Money Trauma & Neoliberal Spirituality Part Two: The Dire Straits of Sacred Exchange
money for nothin' and your clients from 5D
Ever since going down this Spiritual Money rabbit hole, I’ve been thinking a lot about exchange, reciprocity, and specifically, the issues around equitable compensation for so-called spiritual teachings. Because I’ve noticed that, often, the notions of exchange, reciprocity, and making an investment are treated with as much deference as a venerated mantra or plant medicine.
Interestingly, in the New Age, so-called spiritual teachers rarely talk about charity or selfless giving, but talk often about making investments, i.e payments which supposedly demonstrate your sense of self-worth and trust in the universe.
Invoking some type of harmonic balance that will throw off the sacred order of the universe if it’s not adhered to, paying money for some workshop or courses is framed as an “energetic contract.”
So I’ve been wanting to dig deeper into this idea of exchange, and the idea that some cosmic energetic balance must be maintained (a balance that can only be maintained through Venmo or Google Pay, it seems) particularly because it is such a popular way to imply that something more meaningful is happening in a Spiritual Transaction beyond just literally business as usual.
Whether you’re ponying up for some self-care, or investing in some sacred graphic design for your feminine embodiment brand, somehow paying for just about anything has been given the veneer of a hallowed act, of some kind of profound and rarified symbiosis.
But what actually makes this transaction sacred? Other than the sheer will of it to be so? Like arguing that The Bachelor is high brow because you like high brow things, therefore anything you enjoy must be high brow! If I do it, it must be sacred, because I am a Sacred Woman! Hear me
roar talk about my Divine Feminine embodiment practices! (only $222!)
Are we just unable to enter into spiritual relationship, or conceive of a sacred bond or act, without it necessarily being sacralized by monetary exchange? Without the punitive, capitalistic implications of the word “contract”?
And I’m especially curious about the relationship between Sacred Exchange and Manifestation, because the proponents of USD as the mediator of Universal Balance are also the types to espouse this most beloved practice of our New Age.
The idea of Manifestation generally boils down to “get free shit from the universe”. Absent from pretty much all manifestation language is any real notion of exchange: manifestation coaches never tell you that you need to offer something sacred or reciprocal back to The Universe or The Goddess.
It’s like the sacredness of exchange is required when paying the coach, but irrelevant whilst submitting your wish list to the astral.
“No, that’s not what we’re saying at all!” cry the Spiritual Entrepreneurs, “You are offering something to the world: YOU, in all your radiant wild feminine sovereign embodied divine goddesshood! The money flows to you just for being truly YOURSELF!”
They will say this while claiming to be a Spiritual Coach who Manifests Directly from the 5D, and then turn around to demand a Sacred Exchange (cash) in order to teach you how to manifest.
It should be abundantly clear, though, that all the money flowing to them from “the 5D” is actually coming from your radiant wild feminine wallet and the wallets of those like you.
I rarely, if ever, hear a “I asked for this thing to come into my life, and it was given to me by the Universe. I submit myself in humility and gratitude and now devote my existence to selflessly helping those less fortunate.”
It typically goes something more like this: “I want to share something with you. Six months ago I was struggling to make ends meet, and feeling hopeless about my feminine business brand. But then I trusted the universe and channeled sixteen abundance codes while I sat with Grandmother Ayahuasca in the wild feminine jungles of Costa Rica. Now I consistently have $15k months, and I’m ready to share the codes with you. Link in bio for intimate container with fellow sacred womb-havers who are ready to run. Early bird pricing ends this week!”
Every time I see these tales of success I ask myself: where is the exchange here, exactly?
I see a lot of bragging, but not a lot of follow up gratitude posts, or details about what has been offered to the Universe in exchange.
And this is where I hear the astral record scratch: sounds like you got the codes for free…so why don’t you share them for free?
Now, I’m not necessarily saying that these individuals aren’t incredibly devotional in secret, privately supplicating themselves before the divine forces that shepherd cash and clients to them because they projected their desires at just the right angle, like a precision missile launch.
But if they are offering some kind of humble, selfless reciprocal exchange with the world, I’d love to see more of that on the ‘gram. More humility, devotion, just downright gratitude for their “sacred exchange” process with the universe. Or does the sacred exchange just come in USD, between Priestess and Client? Is the money code simply charging money to teach the money codes? 🤔
It just always comes off a little suspect when someone asks for the universe for abundance, receives it, and then takes individual credit for pulling all the right strings.
Did you manifest it? Or are you just white and hot? (So many white manifestors in bikinis in Hawaii!) Whatever it is, from what I can tell, it’s crucial to center oneself in this process.
But how else will you get coaching clients, if you don’t assure your client that she is a special bb starseed who is capable of doing anything all on her own, just like you? It’s not like your clients can directly Venmo the Spirits of Abundance. No, they need to Venmo you. Sacredly.
But even seeing this dissonance so clearly, I still just couldn’t get to the root of why this idea of having to frame your Sacred Business as some Holy Energetic Exchange was living in my body in a gross way.
