Magic Capitalism Part 2

Episode 16 – Magic Capitalism Part 2 The Waxing Soul

Episode Transcript:

I’m Bridget Owens and you're listening to the Waxing Soul podcast where we're adventuring into the world of mindful modern magic and authentic spiritual practice.

It's February 17, 2022, and today's topic is capitalism in relation to magical or spiritual practice, continuing the exploration from episode 7.

Are you ready to grow your soul?

Welcome back to the podcast, and welcome back for more of an exploration of capitalism in the context of witchcraft, magical practice, and spirituality. I really, like… I generally already know when I do an episode whether it’s something that I want to turn into a series or a two part whatever, but I really did think I’d basically said what needed to be said with the last one. And then a couple of things have gotten my attention lately and, you know, I ended up with more ideas so here we are.

One of the things that popped up is that there’s an ongoing conversation happening on Tik Tok about deity work and making offerings to deities, and a couple of points got made by various users. First, that in an economic situation like the one we’re living in right now, it makes sense to be mindful of the kinds of offerings we make because is something is hard to come by or getting more expensive and it’s something we need, something our families need in life, it doesn’t make sense to make offerings of that stuff in ways that essentially waste it. For instance, food. With supply chain problems and the cost of food rising, does it make sense to leave food to go bad on a deity altar? Does that really fit with the idea and purpose of deity offerings?

And someone, or actually, several someones added to the conversation the point that deity offerings can be made not just by leaving things on a personal household altar but by giving to the larger community in a manner consistent with that deity’s realm of influence. So, like, donating to various causes or volunteering or whatever.

And that to me really brought to the surface how individualistic our practices have become. Which, yeah, I talk all the time about how spirituality is about what each of us individually needs to get from it, needs to benefit from on a spiritual level. That said, though, none of us lives unconnected from anything and anyone else. That’s literally the structure of spirituality, it’s an exchange of energies, it’s the web of connects which integrates us into the rest of existence, and so even though spirituality is an individually conducted thing, it’s individual decisions and acts and exploration, it’s done in a larger context.

And this individualism, this thing of, like, it’s my responsibility to take care of my own self and make sure everything is good and right for me and it’s not my responsibility at all to worry about whatever is outside of me and mine, that is both a fundamental aspect of capitalist society and is really a kind of new approach to any form of spirituality which comes from cultural contexts like most pagan paths do.

One of the ways that… In all this talk of deity work, which is not actually something I do for obvious reasons at this point in my practice, but I’m very interested in it as a phenomenon and aspect of human spirituality, and in all this talk it became really clear to me the difference in how modern especially American practitioners approach the practice as opposed to historical observances. Namely, the intensely personal relationships we seem to want to have with these spiritual entities. It goes beyond the idea that each person is able to connect spiritually in whatever ways our personal spiritual needs guide us to, but it’s personal in the other direction as well. It’s a desire to feel chosen and noticed and significant in that devotion. It’s… Well, honestly, it reminds me a lot of what modern American protestantism, particularly evangelicalism, has turned Christianity into. My buddy Christ and all that.

My critique of this, though, isn’t that I don’t, like…. It’s not about whether or not there’s a personal aspect to deity interactions or if that’s proper. But there is absolutely a tie between this increasingly not just personal but, like, possessive manner in which we approach our spiritual practices, this sense of not just privacy and internal connection but the sense of this is MY connection, this is MY special practice, this makes ME special which comes directly from the way capitalism has taught us to conduct ourselves in the world. It does erode our ties to the larger community.

It’s no longer about these ideas and practices having larger context, larger benefit, tying people together spiritually, it becomes about specialness and individual benefit and lifting us up as individuals. It becomes about each individual getting to do what they deem best for themselves, for their pursuits, for their goals.

This is all an aspect of capitalist society because capitalism is about individual rights and individual control of capital, or at least that’s what we are indoctrinated to believe it’s about. So of course we’ve learned to apply the same worldview we have from the rest of our lives to our spirituality as well. We treat the aspects of our individual approach to spirituality the same way we treat anything else in our lives: This is MY ancestor and MY history and MY ideas and MY abilities and gifts and divine relationships.

There’s a distinct lack, if we’re talking the prevailing Western or mostly American approach to things, there’s a distinct lack of concern about how our individual actions and choices and control of things impacts others because the assumption is that everyone is responsible for their own paths and if they’re suffering it’s the results of their own choices. But that’s… I mean, if we’re going to attach ourselves to older traditions, first of all, those ideas are not part of those practices in a historical sense.

