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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: 21,464,056  

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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 

Respect Your Elders!!! May 29th. at 2:30:04 pm EDT

Silver Raven (Nottingham, England) Age: 21 - Email

"Elders" to me are anyone older than myself. I therefore respect and behave respectfully towards anyone older than myself, unless they prove themselves through their actions to be unworthy of that respect.

As for needing/wanting "Elders" - everyone needs someone to learn from, even if it's only a parent or good friend. I believe it possible to learn almost any knowledge through meditation, as the knowledge is out there for us to gain. However, and this is particularly true of practical activities, it is so much better to have someone to show you new things. Scientists proved years ago that we humans learn by example, something you can't truly experience through meditation. Watching mum bake a cake or helping your best friend decorate their new home is a more immediate and therefore effective method of learning.

As for "Elders" as a figure in charge of a group, well, that just comes down to a natural human desire for everything to be organised. As a solitary, it is possible to be your own "Elder", as you have to organise yourself! Everyone has this same potential - everyone can teach things to others, while learning valuable new lessons from those they consider students. The saying "you learn something new every day" could never be more true! I think what is important is to realise your own abilities, but also your shortcomings and ask for help from those you think can help - in return you will probably teach them something! Never underestimate the knowledge of others - a child can teach you many valuable lessons. Children aren't considered as "Elders", yet many have knowledge and often wisdom beyond their years.

Teacher / Mentor May 29th. at 3:57:41 pm EDT

Mothrae (Pennsy USA) Age: 38 - Email

So many good responses that I don't wish to repeat them.

To me, an Elder is a teacher, a mentor, someone who knows more than I do and can ask them for help, advice, or whatever else I am looking for.

An Elder has to earn that title. It shouldn't be automatic. How we give out that title would be cause for debate I'm sure, but it should not be self-proclaimed by any means any more than someone can appoint him or herself HP or HPP.

I agree that an Elder should be someone who is humble and not the Voice Of All, someone who has earned that position by deeds and not public relations or politics.


Elders May 29th. at 4:53:52 pm EDT

wolfstar (omahole ne) Age: 50 - Email

I think that it would take a number of factors for one to be considered an elder. age being only one, many are wise beyoud their years, though this is rare. I consider myself an elder, I do have official position in a pagan group.
elder is one of the stages of life, just like maiden and mother. I wonder if this question is about ideals or real people in real communities. I question whether the responses will be relevant to be applied to communities in general.
I have found in my experience that many young people coming into the craft , paganism or what have you do not want to be told what to do. they are escaping from their controlling channel z situation as it is. this is understandable. I had always thought the role of an elder was to teach with an open mind and heart, and to keep history.

Uuummmm................Respect Your Elders?!?!?! May 29th. at 6:31:29 pm EDT

Renee (port charlotte, florida) Age: 19 - Email

ok people .... i truly feel that "elders" are some what importatnt but yet somewhat worthless.....let me explain!

ok first off .. elders are important because they know alot of important things about life and how people of the world can or can not be! they've been through almost everything that were about to go through in our lives!

but on the other hand .... elders are also behind the time a bit and can be very closed minded and bitter..... like me for instance .... im 19years old .... my G-Ma ( i call her Nanny) is almost 70years old ..... thats a huge difference ....... shes a christian and im Wiccan ...... shes straight and im Bi-sexual....... i mean times have changed and my nanny is still the same as when she was my age ..... she dosent get the way things are today ..... and wont except it eathier !!

:::: takes a deep breath :::::

well kiddies!
thats all im gonna say about that!
Love You All!
Blessed Be!

A Place For Everyone May 29th. at 7:16:26 pm EDT

Mistress Morrigan the Raven (North Carolina, USA) Age: 30 - Email

The greatest factor that drew me to paganism and keeps me here, has been the honor that is given to all ages (in most forums and groups) . In the group I work with and teach for, each stage of youth/parent/elder, has it's own facets of service and gifts to offer. Young people offer strength and energy - they literally put their backs into the work of the community. Mothers/fathers nurture and guide the group - still young enough to participate, but old enough to offer some loving guidance. Elders offer wisdom and patience and guidance that comes from experience. An appreciation for and love of all peoples is what brings an undescribable beauty to the pagan/wiccan community. I do realize that many groups/individuals don't honor all peoples, but when it does's grand.

Blessings, love and honor, to the beauty in all.

