I wrote this after reading a conversation among some of the organizers for NIPA, the Northern Illinois Pagan Alliance. They’ve been working for years to bring their local community together and offer services, and doing a great job. And they’re having the conversation many Pagan communities are having.
How do we pay for all this, and how do we make it sustainable?
I’m so excited to see the work that NIPA is doing. There are Pagans all over the country who have no place to go for various reasons, and helping Pagans in one area to have a place to connect and find “home” is such important work.
All Pagans are Broke
This is a topic I’ve been talking about for years to Pagans across the country, and I hear a few similar responses. One is the common myth that “All Pagans are broke” or the other common statement offered, “Pagans won’t pay for things like that.” Many Pagans are broke–unemployed, underemployed, on disability, etc. And, many aren’t. I think the enduring myth that “all” Pagans are broke leads to the fact that many Pagans have issues around money. There’s other factors, but for the purposes of this post, we’ll assume that this is one of the myths of money-related baggage that hampers us, but isn’t the direct topic.
First, let me put it out there that I’m a big fan of “Tithing,” or a similar form, sliding–scale Memberships. That doesn’t always make me popular with Pagans who grew up Christian and who felt pressured to put money into that collection plate. Or Christians who were part of churches where church staff would call them to make sure they “got right with God” and paid up on their tithing agreement. Or even Pagans who are afraid this is the model is where Paganism is headed.
But let’s look at the opposite side.
There’s a lot of smarmy churches out there–but there’s also a lot of churches out there doing really good work for community. UU churches are usually a good example of churches that are open, welcoming to diverse people, and who are working hard to provide a lot of services to their congregation. The church itself (land, building, maintenance) costs money. The salary for the minister, and for church staff, costs money. Even with a paid staff, a church of even a small congregation requires countless volunteer hours to ensure all their programming happens.
Where We Started
Looking at some other models, it’s easy to see how Paganism finds itself in the financial fix it’s in. For a long time, the most common “shape” of a Pagan group was the coven, usually based in some way on the Wicca that came out of Gardner/British Traditional Wicca. Built within those groups was the moral stricture that Priest/esses should not charge for what they were doing or teaching.
I have to imagine that, in these small groups, there was still a method of energetic exchange. I know how much work it had to have been to learn all that they needed to learn, prepare lessons, prepare rituals, teach people. And in a very small group, it’s likely that the other members of the coven helped to take some of the burden of the group as they learned more, or even helped with cleanup, doing dishes, cooking dinner, heck, even helping out with home repairs, gardening, or other things that needed doing.
As one Pagan clergy member once told me–“I don’t need to be paid for my work, but when I’m preparing lessons or rituals and taking 20-40 hours out of my week to teach, I don’t have time to clean my houses, cook, shop for groceries. Who will help me with that?” I have the feeling that, in the form of a small, close group of people of 3-13, these things worked themselves out because when the group is that small, people become close and tend to take care of one another.
The Impact of the Growth of Pagan Community
But then Paganism became more popular exponentially, and the books started coming out, and now there’s more Pagans than can be served by the coven model. In the past decades, what that’s given rise to is Pagan bookstores, open/public Pagan classes and rituals, and groups with lots of different shapes. There are groups that are larger than 13 people. There are lots of people not in groups but that want to find a group, or that are looking for education. Lots of different kinds of offerings (books, classes, festivals) cropped up for Pagans.You didn’t have to be part of a coven to learn things or connect with Pagan community.
What that has given rise to is, unfortunately, a very capitalist model of Paganism. What I mean by that is, different classes, stores, and festivals compete with one another for people’s dollars. And, (with some exceptions) only those who can afford to, can go to classes or festivals, or can buy things at the stores.
This at times enforces a polarity for Pagans–many Pagans who can’t afford the expensive classes, festivals, etc, complain that this stuff should be free.
