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Witchcraft vs. Religion
NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Why Pay the Priest/ess?
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Author: Lupa [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: June 15th. 2008
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Scenario 1: Your house is a mess. You pay a house cleaner to come over for two hours to scrub the floors, clean the bathroom, and vacuum the rugs. You then pay a priest/ess in your tradition to come over for two hours to spiritually cleanse your home, work protection magic on it, and ask for the blessing of the gods of your tradition. Either service you could have done yourself, but you choose to pay other people whom you feel can perform these services better.
Scenario 2: You’re out shopping. You stop in a home and garden store that specializes in locally made, handmade products, even though you could have gone to the local big box store with much cheaper prices, and you buy a set of lovely hand carved spoons for cooking with. You then stop at your local pagan shop, which has a wide variety of handmade ritual tools from local artisans, and you buy a set of hand-poured candles created in a ritual setting by a pagan crafter.
In each of these situations, there is an exchange of energy, either through effort, or through energy imbued in physical objects. There are people who have chosen to give up a certain amount of their time to move this energy, and you, their customer, have chosen to exchange some of your own energy and time—in the form of currency most likely gained through your efforts at work—for their energy and time.
However, some pagans would argue that the priestess and the pagan artisan should be doing their work for free, or for whatever the customer decides to pay (even if it’s absolutely nothing at all). Supposedly because their work is more spiritual than that of the housecleaner or the people in sweatshops who mass produced a bunch of cheap candles for the big box chain stores, they shouldn’t be charging money for it, at least not a set amount. Doing so is said to taint the action, and according to some anyone who charges for spiritual products and services must obviously be doing it primarily for the money, selling their spirituality to the highest bidder.
This may seem to simply be an argument of commerce; however, it opens up a much larger concept: the perceived division between the physical (money, “regular” sex, bodily functions, work, other “mundane” things) and the spiritual (altered states of consciousness, rituals, sacred sex, religion-specific practices, anything having to do with spirits or gods). For some pagans, the spiritual is higher than the physical, and while we may not have the escapist fantasies of the Rapture-obsessed minority of Christians, there’s still a subtle pattern of “mundane = less valuable than the spiritual”
I would like to argue to the contrary. To me, the spiritual and the physical are indivisible. Sure, I believe there’s some afterlife, but for the moment, while I am ensconced in a physical reality, they are too tightly intertwined to separate in any practical way. I am not fond of the idea that spirituality should be used as a temporary escape from this reality; rather, spirituality should augment it, and help us to find solutions for the everyday, “mundane” problems that we face—as well as celebrate the beauty inherent in the physical world. Here are a few specifics as to why I feel this way:
--The perceived divide between the physical and the spiritual has resulted in abuse and neglect of the physical, and caused us to ignore and miss out on the wonders of the physical world.
If we study the history of humanity, the more recent perceptions that the spiritual and physical have led to a lot of the problems we’re dealing with today. Look at a relatively recent example, Cartesian dualism. René Descartes postulated that the mind (the nonphysical, which can also include the spirit) and body were two distinctly separate things.
One eventual result of dualism led to tendency by some scientists, especially prior to the latter part of the 20th century, to try to reduce certain physical phenomena only to their directly observable, concrete traits and causes. However, more recent scientific exploration has shown that the division between, say, the mind and the brain, isn’t so easily definable as once assumed. (1)
One of Descartes’ related ideas, that nonhuman animals are nothing but machines incapable of feeling, also speaks of this separation, since animals were not considered to have minds (something reserved for humanity alone). A contemporary of Descartes had this to say about the philosopher’s “descendants”, who would harm dogs in an attempt to prove their point:
“They said the animals were clocks; that the cries they emitted when struck were only the noise of a little spring that had been touched, but that the whole body was without feeling. They nailed the poor animals up on boards by their four paws to vivisect them to see the circulation of the blood…” (2)
Now, most people today would be horrified by such an idea. However, the persistence of duality, whether that espoused by Descartes or other variations, continues today, often in subtle ways. A good example is the idea that the Earth and the rest of the physical Universe are dirty, lesser, and meant to be escaped upon death—or at least temporarily in rituals of “enlightenment”. Spirit, on the other hand, is pure and unsullied, and the ideal is that either A) the good shall escape and leave all their problems behind, particularly as those problems are seen to be the sole domain of the physical, or B) eventually the spiritual shall overcome the physical and purify everything into a paradise.
