Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Magickal Teachers - Paying for Occult Instruction

There have been some recent blog articles on whether an occult teacher and magician should be “kept” by his or her community so that he or she may focus exclusively on the mastery of magick and its dissemination to the masses. One individual has mentioned that he would like to actually become wealthy or comfortably well off while practicing magick full time. Since I have a full time gig that I love and enjoy, which I might add, financially rewards me handsomely, I guess I am little startled by anyone wanting to somehow live off of students or consulting clients. For me, this is not really something that I am seeking, but I do know others who not only have started up a business that instructs and consults others in occult matters, but also allows them to do it as their only means of support. My Tantra teachers are a case in point, and I have nothing but honor and appreciation for the work that they are doing.

However, one thing that I have learned over the years is that spiritual seekers generally don’t have a lot of disposable income, so teaching and writing books becomes, for the most part, a money losing proposition. It quickly becomes paramount that in order to live off one’s vocation as an occultist and spiritual teacher, one needs to gather together a large group in order to sustain a viable and consistent income. What this also means is that the larger the group of adherents one gathers, the less each individual receives of any kind of extensive attention or personal coaching. So there is a balance to be considered between large groups or small groups, lots of personal attention or just rudimentary encounters.

Spiritual and occult empires tend to be money making machines that ultimately cheat individuals out of getting what they think they need from a teacher or guru. Large organizations are not able to tend to the intimate needs of spiritual seekers, so the question becomes what kind of impact is the teacher interested in providing one’s community at large? Obviously, if the teacher is seeking to become wealthy teaching the occult, then he or she will seek to build an empire, and will become yet another large organization that absorbs people’s money without seeming to give them what they really are looking for.

Perhaps the most important consideration that an erstwhile occult and magickal teacher can determine is to define what is meant by being materially wealthy or well off. Is it a requirement for working magick, and how much is enough? I have found that even new age adherents find this a very sticky issue to ponder - some have no qualms of seeking as much material wealth as they can, others are much more humble or ethical.

When working some very powerful invocations many years ago, one of my personal aspects of Godhead told me that my material circumstances were of no concern as long as I was able to do the spiritual and magickal work that was expected of me. This, of course, not only concerned my material situation, but also whether or not I had a relationship, friends to associate with or was enjoying my life. These considerations were my own and had no bearing on the work, as long as they didn’t interfere with it. What I deduced from this surprising statement was that for me, material solvency and personal happiness were my own responsibility. I had to find a balance between doing the work and seeking to materially advance myself. In finding that balance, I discovered that what I require to live on was much more rudimentary than I might have realized if I were not continually seduced by the power of materialism and the need to acquire goods and amass wealth. The secret to a successful occult career is to know the value of what one has and to know when enough is enough. Sometimes this lesson is cruelly and tragically dispensed by events, both foreseen and accidental.

I decided long ago that I was not interested in putting together a large occult organization because I find that I relish extensive individual contacts and also seek to guard my privacy. Since my background is witchcraft, there are strong taboos against charging fellow initiates for instruction and guidance, so I have walked a careful line between dealing with the public at large and teaching those who have received initiation from my hand. Once someone is an initiate in my tradition of witchcraft or magick, they are no longer amongst those that I can or would charge for instruction or guidance. We are supposed to offer our services free of charge to our brothers and sisters, and I would agree with this approach, since it instills a higher degree of ethics and eliminates the possibility of initiates exploiting each other. This is true amongst fellow initiates, but does not apply to those who are not initiated, the outsiders or cowains. It is also true that products such as occult supplies, books or other crafted items can and should be charged for by initiates to other initiates, since there is no such thing as a free lunch even amongst spiritual brothers and sisters.

One of the things that I dread the most would be a situation where I would become a parasite to a group of unwitting seekers. You could imagine it as a kind of giant tick, siphoning off the life force of other living beings and spreading corruption and disease in the process. Such a concept is quite revolting to me, so I would steadfastly avoid putting myself in that kind of situation. Since I am a human being with virtues and failings who is really no better or worse than anyone else and not some kind of omniscient ascended master, it would be profoundly dishonest for me to pass myself off as such, and expect others to take care of my needs or to cater to my ego centered gratifications.

