Real money magic: priming the pump

What’s to be done when a well runs dry? Here’s a tip: try priming the pump before calling a well driller. The same can be said for when we run dry, creatively or spiritually or even financially: with the right skills and components, even on our worst days we are not lost causes; our pumps too can be primed.

Applying that to money can seem like a catch-22: if it takes money to make money, where in Tartarus should I look if I don’t have two cents to rub together? The fact that this is not an easy question to answer is a deep and enduring problem in our society. Those resources which do exist to help the penniless can be hard to identify, and even when they are known there can be barriers from geographic to bureaucratic in the way. While it’s been decades since I needed to rely on public assistance to pay for rent, food, and medical care, I haven’t forgotten how efforts to prevent welfare fraud made it harder to earn enough to escape that trap. I had to use the most dangerous pump-priming technique available to me: taking out student loans, hoping I’d eventually make enough money to pay them off.

For the most part, I don’t borrow money that I don’t know I can repay. I am risk-averse, which means that my pumps don’t get primed as quickly as some. Priming a pump with borrowed water when there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to repay right away is something I’ve done more than once with dissatisfying results. I understand that there are others for which the combination of timing, circumstance, and personal motivation make this a risk well worth it; recent history is peppered with examples of stupendous success based on other people’s money. Infomercials, too, are filled with those tales, and it’s largely due to that sort of soulless shilling of dream-chasing that I have sometimes nearly come to ruin. Lending that targets the desperate is often particularly predatory. Feel free to borrow if you wish, but it’s rarely something I counsel. If you come to me with a tale of woe, I will listen sympathetically, but when asked for advice to avoid doing to oneself again I will definitely recommend not borrowing more money as a first step.

Borrowing aside, what remains is finding ways to increase income, and, for the advanced practitioner, controlling expenses.

The former, identifying new or greater sources of income, might involve seeking a raise or a new job, find an additional job, joining the gig economy, selling things that are lying about the house, or turning hobbies into revenue streams. It is not the purpose of this passage to give specific tips on doing these things, the specifics of which can vary. (Moreover, my life experience only includes a couple of years surviving solely on thanks to government assistance, and that was before Clinton gutted most of those programs.) What’s important to recognize is that there is almost some level of control over how much money comes in, although making more money usually requires a sacrifice of time spent doing other things. If it means watching less television, that might not be too bad, but if the sacrifice is time with one’s children, the calculus gets trickier.

Find what you’re willing to give up — even temporarily — and you’ll have a sense of how much time you can focus on earning more money. That equation can change from day to day, even hour to hour; sometimes it’s going to be a tough choice between spending time with the kids and ensuring they have food to eat, but mostly not. The key is that we make these decisions all the time, and the challenge is doing it consciously.

In short, working with money is, and always will be, something that carries with it risk. That’s especially true when undertaking new ventures, for which the downside is unclear. Priming the pump represents that initial risk: is the water I have in this container before me going to yield more if I pour it down that hole than if I pour it down my throat?

The answer to that question can only be determined with some discernment, but that’s a big enough topic it deserves a post of its own.

Advertisements

Real money magic: cash money spells

Money spells: who doesn’t love them? From dressing lodestones to scratching off lottery tickets, there’s lots of methods which are supposed to bring money into one’s life. Occasionally I will try out a spell I find online, or actually buy a spell kit, to understand how they’re put together. Along the same lines, I once wrote a column reviewing lottery games; each as is much magic as the other. I find it interesting to deconstruct them, and try to evaluate how effective they are.

There is a class of money spells that I find to be quite effective, to the tune of several thousand dollars that has come into my life because of them. The qualities these spells share include slow development and an emphasis on how money flows. For all it’s associated with earth, money does an awful lot of flowing; whether that’s indicative of water or magma, I’m not yet clear.

Bad news first: if it’s not already clear, lottery tickets don’t make the cut. Sure, there is an opportunity to win beaucoup bucks by playing, but anyone who believes they can wrap their head around just how small that chance is going to be is kidding themselves. I do buy a lottery ticket from time to time, but I do so as an offering to Hermes, and never expect a winner. That way lies madness.

My reference to “slow development” might also be disappointing; if there is magic which showers the user with lots of money within hours or days, I haven’t found it. Money just doesn’t seem to move all that quickly, and it might take a tremendous amount of energy to change that. (I searched high and low for a datum about the physical speed of money to no avail, but I assure readers it’s measured in miles per year, if that fast.)

