money in spirituality My, my, money is a contentious issue at the best of times, let alone when you mix it with spirituality. I have blogged before on the concept of monetary exchange within spiritual paths, and many others I know have discussed the various issues that surround fundraising, paid for services and fair exchange within the Pagan community. I would certainly recommend reading Shauna Aura Knights blog as she has several recent articles reviewing this very subject… and the comments are just as enlightening as the articles.

Let me make my position very clear from the outset, I have no personal issues with monetary exchange for teachers, leaders, clergy, institutions, workshops, training, classes, courses, divination, healing or almost any aspect of Paganism where one person provides time, energy, skill, education, service and value to another. I believe that all people regardless of their profession are entitled to fair exchange for the services they provide. What constitutes fair exchange and whether the service actually has value is a slightly different subject. As someone interested in the skills and services of others, I have happily financially contributed to participate in many aspects of spiritual study (as well as more traditional education), especially those aspects that have been transformational in my life. I consider my financial contribution an energy exchange that enables great leaders, teachers and institutions to remain sustainable and viable, and therefore able to continue providing services to the community. Of course as someone with an unstable income I have often found it difficult to save the money needed, and as such I also really appreciate those same leaders, teachers and institutions for providing the opportunity to participate on a sliding scale, by donation or through an alternative exchange (such as volunteering). As someone who has owned my own holistic centre and Pagan store in the past I have also been on the charging end of this discussion – I have provided goods and services related to spiritual matters for a set fee, sliding scale, donation, alternative exchange or for free.

Due to standing by my beliefs that we are all entitled to fair exchange for such services, I have also been a target for insult, ridicule and monetary based shaming from the very community who used the services my practitioners and I provided. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and personal perspective, and I celebrate the fact that the world is full of diverse views. However, I believe it is important to speak our truth even if our voice shakes, and this is my truth… despite popular Pagan consensus, I believe that it is not only an individual’s right to seek financial exchange for their services, I think it is the morally right response to pay for the services you are provided and to support the people who support you.

Here are some of the common arguments, for and against, that we find within the Pagan community when it comes to ‘Paid for Paganism’.

Soul MidwivesAccessibility – Many Pagans take on the role of clergy within a community, supporting people in crisis, sitting with the ill or dying, visiting prisoners, acting as interfaith members within a community and providing information and support to educational services among other activities. Pagan clergy often incur additional financial costs in transport costs, training, counseling and even licenses and legal registration fees in order to work within hospitals, hospices, and government buildings. Most of the roles that clergy take on are done without payment, and I don’t know a single Pagan representative, Priest/ess or minister who has taken credit card details from a grieving family at the bedside. However I do know plenty of them who have dropped what they are doing to assist others. Very often, what allows us to be so flexible with our time and to give so much of ourselves is knowing that we are financially compensated in other ways at other times. For those working long hours holding down one or more jobs and meeting the needs of their own family, it simply isn’t possible to provide such services at the time they are needed. Many people that take on such roles in the community are self-employed or work flexible hours, providing access to the community when they need it. There are very few institutions outside of orthodox religions capable of providing a living wage to a full time clergy member who can then devote their lives to the community, but if we want qualified, compassionate, considerate and capable clergy to support the community then we must find other ways to support them, to enable them in being accessible to everyone who needs them.

Accountability – People generally dislike paying out for services when there is little transparency over the costs involved and seemingly no accountability for the practitioners actions. Too many times we have seen stories in the media of participants dying in sweat lodges, victims of fraud, ‘new age gurus’ manipulating their followers and supposed covens sexually abusing members or minors. We should certainly expect a level of transparency and accountability in any profession, be that a doctor or a Reiki healer. However I would also like to point out that these cases are in the minority. To assume that every healer, teacher or leader is a terrible person for simply seeking a living wage for their services, is no different to assuming that any working professional is deliberately defrauding or abusing their customers or clients. Sure there will always be some people intentionally harming others, but just because one plumber overcharges, or one mechanic provides a terrible service, does not mean that we should assume every plumber or mechanic is a terrible person. Fight for transparency and accountability, but also be prepared to support that process by supporting the training, licensing, and insurance that practitioners need.

