Paying for Pagani$m

Late last night before going to bed I came across an email advertising one year of Witch Training for the low price of only 1100 dollars. After picking my jaw up off the floor in disbelief my next emotion was anger. Not only was someone charging what I felt was an outrageous amount of money to teach The Craft, their email announcement was flanked by two quotes from Doreen Valiente’s Charge of the Goddess. In British Traditional Witchcraft (of which I’m a Gardnerian initiate of) you don’t charge for teaching Wicca, and here’s someone using quotes from Valiente to advertise paid teaching! Doreen Valiente, the Mother of Modern Witchcraft and the Craft’s chief liturgist . . . to use her words in an advertisement horrified me.

Paganism and money is a very touchy subject, but there are areas where most of us are in agreement when it comes to issues of compensation. If you write a book you should be able to sell it and hopefully profit from it. If you give lectures or facilitate workshops there’s nothing unethical about being paid for your time. I’ve charged for workshops in the past (never more than twenty bucks a head, and usually much less) on subjects like The Horned God and Drawing Down the Moon, and if you want to catch me prattling on at a Pagan festival there’s a fee to get in (though you can rest assured that very little to none of what you are paying to get in goes to speakers, most of it takes care of overhead costs).

I’ll admit that when I first moved to California’s Bay Area I experienced a bit of sticker shock. Certain types of classes have always had a price tag attached to them, but out here it’s substantially more, and then there’s charing to attend eclectic rituals . . . but little did I know that attending any sort of public rite generally means renting a space. That’s not “charging for a ritual” it’s simply an attempt to break even on one, always acceptable. I have a local High Priestess friend who is teaching a year long class on Witchcraft, all she asks for is money to cover the cost of her handouts. Holding rituals and teaching classes shouldn’t be a money losing enterprise, but I’m not sure it should always be a money making enterprise either, and there is a difference.

Most feel that receiving compensation for legitimate “clergy services” is perfectly acceptable (if not expected). When someone officiates a hand-fasting ceremony they should either be paid or given some sort of token thanking them for their time (especially when the officiant is not a close personal friend). The same goes for leading a memorial or funeral service. Surviving any of those three endeavors takes some skill and training, and then there’s amount of time it takes to come up with a ceremony and perform it competently. When I play officiant I know that I’m sacrificing a great deal of my day, and generally do so happily.

What so rankled me about “Witchcraft for 1100 dollars” was the promise of “initiation” at the end of course. I’m sure that a class costing over a thousand dollars contains a lot of information, and it might even require a great deal of homework, but the caveat of initiation at the end is really bothersome. An initiation is earned, and a teacher should not profit for bestowing one. I don’t care how gifted the teacher, if they offered me a Witch initiation predicated on access to my checkbook I’d run, and fast, and then advise everyone I know to stay far away.

While the idea of teaching an initiatory Craft tradition bothers me greatly; teaching general Paganism (and with no initiation) is a much larger grey area. If someone wants to teach some basic beginner classes for pay I’m OK with that. Paying to teach specific “skills” outside of knowing deity is also certainly in bounds. A Pagan teaching classes on tarot, astrology, herbalism, etc., will never result in me batting an eye. That stuff takes a small lifetime to learn and master, compensation is most certainly deserved.

The internet has opened up whole new approaches to teaching Wicca and Paganism online, and for many people those are valid options for learning. While I always encourage folks searching for a teacher to find one near by and in the flesh, that’s not always possible. Learning online is better than not learning at all, and judging from the prices for things like WitchSchool no one’s making money on it anyway.

As a Witch I believe I live my life in service to those around me. Service implies that the things I do specifically as a Witch are not for profit. As a High Priest I feel obligated to teach and share my understanding of The Craft. I believe that to charge for such a thing would be a personal affront to the very gods I serve. I teach about the Horned God as a Pagan (sometimes for a very small amount of money) as a Witch I share how I worship and honor the Horned God (that’s always free).

I realize that not every Pagan group operates like a Traditional Witch coven, and that every Pagan path has to come to terms with whether or not to charge for teaching their tradition. Sometimes I think Gerald Gardner got it wrong, and that maybe we should charge, and then I think about the consequences. Charging to teach a particular tradition could result in someone putting profit ahead of the gods. That’s a road I just don’t want to go down, and not one I enjoy coming across either. In the end we all have to live with ourselves, and if someone can get a good nights sleep after charging a thousand dollars to initiate someone that’s their business, but that’s a place I just can’t go.

