Real money magic: unclaimed funds

Among the many get-rich-quick scams floating around out there, sometimes there’s information which actually leads to an individual getting some money, no strings attached. It’s happened to me more than once, in fact. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but it can appear seemingly from out of nowhere. What makes this truth stranger than fiction is that it usually involves people from the government who are here to help.

One function performed by government officials is keeping unclaimed money safe until the rightful owner claims it. The easiest ways to tell the difference between a legitimate unclaimed-funds operation and a scam is that government officials don’t call you, and there should be no charge to collect your money, at least in the United States. There’s an article on the site for the Federal Trade Commission which recommends five ways to best scammers:

  1. don’t wire money,
  2. don’t pay for any prize,
  3. don’t give financial or other personal information to someone who called you,
  4. don’t trust their official-sounding name and title, or what your caller ID displays because that can be manipulated, and
  5. put all your phone numbers on the [do not call registry, if only because the remaining unsolicited calls are almost certainly scammers.

This money comes from a variety of sources. I moved around fairly often in years past, and left a trail of bank accounts with small balances in my wake. Once bank officials realize they no longer have a clue how to contact the account holder, they’re required to turn the money over to the appropriate state agency. Something similar almost happened to me with an insurance company: I got a letter last month from a company that used to take my money, inquiring about a refund check sent to me in 2013 that I never cashed. Did I want that $300 back? Um, yes, I believe I do! If I hadn’t responded, the state comptroller would have gotten the check instead.

Once unclaimed money is sent to state officials, all the information known about the rightful owner is entered into a database. Names and addresses known to be associated with the account are compiled, and the information is uploaded to a searchable online database. For the United States, there’s no central place to look for unclaimed money, but this site is a good place to start. Getting a hit is just the start of the process: no money is getting released without some proof of identity. This is the government, after all; it’s not like they’re going to sell a surplus pre-nuclear submarine to someone giving just a post-office box number, after all.

I am not super fond of spells to get money quickly, but if and when I do cast one I always act in accordance with my will by checking for unclaimed funds (as well as in pants pockets, the lint trap of the dryer, and couch cushions). The twenty-dollar bill I discovered in my dry laundry is as much a manifestation of all that universal abundance as a winning lottery ticket, after all. This summer I got a check from Verizon as the result of some kind of settlement; I haven’t had a Verizon phone in at least four years, and did not see that coming. That money might have ended up manifesting as unclaimed funds had I moved since.

There are privacy concerns which arise from unclaimed funds, just as there are scam artists who try to take advantage of the concept. I see little downside to claiming money that is rightfully one’s own, but I do try to understand how my information is being aggregated and shared. How much information about privacy you find might depend upon the site, since governmental entities are often exempted from transparency laws. However, chances are if you’re not on the lam you’re not sharing anything new with a governmental entity.

To reiterate, then: if you’re in a position where you feel the need to work some prosperity magic, don’t forget to check on unclaimed funds as part of acting in accordance. It’s as close to free money as most of us are going to get.

Real money magic is part of a wider project, Thrifty Pagan Writings.  If you think this stuff is utterly amazing, please convince me to start a Patreon account.

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Bearding

bearded PoseidonPhutalmios, verdant one,
plant-nourishing Poseidon,
such bounty has been born of earth!

Phutalmios of the waving fields,
sun-dappled, wind-kissed,
flowing nectar and sap.

Phutalmios of the deep woods,
lord of life’s quiet secrets
and keeper of hidden oaths.

Phutalmios of the silent eddy,
swirling seed to ground
and guarding is rest.

Phutalmios of the white barley,
a geyser erupted,
beard of the world.

Phutalmios, cloak swirling,
covered in night
to sleep once more.

A child’s debt

My parents reared five children and helped them each with college. In the end, there wasn’t enough money left to keep my mother out of a Medicaid-funded nursing home. Many of the people who work there are unaccustomed to patients who are still aware of their surroundings, making the situation less than ideal for her.

When I think about debt owed to my parents, that’s the kind of debt I mean: the opportunity cost they paid by having just one more kid, me. I think I made out well, what with being alive and all, but it’s important to recognize the tremendous amount of sacrifice made on my behalf. Not only might the gray hairs have accumulated more slowly in my absence, it’s possible the money might have lasted a bit longer as well.

I owe something of a debt to Gaia on account of my life, as well, or perhaps that debt falls to my parents. There is no greater environmental impact a human being can have upon the earth than creating another human being to live upon the earth. I always enjoy spending time around children, yet I have never pursued procreation precisely for that reason. What could I possibly do to mitigate the impact of another life upon the planet, when I barely make a dent in my own debt? Even as I write this, I’m aware that some of the electricity powering my computer is derived by burning coal, and that the processors within contain rare-earth elements the extraction and disposal of which is highly problematic. My every breath impacts the world around me, and as a human my activities can change the world more, thanks to technology, than can an individual of pretty much any other species. I don’t think about that impact constantly, and even if I did it’s still incredibly difficult to have zero impact at all.

