Should Pagan teachers charge? How are we going to pay for all the Pagan events and initiatives out there? I see those questions come up a lot. I also see some Pagans viciously attack anyone who charges for classes or events.
Context is important, and I’d offer that there’s a range of what we mean when we say, charging for classes and services.
I charge for what I do. I travel and teach, I host events. There’s a cost–a hard cost (venue rental, gas money) and a soft cost (time).
I charge for readings too. But, I also do rather a lot for free. In fact, most of the time even when I’m charging, I’d say I ultimately end up at a financial loss.
I think it would be useful to look at the range of contexts. In fact, let’s also just look at the math.
First–a quick plea for assistance. I’m in the final days of my Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a car so I can continue traveling and teaching leadership and writing articles like this. I’m offering cool perks from $1 and up, including leadership resources. Every dollar helps me to get a safe, reliable vehicle for those long road trips. If my writing is useful to you, please consider contributing so I can keep doing this work. If everyone who read my blog this week contributed $1-$5, I’d have a pretty reliable car. http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/leadership-education-and-writing-for-pagan-community/
Let’s look at a priest/ess hosting coven classes and rituals out of their home. Small group, let’s say there’s 5-15 people. I think most of the time folks like this are not charging hard cash for their classes and rituals. However, let’s look at the costs they are incurring, both hard costs and soft costs.
Hard costs: Any ritual supplies. Candles. Food, if they are hosting. Printouts of class materials. Possibly gas money for going out to buy supplies.
Soft costs: The time spent preparing their space for guests, doing dishes and cleaning up after. Event hosting out of your home may be free, but it can take a lot of time to prepare for. There’s also the impact on the host house’s family; if members of the family have to stay out of the living room, or leave the house entirely, there’s an emotional and time cost there too. There’s also the additional time incurred running errands.
Additional soft costs: the time it takes to prepare the lessons and rituals, as well as the inevitable pastoral counseling. If you’re working with a small group of people and you are the designated leader, eventually people are going to come to you for advice on their problems in their lives. Depending on the people and the group, this might be just a little time out of your day, or it might be multiple hours-long counseling sessions each week.
A member of the ADF clergy once said this very succinctly. “I don’t want to charge for my services, however, this is taking more and more of my time. If I’m cleaning my house after a gathering and spending several hours a week counseling people, I don’t have time to do my normal work. This is cutting into time I need to work my full time job. Something has to give. If you’re not going to pay me so I can work less hours, are you going to come over and do my dishes for me after a gathering here? Are you going to help me with the cleaning I don’t get done because I’m doing free counseling? Are you going to bring candles? Are you going to bring food?”
But Real Witches Never Charged
That’s not true at all. I think if we look back to our ancestors, the Witch/Shaman/Druid/Priest/Healer of the tribe was getting paid, in the form of a tithe from the tribe for their upkeep. It might be in the form of a chicken or a fur or a seat at the dinner table, or help building their home, but it was still payment.
Money is not a dirty thing. Money represents your time that you spent laboring. It represents energy. So, a small group clergy leader like this might need to take donations to help with hard costs like supplies, but they also might need to ask for help with some of the things that they don’t have time for if they’re prepping lessons and doing one-on-one counseling.
I don’t think it’s at all out of bounds for a coven leader to ask group members to help them with light cleaning and dishes, or, with the occasional larger house project like painting a living room. It’s an energy exchange. Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that some group leaders can become highly unethical about this. In a more unethical, cult-like group, the group leader might demand service, monetary donations, or even sexual favors. And I think that’s a little bit of why Pagans end up with such a squick about asking for help with cleaning, or asking for money…because some people do abuse this.
Costs of Running Public Events
The next level up in expenses is more along the lines of what I do–running public rituals/larger group events. This one is pretty easy to outline.
Venue Rental: Some groups are able to use parks or forest preserves for free, that doesn’t really work for where I’m doing rituals. When I host a public ritual in Chicago, it can cost me rather a lot of money. And I’ve lost my shirt on event space rental fees when I didn’t get enough donations. Right now my venue rental is about $300 a day.
