I’m poor. Not ‘I live on the streets and beg for spare change’ poor but ‘juggling the choice of buying food this week or paying the rent for the month’ poor. I, at least, have a roof over my head, even if it is a bit rickety at times.
If you’re familiar with my main blog, you’ll be aware that I have a medical condition that messes with my head and means working isn’t always an option. Too much time among other human beings makes me suicidal. That’s not a joke, nor am I taking the piss out of people with suicidal tendencies. I self-harm and have recurring suicidal thoughts. As a result, I live on just over £700 a month, a mix of benefits from our oh so generous government. This has to cover everything. Since I live alone I pay for all my bills. It’s difficult enough when I am able to work but when I can’t I struggle to survive. My one luxury, the internet, helps keep me sane – writing and free books are medicine for this crazy lady.
Since I got the internet I’ve been able to connect with other pagans and polytheists and read the websites of organisations. Until getting my own internet connection late last year I read blogs on my phone and most of them were from the US. I don’t know why but a lot of UK organisations don’t have the most mobile friendly sites. Being able to read the websites of UK pagan organisations and events has been great, and I’d love to join in, meet like-minded people and learn more, except for the minor problem of money.
People talk about this event or that book, and I can’t join in; I can’t afford to pay my entry for an event or the train fare to get there even if the event is free (and don’t even get me started on the subject of multi night stays at hotels). I can’t join organisations or subscribe to magazines. There are a great number of skilled artisans among the pagan population and I’d like to support them, but I can’t. Even buying books is a rare treat – specialist books are expensive, but once you get past the intro to paganism books and want more details on a specific subject you have to find sources somewhere. I feel left out of the community because I can’t take part in the conversation. People say ‘have you been…?’ and I have to say no, because I can’t afford to learn to drive or to travel long distances by train; if a place is off the beaten track then it’s out of reach even if it’s near-by.
For some, including myself, the day-to-day expenses too, of offerings and alter wear – candles, incense, statues – are an extravagance rarely afforded. Some examples: I feel mean buying a cheap paraffin candle from B&M when my gods deserve pure beeswax made by a skilled crafts-person. It’s not just aesthetics, but a wish to cause as little damage as possible and give as much honour as possible. Paraffin wax is a petroleum derivative and mass produced candles are hardly produced in Earth or people respecting conditions. Crafts-people need all the support they can get and make an effort to use good quality materials, if you find the right person.
Or: when I have to buy a copy of a book from Amazon when I’d prefer to buy from the author purely because Amazon has it cheaper. I’d rather the author get all the money than Amazon (who don’t pay their taxes and treat their employees shamefully) taking a large cut. I want to support independent writers and publishers.
Or: I really would like to go to Pagan Pride (Nottingham Arboretum, free entry, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., first Sunday of August) in August, but it depends on whether I can get cheap advance train tickets and if any disaster occurs between now and then. Even though it’s free, it’ll still cost me a week’s food money for a return ticket to Nottingham for the day.
There’s a strong strain of environmentalism in most paganisms, as befits ‘earth-centred’ religions. It’s a strong pull for some people, but there is a tendency to take on some of the more commercial aspects of the environmental movement that says ‘buy away your guilt for driving etc.’. Not everyone can afford the ‘right’ (read: organic, fair trade or locally grown) food and clothes, the’certified free of…’ products, the ones that cause the least damage. Because we’re just about managing to afford any food, and cheap clothes and shoes keep you warm and dry even if they’re not ethically sourced and sometimes £1 is all you have for cleaning products.
The Capitalist society we live in puts a price on everything, even personal beliefs and presses us to buy, buy, buy. Everything, including knowledge and community has a price, and if you don’t have the money, sorry, you’re not a part of it. I don’t expect writers to write for free (I wouldn’t, if I could persuade anyone to pay me to write that is) or events organisers to put on a brilliant event with no funds, that would be impossible and unfair, but it would be nice if people took in to account the fact that some people want to take part, to learn, to be part of the community, but can’t afford to pay for the tools to do so. One author, an avowed Marxist, gives away copies of his books to people and the journal he helped set up provides free issues to the poor too. He, and the journal editors, don’t have to, but they have empathy for the poor; a few more people could do with following their example.
There are things you can do, if you have no money. Going for a walk and enjoying the living presence of the world is free (helps if you live on the edge of a town or near decent parks – not so good if you live in a city and the parks are concrete with vandalised swings). Making a meal from scratch – provided you don’t live in a food desert and can actually get the ingredients at a reasonable price (I recommend raiding the ‘reduced’ section of shops) – and giving a portion as an offering. This stuff is easy for me to say, I live in Lincolnshire, near fields and young woodlands, and with plenty of fresh fruit and veg available. I started getting my veg from a local community garden, in Grimsby. They deliver once a fortnight, it’s lovely, fresh stuff. If you live somewhere less fortunate then it must be difficult.
Hunting down source material on the internet is a way to deepen knowledge – if you know where to look you can even find academic papers free online, as well as out of copyright books. Also, you could be cheeky and ask authors for free copies of their books – sometimes you’ll get a review copy if you promise to write a review once you’ve read it. Some people are just decent human beings – see earlier re. the Marxist writer – who have been in the same situation and know how important sharing knowledge is.
Making things is always fun. I made some embroidered and textile craft images of my gods rather than getting someone else to make me something or relying on commercial imagery. If you’re any good with a needle and thread that’s an option. Or paint. Or found objects. One of my foci is a stone from Cleethorpes beach – Humber is a bit miffed that they haven’t got a picture on the alter too but then I have embroidered a dragon picture of them, it’s just not on the alter but in my study instead. I also have an offering bowl that I found when we were emptying my mum’s house – Dad made it in woodwork class 45 years ago and it got kept with all the other stuff accumulated over then years. Charity shops are good for that sort of thing too.
My personal favourite: if you have the space, growing a bit of food in the garden is always good and can be a devotional act, even a tomato plant in a pot on the windowsill. I recommend cherry tomatoes for that though, the bigger tomatoes need staking and you can usually get a young tomato plant for about 50p. If you’ve got a small outdoor space there’s lots you can grow in pots. I know, pots are expensive. I suggest begging old pots from family and friends, even the neighbours if you have to; plants can be expensive and seeds come in packs of more than most people need, I suggest buying one or two young plants from a market or see if people in your social network have any extra plants they’ll give you. Got some tatties sprouting in the cupboard? Stick the in a bag of compost with some drainage holes in the bottom and top up when the shoots come through. Garlic sprouting? Stick the cloves in the ground and you’ll have your own supply. I like getting soil under my nails and in the creases of my hands, and probably on my face, because I can get filthy in a clean room, it feels good, healthy, and keeps my brain weasels from attacking. Does use up a day’s worth of spoons though, it’s always nap time after I get in from the garden. Your mileage may vary.
Poverty isn’t fun. It makes taking part in the polytheist and pagan community difficult because I can’t get to events or local groups. It feels like I’m flailing about on my own sometimes. The stresses innate in living on an extremely low budget, week to week, with the ever present threat of it all coming undone with one disaster (like the washing machine leaking and destroying the kitchen floor – £1000 to replace the floor and get new lino!), get between me and the gods sometimes and I feel alone. But then I go and make bread or potter in my garden, or go for a walk and I find I’m not alone. The gods are still there and They understand. They don’t mind; it’s not how much I spend but how much meaning I put in to an act of devotion or an offering.
Time to go. I need to walk the dogs and check on the woods before it rains.