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 Author:    Posted: Sep. 8, 2002   This Page Viewed: 9,379,113  

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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 


Thats A Debate Jun 3rd. at 12:21:38 am UTC

darkendstar (ontario, california) Age: 21 - Email


As they tell stories and experences there is almost always a need for Elders. There life stories, experences, and all around knowledge is one that enlightens us. Though some may seem as if there tails are to herindous to believe or partake in, there is still the knowledge that we can learn from them. For them, with age, know experences that we may never partake from but can learn from, and relate to. I have learned about this world from them, there travles, there excitements. I learned about love, the sprits, the world around us all from my elders. The teach us, help us grow, and see our futures. So as for me my elders are my past and the link to my future. Learn from them, listen to them and be enlightend.

Now please, I am new to this website. So if this offends anyone I am truly sorry, but is says to express your thoughts and this is them. So I did that.


Elders Jun 3rd. at 3:40:09 am UTC

Rainwriter (Hawaii) Age: 33 - Email


Elders-what a loaded word, and perfect for such a seemingly simplistic question...

Elders are teachers. No, that is not quite right. They do so much more than teach. Hmmm..

Elders are old. No, that is not quite right either. A person can be an Elder and not be "old" per say. Why, most of the Elders I have meant are forever young. Cheers..

Elders have knowledge. Yes, but that isn't quite right either, because knowledge without experience is just book learning. There is so much more, not that I'm knocking book learning. Heaven forbid..:)

Elders pass on their lifetimes so their mistakes and triumphs can be shared by anyone who seeks what they have to share, all while offering endless comfort and guidance and while wielding great patience. Whew..

Elders are to be appreciated, cherished, thanked, and then... pumped for all the knowledge they have to pass on. :)

Elders are priceless.

Oh yes, thank you Wren, Fritz, Penny Novack, Grandpa, Doris, and so many, many others who have been generous enough to guide me, even when they didn't know they were doing it.


Elders Are The Backbone.. Jun 3rd. at 7:49:43 am UTC

Kieran (Georgia) Age: 38 - Email


Elders are the backbone of the community, large or small. Yes, age does matter along with experiance. That is why they are elders. In my thoughts and what I have seen in the last 11 years of practicing, an elder is someone who is older then you in the age and practicing since of the word. I have elders in my coven that are only a few years older then me but have been practicing longer and more activly. I believe the elder can have as much fun as the younger ones but with more respect given. I am an elder to my children, we are all elders of one kind or another. I must agree though, it is a little off the wall to say that a 13 year old is an elder, but yet they are an elder to the 9 year old if they are mature enough to be. Yes, elders are very important, and it is hard to believe the question was even asked. I look forward to being gray haired, wearing long dresses, and watching the young work as I have done to become what I became. I pray one day, that question does not have to be asked anymore and respect can just be given because it is only right to respect and learn from who has been there before you.


Elders Are Created, Not Self-proclaimed Jun 3rd. at 10:03:38 am UTC

Alan Braden (Aiken, SC) Age: 37 - Email


What is your definition of an Elder?

Our ancestors are our elders. Those who came before us, either through relation or spiritual legacy, are our "previous generation." Some of these people may have passed on, others are still with us. The people who blazed the trails that others now walk in relative safety are our elders.

Do we need Elders?

Elders create what the basis of the world will exist for the next generation. Thus, it would be impossible to exist in this modern Pagan world without the work of the elders who came before us.

Do we want Elders?

The young of any path look for elders to teach them, the adolescents look for establishments to rebel against, and the adults of any community look for fellows to join with and raise their children together.

>What would be the role of an Elder in the Pagan/Heathen >communities?

To establish the traditions that will become embraced, encoded, enriched and/or ignored by future generations, just as we follow this same behavior in all other walks of life.

>Who decides who is an Elder?

I think its a zen process. Time and experiance make you an elder, if you engage in the actions that promote community. Someone who hides in the broom closet all thier lives leaves behind no spiritual legacy for others to learn from. I'm not saying its all about covens, I'm saying its about giving back to the larger world. How you find a way to do that is between you and the Gods you serve.

>Can someone simply declare him/herself an Elder?

There are people who declare themselves High Preistess and High Priest without ever having done a thing to earn that title. There are obviously people who declare themselves elders. I do not personally think you *should* declare yourself, as it should be a title of some tiny honor. I think you shoul mention that you consider OTHER people to be elders, and hope that your actions are befitting that they think of you in the same way. Chasing after, or demanding the status of an elder is childish, counter-productive, and nauseating to watch.

>Do you discern a difference between ‘someone with a >respected position in society’ and ‘an official of a >religious group’?

Either person of either position stands to act as much like an elder (giving back to the world, teaching, creating, supporting) than not (hoarding power, creating turmoil for the sake of personal gain, destabilizing community) . So no, I do not make any special distinguishments between these positions.

>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?

