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You are here: Home Resources E-Newsletter Archive Winter 2009, Issue V Even Before Stan Crow: The Legacy of Cultural Pioneers

Even Before Stan Crow: The Legacy of Cultural Pioneers

This article, written by Executive Director Darcy Ottey, is a tribute to Stan Crow and other leaders who paved the way for organizations like Rite of Passage Journeys.

By Darcy Ottey, Executive Director



However, this is not just the story of Stan and Rite of Passage Journeys.  Over the last 50 or so years, many cultural pioneers, who grew up in communities that had long since lost access to strong cultural beliefs and traditions, have looked outside of their familiar culture to preserve and invent more meaningful and healthier forms of cultural life.  I have been reflecting often on how difficult the path was for these individuals, many isolated and without supportive communities.  These pioneers are now our elders, teachers, and some have become our ancestors.  These people often lived on the edge, becoming marginalized for their beliefs and lifestyles and sacrificing their financial stability.  They traveled to the far reaches of the globe to learn from more intact communities, finding teachers in tucked away places.  I think, for example, of Joanna Macy, the Buddhist teacher and anti-nuclear activist, whose studies took her to Tibet, Sri Lanka, and other hard-to-get-to places.  This was also much of the work of the Institute of Cultural Affairs, Journeys’ parent organization, whose members worked and lived in communities around the globe. 

Other pioneers have stayed closer to home, experimenting with new cultural forms, making many mistakes and learning in the process.  Here, I think of the founders of intentional communities who learned through trial and so much error what it really means to be in community.  I also think of our friend Paul Hill at the National Rites of Passage Institute in Cleveland, who has worked tirelessly to bring back rites of passage for in-city African American youth drawing specifically on their African heritage.

For those of us who do not come from intact indigenous communities, it is often difficult to connect with strong traditions and a deep cultural life.  So often, we are inundated with images that stand in contrast to the experiences that nourish our souls.  Enriching our cultural life is made even more difficult by the wide tapestry of cultural traditions that makes up our diverse communities and nation as a whole, and the conflicting desires for blending and crossing boundaries, and preserving and protecting intact traditions. Still, increasingly, I notice how much work has been done to offer everyone and anyone in our culture the opportunity to connect with deeper meaning in our lives, and in ways that are not tied to one particular doctrine or set of spiritual beliefs. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in a women’s circle facilitated by a renowned Dagara teacher from West Africa before a friend’s wedding.  She talked about how among her people, a young married couple was not left to their own devices.  The community would surround them, as they negotiated the expectations of their marriage.  The couple could turn to their friends and elders for guidance, never feeling that they were alone to solve the problems of their marriage.  As she described the level of support a married couple receives among her people, and the level of ceremony and commitment held by the entire community, I was inspired.  But I was inspired only in part by the story of how they do it among her people.  I was also inspired when I realized we’ve (re)learned to do this, at Journeys and in Journeys’ kindred communities.  I kept thinking, “that’s how we do it, too!”  And with this realization came so much gratitude for the teachers who have made this approach to life possible for more and more people right here, in our communities. 

As a 13 year old girl, I took part in the Journeys Coming of Age trip.  As I look back, what that has meant for me is that I got to experience, personally, what it means to grow up as an initiated woman, charged by my community with a sense of personal strength and with a sense of responsibility to the collective.  I didn’t need to travel great distances to learn different ways of being—I drove 15 miles to Bothell, just outside of Seattle, to the Journeys basecamp.  And what that means now is that I don’t have to learn exclusively by experimentation—I can draw on this 40-year legacy and on my own experiences growing up. 

“We’re going to do it like they’ve been doing it for thousands of years.  We’re going to make it up as we go along.”  This is what Stan would say whenever he’d facilitate a circle or a ritual, and over the years, it’s become one of the backbone philosophies of the organization he founded:  the idea that even when we don’t quite know what to do, if we just trust our inner wisdom, it’ll all work out in a powerful way, just as it was supposed to.  And this continues to be how we do things at Journeys.  This philosophy is part of the magic of our work with youth, adults, and elders. 

But now, I realize it’s only part of the story.  Because as much as circumstances may change, and as much as life requires imagination and creativity, there are now many ways of doing things that we already know, traditions that grow and strengthen and are part of the bundle that makes up our legacy.  We have elders and mentors to turn to for guidance—no longer do our younger program mentors have to make it up every time!  The development of this strong, accessible lineage is a powerful gift.  And it’s a powerful marriage between individual identity and tradition; we have cultural forms to draw on and to embellish with our own creativity as we are inspired. 

With Stan’s passing, we are acutely aware of the gifts that he gave to Journeys, to the rites of passage movement, to the youth and nature movement, and to the intentional communities movement.  But it seems important to acknowledge all of the other teachers and pioneers who have worked so hard to build a different way of being, more deeply connected to our inner selves, to community, to nature, and to the sacred, within the cultures they come from.  As we create a healthier world, we are grateful for their gifts.



Please visit our Memories of Stan webpage to read more about his gift to Journeys and other communities, his family, his friends and mentees. Or contribute your own story about Stan by contacting us here.

Stan Crow’s public celebration is planned for Saturday, January 9th, at Eastshore UU Church in Bellevue, Washington. It will undoubtedly be a beautiful event, and a further coming together of the many circles that Stan helped build over his lifetime.  Anyone who would like to come is welcome and invited.  Stan’s family has requested that if you would like to receive information, please email  The invitations will come through this email list.

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