And surely there must be other people thinking that you can’t just keep getting and getting and getting, more and more and more. This isn’t my scarcity mindset, it’s actually the same fatal flaw as Capitalism – the belief that infinite growth is possible, that even introducing the concept of limits is sacrilege.
So all of this just swirled around in me like a Sacred Question Mark until I listened to an interview on The Emerald podcast with aboriginal scholar and low key comedian Tyson Yunkaporta. He’s something of a podcast darling these days, and if you haven’t had a chance to listen to his wisdom, as well as his withering humor, you are missing out. He’s well known for his book Sand Talk, but I consider him one of the best podcast guests on the sensemaker circuit, and I will listen to any and all podcasts he is on.
In this episode, Tyson, a member of Apalech Clan in far north Queensland, talks about the ritual of performing a rain ceremony to call in rain after an extended period of drought. While he speaks a little bit about how it’s performed, the crux of what he says about it is revelatory to someone embedded in our me-centric, manifest-or-bust New Age matrix.
In aboriginal culture, he says, rain ceremonies are only performed after much consideration and always with some trepidation. Because supplicating and calling in rain to oneself will take it away from somewhere else. Potentially causing harm to another community, to the land.
There’s no writing “RAIN” down on a piece of paper and putting it in a box and when it happens, congrats, you manifested rain! No proud declarations on IG about making it rain. Join my rain mastermind, and you can learn my rain-making secrets.
Instead of wielding the rain “codes” like a badge of honor, the prayers to invoke the rain are treated with deference and wariness. It is a careful and considered, potentially dangerous act, and there’s a deep acknowledgement of what far-reaching and unintended consequences there could be for centering yourself. There is a period of months or years afterwards where you must then travel around, making reparations & checking on the lingering effects of your ceremony.
And there it was. The answer I had been waiting for in my body. No one in the New Age ever talks about balance or true reciprocity, the possibility that “manifesting” actually causes a reverberation throughout the world, affecting people other than yourself. It’s not just about a one way stream of universal abundance directed at you because you’ve ascended to the 5D. There’s actually a respect and atonement and deep consideration given: How does this affect something or someone beyond me?
His description begins around minute 24 and picks back up later in the episode, and I’m not doing any of this wonderful segment justice, so I highly recommend just listening! (BTW, The Emerald is a gorgeous podcast in general and I also recommend this episode if you’re interested in animism + a stunning journey into the forest.)
Often the word Sacrifice pops in mind and it always gives me a little jolt or shiver. Like I need to give something up or I have to do something I don’t want to do. (Heaven forbid!) If anything, “sacrifice” connotes some Old Testament punishment and has Big Mean God Energy.
In 21st century America, we’re sold the universal “secret”: you don’t have to sacrifice shit to be spiritual and abundant (basically the same thing).
But I’ve started to appreciate the ways in which the above story speaks to how indigenous cultures understand sacrifice, an actual sacred exchange. Of taking a holistic awareness of the collective, instead of centering and isolating one’s individual experience.
My friend Sarah of Magdalene will say, “The feminine does not like to be fracked”. Is it not a fracking job to take and take and “manifest” from our divine mother without offering anything in return?
And I extend this to working with, say, Ayahuasca, the popular “feminine” plant teacher, and name-dropping shorthand for telegraphing you’re definitely spiritual/ 5D ascended. We say we go to ceremonies to sit at the feet of “grandmother”. But really we mostly go to sit on a mat and think about ourselves. To obsess over our own healing. To get the next “download” that we can extract and commodify and sell to other people. Thanks, grandmother! See you next time for the next download!
I’ve been in various spiritual communities long enough to know that most of the teachings center around becoming MORE yourself. Self is the destination. Self! Self! Self! Grandmother, show me ME …but with more past lives! More ME, in all my radiant wild feminine sovereign embodied divine goddesshood!
I’ve been reading Columbus and Other Cannibals, and it has been a balm. Hearing someone speak truth in a world that gaslights you at every turn, even when it’s horrifying to confront, is, against all odds, deeply comforting.
This passage stood out to me:
Religion is, in reality, living. Our religion is not what we profess, or what we say, or what we proclaim; our religion is what we do, what we desire, what we seek, what we dream about, what we fantasize, what we think – all of these things – twenty-four hours a day. One’s religion then, is ones life, not merely the ideal life but the life as it is actually lived.
The Religion of the Self is the altar the New Age worships at. And not only is it boring, but it’s killing us. It’s killing everything.
The Roman poet Juvenal wrote, “The love of money grows as the money itself grows.”
As I watch the “wealth energetics” coaches proclaim that their money conjuring is somehow a “spiritual” endeavor: women deserve money, too, no really, we’re having conversations about how we can do things differently with the money!, I want to share this quote with them.
That’s not how it works. Once you get money, you want to keep making money. If you want to dismantle systems, dismantle systems. If you’re trying to make money with the naive notion of becoming a become a “good” millionaire/billionaire, that’s literally just the same playbook we’ve had for centuries, if not millennia. How has the “Good Billionaire” model worked out thus far?