Authenticity – For many Pagans the mixture of money and spirituality raises issues around authenticity. The belief is that if one earns a living through spiritual services then the motive behind offering those services is no longer purely spiritual. If a practitioner needs to pay the rent, then perhaps they will be tempted to provide services that sell, rather than services that are really needed. Perhaps they are more likely to continue offering readings or Reiki sessions to a client, even when that client would benefit more from a different form of healing or treatment. Much of this stems from a scarcity mentality, something many of us subconsciously hold. I can completely understand this concern about authenticity, but I do not like to believe that every person would compromise their morals and ethics even if some do. I do believe there is a solution to this though, develop a culture of understanding that the work goes beyond just ‘Wicca 101’ classes and instead support those great facilitators who provide the in depth work that so few are financially supporting. I don’t feel that we can encourage people to live authentically true to themselves, and then damn them when their life reflects their authentic self.

various professionsCalling – The idea that a person is called into a form of service and should therefore not charge for that service is an argument I have seen time and time again. Lisa Lister of Sassyology writes eloquently on the subject of being a ‘called girl’ (not a call girl, that is something entirely different) and how she manifests that calling in her everyday life. I have to say that this is one of the arguments I find least understandable. People are called to all sorts of life experiences and professions, and we confuse the idea of living true to that spiritual calling with mundane work. Anyone who works in a profession in line with their spiritual calling is manifesting that calling within their everyday life, regardless of what that profession is. Some people are called to work as doctors, nurses, hospice workers, midwives, soul midwives, educators, teachers. Others are called to be engineers, scientists, psychologists, social workers, environmental specialists, vets or priests. Many are called to protect, to serve, to enlighten or to inspire. Regardless of what that calling is, we seem to only perceive an issue with monetary exchange for working in line with a spiritual calling when that calling is a spiritual or artistic service to the community. It is almost like saying that in order to be spiritually worthy you must hold down a mundane job you dislike to pay the bills, and only explore your calling as a hobby or part time pursuit – one that you must fund entirely by yourself, even if others benefit from it. I believe this mentality is the product of spiritual separation.

Energy Exchange – Some practitioners argue that humans are not meant to work as healers or readers on a full time basis due to the impact of energy exchange. Some practitioners also believe that energy for healing or divination is a finite resource. Whilst I disagree with the premise that energy available to a practitioner is finite, I do agree that long hours working as a healer or reader can lead to burnout – in a similar way to high stress professions such as social workers, psychiatrists, police officers and nurses. Working as a healer can expose you to a lot of illness, emotional anxiety, stress, and energy instability. Working with such people can be physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually draining and requires a lot of conscious self care to avoid taking on the troubles of clients or damaging personal health. I don’t know many healers or readers that work anywhere near traditional ‘full time hours’ in such intense one on one sessions, many of them also have alternative work or provide many different services which varies the level, intensity and type of energy they work with. However, I have all too often seen great healers burnout from exhaustion and from a refusal to turn away those in need even when they really should be focusing on their own health, and I do believe that we need to explore this more as a community to create an awareness about the pressures of intense professions, a culture of continual professional development and training, and perhaps even an expectation that those working in the healing services receive regular healing and counseling themselves.

Value – I have watched people studiously avoid the donation jar at a workshop and walk right up to the coffee counter and buy themselves a coffee, or several tumbled crystals and a couple of trinkets to take home. I have watched Pagans avoid donating towards the venue and running cost of a ritual, only to pile into the pub afterwards and spend a vast sum more than the suggested donation on alcohol. This is a clear case of perceived value. Some people simply value their drink more then they value the experience of the workshop, some only value the physical item they can hold in their hands and not the healing they hold in their hearts. Sometimes it is a case of the capitalist and consumerist mindset affecting the way we value hard costs like physical products over soft costs like time. For whatever reason, we devalue the spiritual services that many people offer, such as Pagan Pride Events, Rituals, Gatherings, Moots, Classes, Workshops etc. Despite benefiting from such events, we place a greater exchange value upon other items than we do on the time, skill, education and services of the leaders who organise these events – often leaving the leaders to financially cover the costs themselves and run at a loss for fear that asking people to financially contribute more would be the downfall of such events. Greater transparency of costs will help, but ultimately we have to ask ourselves what do we value?

Temple of WitchcraftResponsibility – We each need to take responsibility for our own experiences and for the shaping of the community we wish to see. We need to be the change we wish to see in the world. If what we want is support and guidance with deep healing work, then we need to support the people who support us. If what we want are more events, a temple space, communal land, institutions that support and protect Pagan rights, education, lending libraries… whatever it is, we need to each be responsible for manifesting that. Not everyone is in a position to financially support that process, especially as individuals, but we need to understand the cost and work involved to create such projects within the capitalist environment of modern living. As a community, fundraising together, crowd sourcing, and volunteering these things are possible – we can see they are possible thanks to the hard work of organisations like Circle Sanctuary and The Temple of Witchcraft. Unfortunately these kinds of projects are often left to just a few dedicated individuals to manifest, despite the vast amount of people that benefit after the fact. If you want something, then be aware of your role in manifesting those desires – understand that much effort goes into to creating the systems and skills that benefit your own experiences. Become a part of that process by sowing seeds, not just reaping the rewards.

