Last month Taylor Elwood wrote an Open Letter to Pagan Convention Organizers, detailing how he is no longer going to present at conferences where it is expected that he foot the bill to come and present workshops. This post was followed by much conversation and a few other posts on the subject. Some expand his post to talk about the place of Money in Paganism, and others that take a more moderate approach.
Doing live presentations stopped being an integral part of my business a few years ago when my wife got Breast Cancer. I cancelled any and all appearances for the future and wound up making more money that year than ever before, so I didn’t really look back. Now when I appear at one of these things, its mostly because I want to go and hang out and get away for the weekend, not because its part of my career. I really can only make time for once or twice a year at best due to other obligations anyway.
That said, my position for myself has been similar to Taylor’s for a few years now. If you want me to talk, I am not paying for the conference and travel needs to be taken care of. Of course, I have written four books that are published widely and have been a professional for a long time now. If I was just making my name, or trying to break in, I would not hold the same position. What you can do after you accumulate your proverbial 1000 True Fans, is a lot different than what you do before that. Individual presenters should assess where they are at in their career and build a business plan for themselves. What is good policy for me now, would not necessarily be good policy before I wrote a book. That said, while there was a time when I would not expect to be paid for my presentations, at no point would I ever pay to get into a conference or festival that I was presenting at. I think, that’s a pretty good hard limit for anyone.
We also need to be aware of how things are on the other side of the convention. Organizers take risks and massive planning to put these things on. SOMA is still trying to recover from having to cancel its Conference in October. Without there being some transparency and communication between organizers and presenters there will be nothing but lack of understanding. Organizers should have a clear idea of how many established professionals, pre-established professionals, and purely local presenters they want to have and set their rates accordingly.
I believe, and have built my career on the idea that writers, magicians, diviners, and Pagan teachers should be paid professionals; but lets not equate not getting paid at a conference to being asked to work for free. It’s a conference. In most fields conferences exist for people to meet and share ideas, and there are only a few paid key-note speakers.
So, if I don’t attend these events much, and think everyone just needs to decide for themselves whats right, why am I even making this post?
Because the financial well-being of Magical and Pagan Elders is one of the things I care a lot about. Seeing the generation of Authors that I grew up on spend their elder years in poverty is one of the reasons I wrote Financial Sorcery. While I often donate to them as a matter of policy I have stopped sharing GoFundMe campaigns because they are appearing in overwhelming frequency asking for everything from help with true emergencies, to money for festival travel, and paying for initiations. All of these are fine (though I would argue that some ingenuity and good old capitalism might yield better fuit), but clearly the Pagan and Occult community needs to build a better relationship with money.
I think ultimately that there should be some re-thinking of the whole festival/conference scene at all links of the chain: Presenters, Organizers, Attendees.
PRESENTERS: Be firm in what you expect when you present. If it’s local, then by all means pop in and give a talk. I do this at Crucible almost every year and wouldn’t take money even if it was offered. If its not, and you are at a level where you don’t need to get your name out there, then only appear if they pay travel expenses. Other than that, be clear about what YOU want out of it. Most of the time I only go to these things because I want to meet people and hang out, so the money is secondary to a weekend away from the kids hanging with people in the picture above. If money is your motivation, then be clear about it. That said, if your business model hinges on payments from festivals and conferences, you should probably re-think it.
ORGANIZERS: Charge enough admission so that you can make money if the festival goes well. Worried about the people that can’t afford it? Charge enough admission so that you can be generous to those that need a scholarship or a discount to get in. Have work study. Charge enough admission so that you can pay people that you think will make you money. Be frank about those who you think won’t do that for you and don’t over-extend yourself.
Also, experiment with some different formats. Crucible is interesting precisely because it holds spaces for non-professionals you would not get to hear elsewhere, and its focus on the fringes of practical magic. Perhaps a convention where you have not just a theme but ONE TOPIC that you explore in depth. I don’t mean a broad topic either like “LHP”. I mean one ritual or one ritual act. In the 90’s when a Buddhist event and a Pagan festival would happen at the same time I almost always chose the Buddhist event. Even though it would be less fun (a lot less fun) I knew I would learn something in depth that I could use. You could have an entire convention around Trithemius’s Drawing Spirits into Crystals or the Marseilles Tarot.
Provide more value and people will pay the admission price that will ultimately make you and your presenters more money.
ATTENDEES: I don’t have much in the way of advice for you. You really are what make the whole thing run. I know that there are a lot of complaints about how you expect everything for free and don’t want to pay for teachings, but I have not found this to be true at all. It is up to the organizers and presenters to create value that you will pay for, and to provide some kind of easements for those that can’t but have honest and earnest interest. Sure there are a few haters out there that bitch that anything costs money, or don’t understand why they can’t barter their mojo bags for admission, but for the most part I think you absolutely will pay when value is demonstrated. This goes not just for festivals but for paid Pagan Clergy as well. Whenever someone tells me that they want Pagan Clergy to be paid like Christian Ministers are, I point out that if they form an organization that provides charity, comunity, REAL pastoral counseling, and care for sick and the old that getting paid positions will happen in short order.
My only advice is to let organizers know what you really are looking for and put your money where your mouth is.
The picture above is from a panel at Between The Worlds conference, which from what I could see, is an excellent example how to do a convention right for Organizers, Presenters, and Attendees alike.