Healers, Money, and Community

When I was young, there was, in the communities I knew, an acknowledgment that most healers were poor. That was simply the price one paid for working for the Creator.

When my family moved from a small farming community to the city, the rules changed. At first, the assumption was that healers would be poor. The small church we attended attracted working class immigrants from the country, and reflected their relative poverty. But as time passed, and the congregation grew in wealth, the expectation that pastors and healers be poor was replaced  by an ideology that favored wealth as a sign of the Creator’s favor. The physicians we knew also grew wealthy, and enlarged and corporatized their practices in order to grow more wealthy.

Of course, the belief that wealth is a reflection of godliness is fraught with complications. (So is the equation of godliness and poverty.) The greatest of these is that, in my experience, the more wealthy ministers and healers became, the less they saw themselves as servants of the community. Of course, they were not alone; their shifting attentions and fortunes reflected changing beliefs and expectations in  the culture at large.

First Nations and rural cultures alike struggle with the poles of wealth and poverty as they reflect the competency and holiness of healers. Some communities prefer wealth in their healers, others prefer poverty. A few expect healers to fall somewhere in between the poles. Expectations also differ as to whether, and how much, healers may charge for their services.

The overarching domination of market economies in most traditional and mainstream communities has muddied the discussion even more. Healers must provide for themselves and their families, and few have access to subsistence or cooperative activities that provide enough cash flow to assure housing, food and medical care. Nor do they have time to practice as healers effectively after working their day-to-day job, should they be fortunate enough to have one.

At the same time, there is an expectation in many communities that healers will make their services available for free, or at least at a fee individuals and families can readily afford, even when this is less than the amount needed by the healer. Communities may also show displeasure when healers advertise their services. The introduction of healing practices governed by the rules and machinations of insurance companies has only compounded these issues.

Much has changed over the sixty odd years of my life. Many of the changes have helped people. Others have caused, or will cause, great suffering among many beings. The world is as it is, and we are each charged to do what we are able. We can, working together as communities, shape the norms healers work by. It is a group task.

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