Merry Meet To All May 29th. at 8:54:46 pm EDT

Freya (Raleigh, NC) Age: 28 - Email

I believe in the principle of the Elder for personal growth but believe it comes in many forms. I myself have not "studied" with in a formal way but have come across what I would call many wise spirits on the spirit path. This is far more important to me, i.e., one who is on a life affirming, healing path, than a formal Elder, who as a matter of fact I have yet to feel any affiliation with. I find so many beautiful, wise women and men of all ages and spiritual paths (not just Wiccan) . Speaking as a solitary, I find this part of my path right now still in it's smorgasbord stage if you will, and I am blessed with the insight I have gained from many an inspiring teacher. I am always grateful for some kernal of truth to nourish my soul that I have found in the people I have met so far. I can only hope I meet more.
*Blessed Be*

I Have No Title May 29th. at 11:31:23 pm EDT

Morrighan (A surreal existential social embryo) Age: 25 - Email

Well, in the question, "elder" is pretty much defined. I think within the framework of this, I'll consider "elder" to be the second definition. In that sense: What is? Who is? Why?
I'm a solitare, and I'm also a cynic. I don't give a lot of hoop-la to people unless they deserve it. An elder is someone who deserves credit and has served for...oh....a long time. I wouldn't consider someone my age or within ten to fifteen years of me an elder.
I don't even consider many of the prolific Pagan writers to be elders, and I'll tell you why. This spiritual path derives part of it's uniqeness from it's liberty. The late great Scott Cunningham wrote books on how to be you're own personal practitioner because it is necessary in our society. Human beings have a tendency to elitism and most of it is self appointed.
I don't give a flip about what other people think about what I do. I respect opinions, but they are, after all, like armpits. Too many people come to these forums, questionaires, and to groups and such to boast of their great powers, accomplishments, experiences, etc. However, it's all relative.
I'll tie all of that in by saying: It's your reality, you do what you want with it, as long as it doesn't infringe on someone else's reality. When you start tellig other people how to do something, how to think, or how to behave, you start running into problems with individuality, personal preference, and what not.
I don't need someone connecting me with the divine. I don't need someone telling me how to run a ritual. If I want to put my wands in the north, for instance, that's my perogative. Why? Because it's all about symbols and how we interpret them. Nobody can tell you how to interpret something (stop signs and other traffic commodities excluded) .
In essence, I don't think that elders are useless. Some people need them. However, don't expect me to bow down and kiss bootie to someone just because they've done a spell or two or they've been innitiated in the Super Coven. It's not going to happen.
Also, I just want to remind people, though I'm a hypocrit for doing it, we're not supposed to post on other people's posts. Keep your comments about what others say to yourself. It's a place of free expression. If you're offended, I'm offended. Where does that get us?

Of All The Topics May 30th. at 1:57:32 am EDT

Candice (Charlotte N.C.) Age: 26 - Email

Of all the topics TWV has sponsored this has caught my eye. Elders and many other traditionally defined members of the Wicca hierarchy of a group are just as valuable to the group as it's high priestess. They keep other members in check in these traditional settings and set the example for those new members. In laymen's terms they are those who came before. What if the tradition you are practicing is "Home Grown" or eclectic. What if you have made yourself a witch and are striving towards your own tradition... BAH right you can't do that. You can as so many have before us. Or let's say you have had a dream about sitting between two pillars one black one white, with the large stone book of tora tora tora in your hands and the infant symbol blazing apron your third eye so fiercely it wakes you from the dream state. Are you an elder? Are you even a Witch? By most "traditional standards" you have had a very moving dream and something in your psyche is screaming desperately to get out. Never the less you must experience this, make one of those, and complete that etc.etc.etc. In all actuality for the non-traditional eclectic do what feels right type being an elder for lack of a better phrasing is like being in love. Like so many things that we are blessed with or strive so hard to achieve when the time comes you know. Have you ever given advice or answered a question or even aided some one in finding their path? DING DING elder on our hands!!! So many times in our lives we get bogged down with labels and titles and even lineage we over look the truth in our actions in our daily lives and our living. The fact that our lives touch so many and do so much gains us enormous leverage on this small planet. So to the 72 year young wise woman if irrefutable decent and heritage you may or may not be but to the 16 year old student you make the world move. We have all experienced the state of elder in some way or another be us initiated official or just holding the space. As for age and decision that lies not only in the hearts of the beholder but also with in ourselves.
Blessed Be,

Got To Go Somewhere... May 30th. at 7:51:00 am EDT

Govannon (Waipahu, HI) Age: 43 - Email

I think that Elders in the generic sense are those who have served as teachers, High Priests and High Priestesses over time and have gained the recognition and respect of the community. I don't think anyone should claim to be an elder- it's something earned, and can't be claimed. I don't think you have to be old to be an elder, either, save that a certain maturity seems to be required that is somewhat a function of age- but that age could be mid 20's on up.