About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Charging for services works well if the money is going to a proper organisation dedicated to the provision of such services. This is where organised religion works well, in my opinion.

    • dashifen

      This. I’m less concerned cutting a check to a registered religious organization or non-profit group or the like. It’s when Jimbo from the Grand Ol’ Witchcrafty School of Northern Elbonia asks you to make the check out to him that I start to get worried.

      • Wyrd Wiles

        LoL, Indeed.

    • Wyrd Wiles

      I’ve been seeing a lot of ideas like this floating around recently. The idea that we can organize enough to offer essential services without necessarily turning into the Pagan Papacy (which can be a bit of a redundant phrase, depending on who you ask ;P )

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I am not suggesting that all of Pagandom unite under me one person, but the coalescing of individuals to build and maintain physical temples is certainly an extremely appealing concept.

        • Wyrd Wiles

          I agree. Wholeheartedly and without reservation.

  • Gwion

    Always a tough subject to navigate and I think there are nuances that go well beyond “to charge or not to charge?” I teach classes locally and all over the US. There are certain costs that just simply have to be covered (location rental, supplies, gas, airfare, etc) and I think most folks understand this. Then there’s the time question. Most workshops I teach are 18-ish hours and are taught either over 6 weeks or a long weekend. Having some of that time compensated is certainly a nice appreciation and most folks know that sometimes breaking even and being of service do not a millionaire make.

    I, and those I might co-teach with, regularly set class prices on a sliding scale so folks can pay whatever they are comfortable with and there are often scholarships and work trades (read: ways to take the class for next to nothing)

    And then there’s the something very different that I have never charged for – And that’s the one-on-one, the mentoring, the guiding, the facilitating, maybe even initiating of someone. Passing on the Craft and anything my mentors felt important – That is not for sale.


  • locosmom

    I, being an empath and what we in Louisiana call a medicine woman, can’t spell the correct name although I’m called by it, do not charge for services. When I help someone, after a few days I will find a gift on my porch..might be a chicken, some preserves, and even occasionally money. I never know for sure who it is, but even if there is nothing left, I know I have helped someone in need, and their circumstances are probably worse than mine. I could not charge for my help, as I was taught that I have a gift that could easily go away. I enjoy visiting with the people and helping where I can.

    • Jennifer White

      Iocosmom its not medicine woman but Traiteur. haha i couldnt spell it correctly had to ask my mom and her friend then decided to Google the spelling. I live in Louisiana near the Atchafalaya Basin and have known one. I was learning from her but in the end my help would be more for animals than people. Lotta good yall madames may do

      • locosmom

        Thank you. Yes that is the spelling I was looking for..we all have our gifts, use your wisely and you will never be sorry..

  • Artor

    As it is said, the difference between Pagan and New Age is generally a couple of decimal places. It sounds like someone’s marketing to the wrong crowd.

  • Ash McSidhe

    Sadly, this is not a phenomena that can be blamed on the internet, it’s a problem of long standing. The internet has simply (?) accelerated its progress.

    Gwydion Pendderwen, wrote the following back in 1973:

    “The Selling of the Old Religion by Gwydion Pendderwen
    [from Nemeton, Volume One, Number Two Lady Day/Beltane, 1973 Common Era]

    It wasn’t too very long ago that my existence as a Witch was a guarded sec­ret. “It isn’t wise to advertise,” ran the doggerel of my people. Once in a while, we’d invite an outsider to hear the words of the eiders or the Grand Master, but never did we allow people from the outside to witness our rites. Our memories down to the 19th century are long and painful, and we were just coming out of the fear of official persecution.

    It happened that, with time, we broke total silence, and we corresponded with some of our kinsmen and women scat­tered around the globe. Much had been forgotten by all; much was irreparably damaged by isolation and wanton destruction. We learned a few basic facts of anthropology, however: No
    matter how carefully a tradition is preserved, it changes; and no matter how
    strict and conservative the elders, the coven and the Craft were influenced by
    the larger society about us. Between traditions long separated, grave
    differences appeared, thus proving that the Craft was a living, growing,
    changing entity, rather than a mummified corpse from antiquity.

    I greeted the growing publicity of the Craft, and the interest in membership therefrom, with mixed feelings. It was good that the truth be known, even if some would sensationalize it, but the Craft, I felt, was never meant for everyone, nor for many at all. The Old Religion, the old ways, yes; but the Craft was for the very, very few.

