Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Sense of Entitlement

Over the last few weeks, I've seen some posts and comments that mention a certain sense of entitlement among some students who come to teachers, who maybe buy a $25 2-hour workshop, and expect the teacher to become their 24/7 confidant, conspirator, and confessor. Kenaz recently posted his thoughts about how a pagan community ought to support their "Elders" because the Elders have done so much for them, and how it's not right that Elders get so little support from their fan base when they have needs of their own.

Kenaz talks about the sense of entitlement among students, but there's a certain hypocrisy there I'd like to address, and it's not about Kenaz personally. Kenaz mentions Bonewitz' lament that people don't take care of pagan elders, and I've seen similar laments from people talking about the Ciceros, the Sam Websters, and any number of other leaders within the spiritual communities who spend a lot of their time writing, coordinating, teaching, and helping people along their paths.

First of all, lots of freeloaders want to get all the spiritual wisdom of the universe given to them for free. There's a guy who calls himself Digimob who goes around stealing occult author's writings and publishing them on torrents. He calls it a labor of love, and defends his theft using the old "Information Wants to be Free" argument popularized by the hacker community, and even embraced by at least one Information Model spiritual group who came pretty close to recreating the neo-platonic cosmology using terms from the digital age, with Information as the Monad, not entirely self-aware, but expressing itself in various forms of complexity.

Bullshit. If I write a book, I expect to get paid. You wouldn't expect a jeweler to give away the products of his craft, yet people think that my books ought to be free because they're information about spiritual topics. It's like they think it's somehow less work or something, or that the hours I spend writing aren't worth as much as the hours a jeweler spends... jewelering.

Look, the information is freely available to anyone willing to do the research and the work; if you want my opinions, experiences, and a quick-reference guide to the distillation of the resources we have on neoplatonic magical practices of the Renaissance Traditions that I spen the time developing, you can pay me for it. Or make your own. Asshole.

Ok, so I'm clear about that, right? I know there is a sense of entitlement among the masses that isn't appropriate.

But there's a sense of entitlement among occult teachers that isn't appropriate either. They want to have all the benefits of a priestly caste, but they don't have a congregation. They want all the money that they think goes into a megachurch,* but they don't understand that occult teachers are not shepherds of their congregations. Occult students don't go to one occult teacher and expect them to provide the management of their spiritual lives the way religious congregants do. As soon as a fan of an occultist's work begins to behave like a congregant of a church, expecting spiritual advice and counseling, help with whatever drama is going on in their lives, etc., the occult teacher starts bitching about the nut jobs he has to deal with.**

We occult writers simply do not provide the same level of support and outreach and services to our followers that a church provides.  Even if the pagan community did provide that kind of support, there just aren't enough pagans to support a paid clergy. In a church, they have the "tithe" that pays for the overhead costs of running the church. The tithe is 10% of the congregation's gross income. The fact is, only about 6-10% of the congregation regularly tithes. The rest give offerings, sometimes, of a couple of dollars here, a twenty there, or for special projects the church is doing, like visiting Africa or helping single mothers or pregnant teens.

Here's some quick figures. Let's pretend I'm a pastor, and my blog followers are my congregation. Figure the average income of the followers is around $30,000 a year. If 10% tithe, I can expect to bring in around $42,000 a year. Out of that comes all the expenses of running a church, the rent/mortgage, the hymnals, the energy to heat and cool the building, and the weekly bulletins, plus the maintenance and administrative costs. There's not much left for a salary when all is said and done. That's the kind of life modern clergy can expect to live, if they have a belief system that the majority of people even believe in.

The occult genre represents about 6% of the total number of books sold in America each year. That means about 6% of America is interested in the occult. With roughly 300 million people in the US, that's about 18 million people scattered from coast to coast and in Alaska and Hawaii. Most of these purchases are one or two books, and then the person moves on. Maybe 3 out of every 10 people who have ever bought one or two occult books actually goes on to do anything long term with the occult that would require a teacher. That leaves about 5 million people. You've got pagans, ceremonial magicians, hoodoo and vodousants, and all the people of the New Age and the Far East competing for the interest of these 5 million people, all scattered across the country.

The odds of having enough of a local community interested in what we present to be able to afford to support a full-time clergy are astronomical. It's totally unrealistic for any pagan or occult teacher to expect the occult community to provide for them.

If we each had millions of followers who had reached financial and medical heights of success and attainment as a result of our teachings, then we would have a right to expect the people to provide for all our needs. I've got 139 Followers of my blog; are you richer and happier because you read this?

The fact is, no vodou book has made anyone so rich that they should pay the author anything more than the cost of the book. No occult books, even the ones that do tell you the answers to the Mysteries of the Universe, give the reader a happy life. All the things I talk about require you, personally, to do a lot of Work to make it useful. All I'm doing is entertaining you while informing, and hopefully inspiring you to do the Work.

My primary goal in doing all this is to have some magicians to talk to with similar experiences and attainment. Sure, I'd like to get rich, and if you use my information to get rich and it works for you, you fucking owe me 10%! But until I start teaching you things that make your life better, substantially better, until I start offering you the kind of support a priest offers the laity, I have no right to expect anything more from you than the money you pay for my products.

And comments, you could at least comment more on the posts. I spend all this time writing the posts, you can take a minute and comment.

