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Exploring Pagans and their relationship with that earthiest of earth symbols, money.

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Saving money as a community: the sou-sou

As the Pagan savings challenge progresses, I'm aware that there are Pagans who are not participating because my weekly (and impersonal) posts aren't motivation enough to keep it up.  The pressures are many, and my voice is small.  But my belief in the power of savings is strong.

  • Savings is a discipline, as surely as devotion and magic are, and discipline is its own reward.
  • Savings transforms one's relationship with money, changing it from one of reaction to one of intention.
  • Savings results in a pile of money that literally wouldn't have been there if it hadn't been saved, which is the sort of reward that even the most right-brained among us should appreciate.
  • Savings requires the right mix of patience and attention, which in proper measure can nurture virtually anything.

So in keeping with my sincere belief that each and every Pagan should have a savings plan as part of their spiritual practice, I present an alternative for working groups:  the sou-sou.  It is one of the simplest savings programs to understand, but challenging for the typical American to participate.  It came to the United States from West Africa, and is most commonly used in this country by populations who are on the edges -- or outside -- of the traditional money system.

You know, kind of like some Pagans.

The "common knowledge" about Pagans is that we do not have money, and a lot of us embrace voluntary poverty.  What we lack in cash we make up for in community, empathy, and appreciation for interconnectedness we have with each other, with other living things, with the Earth, with our gods.

For the sake of this post, I am going to assume that this "common knowledge" is true.  That we are strong on community, weak on cash.  This is why I believe that a sou-sou might be a powerful savings vehicle for some groups -- be they covens, or temples, or groves, or circles, no matter their name, so long as they are groups of like-minded Pagans who get together to worship.

The rules are simple:  each member of the sou-sou chips in the same amount of money at regular intervals.  That money is then given to a different member each time, until the cycle ends.  So if, for example, a coven of thirteen members each pitched in ten dollars a week for thirteen weeks, each member would take home $130 after one of the weekly coven get-togethers.

It's ideal for a working group because trust and honor are required.  The organizer of the sou-sou is responsible for making up the shortfall if someone stops paying.  This usually results in harsh penalties, like not being included in the next cycle if you're as little as a day late with one payment.  Organizers must be able to trust every person in the sou-sou, which means that strong community bonds must have already been forged.

Some might be concerned that this is cultural appropriation.  I don't think so, because it's a facet that has been willingly contributed to the "melting pot" that America claims to be.  It's a facet that can't exist without some of its cultural context, namely community ties and accountability.  If anything, sou-sous would be more likely to appropriate the overculture.

To be clear, there are downsides to the sou-sou, and some of them are not obvious.  Most clearly is the question of trust.  Ability to pay may crop up if a participant loses a job or other income source.  The money isn't earning interest, so everyone is actually losing a little bit of money over time -- and that's assuming that you're not tipping the organizer, which I think you should.

But the sou-sou brings with it all the positive and negative reinforcement that community can bring to bear.  You will be able to dream together about how to spend your windfall, and you'll know that all of the other members are counting on you to make your payments on time.  Not everyone is disciplined enough to save in a vacuum, and for them, the sou-sou might be a good step in the right direction.

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Terence P Ward is a business writer and journalist who blogs under the rather cumbersome moniker of True Pagan Warrior.  He can generally be found at home, tending to his gardens and the many demands of his cats; in the alternative, follow TPW on Facebook. 


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