This post is inspired by this thought-provoking post at Patheos How Much Stuff Does One Pagan Need?
Not only has Teo Bishop inspired me to write this, but my boyfriend also recently raised this question, after my last pagan spending spree at a (kind of) local pagan shop.
I am an avid collector of stuff, this is one of the facts in one of my not-yet posted blog awards. I collect practically everything, and have since I was a child.
Perhaps it is because as a child having things made me feel better about the crumbling walls of my unstable home. Or maybe it is because I’m a Taurus and for many of us Bulls, collecting things is a compulsion. Maybe it is because having lost so much in my life at various points, the collecting of things never fell out fashion for me. Perhaps it is because when it comes right down to it I’m dissatisfied with things and for no particular reason other than the fact that there is a creeping emptiness in my life, that I feel all the more, since having moved, I collect things.
Although I live close to various shopping centers and in the burbs, social isolation and the feeling of loneliness is always there. I no longer can follow my mom around the house like a tail, bugging her. I no longer have a whining cat to moan at. I no longer have an excuse to not see people. I simply have the urge to fill my life with stuff. It could be as simple as liking stuff, as many of us do like stuff, but I doubt it is that simple for me.
Through the 12 or so years of being pagan I have quite a collection of stuff, athames, a bolline which is hardly ever used, a wide array of dedicatory statuary, a number of pendants, in various states of wear and tear, dedicatory items, and lets not even get to the amount of books and tarot/oracle decks stacked up on my cheap bookshelf that broke every time I tried to stack shelves. These are just the pagan things. Many of my “non pagan store-bought stuff I use as pagan items, including keys, lanterns, ornaments, fans, shot glasses in place of chalices etc. I’m lucky to have found many of the things I have in use at craft shops and flea markets but occasionally I’ll step into pagan and esoteric shops and have to force myself to leave with only a few things, often again things I don’t really need.
If I was to teach paganism at some point to someone, I’d try my best to instill the fact that Stuff is not needed so much in order to practice magic, or to be a witch, but I’m not sure my student would take kindly to the “do as I say not as I do” type of teaching. The thing is I know I do not need all the stuff that I have, I have long gone without wearing robes in ritual and when I feel something more formal for wear is appropriate I wrap around myself my bedsheets, as a (kind of) toga.
It sometimes feels like I am being hampered by the collection of things. I do love the collections of things I have inherited and will never give up my music collection, or book collection (I’m a bibliophile you know). But I do feel that surrounding myself with things rather than with what I really want in my life is hampering me on my journey. Will I ever hold a pagan yard sale and get rid of some things, maybe, maybe not. I did throw out of a lot of things when I moved and I gave away many things after I moved, just not any of my pagan things.
Some of my stuff only comes out during certain times of the year for instance my holiday crafts only decorate my home during the Holy days, except my black bats and spiders which are part of my bedroom’s permanent decor he he!
Some things I haven’t used in years including a yellowed statue of a naked lady, and some herbs (which I’m sure must be off by now.) And if you’re wondering where my herbs are, they are in wooden boxes under my bed, along with boxes of teddy bears, extra fabric, and my roller blades. This bed is a small cottages dream, as it is storage space, for someone who is used to built-in-cupboards.
I would say most of my pagan items are used, my altar items are used on a daily basis, some things are used weekly, some are more decorative, some are used only once a special holiday has come, and some have possibly been forgotten in a box somewhere. I do try my best not to buy or ask for things I do not think I’ll use, as I find it to be wasteful and other people may have better uses for it. I like decorative pieces, and I love it when my decorative pieces double as altar or dedicatory items for instance my dragon ornaments, which are now part of a dragon altar, my skulls and skeleton items which are part of my ancestral altar (which is sitting on a windowsill) and various other ornaments which I’ve had since I was a child.
I’ve never been one for an empty, “clean” modern look in a home, I like ornaments on my bookshelves, I like conversation pieces, I like things that express a small part of my personality and I love collecting things; I like my home to look lived in. I Just wish that my love of collecting things didn’t come with its own built-in guilt.