There is a mythic quality to the great spiritual teacher and I have found that the best teacher for me has been the occasional guide, gifted lecturer or insightful friend. In all of the years that I have practiced ritual magick and investigated various occult organizations, I never once found someone that I would consider a master or one in which I would invest my entire spiritual search. For me, such an individual probably doesn’t exist. I have not yet been contacted by any secret chiefs, masters or secret immortal organizations, and I greatly doubt that any such individuals or groups exist in the real world. Such lessons as I have learned have been best apprehended by my own work and effort, even when given advice or guidance by others. Often these insights or advice have been freely given, or perhaps I attended some lecture or workshop and paid a small fee. I tend to avoid those who charge exorbitant fees for their knowledge unless I am absolutely certain that what they offer is critical, unique and important to me. Needless to say, I have very seldom applied for any expensive teachings and I don’t think that I have missed out on any opportunity for real personal growth. 

Spiritual egalitarianism and the establishment of Star Groups, where each member is a valued and equal representative of the group as a whole, is something that I have a vested interest in pursuing and promoting. It’s part of the by-laws of the Order of the Gnostic Star, so it’s obviously something that I must incorporate into my workings when engaging and involving other people. This means that the property of the group is to be shared equally amongst all of the members of the group. It also means that no one either charges or expects any kind of exchange for the gift of guidance or knowledge. Members are treated equally and with respect regardless of their previous experience or level of development, and teachers are nothing more than temporary facilitators who freely give their wisdom and insights for the good of the group. This would apply to both the supplying of temple space, equipment, supplies, books and other materials for the achievement of any group working. The group may extract dues from members, or it may rely on members freely offering goods or services, but the expenses met are considered donations whatever their source, and are the concern of the whole group and not just one or a few individuals. Egalitarianism is something that is difficult to learn and sometimes even harder to maintain, but it is essential if a group is to function as an integrated collective of equal individuals.

Another consideration is mentorship. In order to truly teach someone how to work magick, it requires taking them into a magick temple or grove and sharing the experience of working magick. This process of sharing must be done a number of times for each of the many different magickal workings. This is done in order for the complex system of magick used by the Order to be properly inculcated so that students are able to perform it without any help or guidance. We are talking about quite an investment of time and effort on the part of the teacher as well as the student. In the system of magick that I work, once an individual is initiated, they can no longer be expected to pay for their instruction, and mentoring becomes a very personal and intimate exchange. If experiences are shared, then certainly some of the expense of the workings can also be shared. But I would find it quite unethical to charge such an associate for my time or effort.

Correspondingly, a mentor can only do so much, it’s really up the student to master the work and become proficient in magick. So it’s expected that students will not only engage in shared workings, but will also perform their own and keep a consistent effort going during the training period. Mentorship should also be a temporary situation, having an allotted set of tasks, a finite period and duration. This keeps the relationship from becoming an open ended state of dominance by the mentor over the student. It should be expected that the student, whether less knowledgeable or capable, will either fulfill their objectives or not, and either way, they are respected and valued by the teacher. This also means that the period of personal teaching must end at some agreed upon point, where the teacher and student become independent of each other. This allows the student to either move on or to retain their association with the teacher, but now as an equal and respected contributor.

As you can see, spiritual egalitarianism and mentorship can only be sustained by small groups, allowing for the greatest amount of personal and intimate exchange between members. For this reason, the by-laws of the Order state that temple groups should have no more than a dozen members, since a larger group would not only have logistical issues for meeting and performing rituals, but that individual exchanges would become too limited and brief. It requires a mentor to properly train and teach another individual how to work very complex ritual workings, so a small group can facilitate mentors and simultaneously practice group rituals for the advancement of all members.

So when these considerations are examined and adopted, as I have, one might ask, what area is left for the teacher to teach and be paid or supported for his or her efforts? The answer is the general public - those who have not yet decided to pursue a specific path of magick and become an initiate. In fact the teacher and writer becomes a kind of gateway threshold that separates the serious and dedicated student from the superficial seeker. Often it takes time to make such a decision, where a student needs to have a fair amount of exposure to books, lectures, workshops, personal experimentation and meeting individuals representing groups before deciding to become an initiate. The teacher who facilitates these materials and gatherings for the general public has every right to charge for them whatever amount they think is appropriate and acceptable. The public will decide over time if such expenses are reasonable or egregious, voting with their feet if they find a teacher to be charging too much for what he or she is offering.

