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Question of the Week: 113

Pagan Problem Children: What Can We Do About Them?

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 Author:    Posted: Sep. 8, 2002   This Page Viewed: 28,408,358  

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Question of the Week: 112 - 5/28/2003

Elders: Who Are They and Do We Really Need Them?

From The Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

elder : 1. an older person, especially one with a respected position in society; 2. an official of a religious group.

What is your definition of an Elder? Do we need Elders? Do we want Elders? What would be the role of an Elder in the Pagan/Heathen communities?

Who decides who is an Elder? Can someone simply declare him/herself an Elder? Do you discern a difference between ‘someone with a respected position in society’ and ‘an official of a religious group’? Can a solitary practitioner – who is not an ‘official’ of a recognized group, but nevertheless provides something of value to Paganism/Heathenism -- be considered an Elder?

Is age a factor? Wisdom? Proven track record? Who do you consider to be an Elder?

 Reponses:   There are 74 responses posted to this question. Reverse Sort 

I Think Elders Are A Wonderful Resource. May 28th. at 12:24:52 pm EDT

KatRivers (Central Kentucky) Age: 38 - Email

One of things I like best about reading the responses to the questions posted on Witchvox is reading the ages of the respondents (hoping most of them are being honest!) . It does my heart good to see that there are women and men in the world who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond who practice paganism, because I think that the "general public" (whoever they are!) associate paganism with young people and many consider it a youthful . . . experiment, if you will, and not a valid spiritual path practiced by "grown ups" (whatever they are!) .
When I first became a feminist in my early twenties, I loved to see older women who were still espousing feminism and standing up for its tenets. I feel the same way when I meet/read/hear about older pagans who have been practicing for a long time and fighting the good fight, so to speak, for paganism.

More thoughts: I think being an elder goes beyond being a leader in a religious organization. It also has to do with having navigated the ups and downs of life. I know I appreciate speaking to older folks who have weathered the storms of life and survived them in-tact and spiritually/mentally stronger. Also, there's something peaceful about being able to garner wisdom from older folks, pagan or not, and hearing the life stories of those men and women.

PS - I also love it when I see that teens read and respond to Witchvox questions. I would have given my eye-teeth for such a forum/accepting audience when I was a teen witch back in the 1970s and '80s. Blessed be to all you young pagans! kat

RESPECT THE ELDERS. May 28th. at 12:33:57 pm EDT



Elders May 28th. at 1:14:15 pm EDT

Ru Mortheus (Clemson, SC) Age: 22 - Email

My definittion of Elder has changed over time. Years ago I thought, Elders are supposd to old. Of course, that is not the case. I know of 'Elders' that are not much older than I am. I have even found myself filling that role as I work with the Teen Group at the local UU fellowship. For now, I am content to define and Elder as someone who acts as a guide, someone who teaches, someone who organizes, and by virtue of public perception... just about anyone in our community who speaks publicly on Paganism. Elders fill all the periphal roles of most ministers. We often forget that ministers do more than just preach. They do more than act as mediaries to the divine. In fact, that is virtually the only thing that Pagan Elders don't do that most ministers in mainstream religion do.

Do we need Elders? I think so. Certainly there are Solitaries out there who never join a coven or don't participate in the Pagan community as a whole, but even they had parents, grandparents, teachers, etc.

Do we want them? Not always. As Pagans we like to think that we are an independent lot. We shy away from many traditional roles in religious community, but I think we end up recreating those roles in other ways. We don't get rid of them so much as we revise them.

How someone becomes an Elder is beyond me. Obviously, in some Traditions it is a status that is officially conferred. But this is not the only way. I would be wary of someone declaring themself and Elder of their own accord. Such an individual is probably on a powertrip. However, many Elders will never claim the title but perfom all the duties. Than again, anyone who speaks publicly in the media tends to become an Elder, as does anyone who say publishes a book, because they have inadvertantly set themselves up as teachers, guides, and spokesman in swell foop.

Age and Wisdom: Not necessarily linked. THe very young could potentially be Elders. Indeed many are pulled into this without feeling ready or willing.
Proven Track Record: One would hope, but again the minute you open your mouth in a public formu where non-Pgans are listening, from the outside looking in you just set yourself up to be at least nominally in that position.

There is plenty more that I could say, but given the frequency of this debate in the community at large I am sure I will have plenty of oppertunities to voice my opinion, and this is already rather long.

