Follow-up to “Cultural Inovators”

First of all, my sincere thanks to everyone who joined the conversation and contributed a comment or two. (And a gentle reminder to those posting anonymously: in the future, please include your name.)

I posed a very multifaceted question. But obviously most people felt compelled to respond to just one aspect of it: “what pagan leader would you pay $100 to hear speak?”. Most of you answered “nobody”.

I was thinking of tightening up the question somewhat: “Supposing you had $100 handed to you, right now, and the benefactor said that you had to use the money to attend a public talk by one or more spiritual leaders, whom would you choose?” had I phrased it that way, all issues concerning ability to pay, or the need to spend that money on rent, gas, food, children’s needs, etc., would have been out of the way. We could then have focused on what I was hoping we would focus on, namely, the matter of the qualities of character, or practice, or service, or whatever, that those people possess, which makes them innovators. I thought that such a discussion would helpfully enable us to find other innovators, or future ones, whether they are famous writers, or local individuals who serve their local private or semi-private groups.

But it seems most most people wanted to discuss the matter of economic compensation. And most people, it appears, held the view described by marytek when she said: “The idea of monetary compensation is an anethma to most pagans.” (Read her comment here). It certainly appears to be anathema to those who, replying to the blog post, said that they would not pay anyone any money at all for spiritual services. harmonyfb put it in very stark terms when she (are you a she?) wrote, “I don’t prostitute out my belief system for a dollar”. Another person, writing anonymously, said “No one, my way in the craft forbids charging for training.” Some even went further, denying any significant personal need for a community innovator in the first place.

Well, the amazing thing about people is that they will always surprise you. 🙂 But don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.

My own views on the matter aside – which, you will notice, I have most cleverly not disclosed (not yet anyway) – may I continue the Question of the week by asking: Why, exactly, is it morally wrong to contribute and/or accept money for spiritual services? Why is it wrong to pay someone for performing a handfasting, a wiccaning, a rite-of-passage, a counselling session, a teaching circle, a public lecture? Do we have a right to expect that people in a position to offer such services, whatever their qualifications or experience, should work selflessly, and therefore for free? Is there in your thinking an inherent contradiction between material services like car maintenance, and immaterial services like spiritual guidance counselling? Or is there another reason?

Or, perhaps it is the case that spiritual services should be compensated much as one compensates a medical doctor, or a car mechanic, as dop4 observed (read his comment here.). After all, your local Elder, and your local friendly neighbourhood internationally famous pagan writer, also has to pay for rent, gas, food, children’s expenses, and so on, just like everyone else does. And as just about all of these writers will tell you, the income they get from book sales and royalties is nowhere near enough to meet their minimum living expenses. Perhaps, as another anonymous comment said, we become “stingy selfish buggers” by refusing to compensate.

But please don’t answer with “My way in the craft forbids it”, since this doesn’t really answer the question: in fact it probably commits the fallacy of appeal to authority.

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22 Responses to Follow-up to “Cultural Inovators”

  1. My position really isn’t purely economic, because I find it more appropriate to support authors I like by pruchasing their books; however, I would pay money (and have) to see guest speakers talk about things that I like (i.e. science fiction, history, religion, etc).

    I think its perfectly acceptable to receive monetary payment (of some kind) for services. The way in which payment terms are arranged (and under what circumstances they are expected) depends on the nature of the relationship between the “Spiritual Leader” in question and the recipient of services rendered.

    Tithing, donations, and the like are common means by which religious groups raise money to keep their doors open – I see no reason why our groups should be able to do the same; however, I think denying faith based knowledge (of any kind) to people who cannot pay the price is wrong… Denying someone access to spiritual fulfillment because they can’t pay the fees is, I think, somehwat disingenuous.

    Does this make sense? I speak from the position fo someone who believes that the Pagan community needs to support its religious leaders, writers, and thinkers…

    • Just to clarify the first sentence in the third paragraph should read: ithing, donations, and the like are common means by which religious groups raise money to keep their doors open – I see no reason why our groups should not be able to do the same…

      I support that sort of thing for the Pagan community.

