I was reading an article that’s being thrown all over Facebook as proof of how mainstream and accepted that Wicca/Witchcraft is these days. The article is “Spelling Lessons: Wiccan Studies Is on the Rise” from the Village Voice. It talks about the Wiccan Family Temple Academy of Pagan Studies in New York and how it’s openly teaching the community about Paganism.
One of the main themes of the article is money; how the students of the Academy have been hit hard by the financial times, and about how the Academy has had to raise their tuition.
I have a lot of issues with this. This is supposed to be a Wiccan school. In every Wiccan tradition that I know of, one takes an oath at initiation not to charge students for being taught the craft.
No one that I’ve known personally who teaches Wicca charges for the learning process towards initiation. In all the learning circles I’ve been a part of, students have helped pay for supplies and chipped in money if needed to rent a space. But they have never paid the priest or priestess who is teaching them.
When I posed this question of paying to learn the Craft on another forum, I was blown away by all the responses I got that all agreed that one should have to pay to learn the craft. You pay for your education in an academic setting, don’t you? Why would learning Wicca be any different? You buy books, don’t you? Obviously people don’t appreciate something unless they have to pay for it.
One woman said “We do realize that this is a profound taboo that we are violating, but it’s worked for us and we’re glad we did it, although we do understand and accept that most people in the Craft cannot and will not violate this taboo, and we don’t expect or want their choices and decisions to be the same as ours.” She also went on to explain why they had made the decision and explained that she asked for fifteen dollars a lesson. Fifteen dollars is not unreasonable and she was very upfront about why she was doing it. She also said that as soon as a student got past the dedicant stage (or the Wicca 101 stage), the fee was dropped. This I can respect.
Someone else said, “My current course I am doing via correspondence, and it is on the high end $50 per lesson, but it comes with over 25 pages of written text, and a long distance phone call. I really don’t think she is making much on me at all, and the little she might be im glad to give.[Sic]” While she may be glad to give this money, whoever this teacher is, is definitely making a lot of money off of her and whoever else is enrolled in these classes. This is an ethical issue to me. I have a great job and make a decent living, I don’t know that I could afford to pay fifty extra dollars a week to pay for learning about my spiritual path. And no one should have to.
I think Jason Mankey summed it up pretty well (and if you’re not familiar with Jason Mankey, check out his blog Panmankey) in his response: “When teaching a specific tradition, it’s much easier, ‘this is a part of our tradition, I’m not charging for it’. Honestly, the idea of anyone charging for information specific to a tradition is rather revolting, and in my mind it instantly screams ‘unlegit trad’. However, getting paid to teach ‘Newbie 101’ doesn’t bother me so much, and even with the great amount of books out there it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a teacher around to ask questions. The moment you bring that student into the circle though . . . then the questions start.”
This Academy is clearly making people pay for the privilege of being initiated. And it certainly doesn’t sound like they’re teaching responsibly either. The article states, “Wicca is an open religion that prides itself on acceptance, drawing inspiration from Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Native Americans—any and all spiritual practices may be included in Wiccan worship. Thus, religious tenets are widely interpreted, with each high priest and priestess changing spells to fit their needs”, which is patently untrue. Wicca is extremely codified, while different Wiccans may worship different Gods and Goddess, and traditions do handle those things differently, within the Wiccan traditions (Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Georgian, Feri, Blue Star), ritual is very specific. The article continues to say, “Although Ravenhawk doesn’t say it outright, her students might also be leaving to get their educations elsewhere”.
And maybe that is also a part of this issue. I don’t see how you can really teach the Craft to more than a few people at a time. So much of it requires intense focus and hands-on learning. Most of the teachers I know refuse to take just anyone who wanders in off the street. Most students have to prove their willingness to learn, that they want to be there…and maybe paying for lessons is one way to do that. But I have a whole body twinge when I hear of someone charging students this way. Wicca 101 is one thing, you can get that from any Llewellyn book you care to pick up, from the internet or from other less than scholarly sources. Initiation though? That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms right there.
In Blue Star, drawing down is literally invoking a god or goddess into your body. Do you really want someone who doesn’t actually know what they’re doing trying that? When you’re initiated into a tradition, you’re usually working with powerful magic and with the Gods themselves. This is not Wicca 101. Everyone I know that’s tried this stuff before they were ready had terrible things happen to them…in one case a house burned down. The teachers I know work very closely and very personally with their students. It’s the only good way to teach this stuff. Most of the teachers I know also refuse to teach over the phone, realizing that there are some things that just have to be shown. Some schools are very responsible in what they teach…others, not so much. But when you have a school that has questionable teachings and they are charging large sums of money for the privilege of being initiated, and that is what the media is focusing on to bring a positive view of the Wiccan community, we have a problem. Is this really how we want our community represented? Even if it is with a positive attitude?
In addendum: To clarify the quote above, “My current course…i’m glad to give.” the author added: .”Let me clarify. It is $50 per lesson, not per week. 25+ pages per lesson for 12 lessons, 3 cds, and a OVERSEAS long distance phone call and postage from the UK………Just thought you might want to amend your blog so it is accurate. Sorry for not being more clear.”