Where Are the “Great” Teachers of Our Generation?

I came across this recent article on Witchvox. The author, one Juniper, gives her rather caustic opinion of why we don’t see “greats” like Crowley or Dion Fortune these days. A sample:

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.

Hmm…

There are a number of things that are simply wrongheaded here. The usage of “politically correct” as a slur or snarl phrase, for instance. But the main interesting question is: why do we consider Crowley, Fortune, Gardner, or anyone “great” in the first place? I know, I know “trailblazers” and so forth. But a pioneer is just that. The first or one of the first to do something in a particular field. This is important in the sense that everything afterward will have to refer back to the pioneer to some extent. Beyond that, all this talk of past greatness compared to today’s mediocrity sounds downright reactionary.

One big reason that we don’t find breathless, cult-like followings around legitimate magickal groups and individuals is, I think, because such hero worship is inappropriate in the context of postmodern society in general and Occulture in particular. An individual such as Gardner or Crowley or Mather could pull off something like a claim that they were in touch with an unbroken tradition or the “Secret Chiefs.” That sort of assertion was quite popular back then, and widely believed in. Today, people who make such claims are much more likely to be greeted with well deserved sarcasm.

With the possible exception of Dion Fortune, the “greatness” of most historical occult figures was the result of sheer self-promotion. If Crowley were alive today, he’d be publishing with LuLu and running a daily blog in which he ranted about gun control. Mathers was almost all bluff. And Gardner… we won’t talk about his quirks.

The implicit assumption of Juniper’s article, that notoriety equals greatness, misses the point of engaging in a spiritual discipline in the first place. Being “great,” if it happens at all, should be an accident. The first job of any magick worker is to wake up. Then, later, if others listen and are aided on their journey, that is good, and shows a certain degree of attainment on the individual’s part. Starting on the journey with the idea of being some great Uber-Magus is a good way to ensure ego inflation and becoming the master of your mother’s basement.

The reason we don’t have people like Crowley anymore is that we’ve grown out of needing them. There are too many valid voices and perspectives, too many avenues to explore for us to get caught up in the game of treating an individual as if they had the Keys to the Mysteries of the Universe. The very notion that such a single Key exists is both naive and dangerous.

I’ll grant, we may have lost some “edge” as Neopaganism and magick become more visible in the “mainstream.” Then again, would the “edge” we had even mean anything today?

I would say, if what you end up doing disturbs people, that is good. If it does not, that is good too. So long as it is what you are truly lead to do. For my part, I would rather be a person than a personality. Should anyone ever claim me as a “great” anything (blessedly unlikely) I hope I am many years dead so that I don’t have to hear it.

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4 comments
  1. Azzerac said:

    Any time there are followers, there are leaders.

    Anytime that someone voices an ugly truth, or a pretty lie, there are going to be opposed camps, deifying & damning them. Anytime someone says “Hey! Look at this!”, they will be noticed.

    It’s how we choose to react that is the crux.
    The re-enforcement we give that voice, be they chicken-little or Godel, that names their place in history.

    History is like memory: Short-Term & Long-Term.
    Tesla died an American Failure, with four cents in his pocket.
    …and now he’s the God of Technology.

    Is it the Speaker or the Audience that makes the legend?

  2. Souris Optique said:

    “The implicit assumption of Juniper’s article, that notoriety equals greatness, misses the point of engaging in a spiritual discipline in the first place.”

    Thank you for this. I thought I was the only one not worshiping at the altar of Crowley and Gardner. If I ran into any teachers today who behaved as they did, or with the same level of self promotion and self-importance, I would run far, far away.

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