Capitalism, Consumerism, Competition and Spiritual/Pagan/Witch/Occult Identity
picture by Steve Buissinne, Pixabay
Please note: This blog is about spiritual/pagan/witchcraft/occult people. In order to shorten this, I sometimes just write „spiritual community“.
We live in a world which is deeply influenced by Capitalism. This can also be seen as a belief system in itself. Many people have more faith in Capitalism than in any deity or other spiritual entity. This mundane faith can be seen constantly in politics, mostly of the conservative kind. This has lots of effects. One of them: People who are unproductive, for instance because of disabilities or illnesses, get stigmatized.
A quote from „The Impact of Advanced Capitalism on Well-being: an Evidence-Informed Model“ by Stephen Butler:
Concomitant with the cultural promotion of individualistic and materialistic values, individuals are obliged to develop an identity that is market-driven and embedded in a narrative of success, status, and an enhanced self-image. In the USA, there is evidence of increased materialism and goals related to the pursuit of money, fame, and an enhanced self-image over recent decades among large representative samples of high school and college students (Twenge et al. 2010a; Twenge et al. 2012).1
Capitalism bleeds over in communities who take an interest in new age spirituality or witchcraft, shamanism, occultism, paganism. Let me elaborate on this: New Age Spirituality, but also witchcraft, shamanism, occultism and to a perhaps lesser extent, paganism and druidry, are business models for some people. Some of their customers have a rather superficial interest in these topics, to them it is rather a lifestyle-thing. A yoga class here, a wellness retreat there, some crystals … and I don‘t mean to condemn all of this – most of us have busy lives, with jobs, families, mortgages, many obligations, so to most of us there is simply not much time or energy left for our spiritual development.
All in all, the interest in let‘s call it alternative spirituality is still booming, even if some of it is rather lifestyle-ish.
Let‘s get back to the business model. What do I mean by this? Here, I have seen basically two different approaches:
1. The small business approach
Elders of the spiritual community come to mind who often have published books or blogs and have been active in the community for a long time. Many of them have mundane jobs, sometimes part-time and they work as a witch, pagan, occultist, shamanic practitioner, medium, Tarot reader or else on the side. Some offer classes and workshops at reasonable prices, often with sliding scales.
Some organize events, also with reasonable prices and often with slading scales too - sometimes even with free tickets for people who cannot afford to buy a ticket. Some of the events also donate a share of their revenues for charitable causes.
There are also lots of local small businesses, e.g. occult shops, manufacturers, artisans, artists, book stores and similar.
2. The big business approach
Whole companies or spiritual teachers (many of them with a huge following) wo offer spiritual products and services of all kinds, events, classes, workshops, and more – and all of this is often quite expensive and there are no sliding scales.
As a rule of thumb you can assume the following – the more expensive such things are, the more likely it is that the respective companies or persons mainly see their fields of activity as a means to earn a lot of money and not so much as a service to the spiritual community. Hello again, Capitalism.
As you can guess, the first approach is far better in my eyes, because it is more inclusive, open also to people with little financial means. It‘s more about the community, less about financial gain.
Is taking money for your services bad?
You surely heard more than once discussions whether witches, shamans, occultists, mediums, pagan priestx etc. should take money for their services. Hello, Capitalism again. Whereas some shamans, witches, druids in historical or indigenous societies where able to get by with bartering or donations by the people in their village or neighbourhood, we live very differently these days in Western Societies. There are rents and bills to pay – with money, not spiritual services – and we cannot step outside of Capitalism completely, even if many would love to.
Listen to what Laura Tempest Zakroff has to say about this discussion. In her short talk, it‘s mainly related to witchcraft, but it can also be applied to shamanic practitioners, druids, mediums, pagan priestx, occultists and more.
Consumerism and Spiritual Identity
Consumerism is deeply engrained in our societies. Advertisements are all over the place, fashion always changes with the seasons and new products get released every week or even more often.
All of this is also a part of spiritual communities and often, products are not ethically sourced - examples for this are crystals, White Sage and Palo Santo. Especially with smudging of White Sage, there is also the problem of cultural appropriation.2
Btw, I recently heard that the popularity of crystals started in New Age spirituality circles and then also merged into the witchcraft and occult communities. Sourcing and selling stones is a big business these days.
Social media, e.g. Instagram, often give the impression that in order to be a real witch, occultist, shamanic practitioner etc. you have to buy a lot of stuff, some of it frequently (e.g. incense, magical oils and waters, magical beauty products, candles and more). In other words, Capitalism and Consumerism have crept into the midst of our spiritual circles.
I do not want to condemn this, but I would like to recommend considering eco-friendly and ethically sourced products, if you can afford them, or generally consuming a bit less. Or if you are able to, make witchy/pagan/occult items on your own. It can be much more personal that way and is infused with your energy from the very beginning. And if your selfmade items do not look as nice as expensive products that others show on Instagram, I wouldn‘t worry about that. You don‘t have to show every little detail of your practice or craft on the internet. You could also just show them to close friends or relatives.
I‘d also consider to support your local witch or occult shop, if there is one near you. Or support small businesses or artists, Tarot readers etc. of the spiritual community, instead of larger companies. You can find many small businesses on Etsy or on Social Media. Several offer eco-friendly, vegan and/or ethically sourced products.