  2. I believe they should be compensated in full. It’s work, and often hard work at that.

    I, personally, am happy to offer assistance to people without charging should I be asked, but I also feel I’m far from an elder or community leader (hell I don’t even deal with people offline the majority of the time) and I enjoy helping people out when I have time around my schedule.

    I think the hardest part is keeping it reasonable. Making a beginner feel like that have to pay a lot to be any good as a witch isn’t right, but at the same time a teacher does need to eat and pay rent etc as you’ve pointed out. A balance needs to be maintained… easier said than done of course.

  3. dubhlainn says:

    My first thought toward the responses to your question is why? What the hell is so “wrong” or “unclean” about money? In fact, in these modern times I very much consider the money we make as our personal harvest; the work of our hands and minds, the community we cultivate, the ability to care for our families. I would say viewed this way that refusing to give money for services we ask for and expect is the more immoral option.

    Paying for services, lectures, and teachings is a way of ascribing worth to it. It is a form of worship. It is stateing that “this” and “you” are important enough to me to give of my harvest.

    As for who I would pay $100 to see speak, assuming of course I had that kind of money, would be Phillip Carr-Gomm, Patrick McCollum, Rondald Hutton, and Chas Clifton off the top of my head.

  4. jezreell1 says:

    When I give a talk because someone asks me to, and it is away from home, I am put up at a B&B or a pub, and given travel expenses. I pay for my own food, etc.

    Since I am retired, and have no income, I accept.

    However, I also give talks when I am at camps, or at conferences, and get nothing but the satisfaction of a job well done 🙂

    Jez – who sees nothing wrong in accepting reimbursement for expenses, but who wouldn’t take more, as this is not a ‘job’.

  5. abbadie says:

    I know people who say it’s Ok to receive gifts, even monetary contributions, as a well-meaning expression of thankfulness, but charging a fee is just plain wrong. This is, i think, overly simplistic and unreal.

    My own view is that it is indeed wrong to charge money for something sacred; a blessing comes from the Spirits and not from me, so I won’t ask for anything in exchange. I agree with the opinion of a friend, Lord ShadowWolf, from the Temple of Aradia, who says he will charge for a lecture on paganism which he will discuss the same way he would if the subject were music (his field of expertise), as a research subject. But inner teachings which are part of preparing the student toward initiation, those will not be charged. I like that, and have handled it similarly myself.

    But it’s not that simple either! What if a floor is rented for the coven’s reunions? Expenses must be made, rent, food, electricity… I’d say it would be very sensible to figure out a regular contribution fee to cover those expenses. Now, radicals say, people may contribute, but if you state aq regular fee, you are automatically a scammer! However, if no regular fee is established, there is a very real risk that contributions will not suffice, and you’ll have to end up paying a good part of the rent and expenses yourself.

    Tricky, isn’t it?

    Well, fortunately, as a witch, my path is mostly a praxis, a craft, and the religious/sacred aspect, while central to it, does not take precedence at all times. I have no problem occasionally charging for a Tarot or hand-reading, for a working to clear the spiritual bugs and wights out of somebody’s job (it would be quite dumb to say, “I can’t charge because it’s a spiritual thing” when I’m doing something to help somebosy’s business and income). However, This happens only a couple of times in several months; I don’t even much like doing it, so it’s far brom being a regular activity for me.

    I think it’s perfectly possible to charge for lectures, workshops and courses; even practical pagan-oriented workshops will usually deal with general stuff, not with the inner methods and workings of one’s tradition. I have no qualms over teaching somebody to cast a Wiccan-style circle when I’m not Wiccan and I never use such a circle, or to use the LBRP when it’s nothing to do with my own praxis, and when i used it years ago was merely for lack of personal methods of dealing wigh certain things! I should say that I’ve only imparted one brief course on the basics of (non-pagan) magic… The guy who organized it at his occult shop managed to bait clients into paying for other stuff too, so I refused to repeat the experience. If a pagan-oriented workshop was ever proposed, I’d have to review carefully what it would cover before deciding whether I’d be all right with charging for it or not (other than expenses for materials and place).

    And yeah, saying that authors can live out of their books is a joke. Tell that to the guy who actually told me the other day, “sorry but instead of buying your book, I’ll wait and download it from the web!”

