Paganism: Money is Bad, Right?

images (1)–by Shauna Aura Knight
The question, “Should Pagans charge for services/rituals/events/classes” comes up with some frequency within our community. One of my activist goals is looking at underlying difficulties and assumptions in our culture and how that impacts us.

Pagans (and people, for that matter) have a really unhealthy relationship with money.

It’s one of our cultural “shadows.” Any shadow causes us communal grief. For me, activism is about looking at those cultural shadows and working with them. What are our current assumptions about money? How do those assumptions get in the way of healthy communities and future community resources?

Underlying Assumptions
“Pagans are broke.” What I think is actually means is, “Pagans have a complicated and unhealthy relationship with money and get recalcitrant about paying for things.”

There’s a spectrum of assumptions about money. On one end, you have the idea that “Charging for spiritual work is bad.” On the other end, “I should be paid reasonably for my time.”

What I’m not addressing in that spectrum is obvious extortion and unethical practices, including people who charge exorbitant money for a dangerously-facilitated sweat lodge, or people who say, “You’re cursed but I can lift it for a mere $1,000,” or people who embezzle, or manipulate people.

Now–while I’m not addressing the unethical folks, they impact our assumptions. Many Pagans fear donating to a group because they’ve seen the largess and corruption of the churches of their youth, and, they’ve seen various Pagan leaders fail to ethically handle money. 

I’m focusing on ethical Pagan leaders and teachers who feel that they should be able to charge for their time. After seeing several online discussions basically saying that anyone who charges for spiritual work is bad, or that spiritual work should always be free, I thought that a deeper discussion on money would serve.

The idea that “money is bad” shackles the Pagan community, holding us back and making us less effective in the kind of work many of our groups would like to be able to achieve.

What is Money?
A root challenge with this issue is that we need to define what money actually is. In the dominant culture, money is power, certainly. Big corporations, banks, and rich politicians control our laws. Religious institutions like the Catholic church have vast amounts of wealth. It’s no surprise that many have a knee-jerk reaction that “money is bad.”

But what is money? Money is, in essence, energy. It’s a representation of time and work. Ignoring income tax, if you make $10 an hour, then a $5 cup of coffee reflects a half hour of your effort.

Money is neither good nor bad, it’s simply an easier exchange rate than a chicken and a basket of tomatoes. Barter is, at its core, money. It’s resources being traded for other resources. Money isn’t inherently bad any more than the chicken you raised is bad. It’s just an agreed-upon exchange rate.

But “Real Witches” Never Charged
Completely untrue. If we look at our ancestors, the Witch/Shaman/Druid/Priest/Healer of the tribe was paid in the form of a tithe from the tribe. It might be a chicken, fur, or seat at the dinner table, or help building their home. It’s still payment. They couldn’t have focused on serving their community in that capacity without their community providing their upkeep.

Money is not a dirty thing. Money represents time spent working.

What Do Pagan Events Cost?
Let’s start with supplies. Candles, herbs, printing out handouts, food for the group. Is it fair to ask the group leader who’s already spent time organizing rituals and classes to pay out of pocket for all of that? Many people feel even charging for supplies is bad. Imagine a small group or a public ritual; perhaps money is donated, or members donate the supplies. It’s simple–those are hard costs, someone has to pay them, it’s just a matter of whom.

If it’s a public ritual, like my upcoming Imbolc in Chicago, money must be raised to pay for the $300 daily rental. We haven’t even gotten to additional costs, like a group, a web site, or printing flyers.

When talking about teachers charging, that’s usually where the fisticuffs begin.

What do I Charge?
For a public event like Imbolc, which has a ritual and workshops, I ask for a sliding scale donation, $5-$25, no one turned away for lack of funds. I feel it’s important to make these events open to people regardless of ability to pay.

At the same time, I can’t afford to foot the bill if an event doesn’t break even. It’s utterly unfair to ask clergy that have put in hours to plan, host, and cleanup an event to also spend money to cover the costs.

Traveling Teachers
The subject of money and charging for events and classes is very much on my mind because of recent events in my own life. I was recently in a car accident, and without getting into insurance details, the accident was not my fault but I won’t receive any money for a new car.

How is this relevant to charging for classes?

At least 75%-90% of what I used my car for was to run Pagan events in Chicago, and, to travel and teach at Pagan events. Now I have obligations to travel and teach at several events in the coming months, and many of these are not events I can now easily get to.

Let’s take a step back to assumptions like all Pagan authors are getting rich off of the community, and Pagans who teach at festivals make a lot of money.