I’m not a hoarder in the way that the people on that show collect so much crap they cannot live. I’m not a hoarder to the extent that you cannot see the floors. I’m not a hoarder that collects an endless sea of junk that is useless, worthless, and then which ends up in piles of crap. But I do have a habit of holding onto things, which I did express on the blog before and while I was moving.
Depending on the items that break, or get destroyed I react in different ways, if it has lots of sentimental value I might just cry, scream even, but if it was just something pretty, especially in the last 6 months, it hasn’t been a big train smash. I can let go of some things, but not of others. This is probably also very true of my human relationships as well, which would explain the ease at giving up some friends and people, but the refusal to give up others.
I’m happy with the things I have, the problem and guilt factor comes in when I’m actually buying or accumulating more things, like when I went to the esoteric shop. I managed to curb my lust for things and put down two or three things I actually wanted, but even so I still felt a creeping sense of, “do I really need this?”
Teo Bishop asks a number of very important and thoughtful questions, including whether or not an excess of spiritual stuff is an indication of not having enough religion, and whether or not religion should curb your collecting of things? Are we practicing nature religion or stuff religion?
These are such valid questions, and although I cannot fully answer them myself I feel that I can at least touch upon what I feel about it in my own life. Why am I collecting spiritual things? Because I’d like to use them in my practice, and for the most part I do, I try my best to only buy or collect things I actually will use. Does it indicate a lack of religion? I’m not sure, I do formal ritual fairly regularly, depending on those rituals, different items will come into use, not much stays unused. I do daily devotional work on my main altar setup above.
Should religion curb your need to accumulate and consume? In many ways I feel that indeed it should. I have tried to alter my habits, but I struggle, often when it comes to books, because I have a thirst for knowledge that cannot be quenched. I have no coven, no HP or HPS to converse with. I have books. Books are my companions, and sometimes I may argue with these companions, and get frustrated so that I ignore my companions for a short while, but I always respect them as my in-print teachers. I try my best to practice as many techniques from these books as possible, building up my own practice, working out why some things work better for me than others, so that I am not a IRAB pagan, but rather an active practitioner.
I am a thrifty buyer for the most part, many of my “new” books come from a second-hand store, which has a quaint but nice esoteric section. I always go to booksales, and I try to buy my items from fleamarkets and wholesale stores rather than high-end stores. I try my best to think of whether or not an item is needed or not, and I try stick to my resolutions to not buy or collect things I don’t need or don’t even really want. This is partially due to the fact that I am not spiritually hungry for *stuff* but rather for experience which is why I do formal ritual up to 4 times a week.
Is my religion more worship of stuff than nature? In my opinion about my own practice, no it isn’t. In this post I explained why Statuary is important for me. But I’m always tending to my plants and I try to visit the park as much as possible. I hug trees and talk to my plants on a daily basis, I’m a hippy, a nature loving hippy, and nature is above any of the *stuff* that I have, the most important thing in my practice.
I went without altars for a short while after I moved, and although I got along in my practice just fine, I loved having finally set my altar up; I enjoy having a space where I can do formal ritual in a private place. I’m a domestic witch, so my home is my altar, the food I make and floorwashes etc are my magic, my decor often doubles as magical/spiritual and I make use of everything that I can. I think I try to strike as much of a balance as I can between physical objects which I use in magic, and my own personal spiritual development without those things and within nature.
When I feel like Stuff is becoming too much of a focus, I go outside, sit on the bench and have a chat with my plants; go to the park and feed the ducks and geese; I have bath with rose petals and tea; I do some art; read a book by the window; listen to the birds; hum a tune while I’m cleaning; do some baking or cooking, and then I feel better, not clamped down by my things, but knowing that they are there waiting for me when I’m ready for them again.
Is my relationship to stuff healthy? I’m not qualified to answer that and frankly I don’t much care for professional opinions on that, as much professional opinion on me might be that I’m certifiably insane, not only for my relationship to things and people , but also due to the many other reasons that make me just as screwed up as just about everyone else.