Monday, 16 February 2015

Charging for Services

Recently there was a discussion (read argument) started about charging for magical services - tarot readings were included in this.

The person who started this discussion claimed that if someone comes to you in need, you have an obligation to do what they need and not charge for anything more than materials.  She did also go on to say that anyone who charges in that situation is an asshole and not a Real Witch.  Someone else said all people who charge are fakes.

The inevitable back and forth between several people followed.  There were several points raised though that I would like to explore further.

Magic For Personal Gain

There seem to be a few firmly held beliefs regarding the morality of using magic for personal gain.  Some seem to believe that there's some Universal Rule against this and that using magic for (any) gain is black magic or dark and evil.  However, their idea of what constitutes personal gain seems to be limited to monetary gain, love spells or power over someone.

Others hold that no personal gain is like a selfless act - there is no such beastie.  No matter what you do, you will be gaining from it in some way and that to tell yourself that you're against it is delusional.  They often also go on to point out that this "rule" has come from the tv show Charmed.

The Wiccan Ordains or 161 Laws based on Gerald Gardner's Old Laws was raised.  Specifically numbers 119, 120 and 121.  They read as follows:
119. Never accept money for the use of the art, for money ever smeareth the taker. 'Tis sorcerors and conjurers and the priests of the Christians who ever accept money for the use of their arts. And they sell pardons to let men escape from their sins.
120. Be not as these. If you accept no money, you will be free from temptation to use the art for evil causes.
121. All may use the art for their own advantage or for the advantage of the craft only if you are sure you harm none.

A commentary on the provenance and validity of these Rules can be found at Wicca: For the Rest of Us .

Interestingly, using it for your own advantage is not a problem - just money.

I learned that even Gardnerians don't necessarily agree fully with them or follow them - that comes down to each individual coven.  But even if they did, these Ordains or Laws apply to Wiccans and cannot be assumed to cover all who use the word Witch.

It was pointed out that Cunningfolk and Traditional Witches (Pre-Wicca) would expect payment.  If you didn't pay, you didn't get the work done.

What Constitutes Payment?

A further point in this discussion was about what constitutes as payment for services - trade, barter, gifts, donations (or koha as we'd call it in NZ).  No real answer was given from the Soapbox shouter.  

Someone raised using spirits, Gods or ancestors in magic or calling upon them for help.  In many traditions, the spirits demand payment - in some, they set the price.  That payment may take the form of specific foods or beverages as offerings, some valued item as sacrifice or time spent in praise and worship.  They may require that you charge $X and that half of that is to go to a certain charity.

As many wise folk have said repeatedly, it is foolish to constantly beg for favours from your Gods and Spirits and do nothing in return.

In the case of the person who raised this topic and used it to insult everyone who charges, she gets paid in warm fuzzies for having helped someone, testimonials and a sense of moral superiority.  These are all still payment for services rendered.  She benefits from her acts.

Value and Worth

Frequently raised by those defending their right to charge was placing value on yourself and your work.   This was countered by asking for payment "cheapens" or "prostitutes" magic.

For some people, tarot readings and magic for others is their livelihood.  This is what they do so that they can afford to live, eat and have choices in their lives. 

For others, charging separates those who seriously have issues from those who are just time-wasters.  I know someone who will now only take a booking with a deposit.  She's had too many people make a booking and not turn up for it.  She is turning others away because she is booked at that time.

In my own experience, I have learned that generally people don't value what they can get for free.  There have been a rare few that have valued and appreciated the things I've done purely out of the goodness of my heart.  More commonly, it becomes an expectation that I'll keep doing it whenever and wherever they happen to need it again.  I had a friend who asked for a reading on a fairly regular basis.  It got to the point that she'd come and visit me or I'd go and see her, we'd have coffee and a chat and I'd time how long it would be before she asked for a reading.  I was also always having to rescue her from some magical drama.  After a while, I said I couldn't read for her anymore because I knew too much and didn't trust that I wasn't just projecting my own crap into it.  I haven't seen her in a few years now.  I guess my friendship was all about doing things for free.