I’ve started to see no difference between Money Witches and their Wall Street counterparts: Greed is good! Greed is actually sacred! Look how I conjured the imaginary numbers into my bank account! It’s fun! It’s powerful! It’s the neutral force that directs all of life’s sacred balance.
And as the religion of the Self intertwines with the “god of commodities,” Money, symbol of power and freedom, of course the Self uses Money as its psycho-spiritual metric.
Maybe the priestesses try and spin it by proclaiming they make their money the “feminine” way (whatever that means), but as the money comes in, the love of money grows and grows. That’s what money intrinsically does on both an economic and spiritual level. There’s no way to untangle from it.
It’s fascinating watching the mental gymnastics, the long captions (“cont in comments!”) justifying their positions, their actions, the disclaimers that their relationship with money is somehow different.
My eyes roll all the way to the astral.
I have never been a big Vision Board person. I don’t really have a lot of magazines lying around and it always felt like a waste of money to just go buy them to cut them up and throw them away.
But I was invited to a Vision Board party in January of 2018. I thought it sounded fun, and tbh, 2017 was a dark year in my life, the aftermath of the dissolution of the relationship that encompassed my adulthood to that point, and with it, the identity I’d carried. I was lost. I needed a little help envisioning something better than whatever that personal hellscape was.
I enjoyed making this Vision Board well enough, though I felt a little silly, like I would have done this in elementary school but I’m now a grown woman cutting up and glue-sticking some fantasy life. Maybe it’s my Capricorn Rising, but it’s all kind of not for me.
Nevertheless, in 2018, slowly but surely, everything I had envisioned came together with stunning precision.
The vision board manifested.
The house, the job, everything, right down to the aesthetic of what I dreamed my life would look like. (A girl may have no brand, but a girl has an aesthetic!)
I even showed my boyfriend the Vision Board with pride, after the fact - look what I did. Everything was there. And I, the Magical Witch with a Good Aesthetic, had rendered it possible with pictures from glossy architectural magazines and the sheer will of a white, American spiritual person deeply deserving of such material abundance.
What proceeded after that glorious success was a total dumpster fire of my life (and my boyfriend’s) falling apart. It made 2017 look like amateur hour. I lost it all, even quicker than it had all come together. The house, the job, the city, the aesthetic of this dream life. And for years, nothing “good” came to replace it. There was no money, there was no home, there were no cool jobs. There was only exhaustion, humiliation, and profound confusion. God laughs while we make vision boards, right?
At some point (I was so beat down, I didn’t have the wherewithal for much else) that I just surrendered. It’s been about four years now since the great Vision Board Collapse of 2018, and while my life has rebounded, it’s probably not a life many people would want to recreate in a vision board.
But my life now is exquisite. And yet, I wouldn’t describe it as particularly aspirational. It’s hard, it is unsettled and precarious in many ways, but every day I wake up so utterly grateful for what my life has become.
In large part, because when my life fell apart, and the hooks into conventional life were ripped out, I let life radicalize me. I became uncomfortable. I didn’t trick myself into thinking I could continue to game life the same way, with just a few more “sacreds” sprinkled in. And it’s been a lonely journey, because I grew up in a society that has conditioned me to seek my personal comfort above all else.
(Our culture wants us to be so consumed with what we want that it’s nearly impossible to look around and see what actually needs to be done. This is by design.)
The true sacred exchange here has been me dying: over and over again, offering my life in service and devotion. Not clinging to my version of a dream. Not clinging to a dollar amount, a destination. There’s almost not one single aspect of my current life that I tried to manifest, and in many ways it’s the opposite of what I thought I wanted four years ago. But I just surrender, and listen to what is being asked of me.
It’s taken me twenty odd years of spiritual endeavor to finally realize actual spirituality is just living simply, close to the earth, and helping as much as possible. I’m actually embarrassed to say it took me so long to piece it together.
I have been undertaking an excavation & exorcism of language or ritual practice which centers myself. It’s a process, tbf: this programming runs very deep in all of us, in all contemporary “spiritual” teachings, awash with rhetoric which avows my specialness, my unique power and capacity to control my universe.
I’ve started to enjoy sitting with the fear of what I might have to sacrifice in order to move closer to the fires of the awake human that can live with awareness, humility and generosity.
I am being more mindful of how I tread on this earth, making land offerings when I travel and visit places, asking permission from the land to enter.
I spend more time these days feeling into the tragedy that our separate bodies keep us from remembering that we are little glittering aspects of one larger entity. Like little wisps of hair on the arm of this glorious entity that is earth. I have moments where I feel that oneness.
They pass, and I complain about things and I feel alone and I think about how special and smart I am. I consider myself magical, until my life derails and I realize it was another momentary blip of losing myself in the religion of self yet again.
And then I remember that that’s the real spell cast on me. It’s why I show up here: to divest, to decouple. All I have is my limited, lived experience, but for me, the sacred exchange has been worth it.