Good Press, Bad Press

Sometimes I am torn between keeping silent, and speaking my mind. I have decided in this case to speak out.

The last few days have seen an article called Lessons in Modern Witchcraft, Minus the Broom circulating around the Internet, touted as an example of good press for Wicca. (Let us put the emphasis on the fact that this school is claiming in the article to teach Wicca and not Neo-Paganism or any other Pagan path).

When I first started blogging I wrote another blog about this same school of witchcraft in New York. Now, after studying Wicca for over a year and earning my own initiation, I would like to reiterate my thoughts.

I find the idea of charging money to students whom you plan to eventually initiate absolutely abhorrent. I feel even more strongly about this than I did a year ago.

Teaching a basic Wicca 101 class at a festival, Pagan store or public event? Then yes, the teacher has every right to charge for the teaching. In this scenario, someone is performing a one time service, sort of like performing a wedding or a funeral, and (one assumes) no secret teachings will be shared. This is not a case where you are connected to the teacher, or they are charged with teaching you the mysteries of the Crafts. They have made no promises to you and you have made no promises to them. In this scenario, buyer beware.

Does the teacher need to rent space for the class or need materials? Then yes, again, it is appropriate to ask students to help chip in the money for these things. But there should be honest disclosure about those costs in the very beginning. When you first start talking to a teacher, these costs should immediately be a part of the conversation. There is no stigma to charging an honest, proportionate fee for rental of a space. (My partner and I teach out of our home. We invite students into our private space to avoid expenses like this).

But asking for money for the teaching itself? Charging students that you will be escorting through the mysteries of the various degrees of a tradition? No.

A lot of people like to argue that paying for teaching Wicca is like paying for a college class, as this article does. This is not like going to college, this is not like buying a service. This is someone who is going to bring you through the veil; this person should not be doing this based on a financial transaction. This student/teacher exchange has nothing to do with money.

In traditional Wicca, teachers do not charge to teach the Craft. Oaths are taken about this.

Anyone who is charging to teach traditional Wicca is selling something other than Wicca. And I think that this article proves some of this.

“Let’s begin,” said Arlene Fried, another instructor, who sat behind a folding table that had been transformed into an altar, complete with candles, a chalice, a black-handled knife and a tiny caldron.

“Which of you can tell me what that star around your neck is called?” Ms. Fried said.

“A pentacle,” Ms. Collins replied.

“And what is it for?” Ms. Fried asked.

“It gives us protection against anything negative or evil; it’s kind of like a cross for Christians,” Ms. Monzon said, staring into her notebook as she spoke. “The top of the star represents the spirit. Each of the other points represent an element: earth, air, fire and water.”

My pentacle has nothing to do with the Christian cross. My pentacle has nothing to do with negative or “evil” energy. The very idea of evil is not a Wiccan one. Why would I ever compare my pentacle to a Christian cross?

I am horrified all over again by this school.

According to their website, they even charge an annual fee and a monthly tithe once you belong to their “temple”.

I am slightly relieved after digging further into their website (which on the Home page is covered in the word Wicca), to find that they are not actually traditional Wiccans. They say that the temple, “at its core, teaches a practice based upon many traditions. This core tradition has been conceived by two eclectic witches, by harmonizing and synergistically blending time honored tradition(s) into practical modern based witchcraft.” But most of their web page (and the article) cries that they are teaching Wicca. I see this as false advertising and feel bad for anyone who is seeking actual Wicca.

If you are seeking a traditional Wiccan initiation, do your research. Talk to the teacher in question. Seek other members of your Pagan community out and ask about the teacher’s reputation. Once you are initiated, the person who initiated you is your reference, they are your lineage, they are your proof of having done the work and gone through the training. At that point, anyone may call them and ask them to vouch for your initiation. Any traditional Wiccan teacher will immediately tell you (if you are discussing becoming their student), who initiated them, and they will not charge to teach you the Craft. This also goes for sexual or other “favors”. Any teacher who wants something so mundane for passing the Craft on is someone should be avoided like the plague. While a great deal of the Pagan community these days does not see the value of initiation, this is an example of where that lineage is necessary.

I hate that “schools” like this are becoming the proof that Wiccans are mainstream. Teachers like this are unethical. And as a traditional Wiccan, I hate the idea of people associating me with a group like this.

May the Gods preserve the Craft. The true, oath-bound, difficult to earn Craft.