A final note: this is a very complex issue that has many deep layers to consider and think about. As a member of an existing organization that has rules, and also because I was initiated and trained as a witch with certain guidelines and expectations, I am not as free as others to charge for my services. But I believe that I am giving as much as anyone else to those who are interested in the occult practices of ritual magick. When someone decides to become an initiate and seeks me to be their mentor and initiator, then the rules must change to support spiritual egalitarianism and personal freedom.

Frater Barrabbas


  1. One on one I teach for free. However complete strangers who take my long term courses which take many hours of work, I do charge for those. To make a living from magic and the occult I have found that I have to work more then 40 hours per week, create supplies, teach, create talismans, do pro work and so forth. It is extremely enjoyable and I personally cannot imagine doing anything else.

    Also, I used to offer weekly classes by donation ($5 per week was the suggested donation). While I would spend far more then that each week for candles, incense, the supplies for everyone to make the items and so forth, barely anyone donated ever. They would all of course tell me they were too broke. However an hour later they would all go on about how much they spent at the mall the other day. I now require either a trade, or a bottle of rum (for me to use in my work) each week or every 2 weeks. This is for in person students. I do have online students which I teach completely for free as long as they keep doing the work assigned.

    Here is something else interesting to contemplate. I really hate this theory, but those who pay for the teachings tend to do the most homework. I am figuring they really want to get their money's worth. I have given many people free courses (ones which are usually $100), and I have yet to see a single one of them hand in even half of the homework.

    I am fortunate enough to receive free teaching, and while I don't pay for it, I do tend to send rather rare and nice thank you presents to show my gratefulness. This is of course is not expected, but for all of the effort people put in to teach, why not.

    I also personally have attended workshops and conferences where I have had to pay. I found them to be worth my time and money.

    The largest danger I see in teaching for money is when someone is tempted to teach someone they really shouldn't because they want the cash. I think one should still be just as selective. On a side note I have had offers of very large sums of money to teach people such things as how to make a demon appear physically or death curse their relatives. I tend to file these requests along with the penis enlargement and vidodin emials. It is always nice to get a good laugh when reading email :).

    I think we do all offer teaching in different ways for free as well thanks to the internet. If someone truly wants to learn, a web search will provide hours of entertainment.

  2. @Athena - thanks for the reply. Quite a number of folks these days make a living or add moneys to an existing career by teaching the occult or doing magickal consultations. For myself, I am happy to have a regular job. I like the freedom of being able to study and do whatever I feel like doing without having to cater to clients and their needs. As I pointed out, training a magician is very time consuming and quite a commitment, so I like to keep that down to a minimum - to those close to me and who are spiritual and magickal allies. That may change when I get to retirement age, though.

  3. I, too, have a day job. I no longer take on students. I used to give readings and teach classes for free. But as the years went on and the books got more popular, things changed and next thing I knew, teaching and giving readings was taking up all my free time. I had to justify it to my family because ultimately they were the ones suffering from my "absence". Since my time is worth something to me (and my family) and my free time is limited as it is (because I do have a day job), I actually started charging for readings and teaching classes as of this year. I personally see nothing wrong with it as numerous authors teach workshops for far more than I do. I don't make money doing it either, but it does ensure than the students who do wish to take my classses will actually do the work since they paid for it. I can't begin to tell you how many people I've wasted my time on in the past because the work got too hard and they dropped out half way through. Teaching is oftentimes a thankless job. And I don't think anyone should be expected to read natal charts or perform work for complete strangers for free. That's a lot of work for me and I think the person who really needs it or wants it won't mind paying a few bucks for my time. I don't charge much at all. Just enough to deter the people who would suck me dry (by asking for reading after reading or joining class after class with no intention of completing them) and not so much that the average person couldn't afford some of my time.

  4. @Ain Soph - Thanks for your comments. I have found that there are many variations to answering the question about charging students. BTW - I have enjoyed occasionally reading your blog "Binah + Chokmah".