Why Pay the Priest/ess? Revisited
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Article ID: 12693
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 3,396
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Author: Lupa [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: July 6th. 2008
Times Viewed: 3,807
When my article, “Why Pay the Priestess?” (1) arrived on the front page of Witchvox, I got a good deal of feedback on it—for which I am grateful. Not everyone agreed with me, which is fine. We all have our comfort zones. However, there were a few things that were brought up that I’d like to address, just for clarification. I was trying to keep the article from focusing too much on strictly financial matters, keeping it more about dualism and dichotomy in our perceptions, but as several people brought these things up, I figured I would address them here.
--The assertion that a donation-based system (whether or not you believe it is morally superior) will still be practical for the teacher/ritual officiant/etc.
I was once involved for a short time with an informal open circle that, among other things, did rituals and some basic 101 teachings. The people organizing this opened their home to everyone, fed them their food, printed out handouts using their own ink and paper, and gave of their time and energy. In return they only asked for voluntary donations. The total donations from a dozen attendees or so rarely went above ten dollars.
This isn’t an isolated incident. I’ve seen it happen elsewhere, and I know many pagans who have similar stories to tell. This occurred even when the economy was healthier—it’s not a recent phenomenon. I’ve yet to hear of a donation-based situation that would have equaled the amount brought in by a regular fee situation. Too often people will come up with excuses (legitimate or not) —“Sorry, I don’t have the money this time, ” or “Oops, I forgot—can I bring extra next time?”
If you choose to work within a donation-based system, go for it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. There are certain community activities that I do on behalf of the spirits I work with that they ask be voluntarily donation-based so that people who might not be able to cover the donation can still attend. However, I can tell you from experience that if I were to rely on donations every time I’d be losing money on everything from paying to rent workshop space to making flyers, and even the gas it takes to get to where I’m presenting.
Try asking the organizers for your favorite pagan event sometime why they don’t do a donation-based entry fee. Or the publishers that publish the books you read (pagan or otherwise). Or the medical professionals who provide your health care. Or the grocery store that sells you food. Or the person who cuts and styles your hair. Or your Internet service provider. Or ask your waiter or waitress what would happen if they only relied on tips. None of these people are pressured to be donation-based (except maybe the health care providers), so why should spiritual practitioners be any different?
As I argued in my initial essay, the divide between physical and spiritual is artificial and subjective; if you’re going to pressure people in your spiritual community to only accept donations, then you should do that to everyone you give money to.
--The idea that a teacher/officiant/etc. should not set their own prices because they’ll automatically turn into money-grubbers; and, the idea that everyone else has a better idea of what a person’s products or services are worth than the one who created the product/service.
We’ve all seen the news headlines about spiritual leaders in more mainstream religions who ended up embezzling countless amounts of money from their congregations, or who acted as spiritual hucksters only to get paid, not out of any true calling. These people exist, and they even exist to an extent among pagans, New agers, and occultists.
Therefore, some people assume that the community, as it were, has a better idea of what the person should be charging for their time, energy, and education. Never mind that many people may have never created or taught or otherwise done what is being offered. Instead you have armchair analysts determining whether something is fair or not.
Even if you have taught, or created, or led ritual, does that give you the authority to judge the other person’s experiences? Have you looked over their shoulder the whole time they were learning the system they are passing on, or while they created what they’re selling?
When you tell someone that they’re charging too much for what they offer, you are telling them that you don’t believe they have the authority to make the decision as to what their product or service is worth. You’re disrespecting both them and what they offer.
Remember the idea that some folks in the Craft talk about, in which you aren’t supposed to haggle over the price of your ritual tools? It’s the same thing. Give honor to those who provide; if you don’t believe that it’s worth what they say it is, that’s your business, but understand that by doing so you are paying them, and what they offer, disrespect, whether that was your intent or not.