    *Rant over, runs back to corner*

    • erynn999 says:

      But it’s not that simple either! What if a floor is rented for the coven’s reunions? Expenses must be made, rent, food, electricity… I’d say it would be very sensible to figure out a regular contribution fee to cover those expenses. Now, radicals say, people may contribute, but if you state aq regular fee, you are automatically a scammer! However, if no regular fee is established, there is a very real risk that contributions will not suffice, and you’ll have to end up paying a good part of the rent and expenses yourself.

      Been there, so fucking done that. Screw “voluntary love offerings” — if you’re renting a space, the space rental has to be covered and I’m not paying the whole damned thing out of my pocket. I’m not made of money and neither is any other Pagan I know. If you can’t be arsed to drop in the required $10 for your share of the building rental, don’t show up. If you genuinely can’t afford it, call me ahead of time and let me know. Maybe I’ll ask you to help with setup or teardown, but I’m not going to tell you that you can’t come just because you’re broke. Barter and trade exist for a reason.

  6. erynn999 says:

    Well, there’s certainly nothing in Pagan Celtic culture about not paying one’s clergy. In fact, poets and druids were specifically due certain payments for services rendered. Yes, I do charge for my services but if somebody needs help and can’t afford it I’ll still do it because I’m in the extremely fortunate position of having a disability income that keeps a roof over my head and food on the table regardless. Trust me, depending on income from writing and divination would not keep me out of a cardboard box under a bridge.

    I feel no qualms about asking for compensation if the person can afford to pay me. If they can’t, we’ll negotiate something else, or I’ll work for them for free, depending on circumstances. I don’t at all feel that money should keep someone from getting services they actually need but I also believe that my time is genuinely worth something — even if that something is buying me a cup of chai because that’s all they have to offer. I do not in the least see taking compensation for services as “prostitution” of either my spirituality or my talents.

  7. pombagira says:

    sorry i got a bit rambley

    hmm.. if i had $100 and could go to one public talk given by one or more spiritual leaders.. who would that be… *ponders deeply*..

    T Coyle Thorn, because her books and her podcast both speak to me in ways that other books and podcasts don’t, (its one of those can’t put into words things)

    Dave the Bard, from Druidcast, because again his podcasts speak to me in that way (and he has a good accent)

    Ronald Hutton, as his take on our collective Pagan history is fascinating, and he is humorous,as well as being down to earth and just a fantastic accent to listen to.

    David Attenborough because he is a child hood hero whos programs and books i adsorbed like a sponge, and oddly or not, gave me a good grounding on our planet, and those creatures that fly walk run crawl and swim on it and how they are ultimately all connected…

    There are probably others.. but the main theme of each of these people is their ability to speak publicly, their ability to inspire, and that they do not “talk down” the subject, they not dumb down the topic of paganism of what every style, they are talking about and turn it into something that only the dumb are attracted to. It is my belief that if you treat pagans as though they are dumb then you will ultimately end up with dumb pagans. the above people i know keep things simple, but also intelligent, they have an ability to leaving you thinking, they do not tell you so much as plant a seed which you can then grow, they leave you pondering thoughts that you didn’t have before you listen to them, read their books, or in this imaginary case went to a fabulous public talk given by all of them (although with that many people it might be a weekend thing as opposed to one talk.. *grins*..

    as an aside, i am pretty sure that most of the people above do charge for their services, and from my perspective as well they should as they still need to pay their bills and feed and clothe themselves, and because of the way that they inspire and what they have to say is worth the dollars paid.

    Perhaps it is time that we got over this feeling, got over the believe that money is bad, while also wishing that we had more of it and lamenting the lack of it and complaining at having to pay for a public talk, and or teaching on things spiritual when that person like you is also trying to make a living. Money is like energy neutral, until you something with it.. so why don’t we pay for our pagan spiritual leaders who have stuck their necks out, instead of chopping their proverbial heads of..