The Pagans who are in the middle/upper class, who have better education and more money, seem to gravitate towards closed communities/groups that may charge more for events and meet occasionally through the year drawing people from a broad geographic area. These folks are less likely to take part in their local community. I’d go so far as to say a further polarization is that the folks with the most disposable income and education end up gravitating towards the New Age community, where they host similar education however it can cost 10 times as much or more.
Event Planning and Covering Costs
The trap is insidious. As a Pagan teacher and event planner, even if I’m just trying to cover the cost of an event I have to charge for it. If I’m renting space for a ritual, or making copies of class notes, or buying art supplies for an exercise, or my travel cost to get there, there’s an associated fee for that. Even if I believed that classes and rituals should be totally free (I don’t) there’s still the idea that I need to charge a fee to cover the cost. If you compare it to a church, the fee for renting a space is the equivalent of the fees needed to purchase/build the church, and maintain it.
I can tell you–I’ve run events where we had to pay out of pocket because not enough people donated.
And, after weeks of organizing, dropping flyers, and planning workshops and rituals and other offerings, having to pay out for the pleasure of working my butt off to pull off an event is the fastest way that we as leaders and teachers head to burnout.
I don’t believe that events should just cover the hard costs. I believe that those people who have done the work to learn the professional skills to be able to teach Pagan topics, learn how to facilitate the workshops professionally, and lead effective rituals, should be paid for their time. I believe that people who are putting in the time to organize an event, design a flyer, staff an event, should be paid for their time. I work hard to offer Pagan events, and I should be paid for my time, too.
Sliding Scale as a Model
In the midst of this conundrum–how do you offer classes available to those who can’t afford much, but also honor the value that expenses should be paid, and that teachers should be paid for their work? The Reclaiming tradition (co-founded by Starhawk) came up with using a sliding scale, with no one turned away for lack of funds.
This is blending capitalism (paying for classes) and tithing (paying based on what you can afford). It’s the model I’ve used for almost every workshop, ritual, and event I’ve offered, and I’ve had great success with it. I think that taking the model further, making it a true tithing model, corrects a lot of the capitalist/competetive flaws that many Pagan classes and groups face.
Paying for Clergy and Counseling
Beyond teaching classes and leading rituals, I also believe that the clergy folks who are counseling people through a crisis should be paid for their time. I’ve taken emergency “clergy calls” over time, and that’s not work we I paid for, even though it can take hours out of my day, or constitute me paying out of pocket to drive out to a hospital and spend time with someone. Therapists get paid for their time. Tarot readers and Reiki healers get paid for their time. Hospital chaplains and Ministers who are available full time to their congregation for their personal emergencies get paid for their time.
I’m not suggesting that, if you have an emergency, I take your credit card info over the phone and have you pay by the minute, any more than a firefighter should collect money before putting out a house fire. But…there needs to be a community support function where those who are getting services, are helping to support the structure that provides them that service. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary does a lot of clergy work for the Circle community including hospital visits and memorials. And through Circle, she has a structure that makes sure she’s fed and clothed while she’s doing this work.
Structure and Sense of Ownership
I should offer the caveat that few Pagan group leaders have done (or paid for) the kind of training needed to offer counseling and spiritual direction to their group members, but that’s changing. This kind of clergy training that we who lead groups, and who take clergy calls, should have. It’s not training that’s cheap, but it’s out there, and more and more Pagan leaders are seeking this education. This is a good thing for Paganism, but it does have a cost.
As Pagan groups change structure, especially in metro areas where groups like NIPA are working to serve the needs of a larger community, this format starts to look a lot more like a congregation (church) similar to a UU church, serving diverse faiths. However, in the case of most larger Pagan organizations, like the community work I’ve done in Chicago, or NIPA, or the various Pagan Unity Councils out there, it’s usually a really small group of people organizing for a lot of Pagans that show up, or don’t show up, depending on what their whim is.
Unlike a church, it’s usually a loose banding of people who have no “stake” in the organization, and they show up and pay the entrance fee for the class, ritual, or event, or they decide to not go to something because they don’t feel like it, there’s a concert they want to go to, they forget, they decide to watch tv, a family crisis comes up, or whatever keeps them from attending. But it’s still a capitalist model where people have other things competing for their attention. They can decide to attend, or not, and there’s not a co-ownership of the group, it’s just “Do I feel like attending that class/event?”