That is the sort of thinking which can lead to guilt and self-loathing. I mostly avoid doing that to myself. Suicide, which is the alternative most likely to be suggested if I whine about this on the internet, has impacts itself. Some of the people who love me may just call me on the carpet at their ancestor shrines if I were to pull that without telling them, and I am not interested in that having that conversation whether I am dead or alive, thank you very much. I’ve also had people propose the “solution” of having children and then teaching them my values. Which ones, exactly? It might be awkward to tell my offspring that I do not believe in having offspring, and I don’t think that they should, either.

It’s the debt to my parents which I sit with most, though, since I am not remotely contemplating a final solution for myself. Including public college, that’s now in excess of $350,000 in my part of the country according to this calculator. That could have paid for a heck of a lot of care. Unless there’s a lucky lottery ticket in my future, that’s not something I can pay back, not that either of my parents would ever have suggested such a thing. The very notion would likely offend, but I think it’s okay to contemplate the choices my parents made to give me life, and then to provide me with the upbringing that they could best afford without contemplating what it might cost them in turn. It’s really the minimum we expect of parents, and that’s a lot to ask considering how little thought is actually needed to create a child.

The debt to my parents is, in fact, incalculable. It’s my duty to honor that choice, even as I choose for myself to make a different sacrifice. Unlike them, I may well die alone, as I have no blood issue, and do not wish to add the burden of another human life to this beleaguered planet. I wish more people would make that same sacrifice, but I recognize that when done correctly, either choice carries a high price.

The leaky cauldron

Most people earn a whole lot more money in the course of their lives than they ever realize. Money flows into and out of our possession, and it can be as difficult to catch while passing through our fingers as water through a fish net.

No matter how much money passes through our hands — be it a trickle or a torrent — it’s the ability to capture some of that passing flow that allows a measure of control over our financial situation. There are people who live lavish lives on inherited money but are one bad decision away from ruin, and there are those who scrupulously save modest amounts from the pittance they earn and turn the tide the other way. The real difference is that great wealth can cushion the damage done by bad decisions for a whole lot longer; poor people can’t afford to be financially illiterate.

With apologies to Harry Potter fans, the metaphor I find most helpful when talking to Pagans about money is the leaky cauldron. Many Pagans and polytheists recognize the cauldron as a tool of transformation. This particular cauldron is a big ol’ thing, one of those cast iron behemoths that is too large and heavy for one person to move easily and without injury, but just a little too small and unwieldy to be comfortably managed by two or more sets of hands.

The cauldron is what we pour our energy into in the form of money; it is also what we draw from when we wish to turn that energy into something else. The liquid can also include non-monetary forces such as social capital, but for now let us focus solely on money. One can be considered secure if the cauldron never empties; a rising level denotes prosperity. This means that the goal is not to pour out more than we pour in, but that’s not always easy. Opportunities — including some under compulsion — to pour from the cauldron abound. Moreover, many of our cauldrons are old, cracked, and as I have already indicated, leaky.

Sources of money problems are manifold, but the most controllable areas are those of awareness and intention. Many people go through life with a little too much month left at the end of the paycheck. With a low income and high costs for rent, food, and other regular expenses that can seem inevitable predictable, but upon closer inspection it’s not always that simple. Regular expenses are, by definition, anticipated. At the edges, in that liminal zone, exists the dangerous area of money spent without any clear purpose or benefit. That’s the stuff which seeps out through the cracks, dripping and slipping away without so much as a by-your-leave. The more money that disappears without a trace, the leakier one’s cauldron has become.

This is about fiscal mindfulness. Money is a source of anxiety for many people, and one common way to address that anxiety is to push its source away from the conscious mind. It’s much the same as not going to see a doctor, not because health care is too expensive, but because the prospect of a diagnosis is terrifying. Not knowing about cancer doesn’t stop cancer, just as not knowing about imminent insolvency does nothing for that problem. Knowing can be scary, but knowledge is also power.

What, then, should be done with this cauldron? It can be helpful for understanding one’s financial situation. Start by simply observing the flow, beginning with what enters it, be it an intermittent trickle or a raging torrent. Approach this with a dispassionate eye; too little flow can induce stress and a great deal of income can elicit a sense of security, either of which is a distraction. That’s precisely why visualizing money as water is helpful: it divorces the observer somewhat from the emotions connected to money itself. Focus on the source of the stream or streams entering the cauldron; faucets might be a good way to visualize these, or natural springs. Consider how many sources replenish this cauldron, how strong the flow from each, and how clean the water is which emerges from the different spigots. What does each one represent? How confident are you that each will continue? How satisfied are you with the quality and quantity of each individual flow? Are any of your income streams from sources you consider ethically challenging?

