Sunday, April 11, 2010

Boundaries, Charlatans and Free Magic: still MORE about Money and Spirituality

On his excellent blog Rune Soup, Gordon has posted a thought-provoking piece on The Five Laws of Occult Economics: Why We Suck at Money.  I am only going to respond to one of the many salient points he made, but would urge you to read the article and learn from it.

In the section, "Price moves to the marginal cost of production," Gordon points out:
Books. Anything you write I can find for free. Legally. Because it costs nothing to produce and price moves to the marginal cost of production. So, if the cost of producing occult texts is free, what does that tell you about your ability to make money from it? You’re going to need to precisely locate the value of your text in my life. Are you a world famous race car driver? Did you discover Atlantis? Did you impregnate the daughter of the former governor of Alaska? Because if you are just some guy then this is not your golden ticket.
Being an Elder (?!). You want me to pay you money so you can talk at me? But that fat guy in the velvet cape on the other side of the festival is giving it away for free. I’ll have to think about it.
Having some experience on the subject, I can categorically state that there are indeed costs involved with producing a book.  Even a channeled transmission requires the time and effort to transcribe it, proofread for grammatical and spelling errors, typeset it (or code it to HTML for the web) and publish it online or offline.  When you're talking about writing an annotated text on a topic you have to add in the cost of research, which is significant both in terms of time and money. Scholarly journals and peer-reviewed books from academic publishers ain't cheap, nor do they generally make for easy reading.

Nor can just anyone write a coherent, useful and readable book (or website, or, for that matter, blog post) on a topic occult or otherwise. Writing is a skill which requires a certain facility with language, an interest in studying the subjects of which you write, and the ability to make them interesting and clear to your prospective audience. 

As far as the fat guy in the velvet cape goes, I'd say this is a perfect example of "free is often worth exactly what you paid for it."  There are thousands of free Pagan websites out there. Most of them have spinning pentagrams, tinny .wav files of bad music, damn-near-illegible fonts on sparkly backgrounds and content which was cut-and-pasted from other equally atrocious sites.  Sure, you can get to "Lady Dymwitte's And It Harme Nunne Site for thee Olde Religione" without spending anything. But how much use (in other words, how much value) will you get from it?

Pagan businesses might do well to focus on serious occultists who want something more than what they can get from a Google search and who already know what the fat guy in the velvet cape has to teach them how the Pumpkin-Eating Druids called the Quarters to the great goddess Isis-Astarte-Diana-Hecate-Demeter-Kali-Inanna.   (In other words, they realize he's full of something which isn't likely to be mistaken for unconditional love, light and wisdom any time soon). 

On other forums I've seen several people express concern about charlatans taking advantage of well-meaning innocents. I agree that there's definitely a risk of people playing variants of the old "you must bring me nine $100 bills to lift this horrible family curse" scam in the name of Wicca. But there are plenty of ways you can take advantage of people other than lightening their wallets.  I'm sure we've all run into "High Priests" whose primary interest in the Craft revolves around skyclad women who want to perform the Great Rite.  And then there are the folks who get into the religion for the power trip: just because you're not getting paid for your services doesn't mean you aren't getting something out of your teacher-student relationship.

Which brings us to a post that Frater POS made in his blog (although he has since modified his stance a bit):
RO posted something about teachers wanting to be taken care of in the pagan community. F*** them. If they got into spirituality to be paid by adoring acolytes then frankly they have little of value to teach.
"Being paid" and having "adoring acolytes" are two separate things. As I noted above, there are lots of bad reasons for someone setting up shop as a teacher. Money is just one of them: the desire to have acolytes who see you as powerful (or who will have sex with you, or at least let you see them naked) can be equally corrosive.

In fact, I might argue that "client/employer" is a healthier role for all concerned than "acolyte/devotee"  I have had a few fans try and draft me into service as their guru and spiritual leader. They figured I, like Jesus, could heal their ills if only they worshiped me hard enough.  Unfortunately, I have no aptitude for turning water into wine or feeding multitudes with loaves and fishes: neither do I have Mary Magdalene's personal e-mail address. And given the way things worked out for JC, I really have no interest in taking over his job anyway.

The exchange of money for services helps set boundaries and establish an appropriate relationship with a client. When you purchase a reading from me, I am your employee, not your savior. You know what you can expect - an honest divination given to the best of my abilities, and even some follow-up work to see how my suggestions are working out for you. You are not entitled to my infinite compassion, unconditional love and tireless labors on your behalf. I am obligated to treat your case seriously and read the cards honestly. I am not obligated to treat all of your problems as my problems, or to neglect my needs in order to take care of yours.

I think this is healthier for everyone concerned. It reinforces to the client that they are going to have to do their own work to solve their problems. It reinforces to the reader that their role and their abilities are limited. And it helps us avoid that ugly situation wherein we put someone on a pedestal only to knock them down when they don't live up to our unrealistic expectations. (Been there, done that, and from both ends of the equation too). One of the nicest things about being a professional is the ability and right to maintain a professional distance.