There is another woman who calls me every so often.  She almost demands (in an emotional blackmail, terribly desperate, so much drama way) that I drop everything and do what she needs.  She ties up my phone line for ages, not hearing me when I tell her I can't talk right now, or that I can't do anything at the moment.  She seems to have no concept of boundaries either - she's even asked if I had a spare room she could stay in.  She treats me as if I have nothing better to do with my life than step in and solve her latest drama.  Now to clarify, I've never actually done anything to help her in any of her dramas except listen to them a couple of times - it's not an expectation that has any basis in historical actions by me.

Another chap used to ring me up with some drama.  I did a couple of readings for free and offered some simple and common sense advice for his issue.  I found out he'd done the same with a friend who offered the same advice and gave him the same answers in a reading.  He called me about a month later to rave over a reader he'd paid who gave him this wonderful advice - which was exactly what he'd been told for free by me and the other friend.  He didn't listen to anyone but the one he paid.

I choose to place some value on myself and my abilities.  I value the wisdom I have gained and the time it has taken to get there.  I believe that anyone else can get to the same place with time and a little effort.  All the knowledge is out there, it just takes work to turn it from theory into practice.  I will not be treated as a doormat by someone who believes it should all be free.

Knowledge and Wisdom

I don't know why the difference between Knowledge and Wisdom is still so hard to understand for so many people.  One of the arguments in this discussion was that knowledge should be free.  Knowledge is free.  Wisdom is different - no one can give you wisdom, you need to understand the knowledge before it becomes wisdom.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.  Wisdom is not putting tomato in a fruit salad.

This argument is also used as justification for illegally pirating books.  But it misses that in the back of those books is usually a bibliography - effectively a list of sources ie. where the knowledge came from.  However, the author took those sources and created something new and different with their own wisdom and bothered to make that wisdom available for others.  That effort deserves compensation.

Doing Tarot readings or magical work for people is no different.  Anyone can pick up a tarot deck and tell a story.  Anyone can learn all the book meanings for the cards and how laying the cards out this way means x, y and then z.  Most tarot readers take this to a deeper level.  Their experience in reading is not something you can just pick up from a book.  You aren't just paying for someone to flip over some cards and recite an arbitrary memorised meaning - you are paying for the wisdom and experience that recognises this card in this position with that card over there has usually meant something deeper. You are paying for their talent and abilities to hear other messages, to recognise patterns and to relate that to you.

A Need for Magical Intervention

Another point raised by the poster was how she'd never turn away anyone in true need.  When someone knocks at your door absolutely beside themselves, crying, shaking, hurt, scared and so on, you'd be a cold-hearted person indeed to demand payment before doing everything you could to help them.

At no point however, was she able to give us an example where a spell is needed as a first response over say, Police, Ambulance or some other form of professional help.  Only after a lot of questioning did she say that she recommends counselling or does any form of divination, digging or fact-finding to find the truth of the matter.  It had been directly asked enough times for me to wonder if this is true or if it was something she said to shut some of her detractors up.  She just said over and over that she'll do her spells for free for people in need and that anyone who turns away someone in this state is an asshole.

I have had close friends and family come to me in this state.  I will always do what I can for them.  Unless they're always in this state and it's time for a harsh life lesson about standing on your own two feet and not needing to be rescued repeatedly.  I think that's a completely different thing from having a random stranger knock at my door wanting or needing my help. 

Still, I can't think of a single situation that would require a spell first or in which a spell would be a good idea.  I can think of situations where I have called in magical help but only because I knew the back story and it wasn't a sudden out of the blue random visit.

Frauds and Scam Artists

Apparently, in the eyes of several, anyone who does ask for payment is a fake, is scamming you or is purely in it for the wrong reasons. 

No one disputed that there are fakes out there, there are people who'll take your money for little to no real work done.  However, to tar all who charge with the same brush is unfair and ill-informed.

I certainly wouldn't pay anyone online to do any work for me even if I wasn't perfectly capable of doing it for myself, unless they had come with strong recommendations from people I trust.  I've seen one crazy lady share photos of a curse that she was allegedly casting on our group.  Funnily enough on her blog, the description of the curse her husband was casting on another group altogether fit the pictures she sent to us.  Wow, multi-purpose curse, that's some talent.  And I certainly hope it had any effect on the other group because none of us have noticed anything at all.  My point is, how could you know that the work you'd paid for had been done?  If a photo is sent to you, how would you know that it isn't the same photo sent to every other sap who's paid for work?   There can be no guarantees, there is no way of separating the real from the fake.

