Money Trauma & Neoliberal Spirituality: Part One
The real trauma is the Money Witches we met along the way
As I started to write about Spirituality + Crypto, I found myself continually circling back to root issues involving Spirituality + Money, and overwhelmed by the rising, incoherent cacophony of “spiritual” teachings around wealth, finance, abundance, and trauma, all stemming from our relationship to money.
Spirituality and money have had a complicated relationship for millennia, obvs, and when you touch on any thread of this tangled web, all the other threads open like beckoning rabbit holes.
So in order to sift through this all, I’m breaking this whole topic into a couple of parts. For part one, it seems like we should probably start at the root of it all. And that is…our Money Trauma™!
If you’re new to the game: Money Trauma refers to the emotional, mental & spiritual “wounds” and “attitudes” you have around money. These can be generational, these can be specific to experiences you’ve had in this lifetime.
Money Trauma’s origins are manifold. It can come from growing up with food scarcity or housing instability. (Or currently living with food scarcity and housing instability!) It can be knowing that you will never pay off your student debt no matter how much or how hard you work. It also encompasses the attitudes and beliefs that we encountered while watching our parents and families deal with money, and the patterns we consciously or unconsciously picked up along the way.
The symptoms of Money Trauma can take many forms, and manifest in a variety of behaviors and stress responses. For example, it can show up as avoiding checking in on your bank account until the account overdrafts. It can be letting credit card debt spiral out of control and doing nothing but panicking. It can be legit PTSD stemming from some financial catastrophe.
Basically, if you’ve engaged with Capitalism in any capacity, you’ve probably had a brush with Money Trauma at some point, and now it’s all over your skin like a persistent rash.
But! Like a potent steroid cream, Spiritual Instagram is ready to spread its Money Magic ointment all over your itchy thoughts and beliefs around money.
Because, they say, these negative attitudes and beliefs all work to constrict the flow of money to you: if you find yourself thinking thoughts like “I’ll never make enough money” or “money is the root of all evil”, you’ve got Money Trauma, and that’s why you don’t have any money.
The good news is that there are many, many “Money Witches” standing by on Instagram waiting for you to enter their container, because voila!, once you pay them to help heal your trauma and remove those blockages, the flow of money will gush forth into you, the flower of money will open to you: juicy, succulent cash petals dripping into your sacred bank account.
You’ll notice that the picture of “money” being painted here is one of a neutral, cosmic force; money as some kind of elemental being that’s existed since time immemorial. A Money Spirit which is neither good nor bad, it just is, flowing around like water or electricity, and if you can come into a better “relationship” with it, you can even start to direct the flow yourself.
And in fact, that’s exactly the claim. “Money is just energy” is the Boomer New Age mantra par excellence. “Money is Neutral” is the updated, Instagram version.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be money: and there was compound interest and Experian and the Dow Jones and student loans and billionaires. And God saw it was Neutral.
Uh, you guys know that people just…invented money at some point, right? But spiritual people, especially those who are asking you to pay them money, insist, insist, that money is just a neutral, energetic force, one which you constrict or critique at your own peril.
I’m not sure that matches any of our lived realities of money. If it is so neutral, why does it cause so much trauma? Where does this concept of Money as Neutral Energy even come from?
I know where I first got my messaging around this “money is neutral” gobbledy gook. It was when I was in my early 20’s in the Kundalini world, sometime in the early aughts. Yogi Bhajan’s teachings and followers are huge proponents of harnessing your “neutral mind” to wield with force the neutral energy of money. Just magnetize yourself!
That said, I can’t speak for the people who actually peddle their Money Codes and Money is Neutral wisdom and where they picked up this idea. Mostly because they don’t ever say! I know that sounds surprising since they do this for a living, but they literally just sit on their IG reels and say money is neutral energy like it’s an obvious Ultimate Truth.
I’m not saying I need a peer reviewed journal article on their sources, but I’m genuinely perplexed that no one speaks to their tradition or spiritual mentors or holy texts regarding money. (Maybe cause it’s just The Secret?)
And despite there being a large body of historical and philosophical inquiries into the nature and origins of money, economics, and value, I’ve never seen one Sacred Accountant/ Money Witch be clear about how they define money, despite it being the literal crux of their teachings.
I have a hunch that what passes for veracity is just slides that get reposted on Instagram long enough that they become Truth.
I’m never sure if by money they mean literal cold hard cash, or the general idea of some liquid medium of exchange and reciprocity in interactions, or if they mean our current global economic machine. All of which are wildly different!
