I Oppose the Commodification of Spiritual Community in Witchcraft and Other Traditions
My Instagram feed is filling with ads for Witch classes and groups. Traditionally Witches don’t sell classes, nor do they sell tickets to collective rituals. Witches work on their own as solitary practitioners or form covens to do ritual together. When they provide ritual for the community, it is a gift, a service, not a commodity. There was not a ticket vendor at the edge of the field when the community danced around the Beltane or Samhain Fire in the days of old.
The tradition of Witchcraft is in direct conflict with capitalism and the commodification of all things sacred. Witches are transgressive, subversive, and anti establishment by claiming their power, magic, and divinity. Witches don’t need intermediaries to meet God because we know God is everywhere.
Witches serve their communities in spite of and in opposition to the systems that oppress, from the medical industrial complex to the Catholic church. It’s awesome we are not burned at the stake anymore, but turning our tradition into a mainstream commodity is disrespectful. Similar to the disrespect white people show other cultures’ spiritual traditions through appropriation. I could be writing this about shamanism, meditation, yoga, etc. Capitalism has it’s greedy hands in everything and (mostly white) spiritual teachers/leaders are deliberately oblivious or apathetic to their classist and appropriative practices in the name of making a living from what they love, as opposed to living their spiritual values no matter how they make money. The spiritual-development-industrial-complex normalizes self-interest, white supremacy, and classism while it exalts money (codenamed abundance).
These paid programs are not honoring Witchcraft as a tradition, they are exploiting the need for spiritual community and capitalizing on the reduction of the Craft to a cultural fad.
Making a just living through exchange for ritual tools, divinatory/intuitive guidance, healing modalities, and plant magic/medicine is how Witches are traditionally supported by their communities. I am not aware of a historical precedent that required payment for the experience of spiritual community, collective ritual, or growing in practice together. At least no one taught me that when I studied 25 years ago. In fact, in all Indigenous and religious traditions I am aware of, the community sustains it’s spiritual and magical practitioners through offering (gift). Generosity and gift economy are woven into spiritual practice. But now spiritual entrepreneurs brainstorm every possible way they can turn their gifts or expertise into a commodity, as the business coaches instruct, including group facilitation under the guise of spiritual community. (It’s not community if it’s transactional, hierarchical, and/or limited by one person’s work/rules/framing.*)
Outside of the phenomena of mega churches and the hoarding of stolen wealth by the Vatican, the Christians have it right by providing shared sacred space (church), spiritual learning, and spiritual mentorship (clergy) free of transaction. The other major religions do this, too. Sanctuary and ritual/ceremony is accessible every day to the homeless as well as the 1%. But those of us who no longer resonate with organized religion have nowhere to turn for non-transactional spiritual community. Nearly every offering I see is paid, as if people can’t imagine another way.
The bottom line is that we in America have lost respect for the Sacred, and for spiritual community as a vital need, as vital as having a family. We wouldn’t imagine charging for family relationship, why are we ok with charging for community relationship, spiritual or otherwise?
Capitalism is in direct conflict with spiritual values. It is a system based on unlimited growth, stolen resources, and a mechanistic view of the universe. If we are to be true to the spiritual values of Witchcraft, which includes reverence for nature, we need to work outside the system. Our ancestors were burned for subverting the Catholic/Protestant churches and defying medical/scientific fundamentalism, as well as for for their land/resources. To now claim the ancestry of the burned while simultaneously championing capitalism by charging for mentorship and collective ritual is hypocrisy in my eyes.
We need to let go of the idea that we should be paid cash for everything we do. Community is sustained by the generosity that occurs when we support each other through life, like in our friendships. Our friendships do not thrive without a generosity of labor, neither can our communities exist/grow/thrive without a generosity of labor.
We are out of touch with our hearts (emotions), our souls (selves), and our spirits (our relationship with the Sacred, however we perceive it). We are spiritually bereft in a culture that claims the physical is supreme and so we work for the physical – the body, the brain, and the money – while our neglected hearts, souls, and spirits sink into the unconscious depths to act out our needs in unhealthy ways. Americans are dying of loneliness and taking more anti-depressant/anti-anxiety meds than ever because of this suffering.
Our hearts, souls, and spirits are starving and the best we can come up with is selling each other classes/courses/groups. Some I see claim to be anti capitalist, but don’t give time to creating something outside the system here and now. They don’t *give* much time at all – they want money for their time and then they contribute money to others serving the marginalized. It’s all based on cash. Earn cash to give cash and let someone else be responsible for the act of caring because they are all too busy with their hustle. They outsource the acts of caring to the private sector (corporations who prioritize profit over people) and the nonprofit-industrial-complex (a mess of transactional relationship, white saviorism, poor money management, etc.), and then call themselves compassionate and community minded.
The spiritual-development-industrial-complex prioritizes an individual’s intellectual (book/class) and/or somatic (i.e. yoga) development by way of a teacher/student hierarchy based on transaction rather than traditional spiritual practices like mentorship, hospitality, or ministry. It does not concern itself with relationship and community. A short-term, transactional, and limited access experience with a teacher or coach is not building a relationship. Paid online groups, email lists, and Instagram followings are not communities.
Culture is trying to convince us that relationship is part of the money machine. We don’t just pay to meet our physical needs, we now pay to meet our emotional and spiritual needs. Even cuddling – being touched – is a commodity today because people are suffering from touch deprivation.
Capitalism separates us from ourselves, from each other, and from the spiritual instinct. The nuclear family, insulated in their pretty houses with their pretty cars, suits capitalism’s needs. Because the more separate we are the more resources we use. The more isolated we are the more we use “retail therapy” and media bingeing to self medicate. And if success is based on material wealth, then there is no time for developing heart/soul/spirit. All of our time must go to the hustle or the corporate machine and then to maintaining our debt and all of the things we buy.
We’ve lost ourselves because we’ve lost our connection to all that is sacred. We don’t believe in our own sacredness, or that of our fellow humans. We are blind to the sacredness of the natural world and all that it gives – without transaction – to sustain us.
We need to balance mind/body self-development with heart/soul/spirit we-development that occurs when we are in conscious/awake relationship to ourselves, one another, nonhuman beings, and the Mystery of Life. We need to hold relationship as sacred. We need to nurture intimacy. We need to learn and grow together outside of oppressive systems. We need to learn how to relate equitably, with no notion of superiority. We need to learn to relate with privilege, oppression, and intersectional awareness between us. We need to learn to relate in ways that modern culture lost the capacity to imagine and would try to convince us are impossible.
If one desires to learn or practice Witchcraft with other people, then I propose they model themselves on both nature and tradition. Co-create covens to learn and grow collaboratively. Use the wealth of resources at your fingertips to research the traditional and new ways of Witchcraft, build direct relationships with plants and tools of the craft, and work together to establish a practice..
You don’t need an expert for spirituality, especially experts that seeks to exploit your hunger for spiritual learning and community. You don’t need an intermediary to teach you how to connect with the Sacred. You simply need to open your heart to the sacredness of yourself as part of All of Life. What Witches know is that the God Between Us** is much closer than our culture would have you believe. It’s right here, right now, in your breath, in your blood, in the spaces between you and those you love. The God Between Us is everywhere and always giving.
*See my original essay – I am on a Mission to Decommodify Community
**See previous Story of Transgression – I am a Mystic Devoted to the God Between Us