These last few years, I have been trying to quit shopping. Honestly, there have been times when it hasn’t gone as well as I’d hoped. Turns out, I really like new clothes. And books. And cosmetics. And trinkets. You get the picture. But in becoming more aware of my ingrained consumption habits and proclivity for overshopping, I’ve changed not only my consumer behaviour, but my entire way of looking at the world.
Does this strike you as a strange topic for a Pagan magazine? We don’t seem to talk a lot about shopping. I want to open up the conversation about consumerism – or, more to the point, anti-consumerism – from a Pagan perspective. I want to invite talk in Pagan spaces about why and how we should detach from the excessive and violent consumption practices of the mainstream culture, and how this will strengthen and benefit our connection to the land and the spirit realms. I also want to look at Paganism from an anti-consumerist perspective – where in our lives and practices are we overlooking behaviours normalised by the wider culture that are in effect damaging to ourselves and the environment, and how can we change this?
We know we are part of nature, that we are connected to everything that is and vice versa, but we may not stop to think about how this connection shows up in our consumption choices. Those of us in the prosperous global North live in a culture where nature is an inert resource, our leavings are treated as disposable and therefore piling up in landfills, oceans and hedgerows, our carbon footprint is threatening to blot out human existence, and shopping is the acceptable response to anything that ails us. We are conditioned to see this as normal, and so, by and large, we do.
Whilst we may subscribe to an animist worldview that accepts nothing as inert, our lives are so often hectic and fast-paced, and we still need to live and function in society. So perhaps we don’t look too hard at the ingredients in the hair dye we flush down the drain (into the same rivers and seas we visualise when we invite the element of water into our ritual circle). We admire trees, we are drawn to their beauty, their age and wisdom, but we don’t think anything of buying products made with palm oil, which is contributing to the deforestation of the Amazon.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers to these problems – our way of living seems to be stacked up precariously like a house of cards, and whichever one you poke at – where are our crystals mined? Who makes our clothes, and in what conditions? Where did the peat in our compost come from? How much fossil fuel did we burn to visit our favourite sacred site? – the whole lot threatens to crumble. Underneath the glossy surface of Western culture lies a vast, teeming, uncomfortable mass of entitlement, enslavement, colonialism and destruction. Unless we live some kind of zero waste off-grid perfectly dark green lifestyle, then no matter how spiritual we believe ourselves to be, we’re all complicit to some degree in this mess.
Okay. So far, so depressing. The fact is that, by and large, we know all of this stuff. Sometimes it feels like the elephant in the room when we talk of ‘connecting with landscape’ or ‘honouring the earth’. But the problems are all so huge and interconnected, and that perfectly green lifestyle is fiddly and expensive and time-consuming, not to mention inaccessible or downright imaginary for most of us. Besides, we are trained almost from birth to think that a constant influx of new things is not just desirable but necessary for our comfort and happiness. How can we even begin to turn the tables?
The benefits of a less consumerist lifestyle for the modern Pagan are many. What I learned, as I tried (and often failed) to abstain from unnecessary shopping, was how the acquisitive mindset is completely at odds with connecting to the natural world and all its enchantments. Once I drastically slowed down my rate of consumption, I was forced to pay attention to things outside the enticements of our late-stage capitalist society and the algorithm-dominated, profit-fuelled experience within our screens.
It was like watching the world come alive around me. For the first time, rather than intellectually understanding interconnection and communication, spirit and divinity – and, yes, magic – I was seeing it. Experiencing it. Living it. It was as if a floodgate opened, as all the wonders I had wanted to believe in since childhood but never been able to perceive, began to respond to my inept acknowledgements – sometimes subtly, sometimes not.
I’m aware that many in the Pagan community with minds clearly far more disciplined than mine are able to experience such communications whilst continuing to live, and to shop, in the way we are taught to do. But for myself, I know that I would never have slowed down enough, never have been open enough, to see the world in this way if I hadn’t stopped shopping first. I would always have been too distracted by the call of the shiny and new to notice the quiet, undemanding communications of our other-than-human neighbours. How many seasons passed in all their glory whilst I barely looked up from my tablet or phone? How much did I miss whilst I was obsessing over the state of my wardrobe?
The modern fixation with gadgets – I know they have their uses, but I note they are generally designed as vehicles for advertisements and purchases – left me less attuned to the imaginal, the liminal, the mysterious. I found my concentration was shot, my thoughts often scattered, my imagination rusty at best. I had to carve that space back for myself, by feeding myself with solitude and green spaces, birdsong and stormy nights. I relearned all those things I knew so well as a small child – how to forage from the hedgerow, how to daydream, how to believe in faeries.
I’d been shopping so hard for so long to try to escape the pervasive sense I had that I was in some way lacking – there was always something extra outside of me that I needed to achieve ‘completeness’. I stopped trying to fill this void with anything to hand from handbags to Oracle decks and just let it be uncomfortable for a while. It was – is – embarrassing, how hard it has been at times to not simply continue to buy everything that I want. My sense of identity, of myself as a person, was completely enmeshed with my shopping behaviours, and I had to grow myself again from the ground up.
It’s been three years since I made the decision to change my relationship with shopping and spending. I didn’t understand when I made that choice that it was going to change the sort of person I was. From obsessing over my shoe collection and viewing nature as an attractive backdrop to the more interesting business of human stuff, to becoming a passionate environmentalist who talks to trees and gets excited about moss, clouds and birds.
The person I was before the shopping ban would have made a terrible student of Druidry. Not because I loved beautiful things, but because my main desire was the desire to own, more and more and more, regardless of the effects on my finances, my mental state, my loved ones, or the resources of the earth. There was, back then, no room in my worldview for mystery or enchantment. To move away from consumerism is to take steps towards rewilding, which is becoming a necessary task in these precarious times.
We are often encouraged to vote with our wallets, to buy our way to sustainability. But to create real change, both without and within, the first thing we should consider buying is less.