Yes. I feel I should point out that many "Big Name Pagans" have gone for periods of time without belonging to any particular group - in some cases have even been ostracized from groups they in fact created. Does this diminish their achievements? Obviously not. Therefore, "current" membership has nothing to do with one's ability to contribute to their community. Likewise, a dedicated solitary has much to teach people who are afraid that they could *only* be effective in a group setting.

Again and again it seems that contribution is the key.

>Is age a factor? Wisdom? Proven track record?

I would have to go with "track record" as it implies conduct along with at least a minimal passage of time. If you could show me a teenager who has freely made it part of their own life to take on the responsibility of walking this path and helping others walk with them, then I would be amenable to the agurment that this person might be considered an elder in their community.

As for wisdom - we are all human. We all make mistakes. None of us are so perfect that whatever advice we give will always be completely right. How then do you measure "wisdom" as an absolute? It makes more sense to measure wisdom as part of that track record.

>Who do you consider to be an Elder?

There are too many people from too many places to list here. I can only say that my life has been enriched by the guidance and perserverance of the elders of my spiritual community, whether I have ever met them or not.


Elder Are A Tradition Jun 3rd. at 5:30:35 pm UTC

Starshark (New Mexico) Age: 36 - Email


As academics and others look at the various traditions found in Contemporary Paganism, a unique set of religious traditions have been identified. These "Role Traditions" are based on what people do in a community and the spirituality that develops through the actions of the doers. For example there are the Drummers. Does it matter whether they are African, Native American, Celtic traditional or have formal training in some music school? No. What matters is that they fulfill a purpose for the Pagan community that they are in (the lead and oversee good drum circles) . Same applies to the Elders. There is some basic criteria common to most Pagan communities (year of life, years of involvement in Paganism, emotional and spiritual stability, etc) . However, the need thing about Role Traditions is that each community specifies exactly what is the criteria for the position and who meets the criteria. True through netowrking and communications, the accepted Role Tradition members of community is often accepted in other communities; but it is not absolute. What is a "great Drummer" in one community may be seen as only a mediocre drummer in another. An Elder in one community may be just an old person in another. An Elder in one tradition may be just a interesting person (or worse) to the community of another tradition. So defining what an Elder is, what an Elder does, what respect is given to an Elder, and what is expected of an Elder, various from community to community. An Elder is a community service position. Based upon the needs and desires of the community that the Elder is in. The Elder serves in a manner that meets the desires of the community of s/he loses the title and respect of the community. Same applies to drummers, earth keepers and guardians.


Neko, Thanks For Clarifying... Jun 3rd. at 11:59:26 pm UTC

Maleciah (Oregon) Age: 25 - Email


In the first statement it didn't seem as relaxed on that subject as you did in the response so I can understand that there was a miscommunication on relaying the actual feeling behind the statement.

I understand how you feel when it comes to that and I do agree.. they better have the *UMF* as you put it to back up their claims of being an elder. but that is what I mean by you just know. you really do.. but I have to admit I don't normally socialize with alot of pagans. not cause of the ones who think they were the elizabeth taylor of the ming dynasty but have just ended up a mad, undisciplined, chatter box of what they think they are. I SO hate to stereotype in this manner but I have the feeling I am in good company on that and that everyone here knows one or has met one. I am not one who likes to hear you list your ordainments (as they can be given out like cracker jacks prizes) or your master reiki degree or how you graduated from some witch school in wisconsin. I could care less. those don't make you a witch. those give you the building blocks you need to truly become a good witch. but I don't see many well educated witches or pagans on basic occult knowledge. It frustrates me to see that.


Elders: Do We Need Them? Jun 4th. at 12:19:41 pm UTC

ouida (Parkton, MD) Age: 47 - Email


Yes we do need Elders. Elders link us with our near and distant pasts. There is a wealth of information possessed by our elder folk. Before the time of written history elders were the embodiment of skills, accumulated knowledge and served as consultants and advisors.
Even today on the Gullah/Geechee counsel of elders, they serve Queen Quet in making decisions for her people.Drawing on "Elder Wisdom" can assist us in our daily lives, rituals, and interactions. Embodied skills are key.
Elders carry the history of the people and pass it on to new generations.
Our culture, by ignoring and locking away our elders, is the deepest disrespect that can be paid them.It is a powerful gift to be able to draw on their insights, mistakes, and their unique perpectives. It isn't really a question of do we 'need' elders. We only need more people to honor the elders we already have in our midst.


Elders And Their Importance Jun 4th. at 5:55:33 pm UTC

Quill Mastercraft (South Bend, IN) Age: 41 - Email - Web


We definitely need elders, but the right type of elders.
I wrote about this topic some time ago, and the piece can be
found at the listed link.

