Tag Archives: Elder

I Have No Desire to be a “Helicopter Elder” – More Thoughts on Being an Elder in a Changing Pagan and Polytheist Community

Well, we have now come to the last of the topics I have culled from all my notes made at Many Gods West 2017. This last one, I have written about to various degrees already. But I thought it might be interesting to explore this from the perspective of Polytheism added to the Pagan slant that it builds on.

As the Elders of the Pagan community move on, our generation becomes the next Elders. What happens next? How do we nurture the younger generations to help facilitate the necessary change and growth within our varied Pagan communities??

I believe that the entire paragraph is worth looking at by each successive generation of Pagans and Polytheists as time progresses on. For me, this paragraph continues to underline that realization I had last year — being in the Pagan community to one degree or another since 1986, I have become an “Elder”. I certainly hope that I am not looked upon in that manner because I am unsure what it means to be an Elder, aside from the single descriptor of longevity. But honestly, that descriptive measure of time is a large part of what defines the concept of Elder or at least that’s what I have come to comprehend. But this is really not about wearing the “Elder cape” – it is about being helpful to others as they also grow on their own Paths.

First, Pagans are fairly independent folk. Needing nurturing or leadership is not necessary for many. Nor do they need to have someone tell them what they are or not. I watched this play out in a Pagan group when I was stationed in Germany. What was meant to be an umbrella group that encompassed many Pagan beliefs was perverted into being a “Wiccan” circle by one individual, who represented it in this manner to the Air Force chaplaincy at Ramstein Air Base. It made many people upset over the designation and drove a lot of people away from the group. Not all Pagans are Wiccans and that held true for the group. And it holds true here in the present day. So, how to handle the concepts of nurturing growth and change when the folks you might be working directly with may not want it?? Especially if they are not of the same Path as you or do not share a lot of the common aspects of faith that you do?

So, how to handle the concepts of nurturing growth and change when the folks you might be working directly with may not want it?? Especially if they are not of the same Path as you or do not share a lot of the common aspects of faith that you do? Well, I cannot speak from the perspective of anyone other than myself. And to be honest, if you ask five other Pagans this same question when we compare all the answers – we should have nine or ten ways to approach it. So, what I share comes solely from me….

I believe the best way to approach the idea is to encourage people to explore what they are experiencing but with caution. Sometimes, in exploring something, you can place yourself in a dangerous spot. Have someone that can be your anchor. Since my experiences with spirituality will differ from your own, most of the time, I cannot explain what is right or wrong in what you experience or the process that you undertake. I can provide examples of how I would do something, but that is merely how I would approach something.

So, in nurturing younger Pagans and Polytheists on how to move forward in their own Spirituality, I would be available to them to explain my processes, my experiences, and my methodologies. However, being available is different from trying to wedge my way into their practices. The well-worn saying of “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” comes to mind. And I am not fond of the “teacher” part of this, as I see myself more as a mentor. I am there to provide advice, and if you trust me enough – I will even gladly be an anchor for you. I am not teaching as much as I am advising. It is still up to you to decide what to do, when, where, and how. For me, this is an ideal way to approach the concept of nurturing the growth of the younger generations of Pagans.

Perhaps, in the future, members of these younger generations of Pagan and Polytheists will step into roles of leadership, teaching, and being Elders, themselves. I certainly hope that I can serve as some kind of example for some of them, just as so many other Pagans and Polytheists out there will also serve as examples of leadership – both positive and negative examples. Yes, the infamous Pagan musician that gets arrested for child porn and has a sullied reputation throughout the wider Pagan community can serve as an example as well as a beloved writer, blogger, musician, Priest or Priestess does. Predators within our community may not be the best examples of what to be in a wider community, but they do serve as examples of what to watch for.

Predators within our community may not be the best examples of what to be in a wider community, but they do serve as examples of what to watch for. There is no police force for our community, other than ourselves. In order to help our younger Pagans and Polytheists have a safe environment to learn and experience within, as they make a choice of where they will go in their Spiritual growth; we need to know what to look for, as well as what to guard against. Furthermore, we need to also be careful that we do not wind up imitating the insane Witch Hunts of the 1980s that fueled a rabid evangelical Christian base to forcing non-Christians to submit to some aspect of a “character test” to prove they were “fit parents” according to their (the Christians) standards. There is a fine balance between protection and persecution – we (the Pagan community) should be cognizant of that measure, especially as our younger generations begin to come of age.

