To Charge or not to Charge… Witchcraft and Capitalism

This is really simply a response to a post that elfwreck made in the  community. I am posting it here because it is rather long (too long for an LJ comment), because it has been an ongoing issue in the larger Witchcraft community, and also because my answers are personal to how I teach and conduct myself. If you are so inclined, read the original post before reading my response.

This is rather long because this is an ongoing issue that has come up before in several forums that I participate in, and as such I have given it a lot of thought. This is, obviously, directed at your #4.

I think you have brought up some valuable points. These are all things to consider when entering into a paid teacher/student relationship, whatever your role in that relationship may be.

I obviously have a different take on it, both because I paid for my training in the Feri tradition, and also because I am now a teacher in the tradition who charges money for classes. I will detail some of my own answers to these problems in order provide another view on them.

I do think that it is important to have some type of exchange for my time… most often in our society this comes in the form of money, but in recognition that there are many who simply cannot afford to pay I also offer work trade for the majority of my classes. In some cases I prefer it. I have also created a resource for students to find other teachers of the tradition, at least some of which do not charge money and whom I recommend highly.

The other potential problems that you identify are simply that… potential problems. If addressed consciously by the teacher then they need not manifest. For example, I have let paying students go because I felt that they were not willing or able to actually do the work, or simply because I felt that they were not a good fit for the tradition.

I am upfront with my students that even completion of my classes does not guarantee initiation of any kind. And I continue to stress that fact along the way.

I have also seen what happens to students when they stop classes (both paid and non) and how some have problems because of the lack of support from their previous teachers. There is no easy answer to this. The problem has less to do with paying and more to do about the teacher/student relationship at its core. My answer is to make myself available to *anyone* with questions about the tradition and the work, regardless if they are my current students or not. Obviously prior students would be in a better position to receive tailored advice from me as I would know their situation better, but even dropping out of my classes does not mean that I will never talk to you again. 😉

It dehumanizes the path by replacing social & personal ties and obligations with monetary ones.

This is by no means an absolute. For some people I suppose it can do as you say, but even to imply that this is automatic is to take a decidedly narrow view. My relationship with my teacher was genuine and heartfelt. I never felt that I was not personally tied to him simply because I was paying him money. I understood that he needed the money in order to make ends meet. I was happy to be able to contribute towards his living expenses, especially when I felt that I was getting so much more from him than he was getting from my $40-60 per month.

As for the student’s obligation after classes are at an end… this is largely in the mind of the student anyway and not-paying for classes no more guarantees ongoing loyalty then paying will guarantee said loyalties will abruptly end. You are correct that it is something to address, however. Here is where communication is of key issue. I also think that where class-time can be charged for, it becomes rather dangerous to charge for actual initiations. Those, I strongly feel, should be offered freely but I will not place myself in a position to judge another who might engage in the practice, other than perhaps refraining from recommending them as a teacher. I mainly prefer to worry about my own work and practice and let others do the same for themselves.

On the flip side of the issue, there are also problems that can be associated with NOT charging for classes… I know of at least a few situations in which teachers who adamantly DID NOT charge for classes (unwittingly?) created atmospheres in which students felt obligated to provide “other” forms of compensation, creating a rather co-dependent relationship. In some cases this has manifested as sexual favors. Not exactly healthy, IMO.

Now, this isn’t to say that this will always (or even often) happen in classes that are provided for free… (I would suspect that the vast majority of free classes are not subject to such degradations) I just mention it to point out that there are potential problems in whatever we do and it is a good idea to be aware of that.

It’s prostitution… something sacred sold to the highest bidder.