Just as in any case when you are spending money on something you can't get a guarantee for, use your common sense.  If someone does a reading and then tells you they'll remove this curse/bad energy/negative spirit/some other terribly scary sounding affliction from you that you'd never previously noticed for a sum of $X - you're being scammed. 

The Conclusion of this Discussion

At the end of it all, the Original Poster claimed it was just a troll, lots of laughs and she learned a lot.  Thanks to everyone for handing her her ass on a plate.  Still somewhat cynical about this sudden back-down, but hey, it gave me food for thought.

The general consensus was that if you want to charge, then charge.  If you don't, then don't.  If you're willing to pay, then go to someone who charges and if you're not then go to someone who doesn't.




  1. As in interest note "The Ardanes" reads in a similar manner to "High Magic's Aid". Very similar "feel" behind the words. Similar word and phrase choices.
    Gardner's "High Magic's Aid" has been critiqued as very poor in the literary sense and "almost impossible to read with it's language". I'd agree that is of the level of a good fanfic story wise but the material in it is more important, and indeed it's language choices are very characteristic.

    1. That is discussed in part in that link I included.

      The Laws/Ardanes/Ordains didn't appear until fairly late in the progression of Gardner's work - however, there are bits that made an appearance in his fiction. Suggesting to some that they were truly from Black Forest Coven and passed down through the ages - even though there is a lot of historical inaccuracy in them. Others say it proves he pulled them out of his arse.

    2. This is indication that the Black Forest "Coven" was a theater group, and had influence from the occult revival as it was common for poets and actors to be interested in the occult and mysterious - just as it was common for certain magicians to raise funds for their operations by making them into public plays.

  2. A hiding or misdirection spell/work is one of the few that can be done without checking. Basically to buy time or settle someone pursued (real or imagined).
    Having pursuer turn-up while you're working out the next step reduces your option for a best response.

    Having said that I know "some people" who just seem to stick out like sore thumbs for the troubled...

    1. Would you do that for a random stranger though? Without knowing if it's the Police looking for them for some crime?

      Yeah, I know I attract the flake factor. You've told me that often ;)

    2. yes that I would do - especially if it was today's police chasing them. It's a sanctuary thing - however it only buys the time to fix things eg start gathering information. Part of it is to take pressure of the pursued, as those who are cornered seldom act well.
      And yes such things need to be extended carefully and offered grudgingly - as is the case with all power.

  3. More on the Ardanes. Gardner trotted them out when he needed a reason to dethrone his High Priestess (after all it is suppose to be the Goddess/Woman in charge of the Coven or Family matters, yes?) So there was reason he wanted his new young starry eyed Maiden to replace the Matriarch (another "M" that has recently been well described by a fellow Witch).

    But reading the Ardanes as well as some other old texts you can start to spot the age and influences. Worth going through them step by step as I did so long ago. Take for example, the Christian commentary. Many witches were happily practicing Christians so several of those Ardanes don't make sense. Also in older times the Wice weren't overly literate, or were in great command of subordinates - there was quite a inequality gap in the dark and middle ages .... Remember there was no English translation of the Christian Bible until William Tyndale and Thomas Cromwell managed to get the heretical text published, and even then it took a long time to get to England, 1526 first printing NT, 1538 Thomas Lord Cromwell's "The Great Bible". Before that all scripture was in Latin, as that was "God's Word" and it was heresy to change it's form or translated it. Likewise all scripture charms would have been worked in Latin (the magical word bits, not the crystalisation/distillation poem)

  4. The money thing.
    Basically the rule is you can serve Mammon or God(s).

    If you're doing magic then the goals of magic prevail.
    If you're in business then the rules of business economics prevail.
    If you're doing "charitiable work" towards humans then the more worldly one becomes.

    If we look at this from the Great Work perspective then one must ask, "What is your Great Work?"

    This is why I can look at some "gods" and see that they are more human creation than divine simply because their worshippers desire flocks of faithful. AEgir & Uranus (the god, not the planet) don't require churches, prayers or worshippers, taking money or not is hardly something they're going to give the slightest damn about.

