Seekers and Guides: Why Free Events Discriminate Against the Pagan Poor

Donation JarForgive me for once again deferring the subject I originally intended to write about this week.  A discussion happened on a local Pagan list that reminded me that I meant to address a personal bugaboo.

“Never charge for the Craft.”  It’s a basic ethic that most of us subscribe to.  Many of us have been to churches where the collection plate goes around, and it’s broad and open and so people are shamed into putting bills into the basket that they might not otherwise be able to afford.  Most Pagans don’t like money, and we don’t understand why faith has a material cost.  Our church is nature.  Why should Pagan worship cost us money?

So when someone suggests a small site fee for an event; whether it’s a ritual, a class, a workshop or a lecture, someone else is always upset.  Accusations of materialism, taking advantage of others and of violating the Ardaynes are thrown around.  People get very emotional.  Passionate arguments are made and Witch Wars are started.

I don’t like mixing money and faith either.  I have never had a comfortable relationship with money.  I am Generation X and I graduated high school in the middle of the Recession of the 1990s.  My parents are blue collar and there was no money for my university education, and I didn’t want to start life with a big debt when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so I have gone from one lousy minimum wage job to another – and sometimes less than minimum wage because that is what I could get – all of my adult life.  And after about twenty years of organizing events within the Pagan community, I have come to the conclusion that contrary to popular belief, free events discriminate against poor people!

Here’s why.

In This World, Things Cost Money.  Even Space.

Let’s say you want to hold a Sabbat and invite the community.  Well, for starters, you need to have a place to hold it.  If you don’t own your own property (which means you are at least middle class) and you don’t rent a house with a yard (which most of us who rent do not,) you need to use a public space.  Perhaps a church, perhaps a park, maybe a hall.

It costs money to rent all of these places.  Churches and halls have booking fees; and even parks require permits.  And I hope you’re part of a non-profit society that has its own insurance, because these days, they charge you for insurance as an extra expense.  If you want to rent a hall, a church, or part of the park for a couple of hours in my area, you need a minimum of $100, and that’s at the cheap places if you’re lucky!  You could be fortunate enough to know a UU Pagan, and then you can use their church for free, but that UU Pagan is then contributing towards their congregation, aren’t they?

On top of that, who’s going to front the decorations?  How about the candles?  And the cakes and ale?

If you are not going to charge a fee for this hypothetical Sabbat event, that means that someone has to front all this out of her own pocket, or someone has to be fortunate enough to have a yard that’s big enough to host a community – and that’s not cheap rent, folks.  In other words, without fees, which means that everyone contributes, only rich Pagans can host gatherings.  Attempting to include everyone by making events free gives undue power and influence to those who can afford to front everyone else, and requires everyone to be their guests rather than their coreligionists.

Pagans are . . . Thrifty

Okay, you’re saying; I get that things cost money.  So rather than charging for events, I will ask people for donations!

Here’s the problem: in my experience, Pagans usually don’t donate!

You remember that collection plate thing?  Most of the Pagans I know react to that sort of thing with resentment.  Pagans are often counterculturalists, hippies and New Agers.  None of these groups (and I suppose I could be called all three) like money and all of them like to think they’re above “petty materialism.”  If you ask them to donate, unless somebody is dying, they’re not going to help you.  (I will own that Pagans are pretty good at coming together financially in a life-threatening crisis, as the recent crowdfunder for Morning Glory Zell proves.  And kudos for that, community!)

Further, we have a higher percentage than the average population of people who are disabled.  This makes sense to me; Pagan paths offer healing where conventional religions (and medicine) often do not.  But in my family we’re living on my husband’s disability pension, and I can tell you this: disabled people don’t generally have a lot of money.  So if you ask me for a donation, I’ll probably contribute whatever the minimum is; no more, no less, and I won’t contribute if it’s not required.  It’s not because I’m a jerk, it’s because medicine is expensive and income is limited.  We also have a high population of students and artists.  And guess what?  They’re broke too.

Time and Expertise Are Valuable

This is the biggest source of contention in the Pagan community as far as money and fees go, I think.  Other religions with better organizational skills and more money have paid clergy.  In Wiccanate paths at least, there’s a belief that we’re all clergy.  So why should one person get paid to teach if we’re not all paid to teach?  Why shouldn’t we all just be able to learn for free?

Well, as a Pagan who has tried to make her living in metaphysics for many years, I have three answers for that.