Elders Aren't Just Trees Anymore... May 30th. at 9:21:44 am EDT

RuneWolf (Reston, VA) Age: 44 - Email - Web

Just out of curiosity, I looked up ‘elder’ on Some very interesting definitions, a few of which wouldn’t sit well with most Pagans. But the one that best fits my understanding of the Elder in the Pagan community is: “2. An older, influential member of a family, tribe, or community.” A couple of the other definitions included references to pastoral or teaching functions, and I agree with this, also.

For me, the quintessential Pagan Elder would be someone who has devoted their life to our Way, and who has diligently pursued that Way for a number of years, and thus is both qualified and able to guide and advise those who need guidance and advice. That ‘diligently pursued’ part is important. Getting substantial ‘time in grade’ really only proves that you can endure – it doesn’t mean that you have actually learned or accomplished anything. Bureaucracies, at their worst, are perfect examples of this.

How much time does it take to make an elder? That’s a good question, and a source of contention within the community. And I’m not sure I have the answer. But I would agree with those who have written that it is more a matter of maturity and heart than of chronological time. A couple of my current martial arts instructors are literally half my age. Nonetheless, they are my ‘elders’ in this context, because they have much more knowledge than I have, and have willingly taken the steps to gain instructor’s credentials. They haven’t been doing this for decades – unless they started in diapers – but they are certainly my ‘elders’ as far as this part of my life goes.

Eldership is, I believe, one of those things that cannot and should not be sought, but which must be ‘conferred’ upon an individual by an organic consensus of the community at large. Because of the very nature of our community, who we recognize and look to as Elders will differ from group to group, tradition to tradition, path to path. While I respect the Eldership granted to certain individuals within their own sub-communities, I don’t necessarily think of them as MY Elders, except in a very general way. As with so many other things in life, for me the true mark of an Elder is that person’s humble refusal to refer to themselves as such, when everyone around them thinks they should. Accordingly I – like others who have posted on this topic – am suspicious of those who loudly and vehemently insist on that prerogative and title.

What Is The First Criteria? May 30th. at 8:11:53 pm EDT

CopperLion (Los Angeles, CA) Age: 51 - Email

All the proposed definitions of an elder that I've read so far seem to hinge on the concept of a community. Forgive me if I digress a liitle bit, but where is the modern pagan community? I mean, I've been a Pagan for over 2 years now, self-taught and self-dedicated, and I've been desperately searching for a viable Pagan community. Meaning no offense to WitchVox or Circle Sanctuary or OBOD or any of the other hard-working pagan organizations, but this virtual cyberspace thing just doesn't work as far as being a community. So, were DO we start with a definition of an elder?

I'm not trying to be sarcastic with this response, I'm really trying to find an answer here.

In Defense Of Elders, And Students Alike May 30th. at 10:07:08 pm EDT

entropie (NJ) Age: 30 - Email

I tend to use the Judy Harrow definition of elder as "someone who got started sooner". This means that although spiritual elders that I have learned from are usually older than me, they are not necessarily. I would probably amend that to "got started sooner ... and made good progress"

Pagans seem very skittish to the point of phobic of the concept of elders because as many posters mentioned, being a "3rd Degree High Priest/ess of the Temple of my Ass" or a witch of 20 years or a student of someone famous does not necessarily make you competent, proficient, sane, helpful, and/or useful as a resource to your brothers and sisters of the Craft.

We need to not throw the baby out with the murky water. A community with no past has no future, and is doomed to make the exact same mistakes those before them did, and to suffer for them. We need people to guide us, to say "well, that didn't work when *I* tried it, and here is why.." People to call us on our bullsh*t, and who better than someone who has been there? In the great lessons of the gods that we can only learn for ourselves, and/or the hard way, we need people to remind us that we are, in fact, (mostly ;) ) human. Others greater than us have tried and failed...and picked up and tried again.

An elder is someone with a good amount of knowledge, who has grown in wisdom, and has, or has been granted by the gods, a bit of compassion and patience for those who struggle, and have the willingness and desire to learn and become more.

We need to respect our elders and listen to their wisdom as much as they need to respect each individual's unique growth process and be willing to admit their way is not the only one.

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