When I travel to larger conferences and festivals, I pay my own travel and hotel costs. At some festivals where I’m headlining, I get gas money. I teach weekend-long intensives where I get gas money, and maybe a $200 stipend. However, looking at all of these, I’m actually operating at a loss. Why?

Car repairs.

If I drive 8 hours to teach for a weekend for gas money, I’m out the cost of an oil change. Add in $300 for new brakes and other car repairs…it all adds up. The past years I’ve paid thousands of dollars in car repairs for the pleasure of spending hours on the road to teach mostly without pay.

Why Would I Do That?
It’s the calling of my soul. There are so many groups out there desperate for help with leadership and community building, or learning to facilitate more potent rituals that will inspire their community. I’m a total sucker for a leader who messages me and says, “I loved your workshop at Pagan Spirit Gathering, and our local community is having so many problems but I don’t know if we can afford to pay you…”

So I tell them I can do it for gas money. Often, it’s that leader who’s paying my gas money out of pocket because they are afraid to charge anyone. “If I charge, no one will come,” they confide.

I admire the folks who do this–even while I regret that they continue enabling a dysfunctional pattern in our communities.

I’ve been writing topics of Pagan leadership because I think they are crucial. For instance, this blog post now. Am I getting paid for the 3 or so hours it takes me to write one of these? Nope. I do it because I’m called. I think that’s the essence of any deep calling–we’d do it whether or not we’re being paid.

I have done this work without pay for years. I’ve managed by living simply and other creative means. But it’s put me, financially, where I absolutely can no longer do this work without pay. What I charge is not enough.

Here is the crux of the issue. Many Pagans whine about not having access to things that other faiths have, but there’s a core reason for it–they aren’t willing to pay for it. Pagans are starting to want access to leadership training, and I’m thrilled to offer that. However, taking my time to offer that–driving 4-8 hours–my time spent teaching–preparing for the workshop–it’s rather a lot of time. It’s a part-time job, full time if you add in writing articles, blog posts, answering leadership questions on email or skype.

It’s work I love, but if I can’t make a living doing it, I can’t continue.

Do you get excited when Circle Sanctuary takes on a local school principle discriminating against a Pagan student ? Good. But, where do they get the time to do that? How does Selena Fox have the time to call people going through a crisis, or go to their hospital to sit with them while they’re dying?

Circle charges money for events. The money they raise through events, and through donations, allows them to pay staffers to do this work full time.

Fear and Values
This goes back to values–what we value. What we spend money on. I get frustrated to tears when I see Pagans attend my classes and not donate anything, or donate on the lower end of a sliding scale ($5 for a full weekend of instruction, where the upper rate would be more like $150 a person) and then drop $5 on coffee, $25 on lunch, and $40 on a couple of books at the Pagan bookshop.

I don’t expect everyone to drop $150 on a weekend. That’s why it’s at the upper range of a sliding scale, which functions like a tithe. Those who can pay $5 are welcome. Those who can pay $75-$150 are paying into the scholarship fund, helping the less abundant to be able to attend.

If there’s 20 attendees, gas money is $100, and the space rental is $200 for the weekend, and I get $200, that means two things.

  1. Each person needs to pay around $25, but sliding scale means that folks who can only afford to pay $5 can attend as long as a few people are paying at the middle or top of the scale ($75-$150)
  2. It also means I’m making about $100 for four days of my time. Figure in an oil change, car insurance, and some money for inevitable car repairs. One day is spent traveling to the event, one traveling home, and then 2 days I’m teaching. That doesn’t count the hours spent working with the event organizers consulting on what classes to offer, crafting class descriptions, helping promote the event via Facebook and Email, or the time it takes me to prepare the classes.

That makes it maybe more like $100 for one work week. Still think I’m charging too much?

I know that most groups out there can’t afford more. But if I can’t charge for my work, I can’t afford to do it. This isn’t about me and my challenges, this is about money and what we as individuals and as a community have decided we value, what we are willing to pay for. It’s about what resources we want for our community, for our future.

“If you charge for your work you aren’t really being spiritual.”
Having gone through several years living below the poverty line to be able to bring this work out to my community, I have a few four-letter words in mind for that sentiment.

There are many of us out there that just want to run an Imbolc or Beltane event without panicking the whole night before about whether we’ll break even on space rental. Others of us who want to teach and write and offer our skills up but we need to make a living if we’re going to devote our time to it. 

“If you’re trying to get paid then you aren’t in it for service.”
“You could be doing other things for money and still serving your community.”
“If you were really dedicated to spirit, spirit would take care of you.”
“You shouldn’t expect any money for your work.”
“All spiritual work should be free.”
“If you’re really serving spiritual community, you wouldn’t need to advertise your services.”
“You should just be motivated by love for your community, not a paycheck.”