This is seen particularly in various religions and other such practices, and unfortunately it has led to a great amount of irresponsibility when dealing with the physical world, especially that which doesn’t immediately (or at least obviously) affect the instant gratification of humanity.
The perception that the physical is lesser means that many people take it for granted, and don’t think twice about doing things that cause it harm. This is how we’ve ended up with pollution, including global warming, and a huge island of plastic the size of a continent floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (3).
Many pagans give lip service to being “nature based”, but then don’t think about the impact their everyday actions have. I’m not talking about giving up your car and going vegan automatically. I’m talking about carefully considering your choices before you make them; if you still ended up taking the less friendly choice, at least you put it more to the front of your mind, which will affect your choices in the future.
Beyond making the right choice for you, though, adherence to duality often causes us to miss the beauty, wonder, and magic of the world around us. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had some newbie (or not so newbie) complain about how there’s no magic in the world, and then reminisce about some fantasized distant past or alternate reality in which unicorns walk down the street and everyone can shoot fireballs out of their noses.
This, again, is a form of escapism, because it subtly absolves us of our responsibility to this world. Since this world, with its strip malls and strip mining and strip clubs, so obviously isn’t magical according to these people, then we supposedly aren’t required to engage with it, instead idealizing the Otherworlds as havens of magic and mystery, which we mere mortals are only privy to if we do the right rituals—or just get lucky.
Yet eventually this illusion shatters…
--As we grow in our paths, it becomes more necessary to allow the spiritual to permeate every aspect of our lives, not just the times when we’re “in circle”, or otherwise doing specifically spiritual or magical things.
I’ve been pagan for over a decade. The older I’ve gotten and the more experiences I’ve had, the more I’ve found that magic and spirit aren’t limited to the ritual circle and the “World Between Worlds”. As mentioned above, the physical world we live in is full of magic—we just take it for granted because we’re used to it.
My garden is a great example of this. It never ceases to amaze me that I can take a tiny little seed, put it in some dirt, water it regularly, and have it turn into a lush plant. (4) That’s pretty impressive, as far as I’m concerned. But it doesn’t stop with romanticized things like that. Compost is pretty impressive, too.
As matter decays and breaks down into its components, it becomes fuel for other things. In her wonderful book The Earth Path, Starhawk describes the journey of a molecule of calcium from a plant, to part of a human bone, to the Earth itself, and other places, all showing how our very forms are dependent on the rest of the Universe.
We literally are what we eat, drink, breathe and otherwise absorb. This is why I acknowledge that when I eat something, I am becoming that thing. I am lettuce, and a chicken, and cacao beans, and a salmon, and quite possibly things like mercury as well. For the most part it is our decision as to what we become (with the exception of unavoidable pollutants). And if choosing what we are isn’t a work of magic, I don’t know what is.
I am an animist. Everything has a spirit, and I interact with these spirits every moment of the day and night. I may not always be conscious of it, though I’ve increasingly made the interactions more conscious on my part. However, spirits aren’t limited to big, impressive beings Somewhere Out There that we need to summon into our sacred spaces at certain times. Maybe not every occurrence has a special significance for me, personally.
If I see a robin in my front yard, I don’t automatically run for my stack of totem animal dictionaries and try to find out what Robin means. However, I do acknowledge the blessing of Robin and his children in my life, the same as House Fly, or Cat, or Carrot, or the techno-spirit of my laptop (who named herself Athena).
I have learned to cease differentiating between a spiritual act and a mundane one. Everything I do is sacred, because everything is sacred. Of course, it could also be argued that everything is profane, too. But the sacred/profane divide, again, is a subjective and artificial duality. And as I no longer only acknowledge the spirits during ritual activities, but throughout my day in all forms and functions, therefore the whole of my life is spiritual.
