Back in the "old" days before the advent of the internet and the plethora of Wicca 101 books that were published to meet a growing cry for information on Wicca one had a tough time learning on one's own.
When I first came to Wicca in the 1980's there were only a handful of books on the subject and they weren't always easy to find. Stores didn't tend to carry them, libraries didn't stock them. About the only way you could learn was to get lucky enough to find a teacher, and teachers didn't advertise in the papers looking for students. Anyone who wanted to learn knew that it would be hard work to find a teacher and hard work to study and master the material. But what they were getting was far more in depth material than in any book. You also got all the wisdom and expertise of the teacher and a helping hand over the rough spots.
With the inception of the internet it became much easier to find teachers and groups that would challenge you to grow and learn. But that is changing. People are asking "Where did the Elders go?" But that's not the right question. What they should be asking is "Why are the Elders and teachers going back into hiding?" And the answer is that that they are tired. They are tired of offering their advice, their knowledge, their time, and their skills. They are tired of being told that they don't know what they are talking about, or that their views are worthless. I wonder how many of those turning their backs on the opportunity of interacting with these people realize what they are losing?
On another board I post to we were discussing the importance of Gerald Gardner in the creation of Wicca. Someone asked, "If this Gardner is so important why isn't he writing books for Llewellyn?" When others tried to point out that Gardner was the founder of Wicca but had been dead for many years someone else piped up claiming that Gardner couldn't have created Wicca because he was a man and Wicca was a woman's religion. The two of them were completely unwilling to listen to anyone discussing the history of Wicca because it wasn't in a book from Llewellyn or fit their misconception of Wicca. They would rather continue believing something completely wrong than to listen to the words of people who had been initiates of Gardner himself. This is the sort of thing which is poisoning the well for Wiccan Seekers.
Many Elders (and I do not consider myself and Elder, merely a teacher) find themselves trying to answer a question posed by a student or someone on a board like this only to be told they don't know what they're talking about because someone said differently in a book or on a website. What those belittling these people don't realize is that the Elder they are denigrating took the time and effort to respond to their request for knowledge and to share their experience and knowledge with the seeker. How many times do you think that happens before the Elder decides that responding isn't doing anything useful and they simply stop trying to teach? How much wisdom is lost because the student wants a quick and easy fix and not a true spiritual path?
The Elders and the teachers are still there. But they have been silenced by the MTV generation that is too busy to listen and learn. More and more of those that I knew and learned from are retreating into their solitude and no longer reaching out to the greater community. And perhaps this is a good thing. Perhaps if people have to really work to find teachers again they will learn to treasure what they receive when they do find them.
To share a little story that I believe bears thinking about:
There was once a Zen master of great renown who lived in the mountain. One day, he received the visit of a young philosopher whom had traveled from afar especially to meet him. That philosopher came under high recommendations by his teachers, so the master agreed to see him. As the two sat under a tree to discuss, the subject hastily came to what the master could teach the young philosopher. Recognizing the flame of youth, the master smiled warmly and started to describe his meditation techniques. He was cut short by the philosopher who said: "Yes, I understand what you are talking about! We did a similar technique at the temple, but instead we used images to focus! "
Once the philosopher was done explaining to the master how he was taught, and did, his meditation, the master spoke again. This time, he tried to tell the young man about how one should be attuned to nature and the Universe. He didn't get two sentences in when the philosopher cut him short again and started talking about how he was taught of such things and so and so.
Once again, the master patiently waited for the young philosopher to end his excited explanations. Once he was done, the master got to the subject of seeing humor in every situation. This time, the young man didn't lose any time and started to talk about his favorite jokes and how he thought they could relate to situations he had faced.
Once the philosopher was done, the Zen master invited him inside for a tea ceremony. The philosopher having heard of how the master performed the ceremony like no other accepted gladly. Such a moment was always a privileged one with such a man. Once inside, the master performed flawlessly up to the point where he started to pour the tea in the cup. The philosopher noticed as the master was pouring tea, that the cup was being filled more than usual, then, as the master kept pouring tea, the cup got full to the brim. Not knowing what to say, the young man just looked at the master with a look of astonishment on his face. The master kept pouring has if nothing was wrong and the cup, not being able to contain anymore, started to overflow, spilling hot tea on the floor mattresses and the master's hakama. Not believing what he was seeing, the philosopher finally exclaimed: "Stop pouring! Can't you see the cup is already full and overflowing?"
With those words, the master gently placed the teapot back on the fire and looked at the young philosopher with his ever present warm smile, looked him in the eye and said: "If you come to me with a cup that is already full, how can you expect me to give you something to drink?
Where are the Elders?