This will be a two-part blog. Part One is “diagnosing the problem”. We cannot move into health without first looking at the wound and knowing why it came about.

Part Two will be a discussion of energetics and money, how money and spirituality intersect, if spirituality can bring financial health (or wealth), and questions/thoughts I received on social media. 

It is difficult, I imagine, for many of us to look at Joel Osteen’s gleaming white smile and private jet and not have a few thoughts about how people without substantial financial means are funding such excess.

It is one of the calling cards of cults and problematic religions that money is all funneled to the “top”: to the preacher, teacher, or guru. Where would Osho be without his 93 Rolls Royces, or NXVIM without the ample funding of Clare Bronfman.

I am occasionally on social media these days, including Instagram, where the “modern day” huckster, the person promising financial gain (or “abundance”) if you only offer them money, is rampant.

Financial “bros” promise wealth and women if you only sign up for their program; new agers speak about “abundance”; suburban moms sell their MLM’s with promises of a Cadillac (that you have to pay for if you don’t earn enough the next month).

A classic pyramid scheme is when someone sells something like leggings, but the real money made (if there is any money to be made at all) is in recruiting others and making commissions off of them selling leggings.

A pyramid scheme can also be a financial “guru” selling you their course or sessions based on the notion that if you take said course, you will make money.

Both of these schemes are predicated on people making money off of people who want to make money.

The reason why pyramid schemes fail is because there are a limited number of people in the world interested in them, or who fall prey to them, and so eventually the whole pyramid falls apart.

A pyramid relies on recruiting more and more people to sell for them (so the people at the top make money off of recruiting). There are only so many people to recruit– eventually the stream of people wanting to sell tacky leggings will dry up.

That pyramid has a bottom. 

There will also be considerable attrition, as people recruited will not be financially successful, or even solvent (able to get back what they put in or even break even).

A “financial guru” on Instagram requires people to sign up for her courses, and to have a steady stream of people willing to pay her for her “wisdom”. 

If someone is making money off of selling financial health and wealth to you and tells you that you can be wealthy if you only think right (are spiritual enough/heal your chakras/embrace abundance) then the person should have already made significant money without selling this to ideology to you.

If without you signing up for their “wealth” course, they don’t have any money, this indicates the same type of pyramid scheme.

One of the fascinating things about social media is that someone can make it appear as if they are wealthy, renting out boats (and girls), standing by airplanes, or posting pictures of their toes in the sand on a vacation shot from several years ago in order to appear financially well-off in order to sell an illusion to others.

Most of the individuals in MLM pyramid schemes do not make money. Something like 97 percent of people fail. That is worse odds than opening a new restaurant in New York City. 

That person selling you that course on making money by being “spiritual”– thinking right, clearing your chakras, having the “grind” mindset, being the right vibration, “healing enough”, may not have any money at all. Or all of their money comes from selling that course.

This format is much different than a solid financial planner offering advice, or someone who has successfully built businesses offering guidance.

We can all learn from mentors. 

Pyramid schemes like these are reliant on myths that arise from a few sources. The first is the American dream: the idea that anyone can make money if they simply try hard enough. The idea of “bootstrapping” is quite popular, with the idea that we can individually make our way in this world and somehow be successful.

Both of these are myths but have just enough of a sparkle of truth to lure in people. MLM’s will show the person who got to go on a vacation or bought a house; New-Agers will point to those with an “abundance philosophy” or who “thought positively” or “were the right vibration” to “have money flow their way”. 

The latter myth typically comes from individuals who were already upper-middle class or upper class who had connections, family resources, and nothing else standing in their way to achieve such things. They are ignorant enough to ignore much of reality, or how classism, racism, ableism, and how anyone who doesn’t look exactly like them or have the same experiences of reality as them might have difficulty in this world. 

Some of the hardest working people in this world– and the most spiritual– do not have wealth. A cursory glance at the world, and in the people living it, would prove this to be true. A basic knowledge of history and spirituality would also show this to be true.

