Sometimes you hear, in the Pagan community, the assertion that you should never have to pay for Pagan teachings. While a lovely idea, in practice this is nonsense. People’s work, time and effort should be fairly recompensed, as should the costs of any materials, location booking, printed handouts etc that are part of a standard teaching session.
On the other hand, I have recently seen some discussions on Pagan online spaces that seem to suggest that paying for Paganism automatically makes you a better Pagan. This is also nonsense.
While many Pagan groups keep their fees for members as low as practically possible, there will always be some who cannot afford to pay. The attitudes that paying membership fees to some organisation or other means you are more committed to your Paganism than someone who cannot do so is not only clearly wrong, it is discriminatory and privileged. If you earn a comfortable wage then the cost of a Pagan membership might seem trifling to you, but for someone deciding between that cost and feeding their family, it can be a fortune.
When someone comments that the cost of membership fees is, for instance, “less than a cup of coffee a week”, there is an assumption that everyone can afford a cup of expensive store-bought coffee a week. I know when I was out of work I couldn’t.
It reminds me very uncomfortably of comments recently from some US Republicans that people could afford healthcare if they just didn’t buy an iPhone. It suggests that poor people are just irresponsible with their money, and if they really wanted to, they could budget enough.
The other assumption is that people are choosing to spend their money on, say, a cup of coffee rather than membership to a Pagan organisation because they care more about their coffee than their Paganism. Comments I’ve seen to this effect accuse people who can pay fees, but choose not to join a larger organisation, are simply seeing Paganism as a hobby and are not *srsly srs Pagans*.
While I applaud the work of Pagan organisations, especially those that offer some form of compassionate membership discount for people of lower incomes, I feel that it needs pointing out that you don’t have to be a member of a Pagan church, Order, coven or any other group, to be Pagan. And it certainly doesn’t make you less serious about your Pagan path if you’re not. Some of the most interesting, inspiring and committed Pagans I have come across are, or at least have been, solitary practitioners.
Joanna Van Der Hoeven’s The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid is one of my favourite books, and it eloquently discusses how to be a Druid without necessarily joining any organisation at all.
This is not to knock Pagan organisations, I am a member of at least three myself, because I am lucky and privileged enough to be in a position to be able to afford to at the moment. That could change.
But it is a plea to show compassion to people who cannot afford membership dues, travel costs, libraries of books or course fees. They are no less Pagan than anyone else.
And those who choose not to pay for any of those things, and simply greet the Sacred in the sun and the soil, they are no less Pagan either. Arguably, they may even be more so.
Because, as far as I am concerned, Paganism isn’t really about courses, organisations, churches, Orders, certificates, degrees or books. It’s about your own personal relationship with the land, the sea and the sky, and with the Sacred, whatever you conceive that to be.
And that, thankfully, is free.