    Another through has entered which I will share here, this reluctance to pay for teachers, or talks given to me seems like a unhealthy Christian hangover, you know that one that says to be Godly, to be close to god you must bee poor, however the people who were delivering this message were far from poor. I don’t mean to come down on Christianity in an individual sense, but more on a political side of Christianity sense. This be poor for God is something I believe that came our of the protestant work ethic, which is another political construct, to keep the factory workers happy or thinking that they were happy because they were getting a pittance to do the same thing over and over and over again while the factory owners grew fat of the profits…(ohh look Marx strikes again *grins*)

    Random things to ponder…

  8. erynn999 says:

    If I had $100 to give to hear a Pagan talk, I would happily pay Gus diZerega. He’s got some fantastic things to say and has a mind behind his words that just won’t quit. We may be from different paths, but Gus’s thoughts on deep ecology and Pagan spirituality would be worth hearing and I hope someday that he’ll do a book on the topic. It helps that he’s a friend of mine — I’d rather spend that $100 taking him out to a fancy dinner and talking than doing the lecture thing. 😉

  9. abbadie says:

    Oh, and concerning your question… Well, maybe Nigel Jackson, or Emma Wilby. Or Robin Artisan (not Artisson, him I can read online, the other one; only please don’t tell them I mentioned them on the same sentence or they’ll hex me!). I’m not even sure if Wilby is a pagan or only an anthropologist, but the three of them have a lot to say on Scottish/British Isles witchcraft and that would certainly catch my interest. And a certain other one whom I won’t mention because he dislikes notoriety.

  10. alfrecht says:

    It certainly isn’t that I object to people being paid for spiritual services and knowledge. I’m not “in the business” of being paid in that way in a large way, but when it can happen, I’m happy to accept money for my time, efforts, and expertise. I do not do it where particular activities are concerned (Antinoan Mysteries, for example), because we do it pretty low-budget: we use someone’s house (therefore no space rental fees), we have most of the necessary things, and the incidentals (candles, incense, food) are things that people attending will bring. No big deal.

    What I do object to is the idea that someone would charge $100 for a two-hour lecture where there may be several people in attendance. That is outrageous. If I wanted a private lecture that was just me from some expert for that, then maybe…But how many experts would actually go “Yeah, I’ll spend two hours with you talking about XYZ” when offered money like that? I’d gladly pay $100 for a class that lasts eight week for an hour a week, or something of that nature; I’d gladly pay $100 for a weekend intensive workshop. But for two hours and a group of people? No way.

    Barter, I think, is a good thing. If some folks in New York want me to perform a ceremony for them, then I’d be happy to do so gratis, as long as food, accommodation, and transportation were provided. I’ve said this on a number of occasions, and had a few people inquire about it, but as of yet, no one has actually committed to doing so. Oh well.

    As to who I’d go and see if given that much money–well, I’d probably see if I could go to several cheaper 1-2 hour sessions offered by people I like who are doing good work: and , or if were doing something extra-special and I was not haunting her library at the time, etc. On being pressed, I’d consider paying that much for a two hour small session with someone like Krishna Das, just because I like him that much…but I don’t think he does charge that much for such things.

  11. lupabitch says:

    People are too afraid of money overtaking intrinsic rewards for doing certain spiritual actions; they look at the worst examples, such as multi-millionaire televangelists and faith healers fleecing the masses. So the disapproval brought on by a minority of bad examples gets turned into a negative, dogmatic generalization about an entire concept.

  12. darakat_ewr says:

    I see no reason why someone who provides a service cannot charge a nominal fee for the service. Its extravagant or over-priced services that are a problem.

  13. heartsease says:

    I preform legal handfastings and I do accept payment. I thought long and hard about whether it would be appropriate, and then after the first half dozen realized that I put many hours into the preparation of each. Meetings with the prospective couple, travel expenses and taking the day off from work if necessary for rehearsals and ceremony do add up quickly. As much as I would like to provide this service for free, it’s just not reasonable.

    I arrange fees on a “suggested donation” basis so that couples can pay what they feel they can afford, after a deposit of $50. Of course if someone is in dire financial straits, I will do whatever I can for free. I could never make a living doing this, nor would I want to. But it is not a bad thing to at least break even. Smaller rituals such as house blessings and the like are done mostly for free or barter. I am considering taking some classes in grief counseling and funerary practices so that I can one day provide services in that realm. Again, it’s a professional service as well as a spiritual one, so compensation makes sense.

