What is an elder in our community (or any community for that matter)?
Let’s start with a dictionary definition and see where we go from there.
Dictionary.com defines Elder as:
1. of greater age; older.
2. of higher rank; senior: an elder officer.
3. of or pertaining to former times; earlier: Much that was forbidden by elder custom is accepted today.
4. a person who is older or higher in rank than oneself.
5. an aged person.
6. an influential member of a tribe or community, often a chief or ruler; a superior.
7. a presbyter.
8. (in certain Protestant churches) a lay member who is a governing officer, often assisting the pastor in services.
9. Mormon Church. a member of the Melchizedek priesthood.
Based on this definition, which is likely the most common understanding of this word, we can see that age or passage of time tends to be the defining ingredient in the understanding of what constitutes and Elder.
There is an understanding that someone of higher rank, more importance, or greater influence can be considered an elder.
This is where things get wonky, in my opinion.
It is my opinion that in the distant past elders tended to be more influential in their communities, simply because they were “old”. They managed to live through childhood, child birth, and war with others, and not get killed by other predators or nature herself.
|My great grandparents|
This made the old ones, somehow, wiser or more favored by the gods or simply luckier than the ones who didn’t make it to old age. These people had experience under their belts so to speak... They had knowledge, they could tell you the stories handed down to them from the elders of their youth, and they could also tell you the stories of the events and deeds of their lives.
Why wouldn’t the younger ones turn to them for guidance and inspiration?
I was taught as a child to respect my elders. I was taught to listen to them when they spoke, to learn as much as possible from them when they were around, and to look up to them for inspiration and to them for guidance.
This understanding of what and elder is has been lost and disrespected in our western world, to a large degree. We put our old folks in homes (rarely to be visited and more often to be neglected). We question their knowledge and wisdom (they still have experience under their belts...let’s not forget that). We restrict their freedoms, and steal their resources.
As a society, we tend to feel the old ones are a burden and a drain on our resources and time. We forget that without them and their experience before us… there would, likely, be…. No… us.
Our western society favors youth and we go to great lengths to avoid physical aging. When we can no longer stave off the effects of age, often we are lost and confused…. Sometimes even bitter and hateful towards others. Many of us find our way through this and really start to live the lives we always wished for, but some do not. Popular culture focuses on the negatives of aging and this is where we really falter. This is where the youth get stuck with the idea that older folks are slow, stupid, useless, ugly, undesirable and not deserving of respect.
I think this is where the concept of Elder in the pagan community gets confused with the concepts of “old age” and the undesirable, which we see in our daily lives.
There is a great post by a fellow Pagan Blog Project Blogger on Elders. Please take the time to read what Rose has to say.
|Me and my oldest grandchild Leilani|
Just this weekend I went into a local tea shop and was talking with the shop owner, an old friend and priestess. She introduced me to the newest member of her coven and when she did this, she referred to me as one of the “Elders in the community” …
I was taken by surprise... I do not think of myself as an elder of the local Pagan community… I am just now starting to contemplate the concept that I am grandmother.
As a Pagan/alternate spiritually minded folk, we often talk about having elders in our groups and that these people deserve respect and deference. But…. In many cases we have changed the definition of elder to place more emphasis on rank and time in a particular path than we do on the time on this planet, experiencing life in general.
This sometimes manifests awkwardly in the Pagan/magickal community and we see older people acting in ways, they should have long out grown. We all know them.
We also see younger folks claiming they should be treated as the elders of the community because they have been on a particular path for X amount of time more than another, and totally disregarding the fact that the older individual has gained wisdom and understanding (regardless of the spiritual path or time spent on path X) simply by living and experiencing more than a younger person has had time to.
I’m not saying that the younger people should not be teachers nor am I claiming all older folks should be either.
I am saying that there is a general lack of respect for the elders in our society and this bleeds into some of our pagan/magickal practices, and we should be mindful of this.
|Grandma and Grandpa Darlington w/family|
It is my hope, that as a community we, who walk alternate paths of spirituality, are among the first to recognize this, and take the time to really think about how we define elders, as well as how we treat them in our own circles and groups.
Do we honor our ancestors and only mean the dead ones…. Or do we honor and respect the ones who are still living as well?
Have a Wicked Good Day!