Would I do this work without pay? Yes, absolutely. I did, and I have. Where did it leave me? Financially stuck between a rock and a hard place. Yes, I made those choices, so I bear that responsibility, but, it’s not something I choose to do going forward.

What do you Value?
If you want to see the Pagan community mature, if you want more services and education available, or Pagan-focused meeting spaces and community centers, if you want advocates for Pagan rights…they have a cost. Do you value some of these things?

Think about your relationship to money, what you value. Begin talking about money in your community. Let’s move past this myth that Pagans are broke and explore our relationship to tithing, donating, and paying for needed services.

There’s the saying, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” I think that we can build amazing resources for future generations, if we can get past our shadows around money.

For further reading:
Here’s a blog post that I wrote going into more depth on this topic.
In the next days on my main blog  I’ll be posting a series on Pagan leadership, with several articles focusing on Pagans, fundraising, and paying for events.



Shauna Aura Knight writes on the topics of community leadership, spiritual transformation, and activism. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path, and Spiritual Scents, as well as a contributor to many magazines and anthologies, as well as a fiction author and fantasy artist. Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, facilitation, leadership, and personal growth.

Check out her blog on Pagan leadership and community building or her web site for more information.

28 thoughts on “Paganism: Money is Bad, Right?

  1. Candace ross

    This IS a sticky wickit. Personally I don’t want to “charge” for spiritual work, but feel people should be aware enough and responsible enough to realize there are costs involved and
    donate without being asked. Your well written article should open eyes and hearts, and maybe even purse strings! lol

  2. Andrew

    As a member of several fraternal societies, I’m always interested in the relationship between spiritual work, fraternal work, and magical work. When I’m doing magical work for someone else, which is rare — I don’t usually charge for my services, but I expect to be taken to dinner or receive some sort of in-kind recompense. When I’m doing priestly/religious/spiritual work, again… I don’t charge, but I expect something in-kind.

    But in my fraternal society work, a la the Freemasons, Druidry, etc., I don’t charge for my time or my effort — but I do submit my receipts to the society’s secretary/treasurer. I don’t get paid for my participation, but my expenses are usually covered — if they’re in the budget, if they’re covered as part of standard expenses, etc. I always thought the formal separation in fraternal society work, between the ritual leadership and the money leadership (also true in most Protestant parish-church organizations… church minister vs. council of elders/deacons/vestry/etc.) was a very sensible model. In fraternal societies, these kinds of roles are elective, term-limited, duty-limited, and interlocking; it’s not as easy for one person to come to dominate the society as a whole, unless he/she is charismatic enough to persuade all his/her buddies into that particular brand of madness.

  3. Florence Edwards-Miller

    Another thing that I think we need to take a look at when it comes to money is the baggage we get from Christianity. The idea that ‘money is the root of all evil’ is a VERY Christian concept. It’s shot through the Bible, particularly the New Testament, with Jesus’s call for his followers to give up their worldly goods, (see camel through the eye of a needle, etc.).

    Those sentiments are NOT present in many other religions where money is freely exchanged for spiritual services. I have paid to go to High Holy Day services at Jewish temples and when I was in Japan I cheerfully put money in the special collecting tray every time I went to a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine. The monks in Japan are not shy about charging for prayers to be said, as well as for things like incense and charms.

    Our discomfort with charging for spiritual services is inherently something we get from Christian culture. I’d go further and say its also part of a very privileged system. People who ‘don’t talk about money’ are generally people who have it. You can afford to not talk about and not ask for money when society is set up in such a way that money is flowing to you in ample supply. Thus, as a less-priveledged religious minority, by buying into a ‘money is sinful’ thought form we are inadvertently supporting a system that inherently weakens our institutions, impoverishes our leaders and stifles our growth.

  4. Mike Dolan

    As a Pagan musician and having run workshops, AND as someone who has organized many events, I can agree with a lot of what you say.

    The number of Pagan events that openly ask my band to play, and offer either nothing or next to nothing is staggering. Were I to book us at a local bar that same night, we would be looking at $300-$600. We play for fun, I mean I play plenty of open mic nights for free just for the sake of playing- But the simple economics of transporting four people (who live in three different states) to a venue, bringing along a sound man who charges another couple hundred, not to mention the thousands of dollars in equipment…. We just can’t break even on what the event organizers are willing to pay.