26 thoughts on “Good Press, Bad Press

  1. Excuse my French, but what a crock of bull-shit this idea and practice of teaching online and charging money for it. This has been going on for decades with first cassette tapes then DVDs these “teachers” would sell you. I guess now they could just Skype lessons too. I have had 2 long distance students, one of which drove many times 500 miles up from NC for teachings and initiations. And another in Florida who i email daily and talk on the phone once a week, and he too will have to fly up to PA to prove to me he knows how to do the rituals and for his initiations. And i never charged either of them a dollar. And it took a lot of soul searching and their persistent dedication for me to even teach that way, believe me. Thank the Goddess my late teacher taught me directly in a coven situation and my students learned the same way. Yes drawing down the Goddess and God Must be directly taught and experienced, not learned in neat little lessons. Hey, is there an App yet for my smart phone that will chant the calls for the directions yet? lol. I guess next the Japanese will develop some holographic glasses to project the Watchtowers and a full temple around a darkened room.

    • Lauren says:

      Sadly enough…there are a lot of “Wicca for Dummies” apps…my coven was having brunch last year and as a joke one of them checked the app store and lo and behold…*sigh*.

      • Yea i figured those are probably out there. And with virtual reality technology growing by leaps and bounds i am sure the holographic temple is coming. Hey maybe it will let you experience the Great Rite that way with a blond, brunette or redhead virtual priestess of your choice, or a well-endowed Pan priest, lol.

  2. syrbal says:

    ::::shakes head:::: Yeah, a load of what makes the strawberries grow. And I, too, (tho’ not Wiccan of any stripe) despise that this kind of crap is claimed as proof of being ‘mainstream’…after all, I think mainstream is as much a derogatory term as not! If mainstream means trivial, mediocre, petty-minded, and prone to blowing its own orthodox horn; yeah why would ANY pagan want to BE that?

    Tho’…(evil giggle)…it being Summer Solstice and with Promethea around the corner, a well endowed and good natured Pan priest does sound awfully tempting!

  3. Cin says:

    I don’t mind charging a bit for supplies, for example we used to charge 101 students 5 bucks to help cover photocopying costs and candles, etc. but once you are in a coven setting or serious working relationship it changed. Some covens do monthly dues. This again is small and helps cover the cost of candles, libation, supplies used etc. but generally it is put back into the coven so it’s recycled for your own use.

    Not so sure about straight up charging though unless it somehow goes back into your learning. Course I’m also a bit weirded out by schools for witches … So I just don’t know how to feel.

  4. Sean (Shadar) Bigham says:

    If one does not agree with others terminology, nor practice, nor application of philosophy, then one is not of those religious beliefs and should either stand aside from them and not judge, or themselves declare openness to not only rebuttal but also similar dispute and dismissal. That is why we have developed open and closed ‘traditions’ in the modern evolution of the Wicca and Pagan societies. Although many ‘Wiccans’ agree along many lines of philosophy and practice, not all are remotely the same when it comes to their unique ‘traditional fill in the blank,’ Most people who call themselves Wiccan do not realize that they are actually Modern Witchcraft Practitioners or Neo-Pagan followers themselves and have little to tie them to the BTW, Gardnernarian or Alexandrain teachings. A sad fact we are all ignoring, and even less of us are trying to educate others about.
    So, hold true to your teachings, and follow your path…seekers find teachers for and about their own beliefs.

  5. Pixie says:

    I just think Wicca is hard to teach online: but if you can charge for books what’s different about materials you will take the time to make and distribute online? It certainly depends on the school, and yes an initiation or degree should never be guaranteed but I know a few people that teach online courses as well and I feel their courses are legitimate and yes they do charge money for them: they also invest their time and energy into preparing the courses and interacting with the students as they would an in person student. I just think the idea that charging for your classes outside of materials and rental space is a little silly: even if you are not bestowing degrees or initiations on students, you still have the right to charge for your time and instruction. I don’t like the implication that money somehow sullies the teaching relationship because the matter of it is that everyone needs money, it doesn’t make a teacher illegitimate if they charge: but yes, when something is obviously designed to make money that’s a bad thing. Of the people I know charging, classes are small, and often difficult to get into: one is either “in the know” or not: and even then, classes are somewhat difficult to get into.