Elders Are Good May 28th. at 2:02:05 pm EDT

Ares Hearthfire (ny, ny) Age: 21 - Email

Do we need Elders? Of course we do!! Without Elders the newer people would not have anywhere to go.

What is an Elder? To me an Elder is any pagan that has given of themselves in leadership and has done much for the pagan community. This can be pro bono lawyers, authors, individuals, group leaders, activists, teachers or anyone else that has given down their teachings or done anything active that has been a benefit to the community.

Most Elders, i find, are identified by people over time with not much saying anything. Some have been controversial and some not very well liked, but all are Elders none the less.

After all you have to respect someone who has been practicing and teaching and taking risks for years even if you differ in opinion on some things.

The way i see a religious can be as pagans as a whole or wicca or a derivitive independently. not each coven (which may have elders within it, but not outside of it) so there can be level of elders.

Laurie Cabot, Raymond Buckland, Raven Grimassi, Starhawke, Isaac Bonewitz (sp) have to be respected to some level. As do the people at WADL or other similar groups. To me those are what Elders should be.

Plus May 28th. at 2:03:59 pm EDT

Ares Hearthfire (ny, ny) Age: 21 - Email

and yes Wren and are both Elders also!! Though neither are old! hee

Lots Of Definitions May 28th. at 4:49:25 pm EDT

Penny J. Novack (Berkshire Mntns, MA, USA) Age: -62 - Email

I think the term is used in a formal sense by some types of Witch/Wiccan groups. Some groups mean anyone who is the High Priest/ess. Some groups refer thus to those who have opted out of leading a group and just want to sit by and help or teach or whatever. I can understand that.

The people I, personally feel are "Elders" are people who have been around a while and "know the ropes" in a real way, not as an ego-trip. I still see a particular book which came out in... 1970?... when I was almost 30, which was written by a bright young man as his Master's thesis in Magic. He'd designed his own courses and created his own reading lists -- the whole works! And I think he was 20? Something like that. It actually was a marvelous bit of research work. He must have haunted the used book stores as well as the Classics Dept and a few others at the college he was in. He was not an Elder. He was a bright young amateur who could both do fine research and write well.

It is life experience which creates people bit by bit into Elders. At that point in his life he was knowlegable but had very little life experience. At this point, he must be -- oh in his fifties? Early fifties, I think it is. NOW there is a chance he is an Elder. I haven't seen him in quite a few years but he hasn't stood still and probably has learned a lot. I know he has a great deal of experience as a leader in our community.

But even Elders are only human. Nobody knows everything and each of us has human glitches as well. I have always enjoyed learning from my elders. And other people's elders, too. And when an Elder from within Craft or Pagan communities is around I am certainly willing to listen and learn whatever strikes me as valuable to me. But then, I also take great pleasure in learning from young adults and small children -- and even people I never met before, in the laundromat, for instance. I am possessed of a vast storehouse of ignorance and, while I live, I hope to keep using it up by learning new things. That can only happen when I listen. I try.

It's Not The Years, It's The Mileage May 28th. at 9:55:52 pm EDT

Rede Seeker (Cincinnati, Ohio, USA) Age: 48 - Email

Carolyn Myss (spelling) and Anodea Judith have an interesting concept in their books. Consider the chakra system. It begins with the root representing one's tribal connection and progresses upward culminating in one's connection to divinity (however the individual envisages that) . A person becomes an elder when each chakra is filled completely and flows into the next higher one. The individual is expected to complete certain rights of passage of which the chakras can be a representation. It is possible to live and grow old without fully activating each chakra. It is the completion of each step in personal evolution which marks one as an Elder.

An Elder in a Magical Tradition has an additional overlay of experience to acquire. That individual must also complete certain rights of passage within their chosen tradition moving through a chakra-like evolution pattern (tribal through divinity connection) .

Do we need Elders? Only if we want to evolve. Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Our Elders also serve as Wisdom Keepers and Historians. They know what is written in the books and why it is there; they know what is not written down and why.

How do you know someone is an Elder? Attend lectures and workshops taught by people such as Ram Dass. Feel the experience, then search for that feeling around other people.