    Fast forward to putting together my own event. I KNOW what people expect to be paid, and I WANT to pay them what I would want to be paid- But I also know what people are willing to pay to come see a half dozen musical acts, a bunch of workshops, and everything else I can offer- And there’s no way I can pay people what they’re worth. I just can’t do it without dipping into my own pocket, and the truth is that I took a low paying job specifically so I’d have the TIME to do this sort of thing. It is downright embarassing to have to ask people to work for what I can afford to pay them, but it’s all I can recoup from ticket sales.

    The bottom line for me is that yes, spirituality should be free. Knowledge should be free. Worship should be free.
    A person’s TIME, however, is worth something. A PLACE to gather is worth something. Having a single source who has sorted through hundreds of pages of information and compilied just that which is accurate and relevant- That is definitely worth something.

  5. Rhiannon Sunday

    Thank you for this. I think it’s ridiculous that we expect people to work for free. I think this is the downside of the “everyone is their own priestess” ethos. Sure, I feel empowered to read my own tarot cards. But I haven’t invested a ton of resources into learning how to read cards, so I am happy to be able to rely on (and pay for!) readings from people who are really dedicated to that art. I also think that without people being able to be fairly compensated for their work, time, and expertise, we run the risk of having only leaders who can make extreme sacrifices, or leaders who have an independent source of income. How much does *that* narrow the pool of potential leaders?

  6. Gary

    There’s a massive difference between profit (Oooh dirty word) and profiteering. The latter being objectionable. The former just meaning surplus.

  7. Christopher

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Paying “your fair share” is membership. Community membership.

    Spirituality can be “free” in an environment where we all pay our 10% tithe. Our we can pay per service. But we’re learning, slowly, that we can’t have it both ways.

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  9. TPWard

    Thank you for keeping this discussion alive. I have been crafting a post on the topic myself, and your comments will make it a better one. (I don’t know if does trackbacks, so I will come back and add the link if it doesn’t.)

  10. Judy Harrow

    I agree with Shauna that money is ethically neutral, just a symbol for energy and one that makes exchange much easier and simpler. All of us function partially within the money economy, and most of us do so ethically and fairly. No disagreement at all so far.

    Energy always moves and flows. Stagnant energy is unhealthy, dying energy. But energy flows in at least two different manners. We could say that there are at least two economies. One is the cash or barter economy, where the ideal is fair exchange. So, whatever we’re received, it’s right for us to pay it back. The other economy is the love economy. What we receive there, we pay forward.

    The best explanation of the love economy I’ve seen is in a book called “If Women Counted” by the economist Marilyn Waring. It’s a bit dated, so ignore the gendered title. It was based on an examination of the value of housework and family care at a time when most of that work was done by women.

    The real point of that book is that a great deal of work that truly benefits people and communities is not counted in the Gross Domestic Product. That work comprises the love economy. The most obvious example is parenting — nobody gets paid for doing that incredibly valuable work, but many people pay it forward (instead of back) by parenting the next generation. People who turn up to clean up parks, lead scout troops, help out in food pantries … the list goes on.

    I never paid the people who trained me in the Craft, I never charged my students, and my students promise me and the Gods that, if they ever have students of their own, they will teach those people as a free gift, so the knowledge, and the energy, keeps moving forward through time and space. We keep our Craft in the love economy.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that I have to foot all bills. When I have given out-of-town workshops, I have always received “carfare and crash space” (I don’t drive). I expect to come home with about the same amount of money I left with. That seems fair. But my spiritual work, ritual and teaching, are my gift to the Gods and their people.

    And, yes, I do believe that, if we move this activity into the cash economy, if we start doing it for extrinsic reward, rather than for love and need, we will change its essential nature, and not for the better.

  11. James

    I couldn’t love this article any more if I tried. I missed you when you visited my home town for the autumnal equinox, but I was working. I would have paid whatever price to attend that workshop, supporting the hosting shop and you at the same time. I know that shop struggles just to break even. It makes me so sad! We don’t have a community unless we support that community. That means financially. I get so tired of the poor pagan trope. It’s aggravating, and worse, seems to be acceptable in our community. We don’t have a “Tithe” as pagans, but the idea that a portion of our income should be available for spiritual events is something I fully support. Whether that’s attending workshops, festivals, supporting local vendors or whatever else… Put your money where your mouth is and build the community you want!

  12. greyskitten

    I linked this to my blog and as I mentioned there I do not know of a Christian wedding where the priest and church were not paid to officiate and host the ceremony! Justices of the Peace charge a fee to perform a wedding as well….just some examples of spirit work that people have no problems paying for…until it is not by someone from a more traditional and acceptable religion. This attitude has to stop if we want to function as a community.