* Megachurches are the exception, not the rule. They're rare, and they never last long. The life cycle of a megachurch is this: a charismatic leader arises with a message that is appealing to the masses, that is either geared towards prosperity or emotional peace, or some combination of the two. Whatever it is, their message resonates, there's a huge surge of increased membership, they get a short-term influx of donations from their starry-eyed followers, and they start building huge churches, producing television shows, radio shows, and lots of books about their idea. They finance all this shit, and it takes a year or so before all their planned stuff can actually start coming to production. By the time it does, the starry-eyed followers have moved on to the next TD Jakes, or Benny Hinn, or Marilyn Hickey, or Bart Pierce (the APOSTLE OF BALTIMORE!!!), and they go bankrupt, their buildings are foreclosed on, and their mistresses, no longer getting the fancy gifts, start going public with their affairs.

** And rightfully so! Your purchase of one book or course or whatever you paid isn't going to support me for the 8-12 hours of advice, counseling and therapy that it will take to get you over whatever drama you're going through!  We should get $45 an hour to listen to you bitch about how you fucked up your life and tell you how to fix it.Then maybe you'd get to the point.


  1. Yup, Digimob stole my books and gave them out for free. So I worked extremely hard on those two books, devoted time I could have been spending on my career, and I make very, very little (I'm talking, cost of pizza, not even gas money). I'm not terribly bitter; I didn't write them for money. But it's hard to maintain interest in writing books on the occult when there's no sign of interest other than theft.

  2. Seems like, when I need advice, someone blogs the information/kick in the head I needed. With my next check, I'll begin tithing.

    Thanks, Red.

  3. $45 an hour? That's dirt cheap, relatively speaking... ;)

    I do disagree a bit: if I have a reasonably closed question about something you've written, I should ask and I would expect a reasonably closed answer. If the question comes up again, then it goes into a FAQ and maybe even another book. If it's open-ended, then offer services or at least a referral. As always, what do we learn more from: the answers or the questions?

    Do I feel for Isaac Bonewits right now? Definitely - cancer's a bitch. Making a contribution because he's a good person who deserves help with the bills is reasonable - using guilt tactics to shame someone into doing that is friggin' reprehensible. Entitlement, in this case, would be the profit from one's actions: "See, I raised $XXX for Ike! Aren't I great!"

    Pah! Probably better to not have one hand know what the other's doing than try to make a show of it... or so someone told me.

    The economics of the megachurch phenomenon is amazing to me, especially in comparison to some of the smaller congregational bodies - when you can get them to actually document their finances. Even though they may be tax-exempt, reporting rates are quite low. There's equally a question of how much is actually used for expenses. Ironically, my experience has been that the bodies that practice financial transparency as part of their good stewardship demonstrate a low margin as you describe while not more than 5 miles away there's a megachurch that is totally opaque and clearly rolling in the dough. Personally, I'll trust the pastor driving a beater more than the one with a Benz that's clearly upside-down on it's loan. Not that poverty is a virtue by itself, mind...

    A game developer friend of mine pointed out that in our industry, there's the pros and the fans. Fans will occasionally produce amazing things and sell them... but they're motivated by the joy of the game. The pros do what they do because it's what they do - the fun of the game may be there, but it's secondary. The Pros tend to be the ones "making money" (relatively speaking. No one in game development is making F-U money) while the Fans can occasionally make a reasonably comfortable living if they're lucky and supplemental income for the majority - it's the beer-money gig. Neither, however, are entitled to jack beyond the credit and appreciation for their work.

    Occultists, esotericists, witches, magicians, multiphasic transformative technicians... all of us: we're Fans to a one.

  4. You rock, Red.

    Coupla things:

    1. You're actually being overly generous with your numbers. The 80/20 rule definitely applies in this category.

    I work in global media and of those five million, 80% of them buy 'The Secret' or whatever MindBodySpirit book Oprah is currently reading. So really, you're talking about 20% of 5 million... One million as the MAXIMUM possible US audience for a decent occult/MBS book. Factor in the kind of market coverage you get without an ad spend and if you hit six figure sales then it's a genuine miracle.

    It's so nice to see a community thought leader like yourself with a firm grasp of reality.

    2. To answer your question; I may not be richer but I'm totally happier for reading your blog. :)

  5. I'm guessing the numbers are even smaller. 6% of book sales don't equal 6% of the American public. They probably don't even equal 6% of the American book-buying public--just about every occult & "alternative spirituality"-type person I've ever met (both exacting occultists and sloppy ones; meticulous reconstructionists to flufffiest neo-whatevers) has been an above-average-quantity reader. Not exactly a scientific survey but this seems to be a common consensus.

    Any which way, I'm guessing that 6% is bought by less than 6% of the American book-buying public...which gives us even smaller numbers...which really just proves your point even more.

    Thanks for this post, someone needs to call-out the entitlement issues that seem abundant on all sides.

  6. Well articulated post. I am in the beginning of my own Occult teacher career, having gone through the "desperate pagan priestes" phase. So I know the other side of the argument, too, and I can relate to their feelings...

    Nevertheless, I am not stupid. I want a happy life and since I got into Vodou, I have adopted a much healthier approach to "vocation".

    No god or spirit has the right to ask you to live in poverty - that´s your problem! if they aren´t willing to provide for you, hang out the phone, burn the altars.

    Bonewits and Starhawk don´t get just this, "serving gods" who don´t provide for them. Besides, i don´t think they got very far spiritually, there´s a lot of judgementalism and fanaticism in their careers. Organized religion/occultis only takes you so far: I don´t think anybody can actually reach enlightement while still considering the community a heart / becessity to their practice.

  7. And by the way I am an initiate in Bonewit´s tradition, so I have high respect for the religion he founded and also for Starhawk and the Dianics.


Thanks for your comments, your opinions are valued, even if I disagree with them. Please feel free to criticize my ideas and arguments, question my observations, and push back if you disagree.