    In the first few years of the ‘revival’ of the Craft, I was pleased to learn of the honest concern and interest of so many individuals. It was rather disconcerting to me, on the other hand, that a multitude of ‘traditions’ were springing up (Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Traditionalist, etc.), but wherever people were genuinely touched by the Goddess as Muse, a feeling of inspiration arose and spread like a rumor. The Old Religion was right, it was good for people, it was non-sexist, and whomever it touched in turn became good people.

    And, like Topsy, it just grew and grew! But somewhere along the line, the magic failed to reach into a number of persons, who saw the potential of the Old Religion as a gold mine, and the prophets of profit entered the scene. Someone said, “Hey! There’s a mint to be made here!” and the race was on. Cosmic eyes, blessed oils, holy scriptures, anything that could be printed, molded, stamped or sewn was sold. Even the secret writings belonging to the Gardnerians were prostituted by the truly heretical act (if ever there be such in the Craft) of publishing The Book of Shadows. The fundamentalist crusades of the 1930′s paled in comparison to the occult revolution of the 1960′s and 1970′s.

    Now some people are making the current interest in the occult pay off without damaging their personal integrity, or exposing the Craft to vapid commercialism. But others are making a disgusting mockery of the Old Religion in their blatant disregard for the principles of the Craft, the very personal feelings that must be invoked in the individual, and the very terms Witch, Wicca and Witchcraft.

    I received a short while ago a newsprint publication which deals with every conceivable aspect of occultism and spiritualism. It’s published in Houston, Texas, and the mimeo cover letter proudly announces that this publication is “centered towards Parapsychology, Metaphysics, Esoterics, Occult, Astrology and Natural Foods… ” I think the only fad left out was Scented Toilet Paper. The letter goes on to explain how inexpensive are their advertising rates, and that the newspaper is “.. .presently distributed to over 450 U-Totem and 7-11 convenience stores.” Whoopie.

    I was not surprised by the appearance of this publication. A little ill perhaps, but not surprised. Hucksters seek the dollar wherever it may hide, and since there’s a sucker born every minute, this newspaper can claim a circulation of over 7500 copies per month. I remember when the Haight-Ashbury was a big tourist attraction and ‘hippie’ underground newspapers were being hawked for 50¢ each; neither written nor produced by hippies, they contained absolutely nothing ‘hip’ or underground, but they made some enterprising entrepreneur very well off.

    The inside of this occult publication offered an article on “esoteric astrology”, describing Aries as “the mystery of God the Father”, Taurus as “God the Sun” and Capricorn as the Holy Ghost. Other articles (all five of them) were written with the same semi-literacy as Jesus-freak tracts.

    Numerous ads dotted the twelve pages, from Sister Paula’s appeal to those with problems and evil spells to contact her (send $5.00 donation), to the amazing classified ad which read:

    WITCHCRAFT COURSES. Be the center of attraction. People will
    flock to you. Become a certified witch. Learn how to raise and use your dormant
    powers. See into the future and live a full spiritual and sexual life. Intro
    book $1.00 (Name and address of school.)

    Wow! What more could you want! And for only a dollar!

    L. Ron Hubbard, revered by his followers as if he were a dead prophet, learned long ago that there were only two ways to get rich easily in this country: invent a new religion or invent a new form of psychotherapy. He did both, and he’s made a fortune with the Church of Scientology. It is apparent that he has become the idol and the model of hundreds of would-be mil­lionaires with silvery tongues and suede shoes who want to cash in on the current interest in whatever-the-fad-is.

    The shame of it all is that there is a genuine Craft to be explored by a multitude who will be turned off by the hucksterism of the profit-seekers. And unfortunately, it is the most sincere people, the serious adept and the sensi­tive Pagan, who will be hurt.

    The Craft will endure, as it always has, a little tarnished and discredited perhaps, but with dignity. But we have no trademark rights to the terms Witch and Wicca (and maybe some clever P.R. man will ensure that for all times), nor do we have the right to tell someone he is not a Witch because he did not do such-and-such. Mail order initiations, like mail-order doctorates in divinity, are already available to the gullible person willing to part with the requisite tuition fees, and the day of the franchise coven appears not too distant.

    I can look upon this wholesale pandering for only so long without anger welling up within me. Thus far, only esoteric bull-shit has been pushed as ‘witchcraft’ by the occult peddlers. I don’t doubt that they are capable of peddling even nude orgies and bestiality under the banner of ‘witch sabbats’, but I become livid when I think of the possibility, the very great possibility, of the discovery and disclosure of the secret names and writings of varying traditions, and their sale in U-Totems and 7-11′s. Lady Sheba, who swore an oath of secrecy, published the Gardnerian rites; if an initiate might be so base, what might a non-initiate be capable of? Not that the secrets need be understood, mind you. All that is necessary is that they carry a tidy profit.