We live in a willfully complicated financial system, and to reduce navigating it successfully by vaguely throwing the term “money” around, as if it has some clear, timeless meaning, or can somehow encompass interest rates and debt and assets and credit card scores and GDP and your pocket change all at the same time, is wild.
Not only is it reductionist and vague (two things Spiritual Instagram Hustlers love to be!), but it also tells me that that person has a limited grasp of the magnitude of the system and forces they are trying to manipulate.
Unlike the professionals in this space, I think it’s important that we are clear on what we are actually speaking about, before we get into the plethora of techniques and teachings on offer. In order to have a coherent conversation, it's important to have a definition of what money actually is.
So let’s take a sacred pause and try to actually define money. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans lived without money. Reciprocity, trade, gift giving, communal property, luxury objects, barter: yes, we had all that. Money: no. It’s a very (relatively) recent invention!
Money is a form of debt, commonly created by empires as a way of a) financing armies and b) collecting taxes. Think of it as a way for a central state to take a whole, complex web of human behaviors, like trade, reciprocity, gifts, favors, tributes, etc, and reduce it to a measurable, controllable system, which the state can then manipulate and use as a tool for cohering and managing its subjects and imperial projects.
Getting people to use state-issued currency has always been a little tricky, so there’s usually a fair amount of violent coercion that happens to make sure that as much human exchange as possible happens through the medium of money, rather than as trade, gift-giving, etc.
Fun fact: did you know that during the early stages of capitalism, when entire peasant villages were forcibly removed from their land in a process known as “Enclosure”, you could be sentenced to whippings, slavery, or death for not having any money? A common punishment for not having money was being sentenced to work for a feudal lord or capitalist like the one who just enclosed your traditional commons and made you homeless in the first place. Breathe in, breathe out, peasant, it’s just energy.
Another fun fact: since its invention, money has been basically an IOU which promised that you could take your dollar or whatever to the government, and they would give you a certain amount of precious metal in return. Mostly, it was an IOU for gold, aka the “gold standard.”
Richard Nixon permanently did away with the USD gold standard in 1971, because there were more dollars in circulation globally than there was gold in the US reserves, which threatened out-of-control inflation. Since then, the value of a dollar is based on…🤷🏻♀️ The Federal Reserve basically conjures and removes money in and out of existence depending on how they think the US Economy is doing. Talk about Money Witches!
The salient point in all this is that money is created and controlled by states, in finite quantities.
The amount of money available has historically been based on how much gold that state has taken by force / extracted from the earth, although now it’s just based on the whims of the Capitalist Priesthood.
There can never be too much money floating around, or else the whole system collapses. Scarcity is fundamentally entwined with the nature of money. And that scarcity can be very useful when you’re trying to get your peasants to do certain things, like fight in wars, extract stuff from the earth, work in factories to make capitalists wealthy, etc.
Money is inextricable from the larger sociopolitical context in which it is conjured into being.
Money is always issued as part of a civilizational/imperial agenda. That agenda may be good, it may be harmful. But to speak of money as a “neutral” cosmic force obscures, spiritually bypasses, and facilitates that agenda.
But, no, really, please. Let me pay you to tell me how to keep my dirty, traumatized thoughts off of poor, innocent money! Just let it be energy! Just get in integrity with the state-created system of debt!
Money Trauma: what it really is
Money Trauma is the wound inflicted by the imperial agenda. It is the trauma of having all human and non-human relationships mediated by and through a measurement system of intentional scarcity, one founded on resource extraction and violent coercion.
Personally speaking, I engage with money in no other system than Capitalism. Next time you sign up for some course with a Money Witch, ask if they will accept wampum or goats or fresh bread for their teachings. If they ask instead for payment in USD, it’s safe to assume that Capitalism is the context in which these Money Witches engage with money, too.
Anyone with a working knowledge of sacred ceremony (which is pretty much every spiritual money coach out there, incidentally), should know that set and setting is everything when it comes to having a good experience. Essentially, it’s ceremony 101 that the energy you experience is inseparable from its context. So, pray tell, how are you able to separate out some Platonic Ideal of “neutral money” from its set and setting, which is our lived reality of Late Capitalism?
I’d love to know more about the mental gymnastics these people do to convince themselves that predatory systems of finance, including student loans (you know, that super neutral paywall into society!) are somehow separate from some deeply sacred and neutral flow of “money”. The effortful compartmentalization of it all.
