Wealth is a source of discord amongst kin;
the wolf lives in the forest.
– Old Norwegian Rune Poem
Wealth is a source of discord amongst kin
and fire of the sea
and path of the serpent.
– Old Icelandic Rune Poem
Wealth is a comfort to all;
yet must everyone bestow it freely,
if they wish to gain honour in the sight of the Lord.
– Anglo-Saxon rune poem (translations from Wikipedia)
In all of the surviving rune poems, Fehu (or Fe, or Feoh) is the first rune given. Cognate with the English word “fee,” Fehu roughly meant sheep or cattle to the ancient Germanic peoples, since these animals formed the backbone (so to speak) of the economy in those days; they were synonymous wih wealth, specifically wealth that moves and flows and changes hands, wealth that can be easily bought, sold or traded (as opposed to landed property). So, in modern parlance, although there are some more esoteric connotations involving luck and the exchange of energy in any form, the most common meaning for this rune is cold, hard cash and the energy exchange that occurs when money is earned, spent, or otherwise changes hands. And to a certain extent, our energy does in fact go where our money goes; after all, we earned the money with our time and energy. (Unless you’re independently wealthy, but even then someone earned it–or stole it–if you go far enough back on the family tree.)
I’ve been pondering Fehu lately in terms of this basic financial exchange that forms the foundation of our economy and defines so many of our dealings with each other. The rune poems warn that money can be a source of discord, especially within families (something we all know to be true), but that it must be spent freely in order to gain honor–and certainly a sign of a healthy economy is that money is being spent, that people have enough disposable income to spread it around a bit. While I’d hesitate to define the so-called “pagan community” as one big family, I have seen quite a bit of disagreement within it surrounding the question of where we as pagans ought to spend our money, which businesses we should patronize and support. This conversation is not limited to just pagans, of course; environmentally-minded people urge us to support some businesses and not others, based on the business models and practices of the companies in question, and the tactic of spending locally to keep money flowing within one’s own community is well known. Ideally, we all should support businesses that reflect our own ideals, and there is some merit to the notion of buying from other pagans in order to keep the moveable wealth circulating within pagan hands.
With that in mind, I ask: how important is it to you, personally, to support pagan businesses? Does it bother you to spend your money (and thus energy) on businesses that are (or, we suppose, would theoretically be) opposed to pagan ideology?
I know that it does, in fact, bother many people, and I can appreciate that. For example, on a Facebook community I’m part (a group for pagans who veil), the subject of where to purchase head coverings came up. Several of us admired the coverings produced by Garlands of Grace, an Etsy shop which is, let’s face it, a blatantly Christian business. When I received my snood from them (which I love!) it was wrapped in paper stamped with Bible verses (which I loved a bit less). Clearly, they produce these coverings as part of a deeply held Christian devotion, which was enough to make many people in my group say that, lovely as their coverings are, they would not buy from them. Once again, I do see their point; they would prefer not to support a business that seems opposed to their own faith.
But you know what? Personally, buying from a Christian business–especially a small Etsy business–doesn’t bother me, although I’m sure that attitude owes a lot to my own background. Luckily, I’ve never had the problems with Christianity or Christians that many pagans have; I’ve never been pressured by Christian relatives into adopting their beliefs, never had to hide my pagan interests or take refuge in a “broomcloset” from repressive and disapproving parents or family members. (In my family, the disapproving relatives were more likely to be Jewish, but there wasn’t a lot of pressure to conform, nevertheless.) I do realize how fortunate I was in that.
Further, one of my primary spirits (Anne Boleyn) is Christian. Although like her husband Henry VIII Anne lived and died a devout Catholic, she also encouraged independent religious thought and the notion of a personal relationship with divinity, and during her time as queen helped make English language bibles widely available to the English people. As a medieval history buff, in fact, many of the people I admire most also happened to be Christian. (At least one of them, Edward IV‘s queen Elizabeth Woodville, was probably a witch as well–though not in the modern pagan sense of the word.) So it would be rather hypocritical for me, personally, to take the stance of refusing to buy from overtly Christian businesses, especially since, as a craftsperson myself, I believe in supporting talented artisans who produce well-crafted goods. Conversely, I would not buy inferior goods from pagan business just because the proprietor/craftsperson is pagan; that would offend my artistic sensibilities, which are as strong as my pagan ones, if not stronger. (For me, Odin is a god of artistic inspiration and creativity across the board, not merely concerning the written word.)
Which is not to say that ideology does not influence my purchases at all, since I also believe in buying locally when possible, will not support businesses that destroy the environment or wild habitats if I can avoid it, and would certainly never buy from Nazis (for example). But I have no problem with buying a well made handcrafted item from someone who embraces a positive religious creed that is not my own. (And of course I know all of the arguments about Christian persecution of pagans throughout history, but that was then, not now, and if we go back to the very earliest days of Christianity we could also see the reverse situation, in which the Christians were the victim of the established and institutionalized pagan religions. Everything comes around again, if you only wait long enough.)
I wouldn’t presume to tell anyone else what they should do, but that’s my own stance on the subject. (Of course, as a fiber arts craftsperson myself, as well as a pagan who veils, I also see a market niche here that I might, just possibly, consider trying my hand at filling…)
What say you, readers?