    Perhaps we should go back to those days of utter secrecy, before what secrets remain are exposed in Playboy opposite the centerfold: the Goddess in a bunny costume. Or perhaps we should make a more concerted effort to let the public, and especially those attracted to the Old Religion, know that there are places to go and people to contact in order to learn more about the true Craft. As of this writing, several of our sister covens, organizations and individuals are making very concerted efforts to expose the occult-pimps. But this is only a start, and the profiteers have more money into promotion than may be imagined.

    I could not bring myself to title this editorial, as originally planned, “The Selling of the Goddess.” The idea sickened me so that I could not write. But somehow, I can’t help seeing in my crystal a pack of smooth-talking, misogynous promoters plotting rape. And I don’t like it. How about you?”

    (The above is from the defunct pagan magazine, Nemeton, and is still under copyright by Nemeton, which no longer exists in the original form – it was an early Pagan networking organization that ended sometime in the middle-to-late 1970s. Should any legitimate rights holder feel this piece should be taken down, I will, of course, comply, but I hope that Gwydion’s words may have some meaning still, 30 years after his death.)

    • Gaddy

      I loved reading this! Thanks for sharing!

      • Ash McSidhe

        You’re welcome.

  • Phoenix

    It is a free market out there. There are people I have paid more than this figure for their teachings. There are books that I own that sell for more than 2 years at that cost lol. Broke Pagan is a contagious thing that has always baffled me. If you want something bad enough you will find a way. I have spent 30 years and a lot of money on my craft and it is definitely worth every penny.

    That being said, This charge may be extravagant but I do wonder over the package offered. One should spend the time researching anything they are looking into buying or investing in. Magic is the same. Buy well and you can be proud of what you bought.

    There is nothing wrong with helping someone who is serious and in need but I personally like to have them at least pay it forward or contract them magically for a task that will make the world a better place.

    Blessed be.

  • Autumn Pulstar

    Think about it though. $1100 a year? That’s “only” a little over $21 a week. Not many would really complain about paying $20+ to attend a class…they would expect that the cost would cover materials, space and travel for the lecturer, and hopefully a little to compensate for time. I certainly don’t know the details of the class…for example, how many hours are going to be dedicated each week to the students? As mentioned in the piece, what are the qualifications of the teachers? Lots of unknowns. As far as the promise of initiation goes…the word itself means different things in different traditions. Yes, an initiation is earned, but then so is a BA, BS, MA or PHD and students have to “pay” for them too. Personally, I think the initiation these students will receive will be the one perfect for them, based on the effort they put in the course and their own growth. The teachers are simply the middle man, initiation is really between the student and Deity, and whether or not that is more like a dedication rather than an initiation is really up to Them. I think the instructors just need to be up front about that before money exchanges hands.

  • Mari-Anne Mahlau

    Hey Jason! I’m curious to hear your thoughts about colleges of pagan theology such as Cherry Hill Seminary where people with some prominence and knowledge teach degree programs such as Masters of Theology or Pastoral Counseling and train pagan clergy.

    I have the same pet peeve when I see people charging big money to train in Wicca as a priest or priestess and for initiation. Paying for services such as spell work, spell candles or kits, readings, crafted items such as tools, etc. is fine with me or for training in such skills.

    • JasonMankey

      Cherry Hill is creating a new Pagan theologian and officiant, it’s also not a tradition. You don’t teach an initiatory tradition for money. I think what they do at Cherry Hill is great.

  • Dana Corby

    My first teacher charged $20 a week, which just about covered the cost of xeroxing the reams of material (much of it hand-written by her) she handed out, the tea and cookies for after ritual, and the higher utility bills to light and heat parts of her house she only used when we were there. I have absolutely no problem with it. But when that $20/week or $1100/year is for online teaching where it costs nothing to share the written materials and the student receives none of the intangibles of F2F teaching (tea and cookies, for instance, or the opportunity for on-the-spot feedback) I just can’t see the justification for it, especially when 90% of the materials these online teachers post are plagiarized.