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  14. greyskitten

    Reblogged this on Journeys of a Kitten and commented:
    definitely worth a read and time spent considering on how to change people’s attitudes about this. All spiritual workers in other religions get paid in some fashion…Catholic priests that live and work in a Parish are paid a stipend…they get their housing and all weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc are charged for. If mainstream and traditional religions can charge for their services than we as Pagans, Heathens, what have you can and should absolutely charge for our work and be willing to pay for the services we attend and receive!

  15. Jason Nadeau

    Great article. We need to stop wearing our poverty as a badge of honor to do spiritual work and we need to show appreciation for our healers, diviners, teachers, facilitators, and wisdom keepers with the financial support to allow them to invest the time to do the work and live a reasonable life with a healthy diet, comfortable clothing, reliable car, and safe home.

  16. Yvonne Aburrow

    When we train our successors in a coven setting, the idea is that we get awesome co-creators of ritual, and as Judy said in her comment above, it is done for love and we are paying it forward, because we already received free training from our upline. Also, there is a relationship there, which is created by the reciprocal exchange of energy and ideas.

    If you do a workshop for free at a large event, you get other people’s workshops in exchange. (A fair exchange as long as their workshops are at least as good as yours.)

    If you facilitate a large workshop for a whole group of people as a one-off, you are putting in much more than you get out of it. So you should get paid for doing it, and you should get expenses.

    The Unitarians (UK) pay people £40 plus travel expenses for leading services. Same thing: you put in more than you get out of it, you get paid for the effort.

  17. Elinor Predota

    “Many Pagans whine about not having access to things that other faiths have, but there’s a core reason for it–they aren’t willing to pay for it.” THIS.

    I disagree about money being energy – I find it more useful to think of it as fuel, or as lubricant (or both) – but other than that, I completely agree.

    Part of the issue is the counter-cultural roots – including anti-capitalist roots – of much of Pagan culture, and the conflation of money, trading and business with capitalism. I had a huge breakthrough around this recently, when Rhyd Wildermuth pointed out that trading for money and capitalism are two completely different beasts. We humans have been trading all sorts of things – including spiritual services – for tens of thousands of years. Capitalism, on the other hand, is a system of economic exploitation.

  18. Elinor Predota

    I especially agree about Pagans not being willing to pay for things. I think a lot of that is down to Paganism’s connections with counter-culture roots. Rhyd Wildermuth has been very helpful for me about this, in that he recently pointed out that business and capitalism are not the same thing. Business need not be exploitative.

    This is especially pertinent to me right now, as I’ve been revisiting my pricing for my services with a realistic mindset, asking questions like:

    What does it cost me to offer service in the world? (Think: professional membership, insurance, accountant, web presence, getting the word out, etc. etc., as well as previous spending on training. Lots and lots of training.)
    What income do I need to not only survive but also thrive?
    What surplus do I need to make to sustain my business (i.e. service container)?

    I am somewhat uncomfortable with the prices that have come out of that process, but I know it’s either get comfortable with charging those fees, or stop offering my services at all. I don’t have an organisation to support me, and I don’t have the energy, currently, to create one.

    I don’t like the ‘money is energy’ thing though, because everything is energy. I know it works for some people, but for me I find it leads to fuzzy boundaries. I find thinking of money as fuel for myself and my life (h/t Fabeku Fatunmise), and as lubricant for social relations, much more helpful.

  19. Gwion

    Hello Shauna

    As a teacher, ritual organisor and community member I come across this frequently. Our community offers “no on turned away for lack of funds” options at our public rituals. Most of the teachers I work with offer *and advertise* some sort of work trade or scholarship program for the classes/workshops they teach as well as a sliding scale and I’ve had frank discussions about what things really cost with community members that have questions about it.

    One way I think we assuage the fear of being ripped off is to be as transparent as possible where finances are concerned. One this I/we do is offering scholarships so our community sees money flowing back into the community. We’ve donated (partial) proceeds from rituals to local, like-minded non-profits and our community has really responded to that. We’ve also offered scholarships to annual Witchcamps. Everything is listed on our website and we talk about this at rituals and other gatherings.

    One area I am solidly against charging is personal, initiatory work. Classes I offer, sure thing, but if I’m mentoring or in the initiation process with someone there’s NEVER any charge for that work.

    Great article. Thank you.


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  24. Julia brown

    Why not charge? It’s a service offered like any other. I think it’s ridiculous to shame switch for charging for her services. It takes time and energy from the witch,and in some cases supplies. Is the one needing the service bartering for it? Still a payment. You don’t give your work away free for any other service, why would witches not so the same? Work is work. Period. Even a preacher asks for tithes. And a witch is not a spiritual servicer. Only some are. It is not out of line to ask for payment.

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