  6. Rain Adkins says:

    BRAVO!! This is the subject of one of my priestess vows: “…to take no pay for magic, nor for the teaching of the Craft.” I’ll take a contribution for supplies (at cost) if the apprentice can afford it, and in my trad it’s customary for h/er to provide lunch/dinner/whatever on lesson days if s/he can, and occasionally a chip-in on the gas or busfare if I’m coming to h/er house is welcome. PERIOD. No other costs accrue to h/er, or ever will. And, incidentally, only one person has ever finished training with me or most of my tradmates in less than a year and a half, and she’s a tremendous self-starter. (She tore through my first-year syllabus like her damn hair was on fire. 🙂 ) Most students, even very good ones, need two or three years to get through the material and show us they’ve really engaged the Mysteries.

  7. Rain Adkins says:

    PS–Anyone here who hasn’t read the late Ellen Cannon Reed’s THE HEART OF WICCA might want to do that; it’s right on point. Ellen and I never really got along, and I don’t agree with everything in the book, but IMHO, its heart and mind are definitely in the right place(s),

  8. Shantel says:

    Hi, my name is Shantel and I am a student at the Wiccan Family Temple. I just wanted to correct you on some things. The only reason why the classes cost money is because we are not fortunate enough to have our own space. My high priestess lives in brooklyn and wanted to provide a better location. La Tea performing arts studio charges 30 dollars per hour for us to rent from them, so she has no other choice but to charge. Alot of times there arent enough students to cover the costs, so she takes money out her own pocket. The costs were made clear to us at the beginning. The money that is charged goes toward the space and any extra goes toward the temple’s events. We are having witch fest for instance, as a street fair to educate the community and have fun. The insurance costs over 300 and the stage cost over 400 for the performers. We like to do alot of events in the community to educate people and reach out to others. If my high priestess could do everything for free she would. Before she got sick and was working, she used to cover all costs herself. My high priestess is a loving kind person. Her husband died and 1993 and she developed lupus in 2007 but still continues through her pain to try to help others. As far as perserving the difficult to earn craft, I think she wanted to help good people willing to learn and not be so selective if a person shows dedication.

    As far as my peer referring to the pentacle in the way she did, for her it provides her protection, similar to how a cross provides protection for some people. If that is what it represents to her, I cant judge. I think you should try to get to know others before you judge them, and you might see that we are kind hearted people. Blessed Be

    • Lauren says:

      I guess I’ll take this comment to comment. Now that you point it out, I do have experience with your temple. My partner and a good friend performed at your witch fest last year and had a heck of a time getting paid afterwards! It was just one excuse after another. It sounds like you guys have a lot of money issues in general. And if you’re going to educate the public, do it with correct information.

      If you can’t afford to do something, don’t do it. Be responsible. Teach out of your home and don’t pay out of your pocket. It’s lovely to want to do things for your community or to have fancier space, but you shouldn’t until you can do so in a reasonable manner. Be as kind hearted as you like, but the way people get to know a group like yours is through your website and your press. As a public group, you need to understand that you will be judged on what you put out there. And what you put out there this time around was appalling.

  9. Shantel says:

    one more thing, there is a yearly membership fee that goes to cover our costs for events. The only monthly fee anyone pays is if they are students to cover the cost for the space. You do not have to pay a monthly tithe in order to belong. We also rent this space for sabbats and esbats that is 10 dollars, because we are charged by the hour to be there. But no one is turned away because of lack of funds.

    • Lauren says:

      This is what your website represents to the public. It says “A yearly membership fee will be charged, which is to be paid annually” and “Monthly tithes: The tithe shall be paid by each member (Potential, Dedicant, and HP, HPs) to the Money Witch”.

  10. Shantel says:

    It is my dream to branch off and start my own temple one day and help guide other people. I will not charge if I can help it, but not everyone is fortunate like you to have a home to teach from. And you may not see us as wiccans. But wicca is diverse. No one has a right to define it. Our tradition may be different from yours, but we celebrate the cycles of the earth, and live in harmony with nature, worship the goddess and god and try to be better people and help others. No one has the right to say who is a real wiccan or not.

    • Lauren says:

      Are you living in a box? I have a tiny apartment, we are not wealthy people, we manage just fine. As an initiate of Wicca, I do have a right to define it, it’s part and parcel as my role as initiated priestess. Wicca is not whatever you want to make it. Go out and actually learn some real Wicca and get back to me on this one.

  11. Shantel says:

    my high priestesses are also licensed state reverends, one recently put in paper work so we can be a not for profit. Many temples, churches, mosques etc. take contributions from people so they can have events and services in the community. No one is forced, lied to or manipulated. Spiritual service should be free, but the space is not free for us. There are many expenses we have to cover. We recently did a interview with the villager and had to talk to her at the burger king around the corner because we did not have extra money to rent a space to talk to her. I dont mean to be so long winded or cause problems. I just think its sad when people have judgements of us without getting to know us first.