    As for who I would pay $100 to hear speak, I think for that price I’d rather have a workshop than a 1-2 hour lecture. Hutton would be at the top of my list.

    • heartsease says:

      After reading other excellent responses, I think perhaps we should also consider the fact there is a very wide range of services offered and sought by the pagan community. I do not call myself clergy, or a priestess or any other title. I see my role as a celebrant, with a very narrow focus. I do not feel that I have the skill set necessary for many things that other religious clergy are expected to do. I’m thinking that this may be one of the problems in dealing with this issue of compensation. The pagan community seems to hang the mainstream religion’s idea of the role of “clergy” onto anyone trying to provide services to the pagan community that are parallel. Should we come up with a completely different way of describing those serve the community in these ways? Clergy appears to hold entirely too much baggage. I hate that my listing on Witchvox is saddled with it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Compensation for Spiritual Services

    I have given it a long response, but posted it in my blog at


  15. harmonyfb says:

    Because for me this is a sacred calling, not a profession. It’s part and parcel of my worship, not a money-making venture. Being paid for it would take it out of the realm of the sacred and into the realm of the commercial.

    (And yes, I am a she. 🙂

  16. Anonymous says:


    I have been enjoying seeing the different reactions and discussions my little rant has stirred up 🙂

    AS for paying for spiritual service, I am happy too to! I have enough brains in my head (and enough experience making mistakes) to know when I should be getting my moneys worth. And having someone call out (possibly from another town) to give a talk or preform a service is worthy of a few bucks to me. And I’m am not a rich witch.

    I follow a path inspired by Cunning Folk and Wise Women … people who earn much, if not all, of their living preforming spiritual and magickal services. This is traditional folks!
    I also agree with the statement that back in the day Druids etc were also paid or compensated, given room and board etc

    Its about respect isn’t it?

    A service is a service, and if someone is providing one, they deserve to be paid. Even if its just spending and afternoon weeding their garden, buying them a cup of coffee, or pitching in for gas.



  17. > Why, exactly, is it morally wrong to contribute and/or accept money for spiritual services?

    It’s not.

    Short version of an essay I’ve had turning in my head for ages: Money is energy; energy is what you do with it. People help you move, they get pizza and beer. Your friend counsels you on the phone for hours, you’ll be there when he needs something. There is no difference. This is balance, exchange of energy, to each according to their needs, from each according to their means. Sacrifice means to make sacred, and how on Earth can one refuse to give money to a human when it’s the same thing as pouring mead on the ground for a non-human.

    (While it *is* morally wrong to pay for Nike, Nestle, Wal-Mart, and many others, I won’t mention that here, because it risks hijacking your Comments section.)

    Now as to the People I Would Hear Speak question:

    Alan Moore
    – An innovator, period. I can’t think of anyone else who lives Art=Magic so fully.

    Christopher Penczak
    – Not quite an innovator, imo, but synthesis is an important talent, and he has that in spades. His presentations are great: Clear and inclusive, with a great balance of no bullshit and staying positive.

    Silver Ravenwolf
    – Sharp, pragmatic, firecely intelligent. Some like to dismiss the person because of her books; their loss. In a live setting she wouldn’t be able to conceal who she really is – I wonder what she would say.

    Gina Ellis
    – Any hints I could absorb about being more like her, I want to pick up.

    Michael Straw, Mark Hughes
    – I’ve had the honour of learning from both already.

    Half my friends, frankly – they’re intelligent and eloquent and fun.

    Brendan Myers
    – Gone to hear him twice. He speaks like he writes: Clearly and with an unmatched precision, yet always with a hint of play. I admire what he stands for, and I greatly respect his contribution of scholarly topics and methods. He has called himself a “small-time writer,” suggesting that his popularity is some measure of his worth, to which I can only say, respectfully, balls.


  18. helmutsforge says:


    My biggest problem with this no payment idealogy is the sence of entitlement that seems to go with it. “It is my right to have it now and for nothing, either financial or effort,”something for nothing is worth nothing.It took years of hard work and financial commitment to learn what I know, why should I give it away.

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