What is a Pagan Elder?
In Pagan communities, we often claim that in keeping with our focus on being in harmony with nature, we accept the cycle of life and all its stages, including old age. That, unlike the dominant consumer culture, we don’t idealize youth above age, and thus honor our elders rather than shoving them aside. But is this really true? And what is an “elder” anyway?
A while back I went to a talk at the Sacred Paths Center about 2nd Generation Pagans. One of the speakers mentioned that Pagans really have 2 “ages”- their biological age, and how long they have been a pagan. He said that he felt his experience with being pagan his entire life, was not taken as seriously as adults who had not been pagan as long. That said, we can certainly honor people for their life experience from before they became a Pagan.
I did a google search for “pagan elder” and found some interesting views. Amy Hale, who is also an anthropologist comments that Neo-Pagan use of “elder” is a form of cultural appropriation. I don’t think using this term is inherently appropriative any more than using “warrior” which also, for me conjures up images of Native American braves, but then again it also conjures up images of Klingons. However, we should consider what motivations we have for using the term.
One thing I can say, is that “elder” is a title that is conferred by a community, and must be accepted by the individual. There is way too many title-collecting, and attention-grabbing going on. There is no one “Pagan Community”- only a common space in which many religions, traditions, and disparate individuals calling themselves “Pagan” converge. Certain traditions have their own ideas of what is an “elder” Because of these and other problems, it is probably best to limit the use of the term “elder” to within one’s own tradition (if you have one) where there is a particular group of people that can agree on their own definition.
Another problem is that all too often we take the contributions of older generations for granted. When I first became interested in paganism, I had the internet, many books available, and a society that while not totally accepting, wasn’t actively persecuting pagans. For those who came before, spiritual knowledge was much more difficult to come by, and so was finding other pagans. We should not just say we’re grateful- show them. Pay them for their services, or in some other form. If they are in fact elderly, and needing more help- offer to bring them meals, do yard & house work, visit them in the assisted living/care center or hospital. Drive them to events. Take on community work yourself- organizing/putting on rituals and events, educating the public, researching and teaching. Doing these things because they need to be done, not for social recognition for its own sake. And ask them to tell you their life stories.
Entry filed under: Concepts & Definitions, Ethics, Pagan Communities. Tags: community, cultural appropriation, elders, Ethics, leadership, pagan community, senior citizens, social roles, social status.