Saturday, April 3, 2010

Paying for Initiations, Paying for Services, Paying for Spirituality

A question recently arose on the Yahoo group Witch Essentials about paying for initiations. Gaia, the moderator, is a Wiccan priestess and noted that in Wicca charging money for initiations is strictly forbidden. I pointed out that initiation into Vodou is extremely labor and resource-intensive. Drummers must be hired for several nights, and large quantities of herbs, liquor, animals, flowers and other supplies must be procured. Several people will need to be near the djevo (initiatory chamber) throughout the week-long ceremony.  Holding this for free would soon bankrupt the house:  as it is, most houses in my experience are lucky to break even after a kanzo ceremony.  While I don't know the specifics of Wiccan initiation, I've been led to believe that the process is considerably less costly in terms of time and material requirements.

My understanding is that Gardner's proscriptions against charging for services were rooted in his concerns about England's Witchcraft law. At that time Britain was just getting over a Spiritualism craze, which had ended with quite a few "mediums" cheating little old widows out of their pensions and the like. The authorities assumed anyone who was identifying as a witch was doing so to bilk the gullible. By prohibiting witches from making money off the Craft, Gardner hoped to separate himself from the seedy con artists. (It also helped that most of Gardner's coven came from a social class where they didn't need to make a living selling charms and spells: he was a retired civil servant and solidly middle-class, unlike the hedge witches and cunning men of the day).

After reading through reams of advertisements for Ascended Master Vacations, Sacred Peruvian Quartz Crystal Magic Wands, Mongolian Spiritual Herb Baths and the like, I can definitely see some merit to ol' Gerald's proscription.  I am well aware that the Kanzo ceremony could easily become yet another vacation opportunity for someone seeking to add to their collection of "life-changing spiritual experiences." Instead of a sign that one is committed to the lwa, a kanzo could become a sign that you had sufficient disposable income and accrued vacation time. And there are plenty of spiritual con artists who will happily fleece the sheep for anything they can get.  I've talked to plenty of people who have lost thousands of dollars trying to bring back a lost love. I've even run into a few who were convinced I had to be a fraud because I didn't want large sums of money to do the work!

But I've also seen the "Witches do not charge for services" degenerate into "no Witch should charge ME for acting as my 24/7 on-call teacher, counselor and spiritual leader" and then to "no deity has the right to expect any kind of sacrifice from me."   Along the way the universe is transformed from a place of glory and terror into a great training-school that exists solely to lead the mystic to Enlightenment. The deities become what Raven Kaldera has called "the great Barbie dolls who give you stuff." And many capable, enthusiastic Pagan clergyfolk burn out and withdraw from the community after their starry-eyed idealism runs headlong into their students' sense of entitlement.

There are two great lessons to be found in the runes Fehu and Gebu: the payment for services rendered and the gift which is given in anticipation of future favors. Both runes are (like all the runes) primal forces which shape our world, our society and our lives and both are intimately connected with rights and responsibilities.  Fehu teaches us that very worker is owed a proper wage: Gebo teaches that every worthwhile gift comes with obligations attached.  Those who don't understand that should meditate on the laws of Thermodynamics, which teach us that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction.

That exchange does not have to involve a set fee given in exchange for your degree. You can pay your initiator and your coven back by contributing your time and your wisdom to the Craft. ("Ask not what Wicca can do for you, but what you can do for Wicca").  And you can remember the debt you owe when your initiator falls on hard times. As Isaac Bonewits, who has weathered several financial storms and health issues, said:
Neopaganism cannot survive as a movement if 99% of us remain takers most of the time and only 1% are givers. I have been delighted to meet some of that 1%, but we need to increase that percentage dramatically over the next several years, or some of Pagandom’s best known elders are going to be living—and possibly dying—on the streets...
The gods who sustain you, and the teachers who initiate you, have given you a tremendous gift. It is fitting for you to recognize that and to respond accordingly. Gardner said that your initiators and high priestesses can't ask you for money: common courtesy says that they should not have to do so. If we want to be harbingers of a New Age and founders of a new magical community, we are going to have to accept our responsibilities to our community and to those who work to build and sustain it.


Alexandra said...

