A friend of mine who is a solitary witch once said to me, “You should never have to pay to learn about your religion.” I was a bit of a fluffy bunny at the time, so I took her words to heart. For a long time after that, I made a squinchy face whenever I read about a “fee-for-service” class (or a class you have to pay for) on Paganism.
But then I started thinking critically about how I was learning about Paganism. I found things online, but I knew they weren’t always reliable. I read books, but the information wasn’t always researched. Whether I was spending my time online or my money on books, I was learning from others I didn’t know individually and couldn’t talk to personally. I began to question if that was really the best way for me to learn. Did I want to learn from people I’d never met? From people I’d never know?
I am on several local and national Pagan email lists, and I hear about face-to-face classes a lot more now than I did when I was a newbie.* It’s exposure to this kind of information that has caused me to rethink my stance on fee-for-service learning (along with my own aforementioned experiences). Also, I’ve come to understand that people who share their faith through fee-for-service often have to charge a fee to cover costs of space and materials. Unlike Abrahamic religions, Pagans don’t always have a brick and mortar space to call home. Sometimes we have to gather in faith in private homes, public spaces or even private spaces that must be rented. [Sometimes we choose to gather in these places.] In addition, I’ve noticed many classes are offered on a sliding scale or pay-what-you-can basis — so these instructors are not trying to price gouge students or dupe Pagan newbies and a quick buck.** For my part, I am interested in learning about various types and aspects of Paganism from people I trust. And I value their time enough and expertise enough to pay for it. If this describes you, too, here are a few helpful hints on finding a good class on Paganism.
Choosing a Class on Paganism
1. How do you find a good instructor? Get connected.
If you are new to Paganism, new to your city or new to taking classes (face-to-face or online), I recommend you start in two places. Look and see if your area has a local Pagan Newswire Collective Bureau and make contact with post authors. Find your local Unitarian Universalist Congregation and make contact with the ministry. Anyone associated with the PNC or the UU should be well-tuned and well connected in your local Pagan community. They can probably direct you to a good teacher or find someone who can. You might also try asking the Oracle for “Pagan groups <your city>” to see if there are any Meetups or Yahoo Groups you could join or send inquiries to. The main piece of advice here is talk to other, local Pagans and ask for recommendations on teachers and classes.***
2. How much should you pay? Price compare.
Whether you are taking a class online or in person, be mindful of how much you are being charged. I can’t give you an exact range of what is an appropriate course fee because prices vary depending on whether or not they include materials (such as selected readings [books, journals] or instruments for spiritual work [candles, wine/mead]). I recommend you price compare to figure out if you are being charged fairly. If you are looking at local, face-to-face classes, review course offerings from several instructors and compare costs. If you are taking a course online, review course offerings from known entities such as Cherry Hill Seminary or Ardantane, or really any site that posts their price list and appears to be current and maintained. (I don’t recommend using sites that are outdated as a resources for any purpose.) If the course you are considering costs more than Cherry Hill or Ardantane offerings (sans supplies), that should be a red flag. If you are going to a retreat or a festival, that is an entirely different story. Well, not exactly, you should still get connected to make sure the retreat is legitimate and you should still compare prices with other Pagan retreats.
Regardless of how you find your teacher or your class, know that once you are in the course or at the retreat, your comfort matters. For guidelines on how your interactions with other Pagans and Pagan groups should be, consult the Seeker’s Bill of Rights (scroll to the bottom on this link) and the Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Framework (ABCDEF). You should never feel compromised or coerced. Any person or group that makes you feel that way is not a good place for you (or for anyone).
What do you think, Realm? Do you think its okay to pay for classes about your faith? Have any non-Pagan readers ever taken (and paid for) a class on your religion?
* Interestingly, I haven’t read or heard of a class on Heathenry. This may be because there are “original” texts on Germanic and Norse traditions, making Heathenry more a reconstructed than constructed faith.
** That’s not to suggest there is anything wrong with making money as an instructor of Pagan classes. Unlike followers of the Abrahamic faiths, Pagans are not expected to prosthelytize or required to evangelize. Those who feel a calling to teach are not prohibited by any spiritual guidelines from making a profit while doing so. Jax explained this in detail in an earlier post.
*** There are a wide range of classes available, from reading tarot to learning runes to spiritual meditation. I recommend finding a good teacher first and then finding out if they offer a class that appeals to you. A good teacher will usually be able to refer you to another good teacher on a specific topic.