I first got involved in the Pagan community back around 1988 or thereabouts, but it wasn’t until some twenty years later that I heard someone use the term “love offering.” At first, no kidding, I thought it was in reference to some kind of sixties-era sex practice, but as it turns out, it’s just a phrase that means a donation. Who knew? Not me, that’s for sure. However, whether you call it a love offering or just a donation, at some point, you may find yourself at a Pagan event wondering if you should toss a few bucks in the pot. The short answer is, yes, if you can, but not if you can’t afford to.
A reader asked me years ago, ““I recently attended a Pagan event, and it was supposed to be free. When I got there, they had a jar on the table with a note that said “love offering” and people were putting money in it. I went ahead and contributed, because I didn’t want to look stingy, but can they really call it a free event if they’re asking for donations?”
Well, ok, no one wants to look stingy. I get that. But on the other hand, events take money to put on, and if making a donation is the cost for me to continue to enjoy stuff, I’m all for it. I’d certainly never shame anyone for not making a contribution if they can’t afford it, but if people say, “I’m not contributing because I shouldn’t have to and stuff should be free,” I’ll have plenty to snipe about then.
The phrase “love offering” does appear to be a regional one – I live in the Midwest, and I hear it a lot – but it’s the same as a donation jar. This is something that’s not uncommon in the metaphysical community. It’s designed to encourage those who have some extra money to share it if they can, while not making those who don’t have extra feel bad about it. It’s a donation given out of love and ability and an understanding of community spirit, rather than from obligation. So yes, it’s still a free event, and they’re perfectly within their rights to ask for a donation from those who care to make one. No one is required to do so – if they were, it would be called an admission fee.
That having been said, I think it’s very important to recognize that even “free” events cost someone money – and it’s usually the folks who took the time to host and organize them. If there’s food, tables, chairs, entertainment, ritual supplies or even a venue rental, those charges have come out of someone’s pocket, and it’s not unreasonable for them to make you aware that a donation is appreciated.
Furthermore, even if there was an entry fee charged, that’s generally acceptable too. Again – events don’t just magically happen on their own. Even if the organizers are not making any profit (and I can pretty much guarantee that they’re usually not), it’s still perfectly acceptable for them to charge a fee that helps offset the costs of the event itself. Some of this may include asking vendors for a table fee, or passing the expenses along to the consumer — in this case, guests like yourself. If it’s billed as an entry fee, and it’s outside your range of affordability, then you’re under no obligation to attend the event. Some events offer work equity in exchange for admission – you volunteer to help out for a couple of hours, and you’re in for the rest of the day at no charge. That’s a pretty good trade-off, really.
I know that in some areas, this topic has become a matter of hot debate between groups – one coven will host an event and ask for donations, and then another coven will accuse the first of being greedy and trying to “bilk the newbies.” I can assure you that this is not anyone’s intention when they ask for a love offering, donation, or other type of contribution.
Do you have to donate? Certainly not, and if you can’t afford to do it, no one is going to hold that against you. But chipping a few bucks into a jar, if it’s within your means, is a wonderful way to say thanks to the people who made the effort of putting the event together for you to attend. It’s also a good way to assure they’ll be able to put together another event in the future.
Want to have nice things? Me too. Let’s be willing to pay for the privilege when we can afford to do it.