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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: 19,699,366  

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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 

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.

In Search Of Elders..... May 30th. at 10:24:11 pm EDT

Steph (Midwest City OK) Age: 32 - Email

An Elder in the Pagan Community.

Elder is a much abused word of late. Like the phrase "Real Witch, " or High Priest/ess, and references to the Rede, its open to diverse and often laughable interpretations.

In a perfect world on Beltaine Day, an Elder would be a repository of wisdom and humor. A person who can offer useful advice on the harsh realities of this life without automatically placing the supplicant under their shiny boot.

In a perfect world, we would recognize our elders and respect them and support them. We would treasure them.

We don't live in a perfect world.

I meet a lot of individuals who think that a good limp, a retirement fund and a big butt entitles them to elder hood.

I meet a lot of 19 year old elders of their own tradition.

I meet people who place more value on educational credentials than on authenticity or genuine-ness.

Every once in a while, I meet an elder. And I sit at their feet and I pick their brain til I have cotton mouth and crossed eyes.

In this culture, growing old is no great feat of survival. We have crosswalks and public transportation, penicillin, and gun laws. So age is not necessarily a determining factor in elder-hood.

In this culture, producing a degree (college or other) is not necessarily a sign of wisdom or innate intelligence. Paper mill colleges and churches abound online. I can ordain my cat for a small fee and refer to him as Dr Seymore. You can be so smart you tie your shoes together, and be people-stupid or lacking in instincts.

Some groups pick a chronological age for initiates or members and they are eldered or croned. Does that hold any value to those on the outside of that group?

Elder is in the eye of the beholder.
Many Elders I meet are not necessarily Pagan. I choose carefully, who I entitle in my heart with the honorific, Elder, Just as I do with the title, Friend.

Elders.... May 30th. at 10:33:56 pm EDT

Mathair Cat (Clarksville, TN. USA) Age: 30 - Email

Well, to put it in a nutshell..for the most part-on the elder issue. I agree with Morrighan's posting below. (a wee bit tired here so I wont bore all to snoring fits, with basically the same thing she said--lmao) .

Very good topic! Keep up the good work. I love to read everyone's comments. Very interesting to see the difference and as well as shared views on these postings.
Mathair Cat

Elders May 30th. at 11:09:51 pm EDT

anna (Wisconsin) Age: 55 - Email

just are, great age is not required. Yes, we sure do need them. We need a lot more elders.

Elders? May 31st. at 1:03:40 am EDT

Neko (Calgary, Alberta) Age: 21 - Email

What defines an elder? Is it age? Wisdom? Experinece?

I personally don't think that being old and a Pagan makes you an elder.

Let me tell you.. Once I joined a Wiccan "church" because I thought it might be nice to socialize with other Pagan people. I was young at the time, but I had been a Pagan for a lot longer than several of the adult members.. I was highly educated and self educated to boot. I had spent many many long hours reading every single book on Paganism I came across and had formulated my own way of seeing the world, yet I found myself treated like an outsider.. I didn't see things the way they did. When they would share their food, I wasn't invited to talk to anyone... infact I was basicly told to keep my fingers out of it, even though I ended up baking cookies for everyone and took part in cleaning up. So I continued to go for a short time, hoping it would change soon.. but I felt more isolated there and would often sit on my own at the side during the social side of things. They were hypocrites.. they spoke of being one community, but those who were new were pushed to the outside... and they would celebrate everything indoors.. It just felt like Christian church to me.. complete with cliques and a do as I say not as I do attitude. And these people called themselves priestesses and priests.

I get really annoyed when I see people calling themselves Elders and a Priestess or Priest.. Especially the ones who drink ton of black coffee, crack off color jokes, smoke and drink heavily and don't seem to take Paganism or the craft seriously. These people have no right to call themselves that. And juse because you have been Pagan for a few years and are older than alot of younger Pagans doesn't make you an elder.
Neither does being Pagan for a long time.. or degrees and titles.

The TRUE "elders" are shown for their leadership. People naturally follow them and learn from their experience, and no amount of degrees or age or anything else can substitute it.

My Thoughts May 31st. at 1:11:44 am EDT

Eluwei (Omaha) Age: 13 - Email

I follow a Native-American based path, so I think that, yes, elders are important. In their age, they carry a lot of wisdom. They have been around a lot longer and know of the past. They can teach the youth the old ways. They are almost like historians, preserving the knowledge of the ancestors.They're our past, present, & in a way, our future.

Compassion May 31st. at 8:34:07 am EDT

Al K (Perth, WA) Age: 15 - Email

Just a short reply;

As young and "naive" as I am, I dont think that age has anything to do with it, its just unfortunate that many people think that being an elder of life makes you a wise source of information. That said, I dont think that information has a great deal to do with it either. I think the best kind of elder is someone who takes time out of their life to teach you a little something they do know, and help you along those path. And even if you disagree, even if these people aren't elders, they definately deserve our respect.

?????? May 31st. at 1:17:57 pm EDT

Charles (Alderez) K. (Texas) Age: 16 - Email

Um i cant realy fully answer the question because i am an all but solitary pagan with a very small group i sometimes practice with. But i think elders are needed but like any source should not be relied completely on. They allow ppl to remember farther than there singular memories. They allow a compilation of many generations. Elders have also had a far longer life than those they lead. Thus they have more life experiance. But as a whole i think elders should be held in high esteem not ones to be tossed out like rubbish.
Charles (Alderez) K
Thank You

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