--Removing the blockages between the spiritual and physical to create a single, focused reality that we live in this moment (never mind the past or the future) allows us to get the most out of both, and to heal and be of the most aid to both. We are in these bodies for a reason; don’t disrespect this unique opportunity.
This is the most important part. I’ve already made it pretty clear what damage has been done by dualism and the idea that the physical is lesser. This is not irreversible, however. We still have the chance to make things right—not just environmentally, but socially, economically, interpersonally and intrapersonally. We who use magic have conscious awareness of one of the most effective forces at our disposal, one that is manifest in numerous actions, not just ritualized ones. By breaking down the artificial division of physical and spiritual, and instead seeing them as one, we allow ourselves to use every resource we have available at all times, to maximize our effectiveness.
This world needs healing. Everything in it needs healing. This isn’t just because of abuses, but as a natural matter of course. There is no perfect reality wherein nothing ever gets hurt, and no one ever dies (changes). But we’ve tipped the balance towards destruction pretty far, and if we’re going to pragmatically right the balance to keep this place inhabitable, then we have a lot of work to do. Wouldn’t it be better if we stopped differentiating between “spiritual” and “mundane” and instead got down to the business of doing whatever needs to be done?
Even when we’re not actively working towards healing, there is value in appreciating the beauty of all of reality, the spiritual and physical together. I am blessed to live in Oregon, a state full of absolutely amazing wild places. When I hike, it is a spiritual communion. However, I also have to remember this when I’m walking in the middle of downtown Portland. There are spirits there, too, and just because they feel less “natural” to me (or, rather, because I’m personally biased towards the spirits of mountains and forests) doesn’t mean they aren’t deserving of my attention.
Now, if I allow myself to see these spirits as worthy, then I’m more inclined to honor them and the place they inhabit. In some places, such as suburbs, maybe the place they’re at are malls and parking lots. And maybe those places don’t feel as “sacred” to some people. But does that mean we should ignore them?
Should I only get my spirituality going when I go out to the mountains, and not when I walk across a parking lot littered with broken glass? Perhaps it is the latter place that needs my help even more, though they all deserve my respect.
And why, to get back to my original idea, should money be any different? Sure, some people spend a lot of time in pursuit of it to the detriment of their health and that of other people, places, living beings and other things. But is it really inherently bad because it’s of the physical world? Should we eschew it because it isn’t inherently “spiritual”—or, more to the point, should we put it as always diametrically opposed to Spirit? Cannot paying someone for “spiritual” services be a “spiritual” exchange of energy in and of itself? Or, for that matter, should we even be making the dualistic difference between “spiritual” acts and creations, and everything else?
So this is why I feel that it’s proper to pay the shaman, the priestess, and the magical artisan. What they do is in the end no different than what any other practitioner of any other art, service, or work does, spiritually speaking.
It is all sacred, it is all profane, and it is all one.
(1) See Ratey, John J. (2002) A User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention and the Four Theaters of the Brain.
(2) From Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff and Susan McCarthy (1995) . When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals. New York: Delta, p. 18.
(3) Yes, I’m dead serious about the giant island of plastic. Go to http://theoystersgarter.com/2007/10/23/why-there-are-no-pictures-of-the-north-pacific-trash-gyre/ for details and pictures.
(4) My Witchvox article from a couple of months ago, “Paganism is a Dirty, Dirty Word”, goes deeper into the lessons I’ve learned from my garden; it’s located at http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usor and c=earth and id=12446.
Copyright: Copyright Lupa, 2008. Please do not reproduce without my permission (other than small amounts in properly cited quotes) ; linking to this page is just fine.
Location: Portland, Oregon
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Bio: Lupa is a pagan, (neo) shaman in service to the Land, and avid hiker living in the amazing state of Oregon with her husband and fellow author, Taylor Ellwood, their cats Sun Ce and Ember, and too many books and art supplies. She is the author/co author of several books on paganism and magic, a ritual tool artist, and a blogger/book reviewer. Your best starting point to find out more is http://www.thegreenwolf.com.
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