Ritual supplies: Candles, rubbing alcohol and Epsom salts for a cauldron fire (or firewood)
Longer term ritual supplies: Fabric for the tables, ritual decorations, extra ritual wear for people taking roles. These are things I’ve paid for out of pocket and “loan” to the group/event.
Web site: Meetup.com costs something like $15 or so a month, and web hosting can cost $50 or more a year. I finally dumped Meetup.com just this past year, but it was a consistent expense.
Potluck food: If I’m hosting a potluck, I still need to bring a few core offerings. Some events, the donations to the potlucks have been pretty sparse.
What do I Charge?
What I typically do for my public events is ask for a sliding scale donation, $5-$25, no one turned away for lack of funds. I’m offering one of the only public rituals in Chicagoland, so I feel it’s important to keep making these available no matter what people can pay. At the same time, I can’t afford to lose money on an event.
It’s utterly and completely unfair to ask clergy that have been putting in hours and hours to plan an event, and then host it, and clean it up, to also spend money to cover the costs. And yet, when I teach Pagan leadership workshops, so many leaders fess up to me that they not only put in the time, but they float the venue rental costs and other costs because when they ask for donations, “People bitch, they complain, they throw big drama fits, and then nobody comes to the events.”
I admire the folks who do this–even while I lament and regret that they continue supporting and enabling a dysfunctional pattern in our community. I myself am not in a financial position to do this. If my events don’t break even, I will have to stop doing them.
Yup, I charge for these. Why? Tarot readings, or when I facilitate shamanic/trance journeys for people, are a lot of work. Whether I’m traveling to do this at someone’s home, or getting my own home ready for them, that’s work too. I could be spending my time working on other projects on my endless to do list. It takes a lot of my personal energy to do reading work. So yeah, I charge. I also charge for my artwork, and I enjoy painting a lot more than I enjoy doing readings.
Pastoral counseling or emergency leadership assistance and mediations:
Well, no, I don’t charge for that. Someone asks me for help, I will do my best to help them. People ask me some crazy questions, and sometimes it’s way beyond my ability to help them. But all of that still takes my time away from things that could bring in money. If someone has a leadership disaster, I’m going to give them my time. But that might take 1-2 hours out of my working day, and that’s time I won’t get to spend working on other projects that might bring in income.
I’ll do a mediation for free, but again, I can’t pay the gas money out of pocket. And while I wouldn’t demand a payment, I also wouldn’t refuse it, because it’s taking my time to do that. I’ve driven 4-5 hours for mediation work, which meant I was gone for 2 days. That 2 days has an impact on my life. Even 2 hours has an impact on my life.
I charge for this too. However, it’s not really very lucrative. At least, not yet. Even so, bringing me into town is something that’s barely at or beyond the financial abilities of most groups. Here’s some examples:
I used to travel and teach at festivals and events for free. Ie, I’d drive from Chicago to Madison or Indianapolis and I’d eat the cost of gas, in order to teach free workshops. But as more and more people asked me to teach for them, I had to start asking at least for gas money. It added up really quickly.
Nowadays, if I’m teaching at a festival, I typically get in for free, I get a place to stay, I get gas money, and the ability to vend for free.
However, what doesn’t that pay for? It doesn’t pay for my oil change. Or for the $500 repairing breaks and other wear and tear. It doesn’t pay for my handouts or my time. I get a little money from vending my artwork, but not a lot. In other words–I’m still operating at a loss, technically.
When teaching a weekend intensive, here are the financial terms I’ve laid out in the past, though I’m finding that I have to reconsider the numbers because I’m still operating at a loss. I’ve worked hard to make my work affordable for local organizers. In the past, I’ve said, I need gas money and a place for stay, and if I can make $200 beyond that for the weekend, that would be great. But, most of the places that I teach, aren’t able to afford that.
And given my experiences of how much car repairs have cost me and that 75% or more of my car use is for traveling and teaching, that’s no longer enough money for a weekend class to “break even.”
Balancing the Scales
I value teaching and sharing my knowledge. I’d do it for free if I could. But I can’t. This is my calling, my life’s work. I love doing this work. But it means I live off of almost nothing.
Yes, I’m (now) a published author, but that has not yet begun to supplement my income. I won’t get into the complexities of publishing, royalties, or how long it takes to actually make money as an author. Most Pagan authors aren’t making as much as you think, and even my fiction books are just going to take a while to gain an audience because of how publishing works these days.
