I am an Elder in the Pagan community. I have been on my Pagan path since 1986. Other Pagans do talk with me about their own Path and seek advice as to what I would do in their place. And honestly, every time that happens, I hit freak-out mode, even though I do realize that it will happen, and people will ask.
During the Iceland trip, I actually had a long, interesting conversation with two folks over a lunch. Yes, advice was asked for, and I tried my best to puzzle out how I would respond in that individual’s situation if it were me. Afterward, I still had my little freak-out moment, and I knew I needed to process this a little more because it has become increasingly more obvious that situations like this will continue to come about.
Part of my consternation comes from my dislike of titles, particularly those bestowed upon me simply because of the amount of time I have been on my Path. I can somewhat grok the perspective that my thirty-plus years as a Pagan provide me with a potentially unique insight. I have seen much happen within the Pagan community in that time. Some good, some bad, some not easy to label with a descriptive. I have watched some Pagans maneuver through their starting points on their Path with grace and ease, I have watched others include myself, struggle through some aspects in a difficult measure. I have watched some Pagan communities splinter and dissipate, while others grow, change and evolve. But does all of that observation (and in some cases my own participation) provide me with some unique perspective that makes me all-knowing or places me in a better position than anyone else to offer advice or perspective?
Traveling through this part of my feelings, and my struggle towards accepting my own role as an Elder has brought me to this point. What in the Nine Hells am I expecting of myself in a role as an Elder? My struggle with this has nothing to do with the people that stop me along their own Path and ask questions. No, my struggle comes back to a feeling of being responsible for someone else’s Spiritual Path. Which, to be blunt, I’m not.
I’m not trained as a Priest. I do not, will not and cannot perform those functions. There are members of the Pagan community who are more than capable of doing these functions. They have pledged their lives to be Priests for their communities. Part of their function is in assisting and training others who are also on their Path. It would be wrong, unethical, and very unwieldy for me to perform such functions. I am not a clergy member. It is not my function nor my role.
However, what I can do…is talk and discuss with other Pagans. I can offer my own solutions to some of the issues that they may have. I can add my perspective and opinion to the wider conversation. My thirty-plus years on my Pagan Path does provide me with a unique perspective. But my perspective is no better, no more rich and fulfilling than someone who has been on their own Path for less than two years. The breadth and depth of personal experience are not measured in years, but in the richness and fullness that an individual gathers through their own steps on their Path. Part of that comes through discussions with others.
So, as I struggle with my own myopic view of what an Elder is, how can find my own role within the context of this label? Or do I really need to? I work in my Spirituality under the precept that I need to handle my own approach as my own. If it doesn’t conform to what someone else is doing, that is perfectly fine, so long as it works for me. As I learn more and more about my own Path, my own perspective, my own Path – I have started to realize that my divergence from what is essentially the mainstream of today’s modern Pagan Paths is not because of a desire to be different, but a need to follow what is a concern within my own personal Spirituality. And the resulting conversations with some of the newer Pagans on their own Paths is not about converting them to my way of thinking, but just pulling the curtain back on where I have walked and how I have managed to get here. I can show them the hows and whys of getting here…they still have to walk the walk. They still have to want to do the hard work that gets them to a point similar to this. I am not their Priest. I am not their Guru. I’m just me.
I have always worried about getting conflated, confused and packaged together with others. Enough so that it bothers me to a degree and level I never feel comfortable with. And I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to distance myself from others and their Paths. Especially when its easier to point out, I’m not them, I’m me. There are similarities, some very strong, but in the end, we are still different because we are not the same person. I have and will continue to follow in the footsteps of others. Not because I want to be them, but because in some instances its far better to follow their efforts than it is to reinvent the entire Wheel, particularly in learning the basics. Once I understand those basics, its time to place my own stamp of personality onto those practices.
For me, Paganisms, Druidry, Spirituality, Ritual and all that encompasses all of that is extremely personal and individual. What is useful for me, might work to some degree for another (or even not at all). There’s no judgment in all of that. Merely a different approach or experiential perspective. My role as an Elder is truly a simple one: be me, and be available. Talk. Discuss. Point others in the directions where you have been. Talk with them about your approaches. Provide advice when asked for. Try not to be judgmental about other approaches. Simply just be there. And you do not even have to embrace the title of “Elder”…you can simply just be you. Just another Pagan, living each day in service to your Gods, experiencing what life has to offer…and being there for others. In the end, this should be service enough to others because a safe place to discuss any topic is where and who I should be. And through all of that, none of it marks me as “special” – merely that like anyone else, I am unique.