Nevertheless, there are spells which I have used to good effect in helping me accumulate money. The astute reader might notice a theme.

  • Weekly dollars: On the first Sunday (a day good for money work) of the year, I light my money candle, take out a dollar bill, and recite a prayer to my patron:
Khaire, Poseidon Asphaleios.
Guide the tides around me
so that my efforts here
will secure my future.
I do the same each Sunday thereafter, only increasing the amount of money by a dollar each week. The last Sunday of the year that’s $52 I drop in the pot. Increasing the amount over time makes it doable for me, because I can make adjustments to my spending habits gradually. I’m like the proverbial toad in the pot of water being boiled, and I think most other humans are as well. This is not about ripping the band-aid off; it’s allowing it to drop when it drops. If you’re ready for radical transformation, go for it! This spell is intended for the rest of us.

Spells work better if there is a specific intention; for this one I focus on needs for my home. I am presently working toward a fireplace insert to make a home warmer than 60 degrees in winter affordable; I’m on my fourth annual cycle, and expect to make this offering to Hestia next summer.

  • Daily cents: This is another incremental saving spell, but it focuses on pocket change. I was given a lovely pottery container, and on the first day of the year into it I deposited a penny while saying:
Penny by penny,
cent by cent,
to pay for my funeral
is my clear intent.
I repeat this every day, adding one more cent to the pot daily, meaning that on the last day of the year I’m putting in $3.65. For those not reading closely, the intent I have chosen for this spell is preparing for my own death. First on the list is purchasing plots in a nearby natural-burial cemetery; in future years I’ll set aside money to be used for whatever friffery my survivors decide to put me through on the way to that hole in the ground.
  • Fiver diversion: For about seven months I’ve been avoiding spending five-dollar bills; instead, I put ’em in special money jar I originally prepared for the “daily cents” spell, but proved too small. I have accumulated about $400 thus far, for which I have not stated an intention. Money magic without intention is only for advanced practitioners! Set a goal for every spell; don’t be like me, or you might discover you blow your wad and have nothing to show for it.
  • March of dimes: Pinterest wisdom is that a two-liter soda bottle filled with dimes yields about $700. I haven’t tried this one yet, because we don’t waste enough money on soda to justify the big bottles of the stuff. It’s true that the price per unit is much lower when buying in bulk, but I personally would rather not save money on something this awful. Yes, I drink soda, and I don’t want to have any excuse to think there’s any benefit once it’s past my taste buds. No, I’d rather not feel morally superior about drinking soda, thank you very much.
  • Found money: I pick up pennies in the road. I scoop change out of the lint trap and couch cushions. I discover crisp bills in the pockets of pants I haven’t worn in months. Some of this money was technically mine all along, but either I didn’t miss it or I adapted to its absence. Either way, it’s a blessing to have it in my life and I set this money aside as “luck money,” to be used when times are lean (to counter bad luck) and when celebrating the bounty in life (such as giving to panhandlers or purchasing lottery tickets).

None of these spells have made me rich, but those I’ve used have ensured I have money when I need it most. Some might say that this isn’t drawing money to me, because it’s mostly about money already coming into my life. If capturing the money coming in before it disappears isn’t magic, then why aren’t more people doing it?

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.

Real money magic: volunteering

“I would never volunteer,” remarked the grandmother of a friend of mine. “Why give it away if you can get paid for it?”

That’s the quintessential problem with money: once it’s introduced into a society, the temptation is to quantify everything. The insistence of that grandmother to have all her time be measured in dollars comes from the same state of mind that spawned the idea that human lives can be bought and sold. The same magic that allows money to bring good things into people’s lives can be used to reduce every human interaction to a number.

I don’t think it’s fair to blame money for this desire we have to see all things through the lens it offers. We are malleable mortal beings, and encounters with spirit always carry with them the possibility of the profound. Some spirits, like that of opium, I steer away from because those encounters are incredibly dangerous for humans. Other spirits, like air, I must engage with lest I die. Money carries with is some of both perils, tempting us to frame our world as profit statements and deliverables.

