“You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a ****** education you coulda got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.” – Will, Good Will Hunting
“Where is fancy bred? In the heart or in the head?” – Willy Wonka, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
There’s been a lot of talk about elitism lately. It’s entered our political rhetoric full-force recently but it’s always been an issue in matters of religion. Intellectualism is seen as an attack on the heart of the faithful, a cold dissection of things seen only by faith. Intellectualism is seen as a private club where those who worship ecstatically.
In Paganism the divide is very apparent. Sometimes it can be seen as a jagged fissure separating the Reconstructionist religions from the Wiccans and Goddess-religions. Why is this divide so strongly felt in the Pagan communities? I think it’s the lack of library resources.
Think about it. If you want to learn physics all you really need is a library card and an internet connection. The information is there. True, you may not receive the same benefits of a guided, formal education but with dedication and perseverance it’s perfectly possible to become well-versed in physics without attending an Ivy League school for years.
If you want to be a Bible scholar, the very same is true. Libraries are full of resources and almost every translation of the Christian Bible is available on the internet. Studying the Torah or the Qu’ran might not be quite as easy but the resources are there if you look for them.
What if you want to study Paganism? You will be lucky to find one or two books at your local library and not much more in your library’s network. Most of the books are geared towards beginners. You’ll find some of the classics, mainly those ancients who were important to the development of Christian thought. Online the noise to signal ratio is high.
If you want to seriously study Paganism not only do you need the money to purchase books and classes, you often have to blaze your own trail. This field of study is not readily accessible and there isn’t an open community set up to support such studies unless you pursue Reconstructionism, which isn’t exactly a wide-open and accessible set of communities.
To be an intellectual Pagan is to some degree an elistist thing. The communities that do offer support and sometimes resources are often semi-closed and even secretive. To study Paganism requires not merely dedication and time, but money, proper geography and heart. To enter into a Pagan tradition requires more than just being an egghead, you have to have passion, love and a desire for ecstatic mystery.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. What it does seem to create is a system by which every generation of Pagans is a first generation. A movement made up of converts who have to fight the same battles for understanding over and over. Someone I spoke to at PSG said that they thought the most amazing development in Paganism were children being raised in our traditions. These children don’t have to wrestle for understanding like we have and are free to move forward in new ways.
In how many traditions are children given a religious education? What resources are available to them? I think they would have an easier time becoming a physicist than a Pagan scholar.
Do we worship by reason, or by the faith blooming in our hearts?