The reason why there are paid clergy in other religions is so that they can concentrate on being clergy.  Otherwise, they have to worry about how they’re going to pay the rent.  Or where the next meal is coming from.  Even running a metaphysical store is insufficient for this.  I did that so I could concentrate on being a Witch full time, but I have to tell you, it’s not a good living.  Metaphysical stores are closing all over North America because little retailers cannot afford to sell things for the miniscule prices that you can get them for online.  Remember how I said that we were living on my husband’s disability income?  We’re making more money now than we did at the metaphysical store.  No kidding.

Here’s the second point: time is valuable.  When you are working at your job, you get paid for your time.  Whether you are flipping burgers or negotiating contracts, someone is paying you for the time you put in.  If someone is offering you a course in first aid, you pay them for the service.  Shouldn’t those who teach Paganism expect the same?

And that brings me to the third point.  Judy Harrow noted that it takes an average of seven to ten years to get from beginner levels to third degree initiate these days in traditions that handle things in this way.  It takes seven to ten years of schooling to get a doctorate degree!  We don’t have any personal moral issues with paying medical doctors and experts with Ph.D.s after their names a very large amount of money for their expertise.  Why, then, do we argue about paying our similarly schooled, practiced and studied religious leaders for their expertise?  We could at least have the decency to help them make a living.  And they certainly should never have to pay out of their own pockets for the privilege of teaching us!

Even if someone is travelling to your house to teach a workshop, they have to cover gas, time, supplies, perhaps airfare, food, and accommodations in some way.  So if we’re not willing to pay a fee for a workshop, then that means that only rich people and those supported by other means have the right or ability to teach us about Paganism.  And contrary to the unspoken assumptions of our culture, I personally do not believe that having more money makes you a more valuable person; “abundance consciousness” be damned.

Expecting Others to Carry You is Unfair

Okay, what about getting those with money to pay for things, and those who don’t have any can just come for free?

There’s some validity to this.  Some of the more fortunate members of our community recently came together to support membership fees in a Pagan non-profit group for the less fortunate so that those services could continue.  But first of all, this is unreliable.  One cannot depend upon the generosity of others to be there when it is needed.  The winds of fortune change quickly these days.  Most of us will change careers – not jobs, careers – seven or eight times in our lives!  People die, windfalls come and go.  Furthermore, it is unfair to always ride along on the shirt-tails of others.  You learned a lot about the value of work when your parents kicked you out and you had to pay your own rent, didn’t you?  Don’t you resent the friend who never has money for coffee and always bums rides but never contributes for gas?

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t help a person out when they’re having a hard time.  Some festivals, for example, have scholarships, and I’ve been a recipient of them once or twice myself.

What Are Your Priorities?

How much does the celebration of your faith mean to you?  I realize that you have to pay the bills first.  So do I.  But most of us find the money somehow for laundry, bus fare, coffee at Starbucks, or cigarettes when we need it.  There are all kinds of ways that even the truly broke can save a couple of bucks eight times a year (I’m paying my overdrawn VISA $25 at a time.)  If you can afford to drink coffee or tea in a coffee shop or tea bar, surely you can afford a $5 to $10 site fee for your next Sabbat gathering?  After a while, with everyone contributing just a few bucks each time, you will naturally create a surplus which can then be used to front other Sabbats and workshops in your community.  And then, poor Pagans can also host events, and teach workshops, just as if they were rich.

Next column: Divine Wisdom, Mortal Filters

P.S. – A couple of things to note.  The first is that I am doing a giveaway to benefit Morning Glory Zell’s legacy project.  Other giveaways to benefit causes in the Pagan community will follow.  Read the details on how you can enter the draw at my PaganSquare column, 49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives.

The second is that I am very excited to tell you that my book, The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power, is now available for pre-order at all Amazon sites, Barnes & Noble, and Google Books, and it’s scheduled for release on September 1.  If you order now you get a 28% discount (which will save you a couple of bucks so you can throw in at your next Sabbat gathering.) ;)


Seekers and Guides is published on alternate Mondays. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

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About Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia (Diane Morrison) has been a traditional witch most of her life, and she is also a licensed Wiccan minister and a Third Degree initiated Wiccan priestess in the Star Sapphire tradition. She makes her living doing psychic and Tarot readings, writing, and teaching workshops, and she is also a speculative fiction writer and a musician. Sable is the author of "The Witch's Eight Paths of Power: A Complete Course in Magick and Witchcraft" (Red Wheel/Weiser, 2014). She continues to write "Seekers and Guides" at her new blog Between the Shadows here at Patheos Pagan, and she also writes a column called "49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives" at PaganSquare. For further information, please visit her website http://www.sablearadia.com.


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