This model of community organizing has some flaws that need to be worked out to make it truly sustainable.
Types of Tithing
Public groups and Pagan community organizations are not the same shape as a coven, and the inherent energy-exchange of helping out your priest/ess with their dishes and gardening in exchange for training doesn’t really apply as easily as groups get larger. I would consider services rendered to a priest/ess in a coven to be a form of tithing. If I’m part of the coven, if I’m getting training, and I want to do something to help the group out and I’m giving my time towards this, that’s tithing my time and energy of my labors.
The old, old models of, paying the shaman/medicine woman/healer for their time with a chicken or a fur or by getting clean water for them, doesn’t really work so well in a modern context. But that’s a form of tithing too. The shaman does what s/he does in healing the tribe or giving counsel. The woodworker offers what he has, the metalsmith offers what she has, the hunter and the gatherer and the farmer offers what they have. It’s an even exchange of skills, a barter. The close-knit community of a tribe or clan supports one another by offering their time and energy and expertise.
With a church, let’s take a UU church as an example again, the whole congregation is built on the foundation of tithing members. Tithing members “buy in” to the church. The term “buying in” is both literal and metaphorical–they’re in agreement with what the church is offering and want to be a part of it, and they’re backing that up by putting in their money.
It’s more convenient than bringing over a chicken a week anyways.
Getting out of the Trap
If Pagan organizations want to get out of the trap of either being stuck offering things in a capitalist model (only those who can pay, and who are interested enough, come to events when they feel like it) or offering things that are only free (choosing inconvenient venues with no cost, or leaders paying out of pocket for events) there needs to be a different model of how we pay for all this.
The model I’m working towards with my organization Ringing Anvil is a sliding-scale membership fee. The word tithe comes from tenth, the idea that people would donate 10% of their income to the church, but I think it’s often more commonly used to indicate that a percentage, based on your income, is given to XYZ organization. With a sliding scale model, people can self select what they can afford.
Some organizations charge an annual fee that is flat, like $200, to be a member of the organization. I recognize that that isn’t possible for everyone, especially with something like 10% or more being unemployed. What I hope to do is move over to a membership fee, instead of charging for events. An example is a sliding scale of $1-$100. Those who are doing well can put in $100 a year, or more. Those who are students, unemployed, on disability, etc, can pay in the $1-$25 range. It’s possible that there might be ways where people can offer a good or service in trade that could be auctioned off–hand-made crafts, tarot readings, etc.
This kind of membership is essentially based on the tithing/percentage model. You give what you’re able to.
What’s crucial is getting people to buy-in to the organization. They will have co-ownership of what goes on in the organization. I’m trying to engage people not as occasional attendees, but as regular members who care about what’s going on with the group, people who will volunteer for events, attend events, and get all that they can out of it. It’s not about, “I’m not interested in that class so I’m not paying for it,” it’s, “I want to make sure that diverse education is offered to myself and other members of the community and I’m putting forth some money to make sure that education happens.”
I find there’s a spiritual apathy that happens when someone has twenty events they could attend, but isn’t a member of any organization and thus has no community connection reason to attend something. When we tithe together, work together, we become a spiritual family, we have an obligation to one another, and we can connect and grow together.
For an idea of how a tithing/membership-based community organization could look like:
- The organization takes annual memberships on a sliding scale. This builds up a kitty of funds.
- Monthly rituals use some of those funds for space rental, but perhaps donations are also accepted at the rituals. Maybe there’s also a bake sale, auction, or divination done at some of these monthly rituals to raise additional funds. Ideally, each ritual at least pays for the space, and possibly puts a few bucks back into the kitty.
- The group runs an annual fundraiser (Witch’s Ball, carnival, pennywar) to bring in funds for special projects, or to replenish the group funds.