Spiritual Separation – This is where I believe the majority of money shaming in the Pagan community lies. The idea that our spiritual existence is separate and distinct from our mundane, every day life pervades subconscious thought. Many spiritual paths, including Witchcraft, reveals the idea that every day is sacred, that we are all interconnected, and that we are all spiritual beings within a spiritual world, and yet the temptation to separate the magical from the mundane is apparent. Too often we separate our sense of spirituality away from the jobs that we do, the roles that we take on with others, our relationships with friends and family, and seemingly mundane actions like eating and exercising. Spirituality is not reserved for periods of celebration, meditation and ritual. If we are conscious of seeing the sacred, the Divine, the magic within the physical world around us, within our daily life, then surely we are capable of seeing the spiritual act found in exchanging money – which is nothing more than a physical representation of energy. Money is the currency we receive in exchange for our own skills, service or labour which we then exchange for other skills, services or labour. Money is nothing more than a representation of that energy exchange from one to another, a representation of the value we place upon services, and not inherently bad in itself. Surely we are capable of seeing this exchange in spiritual terms, that what we are actually exchanging is the energy of earth, the energy exchange to feed one another; the energy of air, the energy exchange that enables training and communication; the energy of fire, the energy exchange that enables each practitioner to stay warm in the winter; the energy of water, the energy exchange that facilitates life and healing. Unfortunately companies that provide electricity to our homes will not exchange their services for less than actual money, so practitioners do not just need fair energetic exchange, they need a fair energetic exchange that can be exchanged with others in a practical manner within modern society.

RRivers logoConclusion: If you read this far then thank you! This is a mighty post, and to be fair it barely scratches the surface of the iceberg. I am well aware that many people disagree with my views, and I am all too aware that my thoughts are not always in line with the popular mentality when it comes to mixing money and spirituality. However I also believe that everyone deserves to live with prosperity not poverty, and I hope to one day live in a world where this is a reality not ideology. I believe that there are issues related to ‘Paid for Paganism’ and that as a community we need to work towards a culture of transparency, accountability, responsibility, continual professional development and equity to overcome the issues. I believe that anyone working in a profession in line with their spiritual calling, whether that be in a profession readily associated with spirituality or one considered more mundane, is entitled to a fair exchange of energy in a manner conducive to a good quality of life. I do not believe that living authentically means that one must live in poverty to prove their spirituality. I believe that money is simply a representation of energy exchange, and I do not believe that shaming people for wanting or needing money to live a comfortable life is acceptable. I am not saying that everyone should charge for their services, that is personal choice, but I am saying we should stop equating free with good and fee with bad. I believe that many people need to reconsider what they deem as having value, and if they do value the services and skills provided by others then they should honour that by providing fair exchange. I know that some people do and will continue to separate spiritual life from everyday life, and that some people, for various reasons, believe that money and spirituality should never mix. I know that some people are oathbound by their traditions to never teach their spiritual paths for monetary exchange, and whilst I may disagree with their views I still honour them for standing strong to their oaths. I know that many practitioners can and do offer their services for free, and I honour them for providing such services to the community – although I may still feel the urge to gift them with cookies and homemade incense as gratitude. Ultimately I believe this is a complex discussion with many different views but it could be made simpler if spiritual separation did not exist – if we remove the idea of magic vs mundane and asked just this question, how different would our answers be?

Is everyone entitled to a fair exchange for the work that they do?

Pagan Blog Project 2014

Pagan Blog Project 2014

This post is a part of the Pagan Blog Project 2014

Now I know this is a very hot topic with many views, and I am very happy for you all to share your views on this blog. All I ask is that you please be conscious and considerate with your language and avoid personal attacks. Healthy discussion enables everyone to explore this topic further. Thank you.

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Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Shauna Aura Knight and commented:
    An excellent addition to the topic of Pagans, Money, and Fundraising by Romany Rivers. Check it out.

    Like

  2. Laura Perry says:

    I’m especially drawn to your comments about spiritual separation. That strikes me as pointing toward the root of the problem, as if money is somehow evil (isn’t that concept a Christian construct?) and can’t be cleanly connected with spiritual work. Definitely food for thought. Thanks for the great post.

    Like

    • Hey Laura, Spiritual separation is a huge concept that we could spend a lifetime exploring, and I certainly think is worth exploring in regards to our personal practice and interactions with others. I am glad you found it food for thought, and thank you for sharing your comments.

      Like

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