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.