- The community decides that there’s enough new folks coming in that it needs to put on a rolling Pagan 101 class, offering basic skills and tools for Pagans and introducing Pagans to the various different traditions, as well as introducing new Pagans to the 11-12 different groups in the area so that they can help the newer folks figure out what type of Pagan, Heathen, Wiccan, Druid, Shaman, or other, they might be. The community finds teachers who can teach this, and decide on a fee to pay them for their time. Space is rented for the class. This comes out of the group funds. Donations are accepted at the class, but it’s assumed that the classes will lose money. This is decided to be an acceptable loss in order to bring this important education out to all who seek it.
- More advanced classes are planned. These classes are organized by people within the organization who want further learning in a particular topic, or who want to bring in a specific presenter. Let’s say for example that a number of folks in the group want to take some of John and Caitlin Matthews Celtic Shamanism classes.
- Funds are stewarded for this class; those who want the education donate towards this class, and also engage in a bake sale in order to raise additional funds to bring this education. They also reach out to surrounding areas to find more people who might be willing to travel 3-5 hours to attend something like this. Once enough funds are raised to make the class feasible, a venue is chosen and the date for the class is set. Because enough people were committed to attending the class ahead of time and had already paid in, additional registrants from the surrounding area helped the class to make a few hundred dollars to put into the group funds.
- Another group of people want more education on runework. They explore which presenter they might like to bring into town for this, and decide upon Diana Paxson. They follow a similar pattern as the group before, but discover that this class isn’t generating as much interest. They can cover most of the costs, but it looks like the class will operate at a loss. They decide that the education is worth it and operate at an acceptable loss. They also agree that those who learn the runework will do free readings at some of the upcoming rituals as a fundraiser to help pay for the class after the fact and replenish group funds.
- A member of the congregation decides they would like to get leadership training to better serve the group. Perhaps they want to take a class at Cherry Hill Seminary or Earth Traditions online, or perhaps they want to do a weeklong intensive in mediation and conflict resolution. They can’t afford the class all on their own, and the reason they want to take the class is to serve the group. The organization decides to help sponsor this person, taking some money from the group funds, but also holding a special fundraiser. In exchange, once the member has finished the class, they offer a free session for the community on some of the things they learned, and they offer this skillset to the group.
- After a few years, the group has a stable enough tithing membership, and has enough work, that they realize a couple of folks are needed on a full time basis to do the administrative and leadership work of the group. The group has already been offering a small stipend to the folks regularly planning the rituals. They discuss together to find who might be willing to do this work part time or full time, and agree upon a salary for this person’s work. The person is hired, and is now accountable to the organization for their work. Perhaps this person discovers that they need additional training in the clergy arts, such as counseling. The congregation votes and sets aside funds to help pay for this training so that the staff member can better service the organization.
- The organization has been collecting funds in a special account earmarked for purchasing a community center. Community members have already been doing collaborative gardening, growing food to be eaten at community gatherings, and taking the food waste from the monthly potluck and composting that food waste to be used in the community garden. The new community space has enough yard for a more extensive garden. The congregation checks out the space, decides that this is the right space, and engages in some additional fundraising to purchase the space. This group now has a community center–a church–that all can use, and all in the organization have bought into it, whether for the $1 they could afford on unemployment, or for the $1000 they saved after getting a raise at work.
- etc, etc.
Looking to the Future
This isn’t where many groups are today–but, with groups working to bring Pagans together and offer services, it’s a possibility. There are Pagan organizations formed in a congregation model that are pretty close to this place, like Gaia Community in Kansas City, which formed its leadership based on UU principles, as well as through skills and tools learned at Diana’s Grove. They had a financial endowment sufficient to explore buying a church, though the property they found ended up not being sufficient.
Other Pagan groups have done fundraising to get Pagan delegates to the the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, or fund The Wild Hunt blog, or fund various Pagan musicians to help them create their music.
This model of collaborative fundraising for communities/goals is possible, and would have the opportunity of providing more, and better, services, for our growing communities. It depends largely on our ability in Pagan community to learn to get along and get past the egotism and interpersonal bashing that has gone on in the past; so many of us have been through it, and it happens again and again. It doesn’t have to.
