Obviously, I am not a spiritual teacher, by any stretch of the term. But I’ve seen some interesting things crop up in the pagan online community recently with regards to teaching online. A lot of people start out working in their free time, posting to blogs and podcasts and Youtube channels. It’s all very fun and lighthearted, with the occasional serious discussion thrown in.
Usually, after awhile though, one of two things happens.
They burn out and are never heard from again.
Or, they realize they’ve got a good thing going and monetize. Publish a book, host a paid forum, start teaching paid classes and hosting conference calls and selling spell kits. And, of course, promoting those things.
This is, in a way, the way of the internet. Very few people stick with it long term, create a huge audience, and continue to do what they do for free, simply because it starts to take a lot of time, especially when they start responding to all the emails and comments. When running a blog starts to feel like having a second job, it’s pretty normal to think about how to get paid for all the work you’re doing.
Unfortunately this brings out the “how dare you’s” so fast it will make your head spin. The speed at which a content creator can go from a well-loved personality posting Fun Lammas Activities on their blog to a sell-out shilling snake oil and fakery to fools who don’t know any better is, frankly, astounding. It’s a combination of jealousy, entitlement, and resistance to change. Jealousy, because really, who wouldn’t want to make this their day job (it sounds like so much fun on the surface, especially if you’re not familiar with how tedious the work can be); Entitlement, because how dare you start charging for things that were free before (as though the free posts are going to disappear behind a paywall), or the more insidious “I can get everything I need to know for free somewhere else online, how dare you charge for it” (which, if that were true, why not just go learn elsewhere?); Resistance to change, because readers get used to one thing, and getting them used to something else can be a hell of a challenge. The maturity of the audience obviously has a large factor here as well.
Is it right to charge for craft teaching? I don’t know. I think the answer is both no and yes. Obviously, I think it’s right for me to pay a professional for a Tarot reading or a magical working, especially if it’s someone I don’t know (via the internet or via a witchy shop). I also have no problems buying handcrafted magical tools. And if I was going to a class hosted for a number of people at a local witchy shop, I’d expect to pay at least SOMETHING for the teacher’s time and materials.
On the other hand, I’d be a little put out if suddenly it cost money for me to train with a tradition. (Beyond, of course, the usual costs of running a circle, like good candles, incense, and whatever you brought to the pot luck.)
It strikes me that the magical relationship is very different. Working with a tradition is more like working within a family and less like being part of an educational (or retail) environment. I wouldn’t expect to pay for my grandmother’s cannoli recipe, but I have no problem buying cookbooks or eating at restaurants either. The relationship is different. Training with a tradition is giving up as much energy as you’re getting, and the magical link is an extremely strong one. The tradition is interested in making sure you’re exactly the right person to continue their Way, and adding money to that mix can really foul up the selection process. You’re interested in making sure this tradition is exactly what you REALLY want to do, and saying no gets a lot harder if you’ve already paid in a bunch of cash.
Teaching an intro class? The magical link is there, sure, but it’s not nearly of the same depth and strength, and people can (and do) drop out or join late all the time.
I don’t claim to have any inspired answers, other than to say that as a long time blogger, the entitlement problem always sticks in my craw a little. There’s a feeling that your readers expect certain things from you, and there can be a lot of pushback if you change that. Add in the instability of the pagan online community, and things can (and do) get crazy. Good people end up shutting their doors over lesser troubles.
TL;DR version? It’s complicated, have a cannoli.