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.

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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.


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