It also requires Pagans reframing how they see money.
Money is Energy
Money is a tool, a form of energy. You work for X number of hours, and you have Y number of dollars to show for it. I think that if we respected money as our energy, we’d spend it differently. If you look at a lot of things you spend money on, and actually think about how many hours you needed to work for that, you might wonder if it was really worth it.
I advise people who are working to reframe their relationship to money to operate in cash, with small denomination bills, for a month. Feel the money in your hands, and do the math to know if $10 represents an hour of your time, or two hours, or however it breaks down. For extra credit, factor in the amount of time that you don’t get paid for, like travel to work, and see how your hourly take-home pay is impacted. Ie, an 8-hour day making $10 an hour, is actually something closer to $7 an hour after taxes, and if you add in 2 hours of commute, your 10 hour day made you $56. If you subtract $6 for bus fare/gas money, you’re making $5 an hour. Or something like that.
Pagans and Things They Pay For
Did you know that some Pagan/New Age stores count on the fact that a new Pagan will spend something like $200-$500 in their first year buying supplies like athames, statues, cauldrons, herbs, and other things that intro to Paganism books “tell” them they need, and that within 3 years, the amount of money the person spends will drop off as they realize they don’t need all those tools to do spiritual work? The paradox here is, it’s important for us to have Pagan stores, as so many of us doing community work depend on being able to offer classes or rituals at those stores. Those stores make money by selling books, supplies, and jewelry. So again, we’re stuck in the capitalist trap.
I’ve also seen people grumble about donating $25 to a weekend-long (16-20 hours of instruction) class I was teaching on ritual arts, and then drop $25 on a meal during our lunch hour. People have attended a class and say they couldn’t afford to donate, but during the break time they bought $40 in books and jewelry at the store. I’m not angry at people for this. In fact, I don’t even think that they realized they were willing to spend money on lunch that they weren’t willing to spend on a class.
I fully hold the paradox of, respecting someone’s choice as to where they spend their money, but also feeling sad that some people didn’t realize that they were, by their actions, valuing a meal over the time I spent organizing, preparing, and teaching the class. After paying for venue rental and some supplies, I think I ended up with $30 left. It’s a good thing my co-facilitator had a free airline credit, or I’d have had to pay out of pocket $200 or so for the two days I spent teaching, and for the weeks of planning and organizing.
I believe that we need to look at money as a resource to steward. Some of us have more of it, some have less. Some of us spend our money and could reduce spending to give $5 to our local Pagan organization. For me it’s a matter of values–not an abstract philosophical concept, but value–what do I value, what do I spend my money on?
If you’re unwilling to spend money on a Pagan workshop, but have no problems spending $50 on a Pentacle necklace with a moonstone, that’s worth exploring. You can clearly mark what you value more, what you’re willing to spend money on. If you find you balk at giving $5 a month to your Pagan organization, but you spend $5 a day on coffee, you might look at what you value. If you’re barely making ends meet and only wish you had $5 to give to your local organization, maybe you can offer something in work trade or donate something like a necklace you’ve made, a book you’re done reading, a tarot reading, to help the organization raise money.
I think that Pagans need to look at what services we want and need, and, how we’re going to make it happen. I think that the model of Paganism that’s coming is collaborative community organizations where people bring in different skills. Some of those are specifically clergy skills–ritual leadership, teaching, counseling, interfaith work, leadership and community organizing, and more. As more Pagan priest/esses find themselves wanting the more robust education of Pagan seminary, and as Pagan seminaries become available, Pagan leaders are finding themselves in the position of paying out-of-pocket for leadership training, when in their local Pagan community, they will be able to use these skills, but not ever be paid for them.
I’m not proposing that Pagan leaders and clergy need a huge salary, but it takes a lot of time to offer Pagan services to a community, and even the reduced cost education available via Cherry Hill and other emerging Pagan clergy training is still a lot of money to put in if you can’t ever make a living doing what you love.