There are Pagan teachers who charge $1,500 a weekend plus travel. There’s teachers that charge more. Truthfully, I can see why that’s a reasonable fee now that I’m doing that, because that income would pay for all the other work that I do that’s unpaid.
Pastoral counseling is unpaid. Writing educational blog posts is unpaid. Writing articles is (usually) unpaid. Running rituals is unpaid. Writing books is…a little paid. But when you look at how much work goes into writing and editing a book, much less promoting it…you’re getting pennies for your time.
I wish there was a better way. Truly I do. I like the old-fashioned tithing model, where those that can afford to pay more do so, so that those who can’t can still get spiritual services. But it’s a tricky balance, and there’s a lot of factors.
Challenges with Money
One challenge is, the unethical leaders/teachers charging for their work are really, really visible, and that leaves a sour taste in people’s mouths. There’s also just a numbers game; there’s simply not enough Pagans in any one region to support full-time paid clergy. Keep in mind that it takes all the annual fundraising efforts of Circle Sanctuary and Pagan Spirit Gathering to pay for 2 staff members, among their other annual expenses to maintain their property.
I think about all the good work Circle is doing, and how much more they could do with more paid staff or more financial resources for other projects. And I suppose that’s one of the core issues here–more and more Pagans want the benefits of an infrastructure. And infrastructure requires money. There’s no way around it.
Something else to consider is the cost of clergy training. More and more Pagans are finding themselves called to get training as ritual leaders, prison ministers, pastoral counselors, death midwives. Which is good, because we’ve had hordes of Pagan leaders doing pastoral counseling for decades without any training and that’s a bad idea.
But that training has a cost. Ministerial training has a cost, mediation training has a cost. There’s time, and there’s the cost of the classes, the cost of the textbooks. So you pay for all that training, and then you can’t charge for the work you do to recoup your cost.
A Unitarian Universalist minister can go to seminary, get student loans, and then has a job when they leave the ministry so they can pay back any student loans and have a viable income. Paid clergy does not equal largesse and abuse. But, the Pagan community just can’t really support it. Not yet. Not til we have larger numbers, or, more concentrated communities like a communal living arrangement.
Similarly why we can’t have community centers/physical churches/temple spaces. There’s just not enough numbers to support it yet.
However, I think there’s also a deeper issue of values.
Do Pagans Value Events and Education?
By values, I don’t mean, I value world peace. By values, I mean, what I value–what I am willing to pay for through money, or time and work. And money is time. Money represents time I spent doing work.
Going out on a limb, I wonder about one of the imperatives in some religions to:
- Procreate, and
What if those imperatives were largely to speed up the process by which that religious traditions had enough numbers to gain political strength and build infrastructure. Seriously. If you look at it sociologically, there’s just some things you can’t do until you have a big enough population base in an area.
That being said, one of the challenges in Pagan community is that many Pagans seem to value that $5 cup of coffee more than making sure local rituals happen, or that there is access to more in-depth classes. There’s a big difference between someone who is barely making it financially who really cannot afford to pay, and someone who could, but doesn’t value paying.
For that matter, because Pagan communities don’t have great infrastructure, we also don’t really have good support structures for the people who are dead broke and who need help. I’ve heard of a number of Pagans who have gone back to the religion of their youth specifically because their church had services and assistance to help them get out of the financial situation they were in.
Where do we go?
I don’t have the answers here, I just have more questions. I’m always asking, how can I get Pagans to value ritual, to value education, to value personal growth work, to value leaders getting leadership training? Or, is it something that my community really actually just doesn’t value, and I should quit trying to offer such work in the form of classes and community rituals? How often can Pagan leaders and organizers and teachers keep barking up the wrong tree before we give up? Or do we really just need to wait a few generations to have enough numbers?
For further exploration on this topic, below is a longer article I wrote several years ago on a potential model for Pagan community fundraising. https://shaunaaura.wordpress.com/2010/10/13/how-do-we-pay-for-all-this-memberships-tithing-and-pagans/
Tomorrow I’ll post a Part 3 in this series on a few fundraising methods that I’ve seen work.