Additionally, you are telling that person that you don’t trust their ability to maintain their own personal balance between charging what they believe is truly fair for what they offer, and slipping into a miasma of greed, materialism, and parasitism.
If we aren’t even able to trust our spiritual leaders that much, should we trust them to teach and guide us? For that matter, what does that say about our ability to objectively assess the character of another person if we just assume that money will corrupt absolutely?
Is it really fair to assume that everyone who charges money for spiritual services or products will fall prey to greed?
--The idea that spiritual people should be less tempted to become overly greedy; or, the idea that spiritual people should make more of an effort to avoid greed by distancing themselves from money.
Humans have a tendency to place people we see as leaders of any sort on pedestals. When they slip off, and show their human side, we are outraged, because this shatters the perfect image of them we had in our minds. We are indignant because they dared to “fail us”. Never mind that this places often-unrealistic constraints upon people who are often just trying to do the best they can, same as anyone else.
Most spiritual leaders have done a good deal of internal work, working through bad habits and conditioning, and working to become better people by whatever metric they’re using (since “good” and “bad” are wholly subjective). This means that often they have dealt with things and become more complete and healthy individuals than many other people in their communities.
This does not, however, prevent them from being human and therefore making mistakes. It also doesn’t free them from the obligations of eating, drinking, needing shelter, and so forth. This means that money is necessary, especially if their spiritual calling involves devoting all their time to it. Some do make a vow of poverty, but does that mean they all should? Catholic priests make a vow of celibacy—does that mean every spiritual leader should follow suit so as to be more virtuous?
The choice to distance yourself from money (or get closer to it) for any reason is a personal one. This goes for spiritual leaders as well. Just because some people turn their spirituality into nothing but profit does not mean that money and spirit must remain forever uninvolved.
Our spiritual leaders are still human, and have both material needs, and the potential for flaws (as well as that valuable ability we all possess—the ability to learn from our mistakes, whatever they may be).
--Spiritual teachings and product should always be made available no matter a person’s needs or financial status.
Yes, sometimes we all have rough moments (or longer!) financially, especially with the way the American economy is tilting these days. However, teachers and officiants and other folks have bills to pay, too. You are not entitled to someone else’s teachings, no matter how fit a student you may feel you are, and you are not entitled to own something someone made, no matter how perfect it may look on your altar. If it’s really worth that much to you, find a way to save for it, or do without for the time being, same as with anything else you may want that isn’t essential to your survival but that you’d like to have.
There are free services in the pagan community; just about every city has at least one or two open to the public discussion groups, and some have open circles that rely on charity at the most. However, their existence should not lead to pressure for those who charge for whatever reason to suddenly give away everything.
Additionally, anyone who thinks spiritual products should always be given away most likely has little to no conception of what supplies cost, how long it takes to make something by hand, and what it makes to just make a business break even, never mind be profitable. The economy is what it is, and spiritual people don’t necessarily have the money to provide freebies to anyone who feels entitled.
I really didn’t want this to turn into a financial matter, but enough people responded that I decided to type out a culmination of the responses that I gave, sometimes multiple times over.
I’m hoping this will be sufficient to make my stance clear on this point. If you missed the original essay, I ask that you take a look at it, since it has more of what I was actually going for in the first place.
(1) The original article may be found at http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=usor&c=words&id=12620
Copyright: Copyright Lupa, 2008. Please link to this page rather than copying and pasting the whole thing elsewhere. Thanks!
Location: Portland, Oregon
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Bio: Lupa is a neoshaman living in Portland, OR with her husband and fellow author, Taylor Ellwood, their cats Sun Ce and Ember, and lots of books. She has been working with animal magic of various sorts for over a decade, and has explored a variety of other practices. Lupa is the author of several books on paganism and magic, as well as a contributor to/editor of several anthologies. She is a ritual tool artist, and in her spare time enjoys gardening and hiking. She may be found online at http://www.thegreenwolf.com and http://therioshamanism.com.
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