If you believe that there’s some pure soul of money that exists separately, apart from the debased, earthly body of USD, congratulations, you’ve got Descartes living in your head rent free.
If we were truly in some vast energetic body of neutral money essence flowing around all the time, I believe we’d actually feel a little more, well, neutral about money.
The weird thing is that all of these people asking you to bring satori along to your Wells Fargo check-in are also the same types to tell you to listen to your body and your flow and to feel alignment in all the places. But then, when your overtaxed nervous system freaks out about money, they say that in this case the spiritual solution is to disconnect from that feeling in your body and just breathe calmly.
But that’s what passes as spiritual authority over almost anything today: the unenlightened have a reaction to being trapped in an exploitative system, while the enlightened remain neutral about it. The priest class calmly telling you from on high that your suffering isn’t real, and if it feels like it is, you just haven’t done enough work.
There’s a union phrase: “Divided we beg, united we bargain.” I think it applies to all the work we try to do, spiritual or mundane. Until we realize that we all have to circle up and name the systems that caused our trauma, sitting in our houses pretending we feel posi vibes only towards the global financial system is just another way we numb and desensitize ourselves.
Being “neutral” is a neural hack to make you into more of the disembodied sociopath the capitalist machine wants you to be in the face of planetary destruction and modern day slavery.
Until we root out the systemic causes, no amount of hyper-individualized self-care is gonna move the needle. We are co-creators. We can acknowledge our own habits and patterns that shape our worldview, while also acknowledging the systemic realities that create those habits and patterns.
Money trauma is collective.
To put the onus on the individual to heal their own trauma in order to reap the fruits of the system that caused the trauma is exactly the wrong approach. In fact, I believe it’s an actively harmful approach, one which harms not only that individual, but everyone else who has been, is, and will be harmed by that system.
If we’re trying to get back some neutral, harmonious universal current of exchange and flow, then spiritual money coaches, I need you talking a little more about changing structures together, and less about my individual nervous system.
But I am seeing that that’s not what the brunt of spiritual teachers care about. Because to move beyond the hyper-individual that we’ve been taught to be requires a great excavation of uncomfortable truths about how we live, and how we justify comfort and privilege. And collective action might constrict the flow of sacred clients.
Every time I see an Instagram Money Witch bragging about her channeled Money Codes, I just see another shiny branding exercise in how to co-opt language and spin it to sound magical, so those with money trauma can find a false sense of agency in pretending they’re doing something other than what they’re actually doing, which is, again, putting a spiritual gloss on complicity with the systems that have been killing and are going to continue killing us all.
Now, if some palliative techniques around breathing and seeing money as Pure Divine Masculine Energy is helpful to you, amazing. I genuinely want you to feel good about your ability to navigate this system in a way that doesn’t crush you.
But while you’re doing so, please keep in mind that these commodified self-care practices are themselves part of the machine that creates the trauma in the first place and then creates industries to sell you the solution, all while putting the cognitive burden on you, the “consumer,” to figure it out on your own.
And I also humbly request that you treat this technique as a personal tool and not as a Universal Spiritual Truth that you can charge other people money to access. Because I have a suspicion your Spiritual Money teachings would not hold up in the face of someone consigned to forced labor. And forced labor is the reality of “money” for a larger amount of people in the world than spiritual money coaches would like to admit, and always has been.
If you are good Ayahuasca tourists (and so many Spiritual Money Coaches are!), next time you pay good money to trek to another country to talk to the plant spirits about your business teaching white people about how money is just energy, an energy they should “get in integrity with”, consider sharing that advice with the locals too, and ask for their feedback on your teachings. Workshop it a little.
Could you go to a migrant worker with that profound secret of Money as Just Energy? Like, “the WTO agreements and CIA-facilitated assassinations that plunged your country into economic chaos are Just Energy.”
Could you go to a reservation in the US where ketchup is $16 and keep a straight face while you tell someone in the poorest communities in our country that they should pay you for your channeled Money Codes so they can finally afford that ketchup?
A gentle reminder: that “$” symbol stands for USD, the currency which derives much of its worth from the ability of the world’s largest military to brutally enforce it as the global standard for buying and selling oil.
The same military that was at Wounded Knee and violently forced Indigenous relocation to these reservations in which ketchup costs $16. The same military that still brings its boot down on any country in the so-called Global South that attempts to divest itself from petrodollars.
It’s almost as if our entire monetary system is designed to liquidate the earth into capital and direct the flow of that capital to the wealthiest!
