic system.

Maybe that’s wired in, too. Maybe the desire for more is just an animal thing, too.

I don’t know whether there is anything that can break the hold that capitalism has on the world. Honestly, it may have to grow until it collapses under its own weight.

But we should do what we can. We should refuse to participate to as great an extent as we are able.

We should resist.

 

*Except for those who have lived under authoritarian state economies such as the former Soviet Union, which were in competition with capitalism and therefore reflected most of its destructive impacts, as well as oppressing their citizens.

 

 

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