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.