One of the questions that comes up is the question of charging for training. Some teachers and groups are absolutely against it. Some charge enough to cover direct costs. And some charge substantial fees. No wonder it’s confusing!
One reason it gets confusing is that we’re talking about different things. A class or series of classes is an experience. A coven is an ongoing relationship. What makes sense in one context may seem very wrong in the other.
Charges may be seen as reasonable or acceptable when:
- There are substantial costs with hosting the event (renting space, providing significant supplies).
- A class or workshop has a limited duration (And after that end date, you may not see the other people in the class – or the teacher – much or ever again.)
- An event is open to everyone (or anyone who agrees to basic ground rules) rather than involving a substantial acceptance process.
- The classes are designed on a mainstream educational model (you show up, you learn, you go away) rather than an ongoing community model (you show up, you collaborate, you do things together, you stick around and do it all over again.)
- The content is practical, not religious. (Teaching astrology, herbalism, other divination methods, or purely magical techniques, for example)
- The specific community involved has a public value of honoring the time of the teachers or group leaders this way, and has some specific guidelines or consistent practices about how that works.
- There are options for those who are sincerely interested, but short on cash (sliding scale, work-study, payment over time, etc.) if appropriate to that class.
Charging is much less commonly seen as acceptable when:
- The relationships (friendships, etc.) are as important as the content knowledge (in other words, a coven or direct initiatory setting).
- The monetary costs are not high (meeting in someone’s home or a public space with no rental fee.)
- Someone is sharing knowledge they got without monetary charge.
- Both parties are benefiting: the ‘student’ by learning new information, but the ‘teacher’ by getting to try out some new ideas, or be asked thoughtful questions. (A workshop at a festival, say, where there’s an ebb and flow between the people there, and people are sometimes teaching and sometimes learning and sometimes listening and discussing).
- And, of course, if a particular tradition or path specifically forbids it.
So, if a coven is meeting in someone’s home, and it’s expected that people in the group will eventually develop close relationships with each other (seeing each other outside of group activities to go to the movies, for example, or have dinner), charging starts making a lot less sense.
Some complicated combinations:
Some teachers and groups charge in some situations but not others: Some paths feel it’s appropriate to honor the work of a teacher – and money is one common way to do that in our society. Some teachers charge for general courses (like a 101 class), not directly leading to initiation, but stop charging when a student switches over to being a prospective initiate.
Wicca 101 classes (or similar introductory classes) may be run by a group as part of their own filtering process for potential members. Charging for these is generally seen as acceptable by many people as long as it is aimed at covering costs (not producing profit). It’s often considered more polite to leave any discussion of the particular group membership process for the very end of the class series.
Charging is actively expected in some settings. For example, the Afro-Carribean religions often expect a substantial payment for initiation. This goes both for supplies, and to pay for the huge amount of time and energy needed from the people running the rituals. (which would preclude working a separate job during that time in most cases.) There are some links at the bottom with additional perspective on this.
However, these things don’t apply to most Wiccan-based groups: while time and energy is required to prepare for initiation (for both the initiators and initiatee), they can be fit around most jobs and other obligations with a little planning, and the out of pocket costs are low.
It’s common to see charges for magical services which are not linked to teaching – in other words, you’re paying someone to be the equivalent of your doctor, plumber, computer tech fix-it guy, or other similar service, but it’s a magical or ritual skill. That might be true for various healing practices, divination readings, house cleansing or blessings, weddings or namings, and so on.
What else goes into the decision?
Money means very different things for people – $20 might be nothing to one person, and a week’s food budget for someone else. Setting fair prices that include people across the socio-economic spectrum is therefore complicated. Healthy groups generally need to figure some way around this.
Religious witchcraft paths are fundamentally religious – many people feel that it’s inappropriate to set a price on helping someone develop their own religious understanding and path.) Training and teaching in this setting is a very emotionally intimate thing: just like you don’t charge your friend to hang out and go to the movies, you don’t charge someone to come over and talk about a subject you both care about deeply.
Paying money can complicate the interaction. People who pay for training may demand initiation at the end of it, even if their teacher feels they should not be. Likewise, paying for training changes the relationship between the teacher and student: the student may feel they can demand changes in what and how they are taught. In both cases, a teacher in an initiatory tradition probably has commitments to the tradition and to the Gods, and may feel put in a very difficult position.
Mixed cues. Paying for teaching can lead some people to feel they have a right to their teacher’s time and energy outside the class setting, or that their needs are more important than the needs of someone who is paying less.
The question of expenses:
The other issue is that of course, the costs differ depending on your set up.
- A class meeting in a rented space is less personal, usually, and will usually have to pay for room rental and supplies. And often photocopies. This is perfectly appropriate for a general public class on a range of topics.
- Class or ritual in someone’s home has a different picture. They already have their home, and many supplies are not vastly increased by adding a couple of people. (If I were doing ritual for myself, I’d still be opening a bottle of wine, baking some bread, and lighting the same number of candles).
- Many groups that don’t charge don’t provide lots of printed material: students are expected to take notes or copy materials at their own cost (either in time or money).
So, how do you sort it all out?
What path does this person claim? Does that path have a standard position on charging for teaching? If you see someone claiming to be Gardnerian, and charging for classes in becoming Gardnerian, something’s off somewhere: Gardnerian practice is not to charge. (As is true of any of the British Traditional Wicca trads). If you see someone in Reclaiming (where charging for foundational workshops is common), that’s a different situation.
What does the money actually cover? You may not know all the details of their costs, but you can usually get an idea of what’s going on. If you’re clearly using a rented space, and there are lots of photocopies or other included materials, obviously, that costs money. If, instead, you’ve got very generic materials and little individual interaction, maybe the charge makes less sense.
Ask, if you’re not sure. The way someone answers will tell you a lot, as well as whatever they actually say.
If the person or tradition brings up the ‘honoring the work of the teacher’, is the amount in question actually an amount that is reasonable? How much time do you get with the teacher? How much time do they put into materials each month? How original are those materials to them?
This is one of the things with the online schools you see: say someone charges $20 a month. Some of that will go to hosting (let’s call that $5, which is actually quite generous.) And yet, $15 a month is an insulting amount if someone is providing extensive one-on-one interaction that takes more than an hour or two. But if you’re not getting individual feedback and support, what makes this $20 a month more useful to you than a book or an online forum with varied membership?
Are there options for people for whom money is tight? Or for whom it becomes tight (medical need, lost job, etc.) Generally, healthy groups truly interested in sharing what they know with others will have some possibilities for these situations. (Sliding scale, work-study, etc.)
How long do the charges continue? A charge for a series of classes or workshops is one thing, but is there an extremely extended sequence of charges? A couple of months is common. A year or even two years is not unreasonable if it’s well-structured and you have a good idea of what you’re signing up for (or if someone needs to book travel time, rental space, etc. for that entire time-frame.) But more than that, you should very carefully evaluate: a lot can change for everyone in a year or two.
What happens if you decide that this opportunity is not a good fit for you? Do you need to pay up front? Do you have the option (and if so, what happens if you decide it’s not working for you? Do you get a refund?) Do you have any obligation to continue? These are especially problematic.
[last update October 28, 2011]