How does a pagan cult survive?
It is not a question I had thought too much about.
Pagans, as with most groups of voluntary association have the typical issue of having a small group, the inner circle if you will, who do most of the heavy lifting, and inspirational work. Since most pagans are not independently wealthy, the obvious question is how to fund the activities of this inner circle and keep it going.
Rob has some interesting ideas.
Rob's Magic Blog, 11 February 2009
One method is the pyramid scheme. You have a short few who do the serious work, the inner circle, and this group is funded by the much larger outer circle. Everyone only has to put in a little, and that little bit is enough to fund the smaller inner circle group and keep it operating.
The problem is the inner circle will eventually get too big. Generally the allure of these groups is spiritual progressions, particularly making it into the inner-circle where the best secrets are. Now as an example, if you figure it takes five outer-circle members to fund each inner circle member, that means every time you promote a member to the inner circle your outer circle has to grow by five members. When the group’s growth peaks there’s a lot of room to hand out inner-circle promotions, but eventually it slows down. It might seem as if one could sustain the group indefinitely by sparsely handing out inner-circle promotions, but then we get into another problem. You don’t need a gross gain of five members, you need a net gain. And if you aren’t promoting them into the inner-circle fast enough, they’ll leave and go to a different group. In the end the group falls in on itself.
The CoS (Church of Satan) was not the first group to employ this method, but it was the first to effectively combine it with product branding to circumvent its worst flaw. The word Satan draws in a lot of members. And these people don’t want to be promoted or get enlightened. They come for other reasons. They want to show off to their friends, be bad-ass, be a rebel, screw with their parents, fuck with Christianity, whatever. They pay their dues, and the Church makes them a member, even gives them a card to show off to other people. And in turn these dues fund the magickal work, and in some cases even the private income, of a select few Satanists. It’s a method that could possibly be sustained indefinitely, because the outer-circle is large whereas the inner-circle can be kept small.
Rob goes on to mention a few others. I will bullet point them to lay them out a bit more clearly
- You could go the route of fleecing the rich. Basically you find well-to-do types and convince them to enter into your group, and then get them to make large donations to it.
- There is the ‘some second rate things in life are free’ types. These people hold meetings and rituals in parks and at local restaurants and bookstores. The very rarely do any real work.
- There’s also the pay to play model employed by groups like the New Agers, but this only works if, like the New Agers, the average member of the group is upper middle class with money to burn on books, tapes, seminars, vacations, etc..
I am sure there are other methods. The simple membership method of a typical commune setup comes to mind. But given the survival rate of your typical commune, I am not sure if that is the best route to go.
I am sure there are many pagan folks who are not within this cynical mindset. But just as their are Christian groups who regularly give up all their worldly possessions, in the world of here and now, if you don't follow some sort of long term funding/membership retention strategy, your group will not be the one that continues through the ages. Of course, for the truly spiritual, that may not be an issue, but it is a relevant issue of survival bias when looking at existing religious institutions.