People like Grant Pontius, chair of the Michiana Pagan Alliance,
or Lon Milo DuQuette, are excellent examples of elders. Link to More info related to this post -- HERE


And Something More Jun 5th. at 12:49:29 pm UTC

Grey Cat (Tennessee) Age: 63 - Email - Web


I think we did ourselves a disservice by confusing teachers, leaders and Priest/esses with elders. Part of the reason stems from the American Indian courtesy of calling one's teacher "grandmother/father". Also, for some reason, someone decided to call fully trained priest/esses "elders" -one assumes with the thought of helping them have the authority to keep the coven running smoothly.

Elders are, of course, teachers, leaders, confidants, counsellors and priest/esses of our community. However, on reading earlier posts on this topic I perceive that everyone shows signs of wanting something more to the definition. And here is where I'm going to make myself very unpopular. Age and experience DO count.

Something happens when an aware person piles one day on top of another. The result is not a matter for simple addition because at some point, "something" happens. It's much like the shift of understanding which initiation, ideally, begins or completes. Note that I have NOT said that age is all it takes.

Several things go into this transition:
1. You finally know yourself well enough that you don't have to elaborately design your response to situations. A certain freedom from the "little self who watches" allows far more direct responses because you automatically have given weight to all the factors it is well to consider before speaking (how you feel about the person, some social or societal reaction to a specific topic or situation, hangover reactions from childhood or teen years, etc.)

2. You realize that there is no possibility that everyone will like you and approve of you and what you say and do. And you also know that if some people don't like you, it's not going to kill you. You can be more courageous because you have a realistic understanding of the risks.

3. You have learned how to tell if something is or isn't your responsibility. You know more or less how much responsibility you can guarantee to follow-through on and you refuse to accept responsibility when necessary.

4. Like Miss Marple (Agatha Christie's elderly sluth) you recognize in someone's behavior traits you've observed in the past and you can be alert to the possibility that in some way the situations might be similar. Without prejudging on person on the basis of the behavior of another, you can be alert to danger signals you wouldn't have perceived at an earlier time.

Obviously, there's more to it than this but it's necessary to limit this response in size. LOL And the sub-topic of "who makes a Priest, Elder, etc." is not only somewhat extraneous to the discussion and a question which has been debated since the first Non-Gardnerian Wiccan went public, it's also one which I trust will never be solved. Much as it irritates me to see ignorant 20-year-olds being named Elders, that's a whole lot better than having a central authority would be.


Elders: Who They Are And Do We Need Them Jun 5th. at 9:16:19 pm UTC

Laurie-Ann Potter (connecticut) Age: 33 - Email


Elders are peopleolder then onesself that have proven themselves in society not by what they, preach but by what they teach. They treat others with respect unless given a reason (not excuse) not to. They pass on their knowledge to all young people equally with out prejudice, even when this may cause problems in their families and communities.

We need elders to help future generations learn from past mistakes. That by following examples we can forge peace among different races and religions in the future. Elders can be people in your age group who have shown mature restraint in the face of adversity. Or they maybe older generations who have remained true to their heritage and pass on their knowledge to better the future.


Elder Question Jun 6th. at 1:24:45 am UTC

Chasmodai (Las Vegas) Age: 42 - Email


Yes, we need Elders. IMO their role would be to help provide the community with guidance, help keep the community functioning together and moving forward. The Elder is the community's voice of wisdom, of conscience. A sometimes mediator, sometimes teacher, sometimes leader, sometimes storyteller, always respected and usually beloved.

A person cannot simply call himself/herself an Elder. A person becomes an Elder simply by actions, by track record. A community will rely on this person in the function of an Elder, and that is how this person will be recognized as such.

I think we have to be cautious about assuming that age alone can make a person an Elder. A person with an untreated personality disorder may not learn well from his or her mistakes and may never develop good judgement. A person with strong bias or prejudice may over time become more entrenched in distorted beliefs and perceptions. Some people decide they know enough and stop learning. Some fools simply become old fools. These types of things can prevent a person from ever becoming an Elder.


Addendum, Inspired By Grey Cat Jun 6th. at 6:46:47 am UTC

Sunflower (Calgary AB) Age: 41 - Email


Grey Cat isn't wrong about there being something that happens as the days stack up.
I've been saying for years that this age/wisdom connection is that, the more time you've been around, the more -opportunity- for experience, i.e. "stuff happens to you"; the more such opportunity, the more chance that you've learned to do something with it (like learning from it, and the kind of personal development Grey Cat cites) . As a result, the older someone is in years, the better the odds that they'll have -some- wisdom about -something-.
Of course there are those who never did do anything but stack up years; we've all known them. That's the above process working v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.
When I spoke earlier of very young elders (I'd guess most of those who mentioned this were thinking much as I was, but I can't be certain) , it was because sometimes the process goes quite quickly. I'm not any more impressed by ignorant 20-year-olds than the next midlifer, but that's no reason to dismiss those who are anything but ignorant. As I read Grey Cat's description, I thought of one "baby elder" of my acquaintance, who at 17 fits the description. I'm not saying this is common; its rarity is what makes that young lady so remarkable.

Sunflower


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