Where Have All the Gardners and Crowleys Gone? (An Answer)
In the last couple of weeks a question, or rather a few similar questions, have been coming across my radar, again and again. I do try to pay attention to such things, when they come my way. One or more of these times were in articles posted on Witchvox, while other times this question has been uttered to me by friends. Here are the questions:
“Why are there no more Gardners and Crowleys?”
“Where are the women like Doreen Valentine and Janet Farrar and Dion Fortune in younger generations?”
“Where have all the good Elders gone?”
“Why are there no impressive High Priest/ess any more?”
… And such similar ponderings.
Despite the fact the fact that I am no Crowley, nor Starhawk, nor Elder, I think I may have hit upon an answer. It’s an ugly answer, and I know that sharing it may only cause me problems. Yet, I feel compelled to share it. So folks, if you are easily offended, please … keep reading. Bear with me, let me sit upon a “high horse” for but a moment and allow me to say some things you may not want to hear.
Gardner and Crowley were trailblazers. They were bold and daring, they said and did outrageous things. People like Gardner, Crowley, Cochrane and Hutton (to name a few) were eclectics, they tried stuff out, and they mixed and matched. They mixed pantheons and traditions. Nowadays we pagans use the word “eclectic” like a dirty word, an insult to be slung at anyone who dares to mix traditions or practices.
Because our watered-down version of paganism and occultism does not breed such people, does not encourage them. In fact, we make them pariahs. We are not comfortable with controversial leaders. We don’t want teachers with a reputation for being eccentric. We don’t like it when someone walks through the mall wearing a giant pentagram, or purple hair or a black dress. We don’t want to rock the boat. We don’t like it when someone says or does something new or different or outside the box. We are uncomfortable with pagans who don’t fit neatly into some label.
There are no more good elders for two reasons.
One, we treat them horribly, you know it and I know it. We give them no reason to participate in the community. We are pleading and demanding and completely lacking in respect. We expect them to do all the work for us, with barely an introduction. We never finish what they work so hard to help us start.
Two, many of our elders and pagans who have been around for a while have become jaded and disenfranchised. They have decided to give up on us and are hiding away somewhere. Far too often now, when they do decide to show up, it is either for our adulation or to make fun of other less experienced pagans… which only leads to a lack of respect for our elders. And thus we create a vicious cycle.
We all understand cycles do we not?
Because we seem to think that High Priestess and other spiritual leaders and teachers of such caliber are “born”, not slowly grown over time. We think that once a pagan reaches 40, they should just magickally turn into a great leader, teacher or guru. We think we do not need to support our young leaders and teachers. We feel that we do not need to help them to grow into great elders.
No, instead we pick and snipe at them and demand to see credentials and examine their birth certificate as if age is what matters. Because we forget that people like Janet Farrar, Doreen Valentine, and Starhawk were in their twenties when they first made their claim to fame. We forget, and we treat our young witches and priestesses like idiot children.
Because we buy white-lighter, easy-to-read, fluffy little books when we should be buying the books Chapters and Barnes and Noble refuse to sell. How many of you actually have books written by Gardner, Valentine, Farrar, and Crowley? How many of you have more books written by the likes of Sylvia Browne than books by our great old Elders?
There are no more Gardners and Crowleys because we are afraid. Afraid of controversy, afraid of not being politically correct, afraid of being judged, afraid of ourselves, afraid of what the neighbors might think. Afraid of what the rest of the pagan community might think or do.
Because we are afraid to try something that no one has done before, we need to read three instructional books on how to do it first. We need an author, teacher, or Internet friend to assure us that nothing bad might happen, that it will be fun and safe … and boring. Because we panic when a hedgewitch posts Flying Ointment recipes on her blog.
And we are lazy. We have become a community whose majority are little more than armchair pagans. We study more than we practice and we think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Paganism, witchcraft, magick … these are PRACTICES. You have to practice them! These pissing contests about what you know are meaningless. We need to focus on ourselves and our practices, not on what someone else has memorized.
Because we have made paganism too commercial, too user friendly, too easy, too accessible. We are more comfortable with a clean, neat, organized, sterilized version of spirituality. We don’t want something messy, sexy, nitty and gritty. We want something that matches the row upon row of identical pink stucco houses that litter suburbia.
Because we don’t want to have to work hard to find wisdom. We want it handed to us in a textbook format.
There are no more Gardners and Crowleys and the like because you’re supposed to be one.
That’s right. YOU.
Who else is going to do it? So what’s stopping ya?
You want more visionaries, teachers, and leaders? You want to see the next generation of Gardners and Crowleys crop up? Then go and do it yourself. Because chances are everyone else is too yellowbelly to do it for you. And why should anyone do it for you anyway?
Think about it.
*climbs off high-horse and raises shield*