Before considering outflow, meditate on the water in the cauldron itself. Is it hot, or cold? Clear, or murky? Does it have an odor? Would you bathe in it, or drink it? These insights are commentary not precisely on your financial situation, but how you feel about it, and money in general. Discernment is key here, and with something as bound in emotion as money, that discernment might require outside assistance to gel. A spiritual coach or diviner might be the right person to help, or a therapist or financial counselor.

For some, looking clearly at one’s financial health is as terrifying as learning about one’s physical condition. Recognize that this desire to look away is based upon deep-seated survival instincts, but then it’s time to allow rational examination of the cauldron to proceed. Realize that a visualization already keys into your emotional depths, which might be enough to make a look at the figures themselves possible. If not, that’s okay. Consider using techniques to separate your emotions from this analysis: journal about your money feelings before you begin, perhaps, or allow yourself some dispassionate time for money by promising a good cry or a hard run or some other emotional outlet when you’re done. If it helps, set a timer for five minutes, and don’t continue past that point; you can increase the length as you get more comfortable.

Ultimately, looking at the financial picture should become a regular routine, and the leaky cauldron can help with that. Light a money candle on a day each week that makes sense for you, and settle into visualizing the cauldron. Once you’ve spent time studying it, shift your focus to looking at the actual numbers, without leaving that altered state of visualization. Hold the image of the cauldron in the back of your mind, and once your allotted time is up, return to fully focusing on the visualization. Has your understanding of the numbers informed the appearance of the cauldron and its waters?

There’s more that can be done with the leaky cauldron, but that’s enough of a start for now. I may use it in some more in-depth exercises at another time.

Curse of Cash review

On its face, The Curse of Cash is an argument for morality: criminals use cash to operate in the shadows, and there’s nothing an honest citizen can’t do with money electronically; therefore ridding our society of physical money would make for a more virtuous, safe, and honest environment. Physical currency was an absolute necessity to simplify a world of barter, but now technology makes it possible for money to be entirely electronic without that bringing disadvantage to any honest person.

Notwithstanding the numerous flaws and fallacies presented as part of that argument, it’s also not the real reason why the author would like to see pesky cash eliminated. The truth is far more insidious, and essentially boils down to this: the existence of cash makes it more difficult to steal on behalf of a government. That’s because currency serves as a backstop for interest rates, to wit: if central bank governors lower interest rates into negative territory — which means that one’s bank balance could shrink over time, even without the application of monthly maintenance fees — then more of us would resort to shoving big bills into our mattresses. Without those big bills, a whole new realm of possible ways to separate individuals from their money becomes possible.

The notion of negative interest rates is novel enough that when first confronted with it, many people don’t even understand the concept. It’s a sweet deal from the perspective of government, though: just like inflation (which is an intentional act, not the mysterious and uncontrollable force it’s presented as in many news reports), negative interest rates allow money to be scooped up without the politics of raising taxes. Negative interest rates, however, are the scalpel to inflation’s chainsaw. What they have in common is that they are tools used to reduce the value of money, which makes it easier to pay back loans for the people who created that money in the first place, who happen to work in government.

Most government spending is paid for not through taxes, but through bonds, which is how governments (and corporations) borrow money. With inflation, the trick is to add more money to the supply, knowing that each dollar will purchase less as a result and thus the dollars used to pay back the loan will actually be cheaper; this is why people who live on borrowed money such as farmers prefer inflation. Negative interest rates, however, remove money from circulation and transfer it back to the government for essentially the same purpose. Both are nothing but sophisticated ways of stealing, but negative interest rates would specifically punish the people who try to save for the future.

don't stealThis entire book uses bait-and-switch, dangling a carrot (the fear of the faceless criminal) to get readers on board before acknowledging the true intent of the cashless strategy proposed, which is stealing more efficiently than any criminal could.

I like cash because it’s how debt-elimination programs work, and because it’s how magic works. I’ve yet to find a viable system for reigning in spending and paying off past debts that doesn’t begin with the participant converting to a cash-heavy or all-cash lifestyle. That’s because bills and coins are tangible reminders of the cost of any purchasing decision, and because there’s a much better chance that cash in one’s pocket is not borrowed, and thus not accumulating interest in favor of a creditor. Debit cards are marginally better than credit cards — if one turns off “overdraft protection,” a fancy term for “borrowing money from the bank,” at least — but I find it’s much easier to spend with the click of a mouse than with the opening of my billfold. Electronic money is always out of sight, and therefore it is out of mind even for a thrifty fellow such as myself.

Magically it works much the same way: a physical talisman is a powerful tool to focus one’s will, and it makes spending money with intent a whole lot easier if one has to physically hand it over. Many people write spells or wishes directly on paper currency. Cutting us off from a physical representation of money is a very effective way to cut us off from any control. It’s downright diabolical.

