Tuesday’s Wild Hunt once again raised the question of the ethics of charging for spiritual services. The Pagan community really should have figured this out by now, but apparently we haven’t.
Reciprocity is one of the core virtues of Paganism. The Gods give to us so we give to the Gods so They will give to us again. I help you move, you feed me beer and pizza… and you help me move sometime in the future. Gifts are wonderful (so long as they’re given freely and not to create an obligation) but the world runs on reciprocity.
It’s the same when it comes to spiritual services. If you receive you should expect to give in return. The issue isn’t whether we should reciprocate, it’s what form our reciprocity should take: open-ended or quid pro quo.
I’m legally ordained and I can perform marriage ceremonies in Texas and some other states. If you’re a friend, a member of Denton CUUPS, or a member of OBOD, I’ll be happy to officiate your wedding at no charge. We support the same ideals and the same community, and you’ve probably done favors for me from time to time, or maybe you will in the future. Our reciprocity is open-ended.
If you find my blog and call me because you think it would be cool to have a Druid officiate your wedding, I’ll be happy to do it, but I’ll expect proper compensation. I’m going to spend time creating and refining the ceremony, I’m going to show up at the rehearsal and the ceremony, and let’s not forget all the time I put in earning my ordination so I could do this. You’re going to pay the caterer and the florist – you can pay the Druid too.
The same is true if you’re looking for spell work, divination, spiritual counseling, spiritual direction, or one-on-one teaching. Yes, some Pagan traditions say that elders (and let’s save the arguments on the definition of an elder for another time) are obligated to teach newcomers free of charge. This is true, but that expectation isn’t universal, and it carries the assumption that the newcomer is going to become a member of the elder’s coven or grove. It also assumes the elder has another way of supporting herself.
Let’s not forget that when Gerald Gardner was developing and promoting Wicca, he was living on a British civil service pension.
I’ve led several initiations and I’ve never charged a dime for them – nor will I ever. This is because everyone I’ve helped initiate was a member of one of my Pagan groups. If you aren’t a member of one of my Pagan groups, I won’t initiate you. Initiation requires a personal connection and a personal commitment and I can’t – and won’t – do it for someone I don’t know and trust.I have a few peers who I occasionally call or e-mail with questions. They’re good to respond and there’s never any talk of money. I do the same for a slightly different set of peers. But if I need their professional services I break open my checkbook and I don’t make lowball offers. They’re religious professionals (whether their religious work is a primary source of income or not) and they deserve to be treated like professionals.
The Wild Hunt mentions a Salem psychic who charged a customer $16,800 for shielding work. There’s a word for this: fraud. But the fact that there are dishonest spiritual workers doesn’t mean anyone who charges a fee for service is a crook.
What’s a fair price? I don’t know. How much time is involved? How much work? What materials? How much time had to be invested to learn the skills necessary to do what you need done? How many people can actually do what you need done? If you want a Tarot reading out of general curiosity, there’s probably somebody within a few miles who’ll do it for $50 or less. And most good workers operate on a sliding scale, but check your cable bill and your coffee budget before you plead poverty.
If you need detective work done with the dead, there are maybe two people I’d trust to do it and do it right and neither of them work cheap. They don’t have to – by the time people get to them, they’ve already exhausted the cheap and easy options and they realize they need an expert.
When this matter comes up, we talk about how some cheap Pagans just want stuff for free. And we talk about how some privileged, naïve Pagans don’t seem to understand that spiritual teachers have to eat and pay rent like the rest of us – there’s no parish church paying them a salary like the Catholic priest or the UU minister. And that’s all true. But I have to think that some of the reluctance to pay for spiritual services comes from a lack of spiritual depth on the part of the clients.
If you haven’t experienced the deep connections that it’s possible to form with Gods, ancestors, and spirits, you’re not likely to appreciate the skills necessary to employ those connections for specific needs. If you’ve never done a month-long magical working, you’re not likely to appreciate the work involved. If all you know about a Goddess is Her name and a few lines off Wikipedia you aren’t likely to know the kinds of prayers, offerings – and future commitments – that would be likely to get Her to intercede for you. The mainstream religions generally do a lousy job of teaching people how to pray, they set unreasonable expectations, and those weak ideas often carry over into new religions.
If you understand the level of expertise involved, you’re less likely to balk at paying a fair price.
It annoys me that this keeps coming up – it really isn’t that complicated. Fraud = bad. Reciprocity = good. And if you want something done right, expect to pay a fair price.