Why are there no more Gardners and Crowleys?

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 Dooreen 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 Saunders (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; because 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 to 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 calibre 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, Dooreen 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 & Noble refuse to sell. How many of you actually have books written by Gardner, Valentine, Farrar, Crowley? How many of you have more books written by the likes of Sylvia Browne and Silver Ravenwolf than books by our great old Elders?

There are no more Gardner’s 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 arm-chair pagans. We study more than we practice and we think that’s the way its 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 to commercial, to user friendly, to easy, to 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, 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 they do it for you anyways?

Think about it.

9 thoughts on “Why are there no more Gardners and Crowleys?”

  1. The website is in progress – too many things, too few hours – just found your blog and wanted to thank you – like you I am a master of none – turning 40 next year and found out, tonight, that my husband who I though was my other half just decided he’ll be divorced soon – realized that his 10 hours a day on the internet wasn’t to make international friends but to find a new wife – your blog made me realize (the way some far flung friends have been doing once I finally reached out for help) that there is more to my path, my purpose, than being abused and held back – I deserve to fly the skies and howl at the moon and once again discover the hedgewych within me – I gave up my favorite job working in a spiritual store 4 days a week – with a whole pagan/wiccan upstairs in my local town because my other half wanted me to earn more – I dismantled my alter and put away my candles, herbs and dreams – I will visit again and really, juniper, thank you from the bottom of my heart – I may not be on line much longer as I keep being told that everything in our home is his and I’m to be turned out with the antique dinning table, my books, and my cat without anything – as he believes I brought nothing to our marriage or our life together over the past 7 years – I have submitted to his choice of celibacy, drugs, and laziness because I thought he was all I deserved – I waited more than 30 years to find my first love – and had it turn rotten from the core – brightest blessings for bringing me back to the little tiny voice inside of me that cheers your words and echoes your wishes – if you don’t mind, tonight I am not going to light a candle for you – but, for the first time in more than 3 years, I’m going to light one for me – I’ll be back to visit in your garden of ideas again….

  2. I totally agree with you. It’s sad that people don’t want to act any more, we don’t trust each other any more. We are scared of everything. A women can be raped in a train, and no one will react, no event the security guy. But they will not be scared to say: “I saw a woman be raped in the train the other day, no one reacted. It’s scandalous! (and of course, he wont tell you that he didn’t do anything neither)”
    It’s easier to wait for a saver. Where the hell is he damned it?!!
    (Sorry for my english, I usually speak french)

  3. There are still trailblazers today (Joe Wilson, Andrew Chumbley, Starhawk, Paul Huson…) they’re just a lot rarer as people don’t trust as easily now that any info they want on witchcraft is right at their fingertips. Some of our famous “elders” were full of it, but at the time witchcraft was new and the internet didn’t exist, people didn’t question origins or legitimacy. Things never really change though, there are still famous witches with “groupies” whether they deserve to have them or not.

    I know some amazing elders, but unfortunately most of them are in hiding from the public after becoming disillusioned and jaded from being let down so many times and from going to public events only meeting crazies and wanna be witches with no patience to learn. To get these elders out of hiding we have to show respect, need, and a strong desire to learn what they have to teach. I have to travel hundreds of miles to see my teacher, who does that anymore?

    I agree that many witches have become armchair pagans – the work has been done for them, it’s all on the internet and in books, why should they both to seek and practice if it’s been done already? This type of witch reminds of of Sunday Christians — those who don’t study or practice their religion, but faithfully show up to church every Sunday. That’s enough for some people, and those of us who are more involved with our religions will never understand how someone can be content with not wanting more…

    Good post, and a great blog with some fascinating topics covered.


  4. List of significant pagans not in hiding

    Thorn Coyle – perhaps the most significant pagan writer of this century (so far)
    Emma Restall Orr – clear, honest to the bleeding point druidry
    Diana Paxson – saw her a few weeks ago
    RJ Stewart – still gives open courses
    Erynn Rowan Laurie – professional madwoman and author
    Selena Fox
    Andras Arthan –
    Orion Foxwood
    Ivo Dominguez, Jr.

    I have met exchanged words with every one of these folks except Emma (Bobcat) and I’ve exchanged email with her.

  5. Good list. I am especially fond of RJ Stewart myself out of that list.
    I am not refuting the fact that there are no good leaders out here, I was responding to people who do. I didn’t ask the question, I was trying to answer it.
    And trying to point out to people that rather than complain that you can’t find a good teacher, that there aren’t any leaders that meet their standards etc, they ought to be out there working on becoming one themselves. Or supporting people who are actually out there either being those leaders, or working towards becoming one.

  6. I’m one of those former Public(ish) Pagans, with 30+ years of experience under my belt (including assisting in getting Wicca recognized as a legitimate faith in the Armed Forces), who walked away ten years ago. I keep being urged to return, but when I put my head above the ramparts, there’s the same group of power-mongerers and hand-wringers who refuse to try new approaches. It’s like spinning wheels.

    I need to decide if I want to be Lady Ass-kicker, or Lady Hermit- and choose a path.

  7. I disagree, there are elders that surpass Gardner and Crowley. Allen Greenfield and Congregational Illuminism are quietly exploring and building roads into terra incognita. Spirituality doesn’t rival science in their work, they merge into something greater, a bright light that inspires many others.

  8. I will agree that there is very little support for young Pagan leaders. That said, someone had to start somewhere without anyone to teach them. Many of us have done just that, only to be put down and scorned for what our experience has taught us because we are not initiates of X tradition and therefore we are doing it “wrong.”

    I would imagine that many of the Elders who have tried to come back to the community run into much the same thing also, because what they were taught is not what common wisdom says today.

    I would rather work solitary at any age than deal with that.

Got something to say?