And just in terms of how spirituality relates to the flow of energies and relationships and connections, if we’re taking without giving, controlling and possessing with out sharing in terms of spirit and energy and all of that, we are actually having an impact outside ourselves that we’re spiritually responsible for. We can absolutely be individual in our approach to building a spiritual practice, but it’s worth looking at where our individuality gives way to individualism.

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Now back to the episode!

So, shifting gears a little bit here, the other thing that I decided needed to be part of this round of examination once I got my brain focused on it again was the way that we also treat our spiritualities and our practices a lot the same way we treat our professions. Because if you’ve not given it much though, I want you to kind of look around at the world, think of your own life and the people around you and how in a society, a capitalist society which is entirely focused on, entirely built on money, getting money, having money, how our method of getting money, whatever activity we do in order to make a living becomes a huge piece of our core identity.

Now, I think that we’re starting to chip away at that idea a little bit with the way people are taking a different look at the balance between their lives and jobs and all that, but it can also be argued that we’re in the dying stages of capitalism.

And it’s still true for most people that their profession, their job, at least in the sense that it’s something they choose to do out of all the options they have, is one of the key bits of how they understand themselves and how they relate to others. It’s what we use to determine and gauge someone’s value in society, we judge people by their job and profession, it’s how we introduce ourselves to other people. It’s even something we start considering when we’re really young because there’s this societal pressure to pick a path, to pick a profession that will then go on and define us and it’s seen as really strange and in some cases wrong to not have a strong determination to be a certain thing in a professional sense, to follow some vision of what you’re going to become.

We’ve even tied that thing, that way to make money and support ourselves, to ensure our ability to eat and have shelter and all of that, we’ve tied that in with our passions and things we enjoy. That’s the ideal, right? If we have to have a career to be stable and have a good life, then the ideal is for that career to be something we love doing.

Now, I could get into that whole thing and go on forever, but the point is that the whole thing of having a career, the importance of having a career and having that kind of define us as a person, has everything to do with the need to make money in a capitalist society and really nothing to do with our natural drive to express our authentic identity. It’s because capitalism renders people as a line item in a budget, as just another resource or commodity, and it erases our individual identities except as we are able to define them according to our profitability. The more we’re worth monetarily, the more the world will accept our individuality and the more we can actually express ourselves authentically, but that’s a concession not something desirable in capitalism. We’re supposed to care about our individual fortunes, care about what we have and what we don’t have and all of that, that’s what individualism means, but individuality isn’t a good thing beyond the point it can be exploited to sell product, and even then it’s the illusion of individuality.

The thing is that if you look at what happens in terms of modern spirituality, modern magical practice, it’s easy to see how we treat our spiritual lives like our careers. I see so many people trying to figure out what their place is in whatever spiritual circles they run in, and the problem is that they’re looking for a place to fit the way we have to fit like a cog into the capitalist machine. Like there’s the assumption that we’re supposed to serve a role or a purpose in our spiritual lives, that we’re supposed to have some kind of value to the system. That we should feel a calling of some kind or feel drawn to contributing in a some specific way, like we’ve been created and given our skills in order to be of use.

And you all know how important I think authenticity is in life and in spirituality, but there’s just really not space for that if we approach spirituality the same way we conduct ourselves in our careers. For me, at least, and I think this is something that everyone needs to give some thought to somewhere along their path, for me spirituality is the thing in my life more than anything other which has to be authentic and nurturing and safe to me as an individual, to my spirit and my deep self and whatever I evolve into. It’s the respite from capitalism and all of the burdens that come with it. It’s the thing that I can lean on to help recover from and get guidance in staying authentic, staying spiritually healthy and active despite what is demanded of me otherwise.

And I also think it’s important to… If there’s one thing I want everyone to take away from this part of the episode today, it’s that if your spiritual practice, magical practice is nothing other than the things you do to feel better when you’re having a bad day, then that’s perfectly perfect. If that’s what you need from it most, that’s what it most needs to be. We aren’t part of a spiritual machine. We’re not a cog in a spiritual sense. We’re not serving some larger intention that needs to use us like a commodity.

Our role in the larger spiritual context is not about us providing things to other people in exchange for whatever we consider the spiritual equivalent of a salary. Your spiritual identity isn’t about what you “do” in a spiritual sense. Your spiritual identity is just, you know, your identity. As a person. As a spiritual being. And what you choose to do in a spiritual context, what you choose to offer to others or to contribute to the larger context is something you choose because it’s in alignment with your authentic spiritual way of being, not something you’re compelled or coerced to do.