I think this was meant to be a jab against those who charge for teaching, but it actually came across to me as kind of amusing. I am recalling the sacred prostitutes whom I hold in high regard 😉 I think, however, I know what you’re getting at, but I do not necessarily agree with your statement. Charging for classes does not automatically equate to “selling to the highest bidder”. If I actually sold my class time on auction then I would agree. But I have set fees for my time (well, sliding scale, anyway) along with a willingness to work with the individual should they not be able to meet those fees. A hardcore stance against charging for class time implies that only those individuals who are independently wealthy should be able to teach the Craft, ignoring the contributions that can be made by those teachers who still struggle to make ends meet. Were I not charging for my time, then I would simply not be able to offer the classes that I do. I, like most people, have bills to pay. I have to buy groceries and pay for electricity, and gasoline, and everything else that humans in our society are usually required to pay for. The insistence of some that I should offer my time for free or else be labeled a “prostitute” is, quite frankly, insulting. Or at least it would be if I didn’t keep thinking about the sacredness of the world’s oldest profession. 😉

In the end one main thing that I have done to try to alleviate these problems is to make sure that the fees that I receive from teaching do not represent the bulk of my income. I make most of my living as a writer and artist. But were I not able to change for the time that I spend preparing for and teaching the classes I offer, then I simply would not be able to offer them, plain and simple. It would be nice if I had enough money to offer them for free, but I’m just not there. I don’t think that I should be judged as being “less than” based on my financial situation. This smacks of socio-economic bigotry, which I doubt you intended.

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9 responses to “To Charge or not to Charge… Witchcraft and Capitalism

  1. i’m not as well-provided as elfwreck with arguments in favor of teaching for free. i go primarily with my gut feeling, which i have had for the more than thirty years that i have been in the craft, that charging money for lessons is somehow… icky. to me. not necessarily to anyone else. i think each teacher has to do what feels right to him or her.
    this said, i must say that i personally would appreciate it if my students would take a little more care in choosing the food items they bring for the communal meal. i don’t ask for caviar (heck, i don’t even like caviar). but something a touch more substantial than crackers… and there are a lot of choices of deli materials out there, so you don’t have to make it from scratch. or chocolate–chocolate anything is always good.
    come on, guys! will teach for food…. but only if it’s good food. ;D

  2. I’ve already stated elsewhere that I concur with what Elfwreck expressed as reasons not to charge. I also agree with what you wrote about potential problems in whatever we do. I don’t think one can characterise some of these potential problems as exclusive to whether one charges or doesn’t charge. From your own experience, you relate that even though you paid for your training, you still felt that what you were paying wasn’t enough.
    For me, teaching the craft for a fee increases potential problems rather than lessening them.
    There’s never any guarantee of initiation whether the instruction is free or not. When classes are at an end, and you have a student who wishes to pursue initiation, what then?
    In a manner, sliding scale is also a type of socio- economic bigotry.This in itself can cause many potential problems with class dynamics.
    My perspective is different from yours. I, for the most part am self taught, contrary to claims by others that that isn’t possible. I’ve also paid for instruction. Though I find the practice of charging something I wouldn’t engage in, I’m not about condemning others for doing so. Each of us has to listen to their own inner guide and do what they feel is best for them.
    I’m not against compensation, I just find setting what that compensation should be, undoable. I’d rather rely on my students sense of whether or not they are moved to give me compensation. It should be from their heart. If they feel moved to gift me that’s okay, if not, well thats okay too.
    I worked long and hard to get where I am. I paid for it in many, many ways. Many of those I know tell me I am entitled to make something off all that work and effort. To me it’s priceless, so I could never set a price upon it. I offer it to my students freely, because if they do the work they will pay the cost in their own way.
    I’m also not against one being compensated when plying the craft. I’m also not against the teaching of magic skills, like amulet and talisman construction, tarot reading, herbal magic, healing techniques, etc. I think there is plenty of opportunity to subsidize ones living expenses in that direction.
    I’d rather see practicioners doing that, than teaching any trad for money. As someone once said , I’m a witch, I will never be wealthy, but I am rich.

