In a recent article on the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering blog the question of whether it is ethical to charge a fee for spiritual instruction. The traditionalist stance is that of course it is not and in a conversation about the issue on What Has Never Been, I had the chance to debate the issue at length. Regular readers of my blog may want to take a look; I get a stern talking to by a witch that I know which showed me that this is a more emotive issue than I imagined it to be. I would like to say at this point that in general terms I agree with the original article but at the same time that it may not be applicable across the board.
The original article refers to “Prosperity Consciousness” which is defined as the buying and selling of spiritual guidance or development, and goes on to describe the sorts practices that are the hallmark of the new age consciousness. While I am not a big believer in the power of crystals and neither am I inclined to examine my shamanistic spirit, for those that are these may well be very valid spiritual paths to pursue. For those people it may well be worth the money that they spend on developing their new age awareness and to my mind it isn’t important if there is a monetary component to a spiritual study, the only consideration is its efficacy.
Because I have become noted for my occult interests I am constantly invited to be involved in courses of study, workshops and other new age spiritual experiences, almost all of which come with a price tag, sometimes quite a hefty one. It seems that everyone with a magickal bent is keen to share their dark occult secrets- for a price, and it is interesting that these sorts of private instructional classes are aimed at witches. Not the traditional witches but the modern eclectic witch. The accent is heavily on magick, Tarot, crystal and herbal lore and other new age flavored topics. There is almost a total absence of ceremonial magick workshops or courses being offered in a similar way. In fact it is very difficult to find Hermetic magick lessons online at all and even the revivified A.A. is doing its best to discourage new applicants with complicated and difficult entry conditions.
Figures presented to the American Academy of Religions conference last year indicated that a large number of new agers identify their practices with witchcraft in some way and that the overwhelming majority of them are solitary or otherwise unattached to any sort of tradition. This means that they are embarking on their spiritual journey without the guidance that they might otherwise get in traditional paths. At the same time a strong consumer component has been identified as being of some importance to new age spiritual beliefs generally, a topic that I covered at some length in my article for Moot Magazine earlier this year. This has generated a great demand for pay as you go magick lessons of all sorts and their continued survival indicates that there is a healthy market for them.
This indicates a couple of things: either there is a never ending supply of new novices at magick lining up to be fleeced or else some of these workshops are actually offering something of value to the people that participate, or both. The use of social media like Facebook groups to advertise these events is all pervasive and the participants are usually computer savvy enough to go online and expose a con job and yet there seems to be a very low incidence of bad reviews. In fact it is often quite the opposite with former attendees willingly endorsing a workshop in laudatory terms that marketers dream about. In advertising terms this is genuine social proof of the value of the product, only happy customers volunteer testimonials.
As a classically minded magician I have often looked askance at some of the descriptions of these classes in occultism. With high sounding titles that promise to have you “playing with the universe” or “evoking angels” my skeptic alarm is pretty quick to sound. In other instances I question the wisdom of exposing novices to the occult to dangerous practices that may come to obsess even a more experienced magician. Offering to demonstrate the method of evocation in a two hour class seems somehow an inadequate preparation for facing Asmoday in the Triangle. Another fellow that I know is offering lessons in a technique of Chaos Magick that relies heavily on the use of sigils. He assured me that attendees ‘often get immediate results’ but he had nothing to say about what they did after they left the workshop and went into the world armed with a magick that they hadn’t learned well enough to be fully in control of it when they use it. Other popular topics for instruction have been focused on “spellcraft”, usually offering to teach student how to cast spells to attract love or money (the perennial favorites) or offer instructions in the ‘mechanics’ of ritual (I assume this is something to do with the theory of magick).
At the same time ‘Pagan Studies’ has become a part of the curriculum of many large modern universities around the world and many of the academics are themselves practitioners. Statistically it is more likely that they are solitary, eclectic witches (most of those that I know are) and they are offering officially accredited instruction in new age spiritual practices. I imagine that many of their students are themselves witches and it is certain that they have paid (probably through the nose) to go to that university and take that Pagan Studies course. This kind of study is well outside of traditional methods of verbal transmission but is it also devoid of any spiritual enlightenment?
While I agree with the sentiment that it isn’t possible to buy enlightenment, and it is certainly not possible to become an Alexandrian witch in six months of expensive classes, the communication of the hidden wisdom has transformed and we find our teachers in unexpected quarters. It may well be that for some students, isolated perhaps or unwilling to join a group that they will find the spiritual instruction that they are looking for in an internet course. Maybe the information that is acquired in a workshop will contain a gem of wisdom that makes the price tag insignificant. On the other hand I don’t expect to get much out of a class that teaches me how to put a few feathers, a crystal and a sprig of an exotic herb in a velveteen bag as a charm to attract money. Either way this phenomenon isn’t going away and I am sure that after the wheat is sorted from the chaff that there are opportunities offering real value if you can find the right people behind them. As with everything in life there are always going to be shady operators that see it as a way to make a quick buck but the sheer volume of information sharing that is going on means that at least some of it must be worth the money.