Living Simply but Earning a Living
I can speak for myself here–I’ve taken a vow of simplicity, which means, I don’t spend money unless I really have to, I don’t spend money on the “expected” amenities or the “Oh, you’re really not a grown up until you have a new couch and drapes and live in your own house” kinds of costs. I spend money on the things I really value. I live as cheaply as possible–a cheap, tiny apartment, thrifted clothes, a lot of things found on Craigslist. I use as little electricity and gas as possible, turning off the lights, line-drying my clothes, and weatherizing my apartment. I try to not spend my money on things I don’t value–fast food, food with chemicals and preservatives, cleaning supplies with toxic chemicals, anything supporting the styrofoam/plastic industry. In general, I reduce my consumption and consume as little as possible both to reflect my values on simplicity, and to reflect my values of ecological sustainability.
If I were able to earn $5,000-$10,000 a year to do Pagan events, classes, and rituals–doing the work I’m called to–I’d be ecstatic. I’d be thrilled. I’ve lived on less for years now. To earn a living as a Pagan leader, vs. needing income from other places, is one of my dreams, and I’ve given up a lot of amenities to make it happen.
Why Isn’t It Free?
A big place I spend my limited resources is on gas money and car repairs. That’s not something I value, but I value being able to travel and teach so it’s an inherent cost based on what I do as a traveling Pagan teacher.
I’m not a big famous Pagan; I travel a lot to teach Pagan leadership and ritual arts to help local communities better serve their groups. Sometimes I get paid, and I’m thrilled when that happens. The more car repairs I incur, though, the more I have to start insisting on getting paid at least something beyond gas money. I wish I could teach for free, but I can’t.
When I began traveling and teaching, I paid out of pocket for my gas money, as well as car repairs, plus (in some cases) paying to get into festivals. As I gained more of a solid reputation as a teacher, I’m now in a position where some festivals and events pay for my travel costs and I get in for free. Other larger events, I still pay my travel costs, hotel, and in some limited cases, I pay the admission fee at the event.
Teaching these skills and tools is important work to me and I’m excited to be able to offer them. But what it amounts to is, I have spent hours and hours driving around the country, and teaching. I’ve essentially been paying to take my own time to teach in the form of my time, gas money, occasional hotel, and in car repairs.
At times the wear and tear to my old minivan made it almost undriveable. Traveling to Indianapolis Pagan Pride the alternator died and I almost didn’t make it home.
Caring For Community Resources
Pagan elders across the country face this conundrum. Those like Oberon Zell who gave their lives over to this work struggle to make ends meet; if he didn’t sell his artwork/sculptures/jewelry, they wouldn’t have enough to live on, much less pay for his and Morning Glory’s cancer treatments. In fact, several Pagan leaders now have died or undergone severe medical issues without enough money to pay for those. Pagan authors are not rolling in the dough.
We need a better system than capitalism to not only grow our communities, but to serve the new Pagan seekers, adequately pay the leaders, teachers, and clergy, and ensure that spiritual services are available for seekers at various abilities to pay. It’s possible. It’s happening. And we can be a part of it. And it requires looking at both new and old models of doing things, and shedding some of our cultural baggage around money.
Think about this. If 50 people tithed to a Pagan organization paying just $5 a month, that’s $250 a month. Let’s assume some folks can afford $1, and some can afford $10. $250 can pay for a lot of services and space rental. Over the course of a year, that’s $3,000. If you’re saving towards buying/renting a community center, or putting on a class, a little goes a long way, but it takes that group of people who not only have the vision for the group and are willing to put in the work, but the people who want the services and are willing to buy into the organization and put a little time and money and effort into it too.
As Margaret Mead (and many others) have said, a small, committed group of people can change the world.
Or, in this case, a small committed group of people can grow a healthy and sustainable organization that serves their spiritual needs as well ass makes it easier for the new Pagans to come in. But we need structures, we need leadership training, and we need people to buy into and support these organizations to make them grow stronger over time.