I now seek hundreds out, because I think normalizing the use of the largest-denominated bill in the American money system is our best defense against these and similar shenanigans. Sooner or later government officials, if faced with a populace of people who prefer cash, will have to reissue some of the larger ones, as well. That, or stop inflating currency, which in case anyone reading this blog doesn’t understand yet is entirely intentional and entirely controllable; inflation is increasing the money supply by issuing more money, and no complicated economic explanation will ever change that.

Do not buy this book. The author should not be rewarded for this diabolical scheme of eirs, which is why I have neither linked to it nor even mentioned the author by name.

Passing

Raymond Buckland wasn’t the first writer about Paganism that I read; that designation goes to Margot Adler.  My early teachers didn’t use books, and by the time I was starting a library, I already knew that I was not a really a Witch.  While I knew his name, I didn’t actually pick up one of his books until I found the one on coin divination, which fits my work.

That said, when he consented last year to let me interview him, it was a big deal for me.  This is Raymond friggin’ Buckland!  It doesn’t matter what Pagan or polytheist practice one feels called to; in the United States he was one of the trailblazers who made it possible to openly practice and share information about it.

Our impetus for wanting that interview was practical:  he was in his 80s, had eliminated public appearances from his schedule, and had recently suffered a heart attack.  As a journalist, the best thing I can do to serve this community is elevate our elders before they become ancestors.  Was it really necessary to get an interview with someone who had already written millions of words about his tradition?  I certainly think it was.  If nothing else, what we know about people in their own words — and the recollections of those closest to them — informs our ancestor practice.

Regarding honoring Buckland’s life now that it’s over, there has already been a “cyber-wake” on Pagans Tonight, Selena Fox will also be dedicating her show to him tomorrow night.  Participating in that first podcast, I was joining people who set the foundations of contemporary American Paganism, including Fox and Oberon Zell.  It was humbling, because these are the people who got it all started, the people whose lives I’d like to help chronicle.  Even having lost another of their number, that brain trust inspired awe in me.

I really only talked about one way that Buckland inspired me, his Coin Divination.  Readers of my occasional book reviews know that I take some of the more extreme suggestions as challenges.  In this book, Buckland references a set of small gold coins minted in Singapore late last century, each with a different animal associated with the Chinese zodiac.  What a wonderful divination set those would make, he mused: “For the serious practitioner, this provides beautiful divination tools and is also a wonderful investment.”

Challenge accepted.  Using solely the money I earn writing for the Wild Hunt that I saved for more than a year (because saving money is my most powerful magic), once I finally chased down what these coins were called (not an easy task in itself), I have tracked down and purchased all but one of those coins.  That wasn’t a stretch, because even if it doesn’t work out for divination I still have gold which can be sold should my family need the money.

Based on the ideas Buckland offers for divination boards, I’ve designed a cloth which I am embroidering when the cats allow.  Telling him about my plans was the one fanboy indulgence I allowed myself, but since the work is as yet incomplete, I wonder if I should ask Buckland if he’d like to aid in readings I do with this set.  He can always say no, after all.

Remember the offender

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be part of some team reporting, which gives me a taste of what it must have been like back when newspapers had big budgets. After Cara Schulz detailed the challenges faced in one Wiccan community when complaints of sexual misconduct were brought forth, I followed up with some best practices for handling sex-abuse cases in Pagan groups.

Team reporting makes me better at this job, but it can become frantic.  I regret leaving out a point which probably is as controversial as it is important: abandoning abusers isn’t a solution.  When we banish, ostracize, or push out offenders, we hand the problem off to strangers and miss the opportunity to fix things.

While the high recidivism rate for sex offenders is a common topic of conversation, I learned through my interviews that treatment actually works.  While pushing someone out of one’s group might solve the immediate problem, without the tools to deal with the problem it’s pretty likely that there will be other victims at some point.  Is kicking the can down the road an ethical response?

Some sex offenders are ready to admit they have a problem, I now understand.  Among them, there’s a fear of reprisal and consequence for coming clean; being able to accept that fact is part of treatment.  Are there ways to continue to include a known offender without putting people at risk?  Of course, but it’s going to take work, and it’s going to take compassion for someone who may well have done some terrible things.  There’s also the question of potential offenders, who would prefer not to harm anyone but are afraid to admit they have a problem due to rejection.  Isolation does not help that work, which is all but impossible to do without help.

In Pagan and polytheist communities, we are moving toward a better understanding of how to support victims.  That includes believing them, and encouraging them to talk to the police.  We are not there yet, and it’s been a painful process to get even this far.  Finding ways to support offenders as well as victims is going to be a lot more painful, but I think it’s work we need to do if we are actually interested in healing.