There are a number of problems when you charge for services, some of them you already touched on a previous article. I see no issue in paying for the props required in a initiation rite, however, if someone starts to rely on initiation services among other things of a purely spiritual nature, to survive and make a living, then that person is commercializing her craft. You speak of the pagan who wants to have everything handed out for free, yet you dont speak on the spiritual "master" who turned her/his spirituality into a trade and that to get more costumers in order to pay bills doesnt disclose all information, promisses things that he/she can't deliever and so on. This is, in my book, shamefull. The instruction should indeed be given free for the one who is recieving a gift is not only the one who is being imparted with knowledge but also the one who is furthering his education by teaching someone else and also doing his duty as a custodian of a given tradition. Remember, a teacher/student relationship is not unilateral, far from it.

I remember Isaac Bonewits and his appeals to the pagan community. One of them was because he and his wife couldnt hire a moving company to take their furniture with them. Go figure.

Galina Krasskova said...

You wouldn't balk at paying your doctor, manicurist, hairdresser or dentist. Neither should you balk at paying your spiritual consultant/technician. Those who do this type of work have sacrificed long and hard to gain mastery. They're providing something that you cannot provide for yourself. It's a matter of respect for the services they're providing and for the spirit of exchange itself. It truly boggles that this would even be an issue but there you have it.

Kenaz Filan said...

@Alexandra: you raise a number of excellent points, which I hope to cover in some of my next posts. I agree that there are charlatans who use spirituality to bilk the gullible, and I think we need to be aware of those folks. But I would say the number of rip-off artists in the Pagan community pales next to the number of entitlement kiddies. (Let's face it, if you want to be a con artist there are many fields which are more lucrative than contemporary Paganism... )

Ethan Kincaid said...

I have a policy of not paying for the craft but my reasons are multifaceted. Here's what I WILL pay for though: room rental, food, hotel room, travel expenses, materials used to execute the class/rite. I usually don't pay for the actual information disseminated in the class because I'd far rather buy a book that will cover the topic in much more detail that I can keep AND support the author of said book. But I don't pay for magic per se.

Most of the time, this satisfies the practitioner just fine. And it's hard to see why they WOULDN'T be satisfied. So what's the problem then? Well, there are some practitioners that don't do anything visibly perceptible. Things like removing a hex, cleansing your chakras, "healing" you with energy from their hands. I'm not saying that these people are necessarily charlatans. In fact, a lot of the magic "healers" I've come across actually truly believe in what they're doing but it doesn't have any effect. It's easy to get taken, even by people who don't mean to swindle you at all.

That sucks. I've asked before of people in the Pagan community in general: What do you DO when you find that the person who you paid $200 to balance your chakras actually did nothing? You know what the answer is? Blame the victim. They didn't believe hard enough, weren't open enough, didn't move their energy right and on and on and on. In general, I've found the community to be super defensive about its practitioners no matter how poor they are at their craft.

I've heard the argument: well you wouldn't baulk at paying your doctor, blah blah blah so many times it makes my brain numb. My doctor demonstrably does something to me and if he doesn't, or behaves incompetently, yes I DO baulk at paying him. If you contract someone to do something for you and they don't do it, no you bloody well shouldn't pay. The problem with magic is that it's a subtle art. In so many instances, you can't feel that anything is different. If I have to shell out real physical cash for something I can't see, can you blame me for wanting some kind of proof that something was done at all?

A lot of people still answer "yes." Usually, the ones who depend on the craft for a living. Yeah, I can't blame you for defending your livelihood. And if it's someone I trust? Someone what I can feel moving the powers around? You bet your ass I'll pay for that because I know it's the real deal. Someone like my friend Linda, for example, I'd pay for a guided meditation session or therapeutic hypnosis. But from someone else that I don't know? Sure, perhaps their way of moving energy around is simply too subtle for me to detect for some reason but if I see nothing and feel nothing, I assume I'm paying for nothing. No dice.

Siobhra DeWar said...

Go to any church and you will find the clergy is paid. The ones who take an oath of poverty still have a roof over their heads and food on the table. A few operate mega churches and get rich but most just get by.
We just need to find a way to compensate our clergy. Sort of setting what a fair amount of money should be shared with the home that host the Circle. Christian Churches often claim 10% of a persons income should go to the church. But that came at a time when the church did so much more for the person in the way of care. I try to make 5% but I spread that among various charities. I rarely make the full amount.

Candi said...

Would you pay for a voice lesson? The immediate outcome for that first lesson is next to nothing. And the second, again, next to nothing. It is the slow, disciplined construction of technique over time that you are paying for, and there is no getting around the fact that if a student doesn't practice, they're not going to advance very quickly. Just so with a spirit worker; it's not 'one and done,' and the 'client' or 'payer' if you will, still has actions to perform on their own in order to draw the effect that the spirit worker has worked so hard to manifest. In the end, it's a team environment, not a dictatorship.

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