    But churches are business.
    Temples and Village Priest are positions of _secular_ influence. For that they require payment.

    Those who are god(ess) called serve without payment, they don't even get the payment of choosing who or what their response will be, refusal will result in either punishment or direct compulsion. This is because they are servants, slaves if you like. Their "reward" is serving well, and occasionally getting better skills and abilities to improve their ability to serve. You train your major domo, your get the best teachers for your pet gladiator... but they aren't paid by the guests or spectators...

    1. That's one view.

      My witchcraft is not tied to my religion. Witchcraft is a skill set, magic is a tool I have learned to use.

      My religion is different and separate. When my Gods demand work of me, it rarely involves the use of magic.

      Spirits and ancestors are not Gods, they have different requirements and they need to be fed just as much as I do.

  5. My magic pervades everything I do, there is no separation.
    As for relgiion, religion is about doctrine and philosophy - there is no God in the Church, nor in the other religions of mankind...which makes sense when you think about it.
    When we talk of gods, or more accurate the divine and the beings connected to it, then we talk of spirituality, not religion. So when we're talking service we talking great work and personal internal development. For those that are called they aren't tied to religion, but through the spirit. Which is why payment is not appropriate - one doesn't pay ones' fingers, or give offerings to ones' legs. Practise yes, strengthen, improve, look after (or neglect).
    This is similar to the Families, one provides service to the family/Tribe from obligation and that is part of the "Geri" (English: duty) of being a member. But in the case of these services are definately sold to outsiders, and at a very high price but the payment is not to indviduals. No more than you'd go around a Maccers paying each person a part of the burger price.
    That is done for many reasons - part of it is that it is unreasonable for each member to worry about the billing and marketing process, as they each have their own contracts and obligations. This allows for specialisation and more importantly not being caught in the Guph trap (chasing trade and material heart)

  6. In case you're wondrnig what the "Guph Trap" is, I've got a few minutes to expand on it. the model I'll use for this purpose is the Tree of Life/Qaballah.

    In entering the worldly concerns of Guph and holding them in honour one opens ones self to the Shells involved in the Fall. The things which become important are those which Babylon on the serpent create as attractive desires (ie things which we want). There are seven shells, which I'll relate to the trading issue.

    Thamiel: The Duality. Kether represents the fluid unity, the marriage, the great rite. Thamiel is duality, the us and them, hers and his. In this we see a world which requires payment, a "this" for "that" double transactional echo of the divine. ie you have something I want, so to get you to part with it, I must find something more desirable to you and part with it. The lie of value and desire are the warning signs.

    Chaigidel: Not so evident within the transaction but in the lack of purpose. No longer is self improvement desirable but the desire for wealth as wealth as conceived as desirable power.

    Sathariel: Pretty much tied to the previous but this one is even more sinister. What is the divine? Earthly and sensate things are the only things which are real, all divinity is really just a lie, truth is in material world and benefits derived therein.

    Gamchicoth: want. needless want. buying things to impress yourself and others, with money you know you shouldn't be spending, wasting time working for or getting which could be used for better things.

    Golachab: Again not obvious in a single payment, but lets just say government and it's paperwork and neverending streams of compliance paperwork and bills. The mob decides what is righteous, is your market ready for your product? Or should magicians all be burnt for heresy. Let's vote.

    Thagirion: not relevant. Although perhaps anxiety over money and trade issues.

    Harab Seapel: Some folks wouldn't aid a stranger in need.... others not even a friend... A true friends pays back without demand. For the payment is a donation to help others, not a thing of demand.

    Also listed online are Samael (who is actual a dark angel, not a shell), Gamaliel (likewise), Nehemoth (which IIRC is a plural and thus a rank/type but also a name). Since I was taught of seven heads and shells, I'll stick with the ones I've expanded, as these three don't make sense as shells.

    For more generic usage the description should prove more useful for tracking down the influence and ferreting out it's Name.

  7. I wonder back before that days of surplus we enjoy, when life was very much making sure you have food for the next day/week/month/season, it would have been perfectly reasonable/expected to give your Shaman/wisewoman something in exchange for their works on your behalf.