Are Elders Needed? Yes!!! Do We Not Need Teachers???? May 28th. at 10:41:32 pm EDT

Travis (Virginia) Age: 16 - Email

My opinion on this question what are "elders" and do we need them is this... An elder is one who has risen to a position of knowledge and authority through much study and personal expierience. In Wiccan tradition and in pagan tradition in general it is necessary to have "Elders" they serve as our teachers, the ones that pass down wisdom from one generation to the next. Also they serve as leaders. It is good that we are independent and rely on the self but it is very necessary to have some order. I believe good leaders and teachers are going to be important to the furthering of the Pagan community in general. I'm only 16 but i'm not stupid, i respect those who are older and i believe that as Pagans we need to respect those older than us and wiser than us. Somebody had to teach us our ways, the books didn't write themselves and the lessons we learn didn't just happen by our own creation. Well then, i think i've rambled enough. Thanks for reading my opinion on "Should we have elders?"

Elders May 29th. at 4:00:35 am EDT

Sunflower (Calgary, AB) Age: 41 - Email

Ru Mortheus covered a lot of it well and saved me some words; thank you, Ru.
Eldership doesn't come from chronological age - I've known elders as young as mid-teens, and people in their 50's who couldn't have provided eldership to a pet rock.
Eldership doesn't come from age in Craft - just because you've been hanging around casting circles for 40 years doesn't convey it automatically.
Elders are NEVER self-appointed. Oh, they may intentionally place themselves in that position, but it's subject to acceptance or rejection by the community they're in. If you want to be an elder, it isn't enough to say you are, you must BE one - and that's hard work.
I've known people who wanted the respect and status of being an elder. Very few of them got it. Why? Too busy thinking about how gratifying it'd be to be looked up to that way.
Meanwhile, those who weren't thinking of eldership at all, but simply making sure other seekers didn't lack support in their quests (as, very often, the one offering that support had lacked) , find themselves looked up to. Often, these ones will say, "Oh, I don't think I'm an elder. I just do this."
An elder is one who shares freely of their own experience, with those less experienced - and does so in such a way that the less-experienced one is allowed to grow, and gain experience of hir own. If you are stingy with what you share, or if you share it by doing everything for the seeker instead of helping them learn to do it for themselves, you may have elder status at first but you will lose it. Here's where the very young elders come in; they may not have a lot of experience and knowledge, but if what they have is sound, and they give freely of it, they'll be elders.

Like Ru, I could say more, but won't.


Elder=Doer May 29th. at 5:55:16 am EDT

Wolf's Voice (Singapore) Age: 28 - Email

In my opinion, an elder is a person who actually does what he or she says/advocates. To me, an elder is never a person who craves attention or the limelight: he or she works diligently, behind the scenes.

I also agree that real elders are not (and should not be) self-appointed. One thing about the pagan/heathen communities is that there are a lot of self-appointed elders running around, claiming to be gurus or 'know-it-alls'.

Lastly, an elder leads by example. By integrity.

Wolf's Voice

Kicking And Screaming. May 29th. at 12:19:20 pm EDT

Duck (CA-USA) Age: 41 - Email

I think we're pretty much in agreement on this. Elders are NEEDED, but what QUALIFIES them is a matter of SERVICE, without desire for recognition. They do it for the LOVE of their Faith and Craft. If any of you are wondering about that heading, it's simple. Most "Elders" will fight the title in that manner. *wink* A wise man I know once said: "If anyone tells you 'I know it all', RUN. That person is 'fibbing'. If you must give me some form of title, think of me more as an older sibling, shareing with you some of what I learned at school today. Life never stops teaching you new things. All you need to do is be willing to learn."

Beware Of Self-proclaimed "Elders"!!! May 29th. at 2:07:20 pm EDT

Waterfae (Berks County, PA) Age: 32 - Email

We recently had this discussion in one of the Yahoo groups I belong to. Someone was whining about the disrespect she received from some younger Witches when she gave them advice (not asked for) while claiming to be an Elder. To me, an Elder is someone that has earned that title but doesn't use it. Someone that will quietly sit to the side of a discussion & only speak up when they have something important to say or wisdom to offer. It's not a question of age, or even how long they have been following their particular path. But it's a question of their heart. Do they really respect those that come to them for advice, or do they say what they think is the right way & insist it's the only way? Do they actually listen when someone comes to them with a problem that they cannot discuss with anyone else? That to me is what an Elder is. And yes, I think society as a whole needs true Elders.

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