–by Shauna Aura Knight
The question, “Should Pagans charge for services/rituals/events/classes” comes up with some frequency within our community. One of my activist goals is looking at underlying difficulties and assumptions in our culture and how that impacts us.
Pagans (and people, for that matter) have a really unhealthy relationship with money.
It’s one of our cultural “shadows.” Any shadow causes us communal grief. For me, activism is about looking at those cultural shadows and working with them. What are our current assumptions about money? How do those assumptions get in the way of healthy communities and future community resources?
“Pagans are broke.” What I think is actually means is, “Pagans have a complicated and unhealthy relationship with money and get recalcitrant about paying for things.”
There’s a spectrum of assumptions about money. On one end, you have the idea that “Charging for spiritual work is bad.” On the other end, “I should be paid reasonably for my time.”
What I’m not addressing in that spectrum is obvious extortion and unethical practices, including people who charge exorbitant money for a dangerously-facilitated sweat lodge, or people who say, “You’re cursed but I can lift it for a mere $1,000,” or people who embezzle, or manipulate people.
Now–while I’m not addressing the unethical folks, they impact our assumptions. Many Pagans fear donating to a group because they’ve seen the largess and corruption of the churches of their youth, and, they’ve seen various Pagan leaders fail to ethically handle money.
I’m focusing on ethical Pagan leaders and teachers who feel that they should be able to charge for their time. After seeing several online discussions basically saying that anyone who charges for spiritual work is bad, or that spiritual work should always be free, I thought that a deeper discussion on money would serve.
The idea that “money is bad” shackles the Pagan community, holding us back and making us less effective in the kind of work many of our groups would like to be able to achieve.
What is Money?
A root challenge with this issue is that we need to define what money actually is. In the dominant culture, money is power, certainly. Big corporations, banks, and rich politicians control our laws. Religious institutions like the Catholic church have vast amounts of wealth. It’s no surprise that many have a knee-jerk reaction that “money is bad.”
But what is money? Money is, in essence, energy. It’s a representation of time and work. Ignoring income tax, if you make $10 an hour, then a $5 cup of coffee reflects a half hour of your effort.
Money is neither good nor bad, it’s simply an easier exchange rate than a chicken and a basket of tomatoes. Barter is, at its core, money. It’s resources being traded for other resources. Money isn’t inherently bad any more than the chicken you raised is bad. It’s just an agreed-upon exchange rate.
But “Real Witches” Never Charged
Completely untrue. If we look at our ancestors, the Witch/Shaman/Druid/Priest/Healer of the tribe was paid in the form of a tithe from the tribe. It might be a chicken, fur, or seat at the dinner table, or help building their home. It’s still payment. They couldn’t have focused on serving their community in that capacity without their community providing their upkeep.
Money is not a dirty thing. Money represents time spent working.
What Do Pagan Events Cost?
Let’s start with supplies. Candles, herbs, printing out handouts, food for the group. Is it fair to ask the group leader who’s already spent time organizing rituals and classes to pay out of pocket for all of that? Many people feel even charging for supplies is bad. Imagine a small group or a public ritual; perhaps money is donated, or members donate the supplies. It’s simple–those are hard costs, someone has to pay them, it’s just a matter of whom.
If it’s a public ritual, like my upcoming Imbolc in Chicago, money must be raised to pay for the $300 daily rental. We haven’t even gotten to additional costs, like a Meetup.com group, a web site, or printing flyers.
When talking about teachers charging, that’s usually where the fisticuffs begin.
What do I Charge?
For a public event like Imbolc, which has a ritual and workshops, I ask for a sliding scale donation, $5-$25, no one turned away for lack of funds. I feel it’s important to make these events open to people regardless of ability to pay.
At the same time, I can’t afford to foot the bill if an event doesn’t break even. It’s utterly unfair to ask clergy that have put in hours to plan, host, and cleanup an event to also spend money to cover the costs.
The subject of money and charging for events and classes is very much on my mind because of recent events in my own life. I was recently in a car accident, and without getting into insurance details, the accident was not my fault but I won’t receive any money for a new car.
How is this relevant to charging for classes?
At least 75%-90% of what I used my car for was to run Pagan events in Chicago, and, to travel and teach at Pagan events. Now I have obligations to travel and teach at several events in the coming months, and many of these are not events I can now easily get to.
Let’s take a step back to assumptions like all Pagan authors are getting rich off of the community, and Pagans who teach at festivals make a lot of money.
When I travel to larger conferences and festivals, I pay my own travel and hotel costs. At some festivals where I’m headlining, I get gas money. I teach weekend-long intensives where I get gas money, and maybe a $200 stipend. However, looking at all of these, I’m actually operating at a loss. Why?
If I drive 8 hours to teach for a weekend for gas money, I’m out the cost of an oil change. Add in $300 for new brakes and other car repairs…it all adds up. The past years I’ve paid thousands of dollars in car repairs for the pleasure of spending hours on the road to teach mostly without pay.
Why Would I Do That?