But understanding what all of this looks like not in a capitalist context, outside this way of valuing ourselves only in the sense of commodification, takes actually acknowledging the ways that capitalism has shaped our understanding of the way the world works and considering what it would look like outside of that. What giving looks like when we take money out of the equation, what sharing looks like, what our purpose would be in life if we didn’t have to pick a purpose outside of considerations of, like, making money.

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To wrap all this up, I want to get into something that’s part of the bigger writing project and research project that’s kind of the backbone of my spiritual life and practice. For those who haven’t heard me mention it before, the book I just wrote is a small side project that spawned from a much larger one, which started way back as I was beginning to grapple with what seems like the big contradiction in my life. Specifically, I was trying to answer this question of, you know, if I’m an atheist, if I don’t believe that there’s some supernatural force pulling the strings in the universe and we’re actually just living things functioning and existing in a natural universe which runs on mathematical equations and scientific laws, then why do I still feel drawn to spiritual practice at all? Where does that pull come from? Is it cultural? Is it in our genetic programming as humans?

So I began researching human history in terms of, like, anthropology and archaeology, sociology, all of that, starting back in the Paleolithic, with the intent to actually brush aside all the preconceived notions I’ve had about the roots of spirituality in humans, because they all come from, like, not entirely impartial sources, and really try to come up with a firm grasp on it all. So this is a work in progress, I’m into the Neolithic now and it’s been years of off and on research, so this will likely be a lifelong project, but along the way I’ve come up with a couple of theories.

And then recently I found out about new book which as soon as I heard about it I had to get my hands on because it sounded like it might also be questioning some of the things I’ve been questioning as I did my research. It’s called The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow. I’m barely into it, just in the second chapter, it’s a huge thing, over 600 pages and I’m not even 60 pages in, and already it’s touching on some things, sometimes not directly, but touching on and confirming and expanding on things I’ve been hypothesizing about.

So here’s the relevant theory I want to get into here. When I look at the evidence we have about what the earliest human society structures looked like and what the assumptions have been about their spiritual and religious beliefs, what never made sense to me is why, in that portion of human history before the institution of anything like a monarchy or that kind of strict hierarchy and centralization of power, why they’d imagine their spiritual worldview that way. In fact, where would that idea even come from? Why would an egalitarian society which, based on the evidence we have, which runs on a more collective societal structure, which by necessity has a deep understanding of the nature of, like, nature itself, why would they imagine that whatever entities they believed existed around them would work different from nature and different from their own social structure? It doesn’t make sense for humans to have gods before they have kings.

And I think our religious and spiritual beliefs, our concept of what lies outside our present material reality, always reflects our best hopes for the power structure under which we live. Look at the way people are leaving formal religion these days and the increasing disillusionment with government and society in general.

I think it’s very telling on an individual level where we turn spiritually, what appeals to us as a spiritual worldview these days as I think more and more of us really are looking around and questioning our place in the systems of power in which we exist. There’s a reason so many people are finding things like witchcraft and ancient pagan religions which are ostensibly rooted in less exploitative forms of social structure and power structure. They feel more fair, they feel more just, they feel more in line with what we’re looking for as, you know, as we look for a better way to live as a society.

I talked in the first episode I did about capitalism and magic about how money is a commodification of power and how we often treat spiritual energy in the same way, and it’s worth revisiting that idea and considering the benefits of breaking down those connections or at least starting to within our spiritual practices. Not that we should just, like, ditch money and ditch society and go live in the woods. But thinking about the fact that the only reason we need money is because the systems we exist in run on money and therefore we need to be dependent on it or else we won’t be compelled to participate in the machine.

But in a spiritual sense, we can decentralize our practice from the idea of money. What we need in a spiritual sense, in the sense of our wellbeing and our survival isn’t money. It’s what we need money to do for us. The universe doesn’t run on money. Our interpersonal and spiritual relationships don’t run on money. For instance, we don’t need rent money, we need a stable living situation. We don’t need money for groceries, we need food for our families. And focusing spiritually on the end need rather than the money separates our spiritual workings from the machinations of capitalism.

Because in the end, spiritually speaking, money is just a form of energy which brings an extra unnecessary relationship or connection into play when what we really need is support from others, the ability to connect to our spiritual network. Political power in capitalism comes from money, but spiritual power does not.

Thank you so much for listening.
New episodes of the Waxing Soul drop every Thursday.
All materials and resources except the music are copyright Bridget Owens.
Many thanks to my readers, listeners, friends, mentors, inspirations, and my framily for riding with me into season two.
Until next week, blessed be and be good to yourself.

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