By Kenaz Filan
A question recently arose on the Yahoo group Witch Essentials about paying for initiations. Gaia, the moderator, is a Wiccan priestess and noted that in Wicca charging money for initiations is strictly forbidden. I pointed out that initiation into Vodou is extremely labor and resource-intensive. Drummers must be hired for several nights, and large quantities of herbs, liquor, animals, flowers and other supplies must be procured. Several people will need to be near the djevo (initiatory chamber) throughout the week-long ceremony. Holding this for free would soon bankrupt the house: as it is, most houses in my experience are lucky to break even after a kanzo ceremony. While I don’t know the specifics of Wiccan initiation, I’ve been led to believe that the process is considerably less costly in terms of time and material requirements.
My understanding is that Gardner’s proscriptions against charging for services were rooted in his concerns about England’s Witchcraft law. At that time Britain was just getting over a Spiritualism craze, which had ended with quite a few “mediums” cheating little old widows out of their pensions and the like. The authorities assumed anyone who was identifying as a witch was doing so to bilk the gullible. By prohibiting witches from making money off the Craft, Gardner hoped to separate himself from the seedy con artists. (It also helped that most of Gardner’s coven came from a social class where they didn’t need to make a living selling charms and spells: he was a retired civil servant and solidly middle-class, unlike the hedge witches and cunning men of the day).