    • You also make some excellent points. I just want to address a couple of them.
      From your own experience, you relate that even though you paid for your training, you still felt that what you were paying wasn’t enough.
      Actually, this is not what I said. What I meant was that I felt that the instruction that I was receiving was worth more to me than the price that I was being asked to pay. If I had been asked to pay more I would not have been able to afford it financially (and indeed there were times that I could not pay and I was repeatedly told that it was OK… that the work was more important than the money… a sentiment that I also extend to my own students) but I never felt that I wasn’t giving my teacher “enough”. I gave what I could afford to give, and this was within his sliding scale. I never got the impression that I was paying him too little, or that he wasn’t OK with my financial contribution.
      When classes are at an end, and you have a student who wishes to pursue initiation, what then?
      Then I will either initiate them, or not, depending on what the Gods ask of me. But this has nothing to do with the issue of paying for classes, as I have stated (to my students and in this thread) that initiations are entirely separate from the classes themselves.
      In a manner, sliding scale is also a type of socio- economic bigotry.
      I disagree… I think that it gives a student the opportunity to consciously address their own financial situation and to respond accordingly. I never felt coerced into paying more when I have paid fees on a sliding scale, and when I talk to my students I always explain that there is no shame in paying the low end, and that you get no extra points for paying the high end. Some will need to pay the low end… others who can afford more will pay the high end. In the end it all works out to make it worth my time and effort. If I just charged one set fee then I would have to raise my rates for everyone. This way people have a choice.
      I also think it’s important to make the distinction between paying for a teacher’s time and paying for learning a religion. They are different things. My students pay for my time. I teach my particular style of working Feri. But I also have many free resources available for those who cannot or do not wish to take my paid classes. It is possible to learn Feri on your own. It is not possible to take *my* classes on your own. This is the difference.
      My perspective is different from yours. I, for the most part am self taught, contrary to claims by others that that isn’t possible.
      In terms of the Craft I am also largely self taught. I think self-teaching is the single most important part of ones spiritual development. To compliment this, however, with studying with another provides us an opportunity to experience another “piece to the puzzle”, so to speak. Or at least that’s how I see it.
      In the end I, like you, feel that it is up to the individual. Discussions like these are a vital part of being able to enter into these relationships with open eyes.

  3. Okay, so I’m a month-and-change late in responding. But I’ve been mulling over the question for some time now.
    As I said in the original entry, I don’t object to people charging for training, though I think that there are more issues when one is personally mentoring an initiate to become a member of a “meat-space” coven (to put it clearly but crudely).
    What you are doing in your internet classes is somewhere in between the two. You are not initiating coveners with whom you will personally worship, but you are doing more than providing a 12-lesson, impersonal “How to Feri” course. I get the impression that you are initiating people into the tradition as solitaries throughout the states/world/galaxy. Do you feel a tension exists in the extremes between a weekend workshop and a dedicant’s year-or-more-long training, as far as remuneration goes? If you were taking on someone local to initiate into your own face-to-face coven, would (do) you still charge a fee?
    These aren’t meant to be trick questions; if you were coming here to Cleveland to give a workshop (and my insane life allowed me to get away for a weekend), I would fully expect to pay a reasonable fee for that experience. I’m just wondering what happens when things are closer to home.

    • I get the impression that you are initiating people into the tradition as solitaries throughout the states/world/galaxy.
      Actually I am not, at this time, initiating anybody, and certainly will not do so from my Long Distance classes at all.
      Just wanted to clear that up… 😉
      And I didn’t think they were “trick questions”. I think they were good ones and I hope to answer them here…
      If you were taking on someone local to initiate into your own face-to-face coven, would (do) you still charge a fee?
      If I were training someone whom I intended to circle with as part of my coven, then no… I would not charge a fee. This would be because I would already have had a personal relationship and connection with them and would be inviting them into my personal “family”. If I were training someone whom I was *not* intending to circle with in my coven, then yes, I would (and do) charge a fee for my time and energy involved in the training process. I have an in-person class going right now and I do not necessarily intend to invite them into my coven. It is possible, I suppose later on down the line, but what I am providing *right now* is focused on the establishment of a Feri spiritual practice, and NOT on the possibility of initiation, coven-style or otherwise. Some people will not even train those unless they feel that they are at least a strong candidate for initiation into our trad. I do not share this view. I think many of the Feri tools are valuable and can be utilized by anyone who wishes a deeper connection to their own Divine natures, which is the premise of my particular classes. A lot of time and energy goes into the preparation for these classes and so I ask for compensation for that time.
      I hope this clears things up.

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