Patreon Topic 4: Commercialization, Commodification, and Gentrification of Magic and Spirituality

If you want to submit a topic for me to explore on my blog, sign up at the Uruz level or above on my Patreon.

From my first Ansuz level Patron comes this topic:

“You might’ve written on this before, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on the commercialization, commodification, and especially on the gentrification of spirituality. Magic is the tool of the oppressed, what happens when that tool is turned into yet another weapon used against the poor, as I see all around me now?”

I would say that magic is not only the tool of the oppressed. It is accessible to anyone of any class. Look at ceremonial magic vs kitchen witchery, for instance. How hard is it to pick up and make the traditional materials for those workings? Brass, copper, silver, gold? Those cost a lot of money, resources, and/or training. Meanwhile kitchen witchery may need time, and training, but if the point is to do kitchen witchcraft (in my understanding) with items out of your pantry those are going to be accessible at whatever your income level is right then.

This means that certain kinds of magic, (or at least in their traditional forms) are, by dint of cost of time, materials, training, accessibility, etc, cut off from folks beneath a certain income level. For what it is worth I did ceremonial magic when I was unemployed in college. I used a lot of paper substitutes, printouts, sooo much salt, cheap incense, and the like, becauses there is no way in hell I could afford things like a magic ring or magic tools made out of copper, silver, or gold.

On the commercialization of magic: If the definition we are working with is, as the OED puts it “The process of managing or running something principally for financial gain” then I think that there can be quite a bit lost when we are talking about only working with magic to that end. That loss can be healthy connection between communities. That loss can be between a person and the Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir. That loss can be a healthy connection with money and/or the moneyvaettir itself. If the lust of result of financial gain or the desire itself for financial gain overcomes the reason for laying down a piece of magic, depending on the magic being deployed, it can be hugely detrimental to any working one does.

There is nothing inherently wrong with working or using magic to financially or otherwise benefit your community or yourself. I have a far healthier relationship with money and the moneyvaettir, and carry a good relationship with Andvari thanks in no small part to my Elder. I had no idea when Galina introduced me to Andvari what a powerful, dynamic impact it would have on the course of my life to come into better relationship with the Dvergar, let alone the moneyvaettir and through all of this, a better future for my family. I have made plenty of magical and spiritual items for money, among them bindrune mandalas burnt into leather, woodburnt Runes, and woodburnt bindrunes. I have done plenty of money workings for my family, Kindred, tribemates, and I. My family and I keep a healthy devotional relationship with Andvari and the moneyvaettir that extends into our daily night prayers and offerings that we make.

Commercialization is a problem with magic from a few different perspectives. From my perspective as an animist and polytheist when things are seen from a primarily commercial point of view it is far easier to depersonalize those we share the Worlds with. Rather than see a Being like a tree or its branches as part of a Being, commercialization encourages us to relate to Beings and things only in terms of “this branch can make me x amount as a wand, y amount as a bunch of Runes, z amount as Rune charms”. When money is the goal of holding a workshop on magic rather than teaching the magic then the Gods, Ancestors, and/or vaettir may be deeply disrespected in the process. This disrespect, not addressed and continuing to ripple out into the communities touched by it and engaging in it, can sour relationships between them and the Holy Powers.

From my perspective as a (mostly) former ceremonial magician the commercialization can harm magical operations themselves. Just having the lust of result of “I need money, this needs to work” can be interrupting to good flow of magic because rather than focus on the work at hand your focus is on the need you feel to get more money. Commercialization can also harm our relationships with spirits we might work with otherwise in a ceremonial magic setting.

If, for instance, you have partnered with/summoned/compelled a spirit of Jupiter to the end of enriching yourself but do not exercise good judgment, either in the choice of the spirit you contact or the details of how the money comes to you, you can land yourself fairly deep in debt to the spirit(s). This can go to the point where you are having to do some serious work to pay back what you owe to a spirit or spirits before you can get anything done for yourself. This takes away from your magic working for you and instead, you give both your sovereignty and your ability to do work over to someone else until you pay back your debt.

Commodification and commercialization often go hand-in-hand. Commodification is “The action or process of treating something as a mere commodity.”. A commodity is “A raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee” or more simply “A useful or valuable thing.” Commercialization then further objectifies the thing at hand by treating that useful or valuable thing as a means of “managing or running something principally for financial gain”.

Commercialization/commodification can also hit the wider community by cutting entire sections of it out, either by a company or group of people producing cheap things like charms, Runes, and the like without any attachment to the actual processes to make them empowered/useful. Commercialization of magical items, for instance, can use processes to make those items that at least do nothing to help our relationship, and at worst produce ongoing harm to our relationships maintained with/through those items. A given company or group of people only wanting to make money can mass produce Rune sets and bindrunes without thought to the materials, and without offerings to the materials on which the Runes and bindrunes are made. They may make things more cheap and so, easier to access monetarily. They may also make connecting with a given God, Goddess, Ancestors, or vaettr harder by providing a barrier by not having set up the item to be receptive, or worse, if its construction is thoughtless to the relationship, to be an impediment to the relationship

For a contrasting example: if I make a Rune set from a branch my Runes come from pieces of deadfall, generally from trees where I am living and/or from trees I have good relationships with, that I have let season. I make offerings to the tree the branch comes from, and make offerings to the Runevaettir, both before the carving/burning of the Runes into the wood, and as part of my ongoing relationship with Them. I have a living relationship with Them, and the point of offering a Rune set to someone for sale is to establish a good relationship between that person and the Runes.

