Since its to cold to do my original project for the day: working in the Garage on a Retro-sci-fi ray gun, I have opted instead to read "The Black Dossier" and do a bit of blogging.
Now, as you all know, I have been around the block. I have seen both groups and individual teachers exploit students for sex and money. A good friend of mine was basically driven to bankruptcy by getting suckered into poor investments by a Lama. This is not some fake Lama like Ngakpa Chuggers, but a very well respected Tibetan Lama. I also know of another well respected and even more famous Tibetan Lama that did not admit to fathering a child with one of his students until a Paternity suit revealed him as the father. On the western side, we had a coven here in NJ where the "High Priest" was sexually initiating underage girls into his coven. In the Lodge I helped start in Philadelphia we lost a recruit because, I found out later, she was being hounded by another member that wanted to teach her sex magick and couldnt seem to take a polite no as a final answer. A lodge of a different order that I won't mention here in NJ has been known to financially bleed its recruits dry and initiate spurrius law suits when they try to leave.
So, bad stuff happens all over the place. There is no safe haven. No order that I can recommend that you are free from exploitation. No tradition that is enlightened enough to be free from the abuse of money, sex, and power.
Does this mean that I think that money and sex should be kept far away from Magick?
NO! HELL NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT!
I want MORE money and sex in magick! I just want people to be smart about it.
Lets deal with sex first:
Traditions that utilize sex as part of the practice have long been criticized as being simply an excuse to have sex. What I cant figure out is: When have people ever needed an excuse to have sex?
One of the criticisms leveled at the OTO by tight assed Dion Fortune types is that they are a sex-cult. I WISH! I have a lot of criticisms of the order, but my only criticism of its sex-magick practices are that they arent introduced to most of the members at all! The OTO should be applauded for the way it handles this aspect of the art. Even when the lodge you are in isnt a complete sausage fest, you can get laid much easier at a Pagan group, than you can in an OTO group. They keep that shit under wraps. Less than 5% of the people in the order are in the Hermit Triad that actually practices the sex teachings. Of course everyone manages to get the documents clandestinely, I got Emblems & Modes through the Chthonic Auranian route, but even then the groups that practice are few and secretive.
Now as for Tantra we need to first distinguish the real deal from the fake stuff. Sorry Robert, Sylvia may be laying down some awsome sex and breath tech. and you should be all means make use of it, but Tantra it ain't. If there is no Guru and Abhisheka, there is no Tantra. Period. That said, much of the neo-tantric sex tech stuff is actually wonderful tech and I am all for people rescuing it from its original format as long as they do not profess to be Tantrikas. Its like being in support of people making use of medical tech but not claiming to be MD's. Its really that simple.
Now I have mainly been exposed to Tantra through Tibetan channels and if you look hard enough you will find plenty of tales of sexual exploitation in the Tibetan scene. Most of them however just boil down to misundertandings. For instance, one woman I met was claiming that a certain Lama sexually harassed her because he asked if she wanted to sleep with him. I pointed out that the Lama in question is not a monk, and that given the cultural differences it was probably good for him to make his intentions so blunt. When she declined, he didnt get upset, so I fail to see what the problem was. She replied that because he is a Lama he should be "beyond all that". Ah, problem revealed. This same situation has played out numerous times with different players.
In the 60's and 70's magick and witchcraft became a hobby for hippies. In doing so it picked up a lot of the hippie counter cultural ethic. Even today, magick is for some primarily a game of cultural warfare. It wasnt that long ago when one of my friends, Al Billings, was asked how he could reconcile his interest in magick with the fact that he had a corporate job! As if all magicians had to be either trust-fund babies or street urchins.
At the Crucible convention this year, I overheard a conversation between two young men that real magickal training must be free or its not real. This saddens me deeply. Those that adhere to this ethic are dooming the art to forever being a side project and a hobby.
The reality is this: everything in this world takes money. We all only have a certain amount of hours per week. Unless you are really lucky there is a good chance that a lot of those hours have got to be spent making money. Setting aside reimbursement for space and supplies, if your magickal teachers are not making money by either A) Teaching or B) Doing Magick than they probably dont have a lot of time to devote to it.
Isaac Bonowitz has been bitching about establishing a paid Pagan clergy for decades now. In a religion where there is no congregation and everyone is ostensibly clergy, its not gonna happen. A better choice would be to follow the ATR model. Take donations and such as religious ceremonies to cover the space and the supplies, but let the clergy, or the really kick ass practitioners make a living by doing magick for hire.
Only last week I was contacted by a friend of mine that runs a Gardnerian Coven. They were contacted by someone that needs a major un-crossing, possibly an exorcism. Since getting paid for magick is against the ardains, and since they recognized that this was going to require more than a single shot cone of power from one of their Sabbat meetings (a force not to be underestimated BTW, my friend works major mojo) they opted to send him my way. Thus the benefit of taking money for magick: it actually gets done.
As for initiation costs: they are what they are. The OTO charges more for a 3rd degree ritual than I would want to pay, but for someone working that system its not too much to be asked. Some initiations in the ATR's can cost thousands, but again, the benefit is that you are in a tradition where you can make that back by doing work for others. In some cases fees are inflated just to keep "a certain class of people" out. Not my kind of thinking, but they have every right to do so. If you want to start a cabal of righ mages, than charging 30 grand for admittance is a good way to do it.
Do people take advantage? Of course, there are people who will take advantage of anything. In most of the world when getting a reading its pretty common to be offered some kind of magick to help remedy whatever bad news comes up in the reading. If you get a reading because you are afraid of loosing your job and he says you are going to run into some financial hardship and the reader offers to do a money drawing spell for 50 bucks; you can say yes or no without feeling the reader is scamming you. They are probably just trying to help. Of however at that reading the reader insists that you are cursed and you need to bring him 1000 dollars to pay for a curse removal, you are being scammed.
When a Guru starts dishing out business advice and insisting you make certain investments because of his divinations, than its probably time to bail. If however you are pumping your Guru for advice and you follow it blindly because its the "word of the master" than you are just a dumb ass. I am always surprised by the people who will go to Tibetan Lamas that are Monks for advice on marriage and business. Hello! He may be very wise, but the two things that a monk doesnt know shit about are marriage and business.
Same things with sex. Ladies, if I ever ask any of you out there if you want to learn the secrets of sex magick through some hands on instruction (presumably I would be divorced before asking, or I assure you I would be divorced shortly thereafter :-) than you have the right to say yes or to say no. If I harrass you or cajole you into it, than I am exploiting you. If however I just want to show you a technique that can only be taught that way, and make no mistake some techniques are best taught that way, than its not exploitation, its genuine teaching.
In all cases the onus is on the student to evaluate the teacher. Do not attribute undo importance to a request for sex or money because of someones spiritual or magickal status. Make sure that you also do not interpret all such requests as exploitive. They may be offering what they think is a good investment, a valid teaching, or just a fun romp in the sack.