And what about competitors?
Capitalism lets us believe our world is full of competiton – in sports, school/college, at work... This goes so far that even in spiritual communities, there are people who mainly view others (e.g. artists, artisans, content creators, teachers, authors…) as competitors. This is a very damaging attitude. To me, other authors are colleagues and I treat them as such. I have learned this years ago in an author meet-up. John Beckett has written an excellent blog about this topic.3
How Capitalism and Consumerism can affect the Spiritual/Pagan/Witch/Occult Identity
I have met people who went from one spiritual workshop to the next. Of course, it‘s good to learn from others, in a group or one-on-one with a teacher. But my impression of some of these people was rather that they were haunted by some sort of insecurity. They seemed to feel deeply insecure about their spiritual abilities, so they were seeking some sort of validation in such classes and workshops, again and again.
I heard about another problem in an interview with Lars Koehne on Mystica TV. I can only quote this from memory, not his exact words – he basically said, many people feel insecure in their every day life and about their achievements in their jobs or education, as a parent or in other fields of their life. (Hello, Impostor Syndrome.) And then they start learning something about spirituality and again, they feel insecure about this. By the way, this might also explain the popularity of certificates which you get at the end of some classes. Lars Koehne continued saying, learning about your Higher Self and other spiritual topics should never be a source of insecurity, but of self-impowerment.
However, many classes, workshops, events, spiritual counsellors and teachers, often of the expensive kind, give the impression that they have all the answers and are the one true way to eternal happiness. Again, keep in mind, this is a business model and advertisements in general are not known for being all about truth, but rather about exaggerating the positive features of a product or service. I would recommend caution about such offers and rather recommend classes etc. which help you to self-empower yourself instead of promising you all sorts of life-changing effects.
And if you study with a teacher who keeps pushing concepts or methods at you that you feel are not right for you, maybe find a different teacher or another way of studying.
I keep reading in Social Media how beginner witches, druids, pagans, shamanic practitioners etc. feel insecure about their path, their craft etc. So they seek validation online, asking lots of questions.
Others write about how productive they are, what they have achieved or learned and often they give tips and recommendations for daily practices and such.
It seems, as a spiritual person, you just can‘t be and enjoy being alive and doing the spiritual things you do. These days, it seems you have to go to events (currently often online because of the pandemic), listen to podcasts, show selfies or your altar online, read books, visit workshops, book a reading, watch videos by witchy Youtubers and the list goes on and on. Oh, and did I mention, never forget your daily practice. And if you are a content creator, you have to post something online every day or your exposure will decrease. Does that ring a bell? Hello again, Capitalism, with your profound belief in constant productivity and growth. Higher. Faster. More.
I recently wrote an article about chronical illness and witchcraft4, in which I explained how all of that productivity can be overwhelming for neurodiverse or chronically ill people - or even impossible to achieve. And I bet it can also be overwhelming for neurotypical, healthy people.
Does it spark Joy? 5
If your activities for your craft/path feel all in all and most of the time rather like chores, something might be wrong. Of course, if you are for instance a beginner trying to learn astral projection/travel, meditation, shamanic journeying or similar methods, this can be tough in the beginning. All of those cannot be learned in a day or two, these things really need some practice.
However, if the feeling of doing chores continues over a long time, check what you are doing. Maybe you have fallen into a trap which sounds like, „I have to be productive all the time for my craft, or I am a bad witch.“
Believe me, you are not a bad witch or pagan, occultist etc. just because you do not do all the tips, exercises, journal prompts etc. that books and blogs, videos etc. provide.
Try a playful approach. Try to make rituals or spells easier, less complicated. You do not need to memorize the multitude of meanings of every card of the Tarot, if you are not a professional Tarot reader. You can look up their meanings. You also do not have to write long, elaborate texts all the time into your Book of Shadows, sometimes keywords are enough. You do not have to join every discussion on Social Media about spiritual matters. Taylor your own unique approach to spirituality, if that is what suits you best, e.g. if you are a solitary witch. And: you do not have to deal with each and every activity that others do.
A personal example: I do seldomly work with crystals and divination. Astrology doesn‘t resonate with me at all. I also only do ancestral work occasionally, not all the time. Does that make me a lesser witch? I don‘t think so. I do other witchy, pagan and shamanic activities.
So my advice would be, laugh into the face of Capitalism every now and then. „Shop less, live more“, to quote a saying. In your free time, take a walk in nature or in the park in the neighbourhood – not for shooting pictures for your Instagram, but just for being yourself and to enjoy nature. If you have a dog, you have experience with this anyway, I guess? Take some time in which you are not productive. Be lazy sometimes, even if that feels strange or uncomfortable. Daydream on your couch. Smell the flowers. Pet your cat. Take a nap if you can. Get offline for a while, or turn off the notifications of your social media. Stop reading all the tips which are not suitable for you. Bingewatch that show. Read an entertaining novel every now and then instead of the next research material for your craft. Do remember, and I repeat myself: You do not have to be productive all the time.
Recommended further reading:
”Embracing Feelings-Based Paganism” by Mage of Aquarius, free article on Patreon:
You can read more about this e.g. in the following articles:
In this blog by Sidney Eileen are some alternatives for using White Sage as an incense.
This is a quote from Marie Kondo.