As I wrote before, there is nothing inherently wrong with earning money for doing magic or making magical and/or spiritual items. I have spilled a good deal of my own blood, dedicated an immense amount of time and work in my relationship with the Runes. This deserves reciprocity on its own. By being paid or exchanging gift for a gift, requiring Gebo for my sacrifices, I also ask for exchange as an honoring of my Elder in Gebo before me, and in honor to Odin as Gebo for His. This is part of continuing right relationship with Runatýr and the Runevaettir, my Elder, and my own relationships.

I understand and know magic as an animist and polytheist as being interwoven in relationship with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, including our human communities. When magic and the ways we work with magic are themselves commodified and commercialized what this means is the very ways by which we may establish relationships, use power, and cause spiritual effects through those relationships and use of power, are used as sources of income. Often those income streams go out of our communities and into someone else’s pocket.

Commodifying and commercializing spiritual practices, magic, the creation of magical and spiritual items takes from the communities they come from without giving back to them or their Holy Powers. It is a lack of Gebo, of reciprocity. I have no issues at all with buying prepared magical or spiritual items. I have bought prepared Florida Water as a backup cleanser and found it very effective. Likewise, I have bought plenty of sacred dried herbs I have not grown myself. I feel very strongly that I need to mark a big clear line between engaging in trade and transactions that are respectful and based in reciprocity as opposed to commodification and commercialization. Trade and transactions can be done in a way that respects all parties involved whereas commodification and commercialization depersonalize and disrespect the culture(s), the Being(s) that is part of or is the product being sold, and disrupts right relationship.

Diviners, magic workers, spirit workers, and the like should be compensated for their work. That is precisely what I am asking of everyone who contributes through my Patreon and who asks for services through the Shamanic Services section of this blog.

There is a stark contrast between a Rune set made by a person who holds good relationship with Them and a Rune set put together by a person without a relationship with the Runes only because it will sell well. There is a stark contrast between someone who requires a set amount to read the Runes as opposed to someone who is looking only to make money off of people looking for answers. There is a stark contrast between the rootworker or other spiritual specialist charging for a service and someone who is just taking clients for a ride.

Look at the dynamics of the relationships here: The commodification and commercialization of a spiritual practice, item, etc requires none. Commodification and commercialization of spiritual paths, items, work, and so on is nothing less than the appropriation of these things to make someone money. Gebo does not exist here between a commodifier/commercializer and the spiritual paths, traditions, and so on they take from to make money. It is even more heinous when a person within a community goes the way of commercialization and commodification. They are participating, willingly, in the strip-mining of their own religious community/ties and disrespecting their Holy Powers only to make money.

Gentrification goes hand-in-hand with commercialization and commodification. It is “The process of renovating and improving housing or a district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.” In America the default ‘middle-class taste’ is generally what is comfortable for WASPs (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants). If the point is to sell a thing to make the most amount of money you appeal to those with the most money.

There is an additional wrinkle, at least for US citizens: In America the idea of the middle class and being part of it is so tied into ‘normality’ and ‘goodness’ that it is claimed by folks beneath the poverty line and so far above it that the very idea of a middle class is less an economic idea and more of a mutable ‘everyman’ that has served to flatten rather than serve as a useful highlight of economic/political class differences. So, appealing to ‘middle class’ in America through commercialization, commodification, and gentrification of religions, spiritual practices, initiations, spiritual and magical items, and so on, requires almost all the rough edges be scraped smooth and most of the teeth removed. Oh, there needs to be enough roughness for it to be edgy or off-center just enough so it is marketable, but not so much so that the person engaging in the religion, the spiritual practice, working with the item, etc is uncomfortable or challenged.

A gentrified spirituality is a wolf on display whose teeth have been ripped out. Robbed of its ability to feed itself, robbed of its ability to defend itself, robbed of being fed anything other than what mush it is given, producing only money or prestige for its displayer and shit otherwise. It exists to make the observer feel good about the wolf being on display, but the wolf makes no material impact in the world as it should. It is there at the whim of the displayer, and put away when it is embarassing or too much for the displayer or their onlookers.

This is not to say that a given religion, spiritual practice, or act of magic must absolutely be red in tooth and claw in all its aspects. Some of the most remarked upon forms that magic took in Heathen lore was with spinning, working with fabric, blacksmithing, things our modern society often look at as only crafts but that the home cultures understood to be sources of and ways to work with power. Some pretty famous pieces of magic involve food and drink. The seemingly innocuous or ordinary can hold great power.

When you understand things from a polytheist and animist perspective, from the Heathen and Northern Tradition Pagan perspective, the potential for magic is in everywhere and everything. That’s a pretty powerful antidote to the consumerist mindset that is encouraged by commercialization, commodification, and gentrification. When the whole world is alive with Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir, and we understand that we truly own very little of the Worlds we walk in, it is also a humbling experience. Commercialization, commodification, and gentrification require people to absolutely ignore the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in order for a thing to be done purely for profit. It requires a sundering of relationship, a one-sided using of a religion, religious community, spiritual techniques and/or tools in order for the profit motive to be the first priority. It is an inversion of priorities for a polytheist and animist: the Gods, Ancestors, vaettir, and the relationships in which we are all interwoven.