If your “spiritual awakening” allows for you to ignore the rest of reality, you are living in a bubble, not becoming more aware.

A very basic glance at any type of spiritual text might also suggest that the end goal of spirituality for most spiritual aspirants is not a yacht, it is spiritual communion– the joining of our individual selves with something larger than ourselves.

But where does the ideology that spirituality should be equated with economic prosperity come from?

The largest source of ideologies conflating spirituality with money come from the prosperity gospels. Mega churches require private jets and Mormons believe that if you are right with God, you will see it in your checking account. 

To believe the myth that “if you were only spiritual enough you would have more money” requires anyone to pretty much ignore the entirety of spiritual-religious history. 

To believe the myth that “if you were only good/healthy enough you would have money” requires someone to be willfully blind to the type of people who are in power (have considerable wealth) and to the good people in this world who are struggling.

The second source that led to spirituality somehow being conflated with money is a confusing tale regarding how secularized spirituality was introduced into the West. 

The idea of “if you are spiritual= money” was founded largely on a Christian framework; then the “spiritual but not religious crowd” of the 1970’s began to bring in Hindu and Native American teachings. 

So on the one hand we have churches that teach to tithe, and on the other we have the teachings of “don’t pay to pray”, which have led to the modern spiritual aspirant to becoming rightfully confused and very adamant about whatever side that they take on the matter. 

Add onto this Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, and we have the confusing mix of modern spirituality, all filtered through to a modern spiritual aspirant that is grappling with the idea of spirituality even being a thing.

We then add in the emergent New-Age movement, delineated through Theosophy (think: Madame Blavatsky) into the New Thought movement, from which a largely mental, intellectualized spirituality emerged. 

This history is important because it shows how our modern Western “spiritual but not religious” movement came to be (the New-New-Age, so to speak). I find in the modern world an even stronger push towards atheistic thought, with spirituality becoming even more mentally-oriented than ever. 

New Thought was always a significant part of the framework of modern “New-New-Age”, but it was originally based in ideologies of “right thought” as well as understandings of the divinity of self and the reality of spirit. The idea of “thinking right” has remained, but other conceptualizations of spiritual understanding have been thrown out or intellectualized until what has remained is a sort of gobbledygook of ineffectual disembodied ramblings.

The end result of all of this is a lot of memes about how if you are spiritual, you will have a lot of money. 

There are a few things to take away from this. 

First is the understanding that you could be the most spiritual person on Earth and still be in poverty. You can be “good”, “right thinking”, “have an abundance mindset” or “have an open energy body” and still not be rich.

You can also be immoral, unethical, “bad”, “lack the abundance mindset” and have a completely closed off first chakra and be raking in large amounts of money. In fact, this might actually help. If you want to make money, go into a financial career or be a sociopathic guru who charges $10,000 for a “sweat lodge” without any awareness of how one works and kill some people and run away. Then make a documentary about yourself whining about how you don’t have any money anymore but offering no form of contrition for past misdeeds (ahem).

Second is to understand that if you are giving your money to any type of “coach” or person who is only making money because you listen to their podcast, look at their videos, or buy their program for creating wealth, that you are being conned. 

They wouldn’t have “financial abundance” without you buying into their pyramid scheme (and quite frankly, looking at most of these folks, they don’t even have financial success with your money, either).

Third is to question how spirituality relates to financial success.

The simple answer to this is that it doesn’t. The more complex answer is that our relationship with money can change considerably when we become “more spiritual” (but also a preview: money isn’t evil and we need it to live).

This also brings in thoughts about the “spiritual” mindset towards money (is there one?) and if spiritual work can be utilized to bring in financial health (short answer: yes and no). 

These will be answered in Part Two. 

Mary Mueller Shutan is an author of several books as well as a spiritual teacher and practitioner. You can find her on social media (Instagram and Facebook).