Pagan Leadership: Community Building, Facilitation, and Personal Growth

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Paganism: Money is Bad, Right?

*Note: this was first published on Pagan Activist, and is also included in my book The Leader Within. These conversations about Pagans and money and do we pay our teachers come up over and over, so I thought this was worth reposting here as it's an important issue for Pagan leaders. 

Paganism: Money is Bad, Right?

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, money must be raised to pay for the $300 daily rental fee. We haven't even gotten to additional costs, like a group, a website, 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 events in my own life. I was in a car accident in 2012, and without getting into insurance details, the accident was not my fault but I didn'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. After the accident, I still had obligations to travel and teach at several events, but no way to get there. 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 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 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.

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)

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.


Last modified on
An artist, author, ritualist, presenter, and spiritual seeker, Shauna travels nationally offering intensive education in the transformative arts of ritual, community leadership, and personal growth. She is the author of The Leader Within, Ritual Facilitation, and Dreamwork for the Initiate’s Path. She’s a columnist on ritual techniques for Circle Magazine, and her writing also appears in several anthologies. She’s also the author of several fantasy and paranormal romance novels. Her mythic artwork and designs are used for magazine covers, book covers, and illustrations, as well as decorating many walls, shrines, and other spaces. Shauna is passionate about creating rituals, experiences, spaces, stories, and artwork to awaken mythic imagination.  


  • Rick
    Rick Tuesday, 22 December 2015

    I feel your pain. We once put on a ritual and charged for it. The rit cost about $500 and we were roundly criticized for "making money off paganism."

    I like your attitude that you put into something according to how much you value it.

    There is a hoke - maybe you have heard it. "what is the difference between and New-Ager and a Pagan?" Answer: $500/weekend.

  • Katherine Cotoia
    Katherine Cotoia Wednesday, 23 December 2015

    Well said and well written! I am tired of hearing people say that those of us who charge for our services are taking advantage of those trying to learn. It took a long time and my own money spent to learn the knowledge I have, of course we have to charge for our services. The unhealthy view of money with Pagans is a problem and I thank you for pointing it out. Again, well written.

  • Raye Snover
    Raye Snover Wednesday, 23 December 2015

    It is absurd to think that Pagan clergy shouldn't get paid. In many religions, their pastors, priests etc get a house and a stipend, and we as pagans think we shouldn't pay for a class? How can we expect our teachers to give their all to community when they have to do other work to support themselves and feed and clothe their dependents, let alone pay for travell and supply costs? How about just time? Time is more valuable than anything, they are spending time away from family and friends and their own practice to teach us. Just because one feels called to do a job or enjoys the job doesn't mean one shouldn't get paid for it. We wouldn't think of not paying a doctor who loved their job. This article brings to the forefront a bad misconception Pagans have about money, a subject that needs to be rectified if we are ever going to move forward as a community.

  • Gregory Lane
    Gregory Lane Wednesday, 23 December 2015

    I have a question. Does the author, or anyone who charges money for "spiritual" workshops and classes, have a category of business license, which is required to charge money for those services? Is she required by law, to then have a 501c non-profit designation? If not, it's likely that she's required by law to have the words "for entertainment purposes only" attached to everything she charges services for, and can only write off materials, supplies, travel expenses, etc. from her taxes if fully licensed, or covered by a 501c . If she's charging money for "spiritual services" without following the laws for a business license, a fortune telling license, a 501C or etc, then this points to a fundamental flaw in the reasoning of the article. If the author is licensed as a business, a fortune teller, and follows the laws for "entertainment purposes only," then that is a different story. You can't claim it's OK to charge money for these services unless you're licensed and paying taxes on it, or under a 501c, where she would be required to show that no profit is being made.

  • Rick
    Rick Wednesday, 23 December 2015

    Can't answer for the author, but I run my services under an LLC. I have thought of switching to a 501c, but there are some drawbacks to that.

  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale Tuesday, 29 December 2015

    How I deal with the money issue is that I don't charge for gythia services, but I have things that I sell: books, or scarves or whatever. It's simpler. People understand exactly what they're getting. They understand the concept of supporting someone's business. There are people out there who think books should be free, too, of course, and piracy does eat into my book royalties. My book income doesn't actually cover my expenses. The only reason I'm able to afford to travel to some festivals and other heathen events is because Tom wants to go and brings me along for the ride. I've joked about selling books at an event to make it an official business trip to write the trip off, but the truth is that would only matter if I actually made enough money to pay taxes in the first place, which I don't. Maybe he's a literal godsend, provided by the gods so I can do their work. They have provided what I really needed to keep going, but I wouldn't tell anyone else they should rely on the gods to provide for them. Not only because "should" hardly ever leads anywhere good, but also because as pagan and heathen faiths grow we will hopefully reach a point where we can provide for ourselves.

  • Kristina Galbraith
    Kristina Galbraith Tuesday, 29 December 2015

    When someone comes for services and then doesn't think they should have to part with something to balance out the time and energy they are asking me to provide I feel very used. My time and energy are valuable to me and using them for the betterment of someone else needs to be compensated. In this world, we now use money to barter with. It would be the same as a basket of vegetables being left for the time/energy you spent for them. It is insane to think that getting something from another person and giving nothing in return is right or healthy. If they have trouble paying I can work out other ways to help, mow my lawn for instance, since that is what I need and would have used the money for. Spiritual work is draining and by not offering something to help the worker you are abusing them and that will not have good repercussions for you. To many of my Pagan friends allow the abuse because they believe they are doing good things to help people. But in truth they are being badly abused by those who feel something for nothing should be the norm when it comes to Pagans and the work we do. Several of my friends cannot get their basic needs met unless they have a job outside the realms of the spirit work they love. If you really feel that a "donations only" meet is the way to go then be willing to list the real costs of that meet so the people attending have a chance to see where their donations are going. More might be willing to donate then.

  • Rick
    Rick Tuesday, 29 December 2015

    That is a great idea! At least in terms of what hard costs are.

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