Not everything of value can be priced, and not everything that can be, should be. It’s a human failing to use too much of a good thing, whether it’s money, sugar, heroin, sex, or curling; humans seldom pursue any form of pleasure in moderation.

I don’t have much time to volunteer, but I’m glad to do what I can. Lately that’s been helping to steer a local nonprofit farm that’s got a heavy emphasis on feeding hungry people. Due to how the systems are structured, I don’t have direct contact with the people getting fresh produce to supplement the crap they’re stuck eating because they live in a food desert. I can’t even take a tax deduction for the time I spend, but that’s not the point. People are getting fed. Children are learning where food comes from. I am meeting people in my community I didn’t know lived here, and strengthening my ties to my home.

The benefits of volunteering may not be easily quantified, but they are incredibly valuable, both to the volunteer (although the research doesn’t confirm causation, there’s definitely a relationship) and to anyone who is a recipient of those efforts. I don’t think I would have been able to convince that granny of this truth, but truth it is.

What is difficult for Grandma Worksforpay and many who live in capitalist societies to grasp is the value proposition of the anything that cannot be quantified or, more specifically, priced. That is not their fault; one does not expect the fish to notice the water. In The Soul of Money, author Lynne Twist begins with the tale of Chumpi Washikiat, member of an Amazonian tribe called the Achuar. Washikiat’s people didn’t use money, weren’t familiar with the concept of money, and got along just fine without money. Historically, that dynamic has not gone well: land conscription, resource exploitation, and slavery are common results of early contact between monetary and non-monetary peoples. The Achuar were trying to get ahead of the curve, learning about money before money mowed them down. Writes Twist:

“When the Achuar are in their rain forest home they are prosperous and have everything they need, and have been so for centuries, even millennia. One step out of the rain forest into our world and they can’t eat, find shelter, or live for any length of time without money. Money is not an option; it is a requirement.”

Plenty of people — albeit not necessarily readers of my humble blog — would nod their heads sagely as they read that passage, perhaps sympathetic to the simple savage trying to make his way in the civilized world. I see a different message, as did Twist herself, that within “civilization” it’s difficult to imagine life without money, perhaps as difficult it is to imagine how one thinks before learning language. In Debt: the First 5,000 Years, David Graeber frequently returns to the amount language which is couched in monetary terms, showing as “owing” someone because of a small gesture, such as letting the other person merge a car onto the freeway. Even those of us who are cognizant of money, or try to be, think in those terms frequently throughout the day. I’m tempted to call it a “startling” or “alarming” frequency, but it’s no more alarming that the rising water temperature around that proverbial toad, about to be boiled alive.

There is a Jewish tradition of anonymity in charity, baked into Maimonides’ eight levels of giving. I believe that’s intended to separate doing good things from the quantity of money involved, to some extent, but I’m not sure how effective it is. The person who gives will always know how much they give, even if they don’t know to whom they actually gave it. Granted, this system prevents the one from lording it over the other, and that’s an important acknowledgement of our fundamentally jerky nature, but I believe the ideal extension would be giving which is so anonymous that the donor isn’t even aware that the money is gone.

However, that’s another discussion. This post is about volunteering. (Focus, man!) This post is about giving time in lieu of money. Here’s a few things I’ve done in recent years, for which I have not even gotten a t-shirt for compensation:

  • collected food for a local food bank
  • volunteered reorganizing all the canned goods at said food bank (side note: food banks tend to be full of crap no one wants to eat, which for me includes canned olives and hog’s feet. Pro tip: it’s nice to know that something you’re not eating isn’t going to waste, but please consider buying an extra box or can of something you would eat, just to mix it up a bit)
  • sitting on the board of a farm which has a substantial food justice mission (and if readers are sensing a trend, they may not be incorrect)
  • growing a mustache to raise money for cancer research
  • taking care of kids while their parents attended a political caucus
  • picked up trash that magically accumulates over the winter in my college town

Whatever the skills, whatever the time availability, there’s a volunteer opportunity for that. Some of my neighbors organize the library book fair each year. A friend of mine knits caps for premature babies. My mother delighted in her time at a local thrift shop, the proceeds from which supported a sliding-scale mental health clinic. The opportunities are without end, and the need is great.

Coming back to that grandmother I once knew who would never have volunteered, well, more’s the pity, because I am richer for the time I have given away than ever I could be from the time I spend for pay.

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.

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.

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.