But go on, I truly beg you, please explain the neutral quintessence of money to those whose lands and bodies continue to be liquidated in the name of capital as we speak.
What a privilege to be neutral. What sheer, dripping white supremacy in “neutrality”. Once you see it, it’s hard to unsee.
Like, do you think that the cultures which cultivated and preserved and lived with plant medicines for thousands of years before you signed up for your long weekend in the jungle are just weirdly, coincidentally some of the most impoverished people on the planet?
Or is it just that those impoverished people never thought of asking Mama Ayahuasca how to make more money? For hundreds of years, as Indigenous people were being colonized and subjugated, they just never asked the plant teachers for the money codes?? But you did, and the plant teachers just handed them over to you?? Like, “finally, someone who gets that money is just energy. Now we can divulge the true secrets of manifestation.”
If you tell people money is neutral, you are colluding with colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy.
If your teachings do not resonate with or make any fucking sense to a person from the so-called Global South, if you haven’t yet managed to convince a Zapatista that money is “just energy” and that they too can have abundance if they just heal their money trauma, then you’re just regurgitating neoliberal bullshit.
If your excuse is that the Zapatistas aren’t neutral enough about money, and so they aren’t ready to understand the profound energetic, enlightened teachings you have, then you’re perpetuating white supremacy.
Capitalism doesn’t deserve our neutrality. Money doesn’t deserve our neutrality.
And my body, my living, breathing organism, does not deserve to be told to be polite and calm when I have to participate in a system designed to fuck over everyone but the elite.
Here’s an invitation to all Spiritual Money Witches:
Try not being neutral, and see if you can actually get more radical aliveness in your life.
I can personally say that two decades of “money is energy that you should be wrangling and manifesting” only led to deep internalized shame that I’m only now beginning to process and express. It’s actually only been through separating my spirituality out from and turning away from flimsy (at best) metaphors about money being some “Sacred Masculine” container that I’ve been able to approach my financial life with much more clarity and agency and aliveness and sacred rage.
Consider the ways in which you’re doing Capitalism a favor by telling people that money is neutral. The ways in which you’re spiritwashing. The ways in which you’re suppressing the human animal body’s reaction to a bizarre and malignant economic system. The ways in which you’re actually preying on people’s traumas around money. The ways in which you’re anesthetizing the discontent of the less wealthy by assuring them if they pay you, they’ll manifest more money. The ways in which you’re acting as enforcers of the American Dream.
Ask yourself: when did it become the ideal to be neutral about an imperial economic mechanism which is crushing people by design? Where are you getting this idea that being neutral about ANYTHING is the goal, when the Love you speak about, the Ayahuasca you brag about, the untamed wild Divine Feminine you claim to embody is anything but neutral?
I present this invitation as a student in the field myself, and as someone coming to terms with my own neutrality. I find that every time I choose neutrality over a sincere emotional response, I deprive myself of working something through. Of seeing my own pain, someone else’s. Of feeling alive. Neutrality contributes to the numbness sweeping this planet.
Maybe our next uplevel isn’t “neutrality” but in radical engagement and caring. In actually dismantling money trauma by turning our attention on the ultimate source of money trauma.
Maybe the more we can stop seeing neutrality as some spiritual crowning achievement, particularly and especially in relation to our financial system, we can actually get a little bit closer to love, to enchantment, to forces that are beyond our understanding, and begin creating of the system of reciprocity and exchange we actually want to see in the world.
How much better and more magical it is when we stop our tiny, human manipulations, our pretending we understand things we know nothing of and never will, and let the universe actually flow through us with love, with passion, with sorrow, with rage, with life. When you actually surrender your money scheming and manifestations, your machinations, and let life have its way with you.
That is the ultimate conjuring.
On that note, why is it that so many spiritual abundance coaches don’t notice the cognitive dissonance between singing “I release control, I surrender to the flow” and then, in the very next breath, utilize highly specific vision boards to conjure specific lifestyle desires and dollar amounts, never shying away from proclaiming “I manifested it”?
In Part Two, we’ll take a deep dive into specific Neoliberal Money Witch Techniques and explore the great spiritual lineage of Hyper-Individual as Master and Commander of the Elements.
wow. this was.. incredible. thank you so much for writing this?? as i was reading along, just sending it to everyone i know who will be internally shouting "YES!!!!" like i was. this is so well written and snarky in all of the best ways. so happy i came upon your work. incredible.