Pagan Elders

Paganism itself is old enough to have elders who have been doing their thing for decades, and ancestors of tradition who have passed beyond this life. Elders are a vital part of any community, providing much of the stability and continuity.
Keepers of knowledge, aware of how the wheel was reinvented last time, able to guide, and to inspire, elders serve many roles. Technically this doesn’t have to be an age-based job. In practice, the elder in any community is the person with most experience. Still, it’s nice when that person has some age and experience to bring to bear, but we make do with what we get.

Positions that suggest kudos, power or influence are always attractive to people who want to be important. In all communities, not just Paganism, you get the issue of people who crave attention and authority, but don’t have much to offer in return for that. It’s just an occupational hazard of being human, I think. Often we try to step up to roles because here is a gap to fill, woefully under-qualified for what we feel called upon to do. I’ve been there, and I have every sympathy for anyone who tries to shoulder a job they are not ready for. There’s a lot of difference between trying to do what needs to be done, and wanting a title.

The most important thing, for me, when I consider the elders I particularly look up to, is that they walk their talk. What they do when they aren’t up on the podium or writing a book, is consistent with what they preach. I think it’s the easiest way to spot who is for real, and who just wants your money. The elders who inspire me, walk their talk, live their work, embody their values and make a lot of sense. They too are capable of error and shortcoming, because they are people, but being wise elders they also know how to handle that kind of thing with grace and good sense. I’m very much of the opinion that you really get the measure of a person when you see what they do after they’ve botched something. That’s a true test of character.

I don’t have to agree with everything a person says in order to respect and admire them. I do not have to want to be exactly like them. What I need to see is the integrity in them. Obviously there are matters of personal taste around how I respond to their precise vision, but that’s a somewhat separate issue. I do care greatly about inspiration, and I will follow that, but I won’t follow it for long if a person has no substance, sincerity or integrity with which to back up their fine ideas. I simply don’t trust that which is not tested by being lived.

There are two people in particular I’ve had in mind as I’ve written this, whose years of experience, knowledge, work and personal integrity combine with powerful visions and insights to create something truly remarkable: Ronald Hutton, and Philip Carr Gomm. I have colossal respect for these two gentlemen, and in terms of Druid inspiration, these are the two I most look to. There are others whose work I admire, but where I’ve had less opportunity to explore that relationship between work and character as much. I have deep respect for the work of Graeme Talboys, and Glennie Kindred. There are many other Druids whose work I like and admire, and who seem to me to be embodying their ideas in compelling ways, but, a lot of these dear folk are under fifty, and therefore seem far too young to be considered in these terms just yet.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “Pagan Elders

  • cathrynbauer

    It’s my strong opinion that Druidry, certainly the sort that I’m involved with, supports an elderhood that is vital, engaged, and creative. When I attended the OBOD East Coast Gathering last year, I was really struck by how many people 10-20 years older than myself (about to turn 58) were present, and what interesting individuals they all were. All were actively learning. Those who were no longer employed had various projects that benefited not only themselves, but other people, animals, and the environment. Each one that I had a chance to speak with was excellent company, and there were several other elders I wish I’d been able to.

  • Larissa Lee

    In my old coven, we discussed what made a true elder. It was said that experience and “something to offer” was far more important than age; that meant that a person with a decade of exploration and knowledge could be considered an elder, even if he or she happened to only be 25. The depth of knowledge was key.

    • Nimue Brown

      oh, definitely, but its so lovely when you get those rare people with 40 years of experience, and more. It is hard finding you merit elder status that young, just because the people around you have little experience. It can seem empowering, to be an elder at 25, but it is exhausting, and you can end up with the grey hairs a good deal faster. Actual grandparents of tradition are worth a lot.

      • Larissa Lee

        I agree that 25 is young for an elder, but if someone started their practices last year at the age of 50, they’re only an elder in life experience. It takes a combination of life and spiritual experience and knowledge to really provide anything as an elder.

        Meanwhile, a 25-year-old that was raised in their practice and traveled the world as a military child and then soldier would have LOTS of life experience compared to your average one-town citizen.

        Overall, as a non-Druid, I think our community here is more liberal with accepting any age person as a teacher and elder. Our local pagan community is so diverse that the 25-year-old may be the best teacher when it comes to experience with using dance/song in ritual; it just happens sometimes. Meanwhile, my old high priestess was a lovely 40-something woman who’d specialized in leading rituals for large groups throughout the years.

  • Nimue Brown

    Totally agree that if someone is old in years and young in craft, they are not an elder, nor should they be asked to hold that space.

  • Debrah V. Ruh

    I used to be able to find good information from your blog

    • Nimue Brown

      I’m glad its been of some use to you. If I am wandering in directions that aren’t working for you, b all means make suggestions about the topics you’d like me to pick up. If there’s anything I can usefully run with, I’m always game for having a go.

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