    • Lauren says:

      The very fact that your priestess had such a hard time coming up with the money to pay for the witches fest tells me that either a) people who have a choice to contribute can’t afford it or b) people don’t think it’s worthwhile. When you’re a public church, these are the things that your group will be judged on. You seem to have a lot of apologies and explanations for all of these issues. That in and of itself speaks volumes.

  12. Arlene Fried says:

    So essentially what you are telling me is that there is only one true way to be Wiccan. I am sorry, but how is that different from the Christians saying that “only through Jesus can you be saved”.

    I too am from the Wiccan Family Temple and am Arlene Fried. As a Wiccan (and yes I do embrace that word because I earned this through 10 years of study) I believe that we all have a right to worship in a way that calls us and will respect everyone elses’ right to worship the way they chose and be called what religion that calls to them. It works for them and that is all that counts.

    As part of a larger community we should all respect each other and become part of whole. Really, why can’t we all just get along?

  13. Lauren says:

    This isn’t about practice or how you’re worshiping. We aren’t debating over how you cast a Circle. This is about ethics. And yes…there is a pretty standard set of Wiccan ethics out there…charging money to teach the Craft is considered to be unethical. If you want to be respected by the larger community, you have to pay attention to the ethics of the larger community.

    • Arlene Fried says:

      So the fact that we are renting a space that makes it convient for everyone to meet up, we should not be doing that. Lauren, in the city, that is rather difficult to do. I personally live in Staten Island and where Starr lives is very inconvient for me to attend classes there, as it is for many of us. Hence, why we are renting a low cost space in NYC. We have people that attend from Queens, Staten Island, New Jersey, Brooklyn and the Bronx. Our location is convient for everyone and this space is low cost. We make nothing out of this and in fact, help many people find a purpose. If everyone was in the same location, I could understand. Not when our students come from outside and have alot of travelling to do.

  14. Lauren says:

    According to the news article, it is $25 a class…so if there are 15 students, that’s $375 a class x 24 class times ends up totaling $9000. That’s not taking into account annual membership fees or monthly tithes. This strikes me as being an awful lot of money for just renting a space, even if you are in NY. (And supplies don’t cost that much either).

    Or, if it is $1800 per student over all (again from the article and again not taking into account annual and monthly dues/tithes), that’s $27,000 (for the quoted number of 15). Again…lotta money there…especially if you’re claiming that the space you rent is low cost. Obviously this money is going somewhere other than renting space.

    • Arlene Fried says:

      Unforutnately, the number 15 was over several years of classes, not for one year. We usually have 1-3 students for the beginning levels and they drop off after a month or two. Many times we are lucky if we have enough money to cover the rental space and have had to dip into our individual pockets to aid us in paying for the space for classes. We do not take a monthly tithes, just for space and supply rental for the rituals. The space costs $30/hour. We provide printed handouts of the lesson as well as some supplies for some of the classes the students are taken. The journalist was taking alot of literary license on the article. At present, the head of our temple, is barely living on disability due to an illness and food stamps,

  15. Arlene Fried says:

    The following is taken directly from our website:

    “7) Monthly Tithes shall be used by the Wiccan Family Temple to fund the rent of ritual space, the purchase of ritual supplies, and to sometimes cover cost of members who cannot afford to fully pay there portion. The Board of Council Money Witch will insure that an adequate record of monies received on behalf of the Wiccan Family Temple is kept.

    NOTE: Amounts may vary as the Monthly Tithes are used to cover Wiccan Family Temple costs at said times.

    The words tithe and dues are used as a familiarity from people attending from other religions. The ones that pay dues, pay a reduced fee in order to attend rituals.

  16. Lauren says:

    Also directly from your website:

    1). A yearly membership fee will be charged, which is to be paid annually: Entitles you $5.00 payments at all Sabbats and Esbats rather than full payments…

    3) Monthly tithes: The tithe shall be paid by each member (Potential, Dedicant, and HP, HPs) to the Money Witch.

    4) A Potential or Dedicant member who is in arrears in paying the tithe or any other owed class fees more than (3) three months shall automatically have all privileges suspended which include Sabbats, Esbats, rituals, classes, meetings and WFT events till tithes are current.

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