Elders And Teachers
Article ID: 10658
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 2,800
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Author: Rain Dove
Posted: April 9th. 2006
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"A religious elder (in Greek, [presbyteros]) is valued for his or her wisdom, in part for their age, on the grounds that the older one is then the more one is likely to know. The concept of an elder was common in parts of the world where what is now called civilization had taken over. Elders are typical of societies where oral history plays a large part; in societies with patrilineal descent, elders are frequently male, whereas in societies with matrilineal descent, elders are often female. However, both men and women may be elders of a particular society."
The topic of Elders and Teachers has been presented here at The Witches’ Voice, and since I have been paying special attention to this particular topic, I wish to express my own thoughts, ideas and experiences about it.
In the beginning of this I would like to say that I have been on this path for quite a few years now. At the onset of my Pagan life (which was at the tender age of 17), I was basically alone. And for a lot of years I went back and forth between the life of a hippy and a conservative, never ever trying to mesh the two. I had a very difficult time as there were just not a lot of Pagans around at that time. Hippies, yes. But not Pagans. Not like there are today. (And no, I am not going to reveal my age!) As I furthered my studies into Eastern philosophies, Native American ways, Wicca and Witchcraft (and in that order) back in 1994, I studied for almost three years alone. Then, (I believe it was 1997), I found a "teacher". I found one on the internet. I lived and breathed the internet with them for over one year. I learned and soaked up every bit of information I could get my hands on. And then, after that first year, I found myself alone again. What I didn't realize is that I truly was not alone!
Since that time, I have found many teachers and many (what I would call) elders. I did not need for them or anyone else to *tell me* they were elders or teachers. I just knew. They were simply *there* when I was ready to learn a particular thing or when I was ready to hear what they had to say and when I needed them. I do have faith that the rest of my journey in this life and on this path will prove to be the same way.
The words "elder and teacher" and the definitions of both of these words from the Webster's dictionary (and/or most any dictionary) are commonly applied to people. But can we say these are the *only* definitions? I personally do not agree with a lot of definitions that *dictionaries* provide for many words that we tend to use among our Witch and Pagan communities. Including the words Witch and Pagan! I feel *we, as a community* are what defines these words. We define all of these words in how we present ourselves in both what we say and in our actions.
In my idea an elder is not necessarily "someone older who knows". Personally speaking, I know a lot of people who can be *considered* elders but do not have a clue, are unable to teach a thing and can be that most obnoxious drunks at the feast! The same goes for “teachers”. One might call themselves a teacher, but not be able to teach! In fact, it is sad to say but there are many of those in our public schools today. In addition to this, it’s not necessarily the one who has been on this path the longest, as some who have not been on it for two years often know more than those who have walked it twenty! It’s not necessarily the person who wrote a book or that person who has hereditary Witches in their family history. It’s not necessarily the person who has done more rituals or the person who has organized or operated more festivals or events! And, last but not least, it’s not necessarily the person who has a great reputation! We find elders and teachers in all sorts of ways, shapes, forms, ages, colors, creeds, etc.!
Some say a *true or real* elder or teacher does not say much. I don't agree with that. That's really almost next to impossible! In fact, I feel it’s just the opposite. In my opinion and from what I have seen and experienced, an elder (in any type of group), will speak up if something needs to be said or if a fact has been bent or twisted or misconstrued in some unsuspected way. They lead in a way that is mature, self-assured, experienced and balanced. They *do* talk. They don't hide, pretending to be some kind of “most wise and untouchable knowledge in the dark”! I have found if they belong to a group on the internet or if they have a group and/or Coven of their own, they are going to talk or share their knowledge or the things they have experienced! So where is this idea that elders don't talk or don't say much actually coming from? Is this some sort of "wise saying" that came from yet another book on Paganism and Witchcraft?
In my own experiences on this path, I have found that I learn from everyone, Pagan, Witch or not! I do not learn just from the Witch and Pagan communities or any one teacher or any one elder and certainly not from any one book or even many books. I learn from everything, everyone, every event - good bad or indifferent. I learn from my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my spouse, my family members, my co-workers, my animals, my rivals, my allies, my community and so on.
So now I am hearing that some community members think organization is needed in the different Pagan paths in order for *true or real* elders and teachers to be known and/or recognized by both the communities and by novices coming to the Witch or Pagan paths. I have heard this should be done to also "sift out" the fluff bunnies and kids from those who are seriously seeking. While I understand the frustration and disgust that so many of our older community members might feel I must first say that no matter how one gets to the path, let them get here! Some will stay, some will go.
I have found that in the long run that the ones who are truly serious about their studies and their spiritual growth are the ones who will remain. What they will need to learn, the teachers and/or elders they need, will be provided along the way along with living, breathing and walking the path. Those who are not serious about their spiritual growth and who are not coming to the path for anything but simple self-gratification, for an excuse to behave in a particular way, for acceptance, or because they think it’s “cool” or the "in thing" to do, will not stay! I have seen with my own two eyes the Gods weed out what and who is not needed. In my opinion, I think we should leave the weeding to the Gods!
Let me also express that, while I still understand the frustration (because I used to feel the same way about organizing), I feel that if in fact you know yourself, are balanced enough, mature enough, knowledgeable enough and experienced enough, both in life and in your path, and if your particular beliefs *can be* organized, then by all means, organize! No one is telling you that you can't organize! But there are several Pagan paths that cannot be and will not ever be organized.
I am a Universalist Pagan Witch. Being a Universalist Pagan Witch means to me there is no type of organization, group, Coven, etc, running me, my beliefs, or my path. Not at this time. And so far, I like it like that. Does this mean that organization won't ever happen for me and my path? No. Not at all. Organization (like chaos) comes when it is needed. But in my personal opinion, I certainly don't believe organization should be made a "rule" and/or "law" in Paganism just so titles can be handed out! There are elders and teachers out there who belong to no organizations, groups, Covens, etc, and who are perfectly capable of teaching or leading an individual in this path. Everyone who is seriously seeking will be provided for when it’s time to learn something. And I truly believe the Gods play a role in who is chosen to teach who.
The sole beauty of Paganism is that each path is unique and individualized just as the people walking them are unique and individualized!
So in a nutshell, what makes an elder an elder and a teacher a teacher?
In my most humble opinion and personal experience it’s through living life and life experiences that make a *true or real* elder or teacher. And this takes time. Not rules or laws or one person deeming another person an elder or teacher! In my own personal experience, teachers and elders have always been provided when needed, and you will know one when you encounter one.
Copyright: Suzy K. Smith ("Rain Dove") Copyright March, 2006
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
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