Drew Jacobs at Patheos has an interesting article about doing spells for money. I recommend perusing the whole article, because there is a lot of interesting commentary in there that I may not get to.
First, the big one (at least for me): Doing magic for money.
I understand why most magicians in most traditions charge big money. I used to charge for spells myself, and still charge for enchanted artwork. Making a custom spell can be time intensive and, in many cultures, the professional magician is a highly valued expert. Communities need them and they are entitled to charge for their services.
I have trained in magical techniques for many years. It is a highly specialized skill set that I put a lot of effort to develop. I see no reason why I should not accept a monetary payment for magical work, and I explicitly reject the poverty chic mentality that demands I do my work for free.
One of my most successful magical workings was done for money. A good friend of mine had a brother who was being deployed to Iraq. He was worried he would not come back, so I was contracted to help. I constructed a protective talisman designed to protect him and all in his company from danger in combat. He drove convoys. They saw action. The only casualties his unit sustained were on runs in which he himself was not present for whatever reason. It got to the point where he insisted that he go on every run, because he felt guilt for casualties sustained because he was not there to protect them.
(Needless to say, that level of success was a huge ego boost. It also taught me several other lessons I may discuss at another time.)
I charged him $100 cash, plus he supplied the object used. He got a fucking bargain, and I honestly wish I’d have charged him a lot more.
It that wrong? That talisman (appears to have) saved lives. Is there a price on that? Ask a doctor who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and a decade in school that question — they charge for it every day. Because they worked to develop those skills, and they work hard to employ them, and they deserve compensation.
Jacobs brings up a difference in how he sees what he does and how I see what I do, however:
the client who requested the curse was from Brazil. There, like much of the world, magicians are not clergy—they are specialists. Like hiring a lawyer or an ad firm, the magician’s job is not to judge whether you are right or wrong but to do the best job possible in representing you.
I am not clergy. (Well, technically, I am an ordained minister. I can do weddings. But I am not a minister or priest in a pagan sense. I am not equipped to advise you on important religious matters.) I am a magical technician. And frankly, it is a strong Christian holdover that we expect our clergy to function as ministers. Because in the olden days, priests got paid. Not always in cash, but provided for and compensated. And in olden times, the priests were not there to help the people: they were there to tend to the gods. Some of them could petition the gods on your behalf, but their primary role was usually to tend to the deities and their idols, not counsel the people. And conflating witches or magicians with clergy was not common.
Now if I were functioning in such a role, I would be more likely to perform magic for free. (And I do magic for others without charge on occasion.) If I were functioning as clergy, I would likely limit the kind of magic I did for others more severely as well. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t fulfill all requests: I don’t usually curse or bind for others, and I have simply ignored a friend’s request to help her win the lottery. (‘Cause if I was confident I could pull that off, I’d have done it for me already! Duh!) But having that identity as clergy or minister obvious affects what you are willing (or obligated) to do for others.
And I don’t want to dismiss or demean that choice. All the more power to Jacobs. But it’s not my thing.
And this article talks a lot about cursing. I’m convinced much of the taboo modern neopagans have against cursing is because early Wiccans were desperate to not have Christians hate or fear them (much). There is no traditional restriction on cursing among pagan cultures that I am aware of. And as Phil Hine once said, cursing is like masturbation: no one wants to admit to doing it, but there is still a lot of it going on. In Central and South America, this taboo is not really present. So they are pretty open about it. And they pay for it.
I don’t do stuff like that (often) because my ethics are simple: I would not do a magical equivalent to a physical action I would not take, and I don’t go around punching or shooting people I have common disputes with. But I have the luxury of living in a society where I don’t need to. Privileged’d!
But doing magic for money brings up the question of what to do for people who really could benefit from magical help, but can’t afford it. Hos solution is very interesting, and I think a very cool idea:
What about the people who can’t afford a magician?
I’m not talking about curses here. That shouldn’t be on the table in the first place. But what about a charm to help find a job? What about a spell to meet your true love? What about lifting a curse, or getting rid of an unpleasant entity? If you need these spells and can’t afford them, what are your options?
Yet these are the spells I value most, the kind that help a person break a bad cycle. The kind of magic that doesn’t just assuage pain but gives real, actionable opportunities. The call from an employer, for example, or that first spark of chemistry.
When you’re unemployed I don’t think it should be a choice between buying food or hiring a magician. I don’t think a working single mom should need to give up on getting a protection charm for her baby.
That’s why I’m helping launch Magic to the People, an open-door, pay-what-you-will atelier of magic. Twice a week we will have set hours (daytime and evening) and anyone can walk in and request a spell. Their ceremony is done on the spot, and they participate in it. They are actively collaborating in changing their life.
Payment? They can drop whatever they want in the hat. If they can’t afford anything, they can put in a symbolic penny so they’ve contributed to the working.
So it’s kind of like an emergency charity clinic, but for magic. Need help with some self-work? Trying to break an addiction? We take donations, whatever you are able to pay. Those who can afford more can cover those who can’t. Materials and time are covered. Win-win.
This is a very good idea, and kudos to Jacobs for implementing it, especially in a community that puts such import in magical work.