Behind the Broom: What the Books Don't Tell You

Witchcraft Philosophies, Action, Leadership, Humor, Outrage, Awkward Mishaps, Lovable Lessons, and a search for Grace with a clumsy Witch.

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Hold your Morals. It's all about Will.

It's a pleasantly cool August night, and my partner and I are drinking Mojitos on the patio, the laughter from our friends drift up from the pool. Once in awhile, we hear the melodic chants of the guest Coven, raising energy in the new sacred space we carved out in the woods just last week. The lights are dim in the freshly painted cabins, as some of the greatest minds in contemporary Paganism arrived last night to circle and discuss Magickal and theological gems. Within the walls of our sacred Pagan space, we have no need to explain ourselves. Trees get hugged, and there's no eyebrow raising. The Fey get their due respect without reminders. The Unicorns are only ever fed with the produce from our collective garden and Peter Dinklage makes a nightly stop to simply have a chat and sometimes lets us ride his pet dragon around the area. It's a great place.



Tonight actually included bodega beer, helping our neighbor stuff soiled cat litter in mouse-holes, and the gentle sounds of the NYPD pounding on the apartment door down the hall. (Their kid was launching water balloons off the roof again.) Just curious: Which version do you like better?

Or better yet, which version do you want to manifest?

Over the past few months, several writers have stirred the conversation about paying clergy. It's a hot button, perhaps unusually hot even among our typically opinionated demographic (the Pagans). I've read arguments for paying clergy and against. There is a draw toward staying volunteer-led and organized. Some say it's because the Priest/esses of whatever culture were all of service and never paid, back in the day. Others say that we need fulltime clergy in our traditions, whether to legitimize us or provide more support for the things we want to do. The conversation keeps coming back to what is legitimate for the Pagan faith and identity. Is it spiritually relevant to have paid clergy? Or does a salaried staff of faith leaders strip the Magick from our world?

I'm not writing this post to explain the rights or wrongs of paid clergy. But logistically speaking, it's something the Pagan community still has yet to get their heads around.

It's not a moral issue. It's not a Pagan vs. Non-Pagan issue. Paying our clergy won't make us more "like them" (whoever the nebulous 'they' are).

At the end of every festival or gathering, there comes a moment when a blissful, dewey-eyed participant will say, "I wish we could stay here, forever." The idea of Pagan sanctuary where our folk are able to run free with horns on head and dance at nightly bonfires, year-round may not be much of a feasible reality (Jobs, etc.), but the deeper message is a longing to have a place to call "our own." When the tents are struck and the fire-coals finally extinguished, the camp or ground will most likely be turned back to a secular organization or one of a different faith. The stories of festivals losing their space to a rent-hike or a Church's board of directors deciding they don't want Witches on the property are common. Many Pagans say they don't want infrastructure. Yet as Ivo Dominguez Jr. pointed out in a Wild Hunt interview last week, the schools, grounds, and sanctuaries many crave are all part of the controversial idea of infrastructure.

It seems as though the same people who fear the idea of a brick-and-mortar Circle also crave that same brick-and mortar Circle--or at least, the benefits of it. Maybe it's because those who understand the needs of the edifice don't complain about its lack. Last year, I wrote about how a community member railed over my lack of availability. "As a Priestess..." is often something people say when they want more of me. When I respond that I simply don't have any more time, some feel that I am letting them down. Maybe I am, but there is only so much of me to go around. If this were my fulltime job, I would certainly be more available. But it's not, so I only have so much to share.

Here are some basic facts about what my community receives, or doesn't, as a result of me being an vocational-volunteer Priestess:

-I work 40-60 hours a week--my day job plus Tarot clients and teaching classes. My community does not pay my bills. I do. For over a year, I paid mine and my partner's living expenses while he searched for work, as well as all the vet bills that piled up when our cats did a get-sick effect, falling domino style. Fortunately now, I'm happily part of a two-income home so I don't have to take as many clients or teach as much. Even so, between work and trying to get a bit of rest, some quality time with my partner and maybe give a little attention to my personal interests, I don't have a lot of extra time to counsel individuals the way a full-time pastor with office hours might. My community enjoys rituals and events that I throw and maybe we can get a conversation in here or there, but they'll not get a lot of 1:1 time and I won't be coming to their houses for dinner very often.

-I offer classes on a sliding scale, but I cannot offer them for free. I've had Christian, Muslim, and Jewish friends laugh, saying, "That's like us paying to go to a prayer circle." But without a brick and mortar building, I have to pay for the space. The occult store where I frequently teach is very generous with their flexibility, but they also have to keep the lights on and their own bills paid. The money has to come from somewhere!

