Thursday, September 22, 2011

Giving Back

There is a lot of talk in the community generally and the spiritual community in particular, about giving back.

Our parents tell us - and we in turn tell our children - that it's not enough to expect the community to support us, we need to work, we need to give something back.

The environmental lobby tells us that the environment cannot support multiple billions of people, and we need to lessen our demands and give something back.

We tell each other that if we expect others to help us out and do us favours, we must be prepared in return to either do them favours when they ask, or at least pass it on and do other people favours. And we tell each other that if you borrow something, you must return it.

Some of us are told - or tell our children - that giving to charity is important.

All these things are based on keeping the larger community and the structure which supports it in balance at the very least.

But then, what happens when we move into an explicitly spiritual context? The major religions tell us to pray, to ask things of their various gods, even if the thing we are meant to ask for is forgiveness for being born human, something which these gods, you would think, had banked on. Spiritually we ask. We ask for worldly power or success in our spiritual life, or for spiritual power and success. What Judeo-Christian is happy to pray to go to hell to make more room in heaven for others, after all?

And we Pagans are just as bad. The vast majority of Pagans that I know - or know of - with a few select exceptions, begin and/or end our rites by "grounding", expecting the earth-mother to give us energy, strength and healing. If we do healing rites, we take the imbalance out of the person and give it to the earth to deal with without a second thought, or expect earth, the sun, the universe or whatever, to supply a limitless stream of healing energy to our client through us. There isn't often an effort to set up a two-way flow.

An example: in recent times (recent in my personal language, is quite a flexible concept!) I asked two shamans I know and trust to investigate the Otherworldly connections of an issue I had. Both of them were gracious enough to do so, and to report back to me. Both of them used animal-helpers and spirit-helpers as a part of what they did for me. And both of them were pleased (and, I think, a little surprised) when I thanked them, and offered to feed the physical analogues of their spirit-helpers in the flesh. The most recent example, for instance, involved a spirit-crow, and afterwards I kept smelly little tidbits on me for a few days until I came close enough to the next physical crow, whereupon I gave them something they thought was delicious as a thank-you to their spiritual equivalent.

Recently in my last three or four solo rituals, I have had a turn-around. I still see the Earth Goddess as powerful and unbounded - but where has my sense of right-doing been, all these decades? So I've embarked on a series of rituals designed not to take universal energy and focus it for my own ends (selfish or unselfish), but I've taken to concentrating my personal energy, and making offerings back to the Earth, my most frequently used deity, as a thanks and a blessing for the energies I have in the past used. And I intend to continue to do this.

And I'm finding it extraordinarily satisfying! In fact, I'm finding a lot of giving satisfying, at the moment. For example, I read Tarot for money. Recently a person rang me and asked what I charged, I told her, she said she was the organiser of sheltered housing for disadvantaged people, and she was organising a fund-raising weekend, and would I like to read for them. At all times she was negotiating on the basis of my getting rewarded for my time whilst her fund-raising drive also got something out of it, but specifically because she didn't ask me to donate my time for free, I ended up suggesting that. And so on a weekend in a few months, I'll give them a day of my time and effort. No, it won't make me more prosperous, but it has already made me feel much more positive and that will increase when I'm actually doing it.

Making money is one thing. We all need money. We need to pay for accommodation, food, power. When our clothes fall apart, we need to pay for new ones, or the material to make them ourselves. And I had a decade when I was on a very generous income indeed. I wasn't worried about money. Brand-new cars and expenditure on luxuries happened. And I was happy. Well - I was entirely free of the financial worries I was to have later in life. Nowdays, my income is much smaller than it used to be, but these days, I am much more inclined to share what I have, buy meals for friends, help out someone on the bus who doesn't have enough change, give my spare coins to every charity-collector I pass. And I can honestly say that with lesser money and an ethic of giving, I am a lot happier than I was with more money and the ethic of saving that had been taught to me in childhood.

And this works in my spiritual life, too. Magic, contemplation and worship is less about what I can get out of it - and even aiming for spiritual growth is ultimately selfish - but more about what I can give back to the deities, on however small a scale. One individual human can, logically, make no difference at all to a deity large enough that the entire universe fits into one cell of their "body", but if I continue, I am less of a drain on the spiritual organism that sustains me. And if I can spark one more person to behave likewise, and they spread the idea to another, a ripple effect will, in time, pass through the community, even if it takes thousands upon thousands of years to become significant.

I think that is well worthwhile, don't you?


  1. Very well put !
    Plant helpers can be given back to too : one can grow them as much as possible and spread them by offering them to friends or people who benefited from their actions. If for some weather questions some plants can't grow where one lives, there's always a way to give back by - for instance - helping forests preservation organisations. Same goes for animal helpers.