Where Have All the Gardners and Crowleys Gone?

That’s the title of a WitchVox essay by Juniper, a “hedgewitch” from British Columbia. Her blog is here. She asks:

“Why are there no more Gardners and Crowleys?”

“Where are the women like Doreen Valiente and Janet Farrar and Dion Fortune in younger generations?”

Read the whole essay for yourself. It’s a rant, but it’s a thoughtful rant.

In one respect I think she’s wrong – I think there are some very good Pagan elders and writers out there. Isaac Bonewits is both prolific and thoughtful, and Dianne Sylvan (The Circle Within) is one of the deeper young authors I’ve read. But they don’t have the reputation of Gardner et.al. because 1) Gardner and company were founders, and founders usually grow to mythic proportions after their passing, and 2) the new, good authors get drowned out by the sheer volume of fluff books on the shelf at Barnes & Noble.

In another respect, though, she’s right. She says we don’t have outstanding elders and leaders because we haven’t become outstanding elders and leaders ourselves. Here are some relevant quotes:

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.

We study more than we practice and we think that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

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.

I have to admit those quotes hit me right between the eyes. I want to make Paganism more accessible and less scary. I want to show the folks across the street that beneath the forms of our religion lies meaning every bit as helpful and valid as their own. And I freely (though not proudly) admit I’m afraid of controversy, or at least of open conflict.

Can you have both? Can you have a religion and a practice that pushes boundaries but doesn’t threaten anyone? Religious history says you can’t. Do something different and you upset apple carts and barbeque sacred cows – and people get defensive. Look at the Old Testament prophets, or the Civil Rights leaders of the 1960s, or the founders of Wicca – none were well-received by the mainstream.

One of the things I’ve felt called to be – and that I promised to be – is a Pagan scholar. Not someone like Ronald Hutton who does mainstream scholarship on Pagan topics, but someone who does original research into contemporary Pagan theology and practice – someone who pushes the envelope of what we know, believe and do.

If I can’t do that safely, can I do it at all?

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  • Is there a reason you can't be a pagan scholar safely? As someone who recently dropped out of a PhD program (my subject was feminist Mariology, not paganism, but I followed it closely) I don't know why you couldn't. I know many pagan scholars. I can see that it might be a challenge in Texas, though.

  • By "safely" I wasn't referring to physical safety so much as my social comfort zone. I lead a pretty "normal" life and I'm reluctant to do much that would put that in any kind of jeopardy.

    I wrote this piece 2-1/2 years ago. Since then I've made some progress and I've taken some risks, but they've been gradual, calculated risks. Will that approach take me where I want to go and where I've been called to go? I honestly don't know.