-My offerings are limited. Mainstream faiths often have protocol in place to address their leaders' limits. One minister might take care of the music while another prepare the liturgy. One minister's sole vocation may be the administrative duties of the congregation and a different minister prepares the children's services. My training has focused mostly on trance, meditation, and ecstatic practice. My rituals aren't geared for kids and in some cases might scare them. Periodically I receive requests for children or teen Wicca classes and while I love that idea, it's not something I am able to offer.

-Burn out is a consistent threat and because of it, I have to say "no" to a lot of beautiful things. I recently said no to helping organize a festival I adore. The regular organizers themselves are burned out and while I want to see it thrive, I also know that I would fail--either I would not complete the task because of my other obligations, or I would burn-out entirely and not be able to do anything. I recognize that I, as a human, am a finite resource, myself.


Because I am an unpaid Priestess, my community suffers. 

However, community led by volunteers does indeed have its benefits.

-Money is not the boss of me
When I was in Seminary, I sat alongside would-be ministers, nearly all of whom were progressive like me. They wanted their Churches to perform gay marriages. They wanted community gardens on their Synagogue grounds. They would march alongside the marginalized and call attention to injustice. "You say that now," said a well-meaning TA. "But wait until you're facing a congregation whose wealthiest members don't agree with you. Will you preach that sermon if it means those members walk out the door and never contribute to your Church again?" Suddenly, my colleagues realized that the very people they were working to educate and enlighten were the same ones who were essentially their bosses. Suddenly, I was thrilled. I may have to shake a conical hat a few times at the end of a Sabbat, squeezing another ten or so dollars out of my guests for the space rental fees, but I don't have to answer to anyone except myself. Event guests are given respect based on the respect they give others or their willingness to contribute to the Rite. Our practices and rituals are not built to please the tastes of the wealthy. As much as I would like to believe I would never compromise my Priestesshood for anyone, I know that it is harder to stand that ground when faced with the people who hold your paycheck, pension, and insurance for your family.

-So those Christian, Jewish and Muslim friends I mentioned above? They DO pay to go to their prayer Circles. They just don't pay at the door.
They may tithe, they may fundraise. They are certainly used to their leaders putting out a call for more money, more help. Once a building is put up, it will take 90% of the community's energy to sustain it. I guarantee that when they speak to their Pastor, Rabbi, or Imam about a deep spiritual issue, that leader has one thought on what they're saying and 7,000 other thoughts on how they can pay for the worship space they call home. I can spend more time researching Magick, history, and designing rituals because I don't have to put out appeal letters.  

-Because of "Delegation," more people get the chance to develop leadership skills and Magickal potential.
Any leader will tell you that delegation is as much work as doing the work, but because there are so few of us and so much to be done, tasks are often distributed freely and blindly. Once I needed quarter callers for a large ritual I was leading. I tapped the shoulder of the young man next to me and asked him to call West. He'd never attended a public ritual before and although he was nervous, jumped at the chance. He now leads public Circles regularly.   This might make things wonky once in awhile, but other times it gives people the chance to fly.


Because I am an unpaid Priestess, my community thrives.

It's less about what is moral or "right" for Paganism. It's more about what Pagans want from their leaders and what they are willing to do. If a community wants more time and offerings from their Priest/esses, they need to keep their bills paid and families fed. If communities want sacred space to call their own, they must purchase it and nurture it, including developing a solid plan for its future. Isn't that worth the exchange? Just a thought...

If communities want to maintain the freedom from these steep responsibilities, they must be willing to accept the limitations of their leaders and impermanence of their sacred spaces. Then again, we are Pagans--so aren't all things limited and sacred? Just a thought...

In a nugget: Whether or not to pay clergy or build infrastructure is not a moral issue, or one of identity. It's simply a matter of what our community is willing to support. Before re-heating yet another morality/identity discussion, let's focus on the True Will. What is our Will with regards to what we want from our traditions and what we are willing to do to get it?

Thank you for reading! Now, here is a picture of one of our cats posing as a gargoyle:



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Courtney Weber is a Priestess, writer, Tarot Advisor, performer and activist originally from Portland, OR living in New York City. Her writings on Witchcraft have been published in numerous publications, including Spiral Nature and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess" and "Tarot for One: The Art of Reading For Yourself", both through Weiser Books. She is the producer and designer of "Tarot of the Boroughs" a contemporary Tarot deck composed of original photography set in NYC. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and cats.


  • Phaedra Bonewits
    Phaedra Bonewits Tuesday, 19 August 2014

    I've never quite understood why people think that it's not ok to pay to take a class, but it's ok for a teacher to pay out of pocket to teach a class. Or a ritual, or whatever. As if, if you're dedicated enough, you should be happy to be used.

  • Courtney Weber
    Courtney Weber Wednesday, 20 August 2014

    Thanks, Phaedra! It's an important conversation. Nothing is ever truly "free."

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