  • elorie

    This is one of the constellation of issues that split the Feri Tradition a couple of years ago and has caused perennial fights in other Pagan groups. In my observation and experience, charging money for teaching a specific tradition (as opposed to “general witchcraft”) causes a host of problems and is a corrupting, disruptive influence. I have seen people I used to like become increasingly self-aggrandizing, I have also seen people ignore obvious red flags in a student who was paying them, and I’ve seen the pressure to produce more material encourage outright theft of other people’s work. None of those very common outcomes are outweighed by the supposed benefits.

    • Ash McSidhe

      Spot on, elorie.

  • John Beckett

    $1100 to become a witch? I’ll make them a Druid for only $1099!

    Er, no I won’t. Even if I wanted to, a certain Forest God would have my head.

    As Jason and several of the commenters have pointed out, there are many things we can legitimately charge for, and many things where we should not hesitate to compensate someone for their time and expertise.

    But in my opinion, initiations are sacred and cannot be bought and sold.

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      I certainly agree…

      Though, if the Forest God to whom you’re referring is the one I think it is, it’s sort of interesting that he is portrayed, on at least one occasion, in a scene involving a huge bag of coins, and also appears on a few coins, too.

      “Render unto Cernunnos…”?!? ;)

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I would suggest it is the method, and not the wealth itself, that is an issue.

  • kenofken

    Outfits like this are just grubby New Age hustlers. The Scientology of Witchcraft!

  • Judy

    It’s not as though proponents of Christianity haven’t made tons of money from “teaching” it — least of all the churches. Hell, that’s their main source of income. Is it wrong? Of course! Is it common? Of course! And tax-free income buying planes, homes, islands and congressmen.

    Should it be stopped? Oh, no, that would make BabyJesus™ mad and we might have to throw another couple of virgins into a volcano to stop him from throwing lightning strikes and tornadoes (it’s OK, his aim is really awful).

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Is it wrong? Not entirely. They have overheads to pay, after all.

      Is it wrong to profit from such a thing? I would say yes, since religions work better under a charity model than a corporate one.

  • Joanne Dunster

    I don’t think it is charging money in general that is the problem because as you have pointed out there are many and varied good and honourable reasons for doing so. However charging for initiation feels like charging money for someone to adopt you into their family and that leaves a nasty bitter taste in my mouth. Initiation isn’t supposed to be a catch-tag-and-release process. If you are initiating someone you are setting up lifelong bonds between yourself and your initiate. I would not sell places in my heart and I can only assume anyone who would, is either operating under a serious misunderstanding of initiation or is doing it on purpose and is emotionally twisted. Both options pretty much rule you out as anyone I would want to work with.

  • Lionrhod

    Excellent article and I agree thoroughly. Yes, I charge for psychic readings, for classes on specific aspects of magick (spell casting, the runes abjuration, etc) and for weddings etc. After all, those things cost me money as well as time and energy. There’s gas/bus fare, and often a room to rent or a shopkeeper who wants a “cut” of class prices

    And remember that teachers could be spending their time doing something else to support themselves rather than teaching a class..

    I keep my charges as low as possible,, and the only time I’d charge more than $20 might be for an all day intensive or with classes (herbal alchemy for instance) where I’d need to purchase materials.

    Charging to teach my tradition? Absolutely not. Promising initiation? No way. I don’t promise initiation to my students ever. They may or may not initiate. My path might not be the right one for them. They might not put enough time/effort in to earn initiation.


  • trueinar .

    I am kind of torn on this subject. On the one hand I am staunchly against a person or organization using religion to get rich (one of the long list of problems I have with the religion I was raised in). On the other hand I can see some benefits for paying for some religious services.

    Many organizations have clearly become about making a bunch of money and have forgotten about serving their gods/people. A religious leader or organizations should first be about helping people. When it becomes a money-making operation is can seriously hinder the actual function of the organization or leader. It is bad for a religion to become focused on money.

    At the same time there are benefits for leaders/organizations getting paid for certain things. There are costs to be managed and it is only fair that those benefiting from the leader/organization help cover those costs. There is also a benefit to having a paid clergy. If you have someone who can focus on study and service without the distractions of making a living then they can be a real help. I don’t think it is a job someone should be able to get rich off of (being able to live within reasonable comfort should be enough). Lay clergy can be nice in a few ways but has other risks (another problem with the religion of my childhood) like overworked individuals who don’t get to have a life because of work and religious responsibilities and clergy who don’t have the time to become real experts. I will always have a problem with religious leaders who get rich off of their work because it usually leads to it being about the money. Someone getting paid to cover costs and time to a reasonable degree isn’t so bad though.

    I guess it boils down to if things are focused where they should be and not on money. I am not a big fan of just about anything focused on money though.