Pagan Clergy-to be paid or not to be paid?

This one is all over the place, but still rings true…

Posted: July 19th. 2009
Lately there have been a lot of articles and discussions floating around on whether or not Pagan Clergy should be paid?  Some of the discussion run along the argument of whether or not witches should be paid for spell work or healing, fortune tellers to be paid for tarot card readings, etc., while others concern the forming of groups and covens and where the financial responsibility lies.

There are a lot of mixed feelings about this since many people feel what we do is a gift given by the Gods, the Lord & Lady or whomever you are aligned with and these gifts and talents are not to be abused or debased by being paid for.

The argument in question has many components to it and is really questioning the validation of what we do and therefore what we deserve in return for services.  In all fairness, almost any skill a person is able to perform can be considered a gift and it is up to the individual to develop their gifts and abilities.  There are two key pieces to the question:  What do we do/why do we do it?  What qualifies us to practice our skills and be paid?

To use myself as an example:  I have spent several decades actively learning the craft from mother nature, my family, my coven family my contacts and simply putting in the time.  I have honed my skills in spiritual psychology, tarot, spellcraft, herbal crafts and healing, ancestor worship, cultivating a relationship with deity and numerous other areas involving my spiritual belief systems.   I have spent many years in school to became a counselor in psychology.  I went through the process of becoming ordained and certified through the state (not the web) which required my degree, two ordained persons to sponsor me (one happened to be my Priestess) and many many hours of work.  The long and short of it, is it is a lifestyle, not knowledge gained in one shot or overnight.

From my experience, most people do not want to pay and expect these spiritually oriented gifts for free or at minimal cost.  People do not want to take into account the many years and hours that have gone into honing our craft, knowledge and skills, as gifts have to be developed.  It then becomes a question of who sets the price and who validates the act or skill? The abstract and organic nature of the sacred sciences can be nebulous, murky and influenced by the practitioner in question and their own level of honesty.

Questions and finger pointing arise when spells or divination do not appear to be working.  There are so many reasons for this from lack of skill and honesty on the part of the practitioner to changes that have come about since the working, lack of honesty and a closed heart on the part of the recipient.  (However, the science of these workings is a whole different matter).

In ancient times ‘clergy’ proved themselves. That isn’t necessarily so in modern times. We don’t like to conform or be dictated to by general society as what we do is not understood by the masses and seems abstract and arbitrary by nature.  This lack of conformity also makes it difficult to collectively come together and decide on a universally agreed upon mastery of skills and knowledge to demark a person of quality and ability or recourse when something goes awry.

The next piece of paying pagan clergy evaluates the fine line between what is being provided and how is compensation or respect being shown to coven leaders and elders? Again murky waters and often ill received due to all the charlatans, phonies and power hungry wannabes.   In the past, older covens and tribes or communities were run in a way where people in some way supported the group by supporting each other as a mini-community.  Elders, Shamans, Wise Men and Women provided guidance and spiritual counsel and were in turn taken care of.   The devaluing of spirit in society has led to the devaluing of spiritual counsel and works.  In modern times most of us who work as Priests, Priestesses and Elders must also work a job to pay the bills.  In a coven setting we all help each other for free, but outside of the coven people need to pay, trade or contribute in some way to compensate for the time and energy expended.

This matter can become a conflict of interest when pagan groups and leaders start setting themselves up as a religious order, building churches and attempting to collect large sums of money to support it all.  Honesty and integrity become compromised.  Covens and spiritual groups are usually kept small for a reason. The problem with giving money to groups and covens is that people are just as money hungry and power hungry in the craft as anywhere else. Paganism and Witchcraft are of nature and therefore practiced in nature when at all possible.

In the PNW, most people hold meetings in their homes during the winter or at times when outside isn’t always an option. All of the accoutrements that money is spent on are gathered in that home, and while technically are property of the coven, really belong to the person that lives in the home along with all of the other stuff that is gathered over the years. The person living in that home gets the most out of it and I feel that balances some of the things out.

While churches and clergy provide a service, it is usually to the really large crowd that gathers. In a coven, the group is smaller and part of that premise is that everyone provides the energy so that one person is not drawn upon and depleted. It is the HP/Pess responsibility to be healthy physically, spiritually and emotionally and trained in a way that it can be utilized so they don’t become depleted.

When a group is small less is usually more. It takes less energy to concentrate, unify and focus a group mind. With more people, more props are usually needed. When money is involved clergy has to be trusted to spend money on what the group really needs.   How many altar cloths and different candles sticks or props are really needed for the group vs. what is personally filling that persons void? Are funds being utilized properly? Is integrity being maintained? The time of temples and schools seems to have passed because, once again, of context. I have seen and heard people mentioning the words church and cost. If there are ‘leaders’, it is in their best interest to maintain those roles so they continue to get paid and stay in a position of power. It’s organizing spirituality instead of a religion. Paganism has become so commercial and any self-important person can set him or herself up and convince others that he/she are more knowledgeable than anyone else in the room.  This sends us down a path of controlling behaviors due to the interest conflicts of maintaining a space that may have moved on for its originally intended use or people trying to use funds to pay their bills without being up front about how things are set up.

I have heard it said that the biggest problem facing Paganism today is the inability to pool resources. I think it’s more that Paganism has such a diversity of people and many are not paying their share because they think to be pagan is to live off the land or the system and not work. Well, people who used to live off the land also had a skill that made money or enabled them to trade. That isn’t so for the majority anymore.

I do think that spiritual priorities should be better addressed. I think Covens and spiritual communities would be better served if costs were openly scrutinized. There are some costs that a person would be incurred no matter what. Heat, water, and electricity would most likely be on and used whether people were meeting or not.

When I first came to my covenstead over eleven years ago, there was no money passing hands. The High Priestess did the main dish for the Sabbats. I encouraged them to share the costs so that it wasn’t all on a few, such as $1 donation, alternating makers of main dishes, contributing ritual wine and bringing paper items that are used by the entire group. When our High Priest got sick, I suggested the group get together to do a bit of work outside until he got back on his feet.  This helped offset some of the expenses, created a community mindset and show respect for what was being offered.

Another issue is the cost of classes. In my spiritual group, we have made it part of our curriculum that those climbing the ranks through our mystery degrees are responsible for planning and leading one or multiple classes. One learns what they really know and need to flesh out in order to teach a group. The only time there is a cost is if a special item is needed, but never for a class.

Maybe our group is a bit different than others in our mini-community support. In our current times, it is impossible to have or expect people to respond and live as in times past. We live further apart, work more hours, live in a faster paced society, and have many responsibilities, all of which can only partially be circumvented by choices to live differently.

However, we still must be a part of society if we are to affect some sort of change. In looking at belonging to a spiritual community, there is the question of commitment. If we have agreed to be part of a particular group or association, do we plan ahead? Are we planning financially so that we have our paper and money donations for the month?

Do we make our food with intent that we have some to bring to Sabbats? Do we cut our flowers or bring an altar offering with intent? Do we do the work at home so that we “bring it” to our meetings, groups or covensteads when gather?

On TV, I saw a couple that had set themselves up leaders of the group. Their group did the couple’s housework, yard work and paid for much of their bills. I didn’t see anything the leaders were providing to their coven or to the greater community that warranted that. I’ve yet to meet anyone with that much ability!

I don’t think I would belong to a group that considered themselves a church and became so organized and big that money was such an issue. If one is the paid head of a congregation numbering many, one is setting him/herself up to be a go-between and guide. This creates spiritual dependency and steers us in the direction of ‘organized religion’.

That just doesn’t sit right or ring true to Paganism in my Book of Shadows.

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