It’s the calling of my soul. There are so many groups out there desperate for help with leadership and community building, or learning to facilitate more potent rituals that will inspire their community. I’m a total sucker for a leader who messages me and says, “I loved your workshop at Pagan Spirit Gathering, and our local community is having so many problems but I don’t know if we can afford to pay you…”
So I tell them I can do it for gas money. Often, it’s that leader who’s paying my gas money out of pocket because they are afraid to charge anyone. “If I charge, no one will come,” they confide.
I admire the folks who do this–even while I regret that they continue enabling a dysfunctional pattern in our communities.
I’ve been writing topics of Pagan leadership because I think they are crucial. For instance, this blog post now. Am I getting paid for the 3 or so hours it takes me to write one of these? Nope. I do it because I’m called. I think that’s the essence of any deep calling–we’d do it whether or not we’re being paid.
I have done this work without pay for years. I’ve managed by living simply and other creative means. But it’s put me, financially, where I absolutely can no longer do this work without pay. What I charge is not enough.
Here is the crux of the issue. Many Pagans whine about not having access to things that other faiths have, but there’s a core reason for it–they aren’t willing to pay for it. Pagans are starting to want access to leadership training, and I’m thrilled to offer that. However, taking my time to offer that–driving 4-8 hours–my time spent teaching–preparing for the workshop–it’s rather a lot of time. It’s a part-time job, full time if you add in writing articles, blog posts, answering leadership questions on email or skype.
It’s work I love, but if I can’t make a living doing it, I can’t continue.
Do you get excited when Circle Sanctuary takes on a local school principle discriminating against a Pagan student ? Good. But, where do they get the time to do that? How does Selena Fox have the time to call people going through a crisis, or go to their hospital to sit with them while they’re dying?
Circle charges money for events. The money they raise through events, and through donations, allows them to pay staffers to do this work full time.
Fear and Values
This goes back to values–what we value. What we spend money on. I get frustrated to tears when I see Pagans attend my classes and not donate anything, or donate on the lower end of a sliding scale ($5 for a full weekend of instruction, where the upper rate would be more like $150 a person) and then drop $5 on coffee, $25 on lunch, and $40 on a couple of books at the Pagan bookshop.
I don’t expect everyone to drop $150 on a weekend. That’s why it’s at the upper range of a sliding scale, which functions like a tithe. Those who can pay $5 are welcome. Those who can pay $75-$150 are paying into the scholarship fund, helping the less abundant to be able to attend.
If there’s 20 attendees, gas money is $100, and the space rental is $200 for the weekend, and I get $200, that means two things.
- Each person needs to pay around $25, but sliding scale means that folks who can only afford to pay $5 can attend as long as a few people are paying at the middle or top of the scale ($75-$150)
- It also means I’m making about $100 for four days of my time. Figure in an oil change, car insurance, and some money for inevitable car repairs. One day is spent traveling to the event, one traveling home, and then 2 days I’m teaching. That doesn’t count the hours spent working with the event organizers consulting on what classes to offer, crafting class descriptions, helping promote the event via Facebook and Email, or the time it takes me to prepare the classes.
I know that most groups out there can’t afford more. But if I can’t charge for my work, I can’t afford to do it. This isn’t about me and my challenges, this is about money and what we as individuals and as a community have decided we value, what we are willing to pay for. It’s about what resources we want for our community, for our future.
“If you charge for your work you aren’t really being spiritual.”
Having gone through several years living below the poverty line to be able to bring this work out to my community, I have a few four-letter words in mind for that sentiment.
There are many of us out there that just want to run an Imbolc or Beltane event without panicking the whole night before about whether we’ll break even on space rental. Others of us who want to teach and write and offer our skills up but we need to make a living if we’re going to devote our time to it.
“If you’re trying to get paid then you aren’t in it for service.”
“You could be doing other things for money and still serving your community.”
“If you were really dedicated to spirit, spirit would take care of you.”
“You shouldn’t expect any money for your work.”
“All spiritual work should be free.”
“If you’re really serving spiritual community, you wouldn’t need to advertise your services.”
“You should just be motivated by love for your community, not a paycheck.”
Would I do this work without pay? Yes, absolutely. I did, and I have. Where did it leave me? Financially stuck between a rock and a hard place. Yes, I made those choices, so I bear that responsibility, but, it’s not something I choose to do going forward.
What do you Value?
If you want to see the Pagan community mature, if you want more services and education available, or Pagan-focused meeting spaces and community centers, if you want advocates for Pagan rights…they have a cost. Do you value some of these things?
Think about your relationship to money, what you value. Begin talking about money in your community. Let’s move past this myth that Pagans are broke and explore our relationship to tithing, donating, and paying for needed services.
There’s the saying, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” I think that we can build amazing resources for future generations, if we can get past our shadows around money.
For further reading:
Here’s a blog post that I wrote going into more depth on this topic.
In the next days on my main blog http://www.shaunaaura.wordpress.com I’ll be posting a series on Pagan leadership, with several articles focusing on Pagans, fundraising, and paying for events.