Honestly, I am not what I consider to be a “leader” of any sort. Emails, text messages, and conversations from many other people tend to prove me wrong on that point. I am not a Presidential figure that stands up and makes statements that every Pagan should hear about. That is one type of leadership. I am available for advice. I am available to just be an ear to bend for others. I am available to talk about my experiences within my Paganism and my Polytheism. I am available for hugs. I am available to stand between you and someone else, barring the way when you need shelter or protection. And while I consider all of that to just be “me being me” – I have come to recognize that it is a form of leadership as well. I want to see Paganism and Polytheism continue to openly grow.

I want to see Paganism and Polytheism continue to openly grow. I dream of a day where being a Pagan and/or Polytheist does not draw a negative stigmatism from the general public. Where being a Pagan or a Polytheist is just as accepted in the wider world society as being a Christian, an Atheist, an Agnostic, Buddhist, Muslim, or any other faith tends to be. Where living a lifestyle where honoring the Gods openly is not seen as some sign of “mental illness or instability.” And that is not going to happen unless the younger generations to explore what being a Pagan means to them. They will eventually need someone to talk about their experiences, their theories on various subjects – and not be prejudged for what they think. For me, that happens when they are given the room to do just that….and I have no desire to become a “Helicopter Elder”.

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“Elder is Just a Word – Focus Elsewhere” Said Crow, “Be Who You Are, Not a Definition”

There are terms that I will always struggle with. Priest. I still have strongly attached symbolism with that of the Catholic Parish Priest. But I am coming to grips with the concept that I am a Priest. The other is a term that I have tried to resist….even up to this moment is “Elder.” What follows here is a word-for-word typing of something I wrote on Saturday afternoon while at the ADF Imbolc Retreat. What this represents is the thought patterns that were in my brain at the time, and showcases some of the struggles I have with the concept of being an Elder within the Pagan community. In some places, I am a bit harsh with myself, so let me apologize for the way some of it may sound to you as a reader who might not be intimate with my thought processes.

WARNING:  Some of the language I use in this post is definitely NSFW.


 

What does it mean to be an Elder of the community? I just don’t know how I should act or how I should respond to various stimuli or questions. I started on my own Path back around 1986. I had no clue where I was going. I had no idea what exactly being a Pagan meant in my life. I knew that I believed in many, individual Gods and Goddesses. I knew that a central focus of the “Natural World” was what I believed. Until that time I met JB, I never knew there was a name for what I believed.

Those first steps. Those Gods-awful missteps are so vivid in my mind. They were just yesterday – not thirty years ago. Thirty fucking years. How does time pass like that? It certainly doesn’t feel like that much time. But thirty years will make me an Elder, whether I like it or not. Whether I like the designation or not. “Its there, “says Crow, “Deal with it however you want. Just deal with it.”

This weekend, I am spending at an ADF Imbolc Retreat, and so many of the folks here are far younger than I – some just barely twenty or even short of that mark. Which means when I started down my Pagan path – they had not even been born into this lifetime. I watch how easily they step down this way – and remember my own tentative steps. I was twenty-one, nearly the same age. I remember how overwhelmed I was, how confused I was as new and foreign concepts were shown to me; how frustrated my own teachers and Elders were when I tried to transcribe those thoughts and concepts into verbiage I could comprehend. And I wonder – what obstacles do they encounter as they move through their first years? Are these similar to what I went through? Are these issues different because they have so much more access to introductory materials? What am I going to contribute to the overall bedrock that they have?

I’m not a teacher nor am I part of a group. Outside of the blog and the podcast, how am I adding to the community? The blog never receives that much traffic; though the podcast will generate traffic over a period of time. Changing the format of the podcast to one where others tell their stories is far better than me blathering on like I did on From the Edge of the Circle. But I need to focus on the overall timing of shows as well – both the length of each show, and when it gets published. Creating podcasts has a degree of tedium and time consumption to it. I need to focus on how to achieve that with a better degree of consistency. But beyond the podcast and the blog, what the fuck am I doing? What am I giving back to the Pagan community, as well as the younger generation of Pagans?

I know some might perceive this to mean I am slightly concerned about the younger generation of Pagans. That is correct to some degree, but not really the complete truth. This younger generation of Pagans seems to be more grounded, more focused, more intent, and more in-tune than when I was their age. Much of that can be attributed to generational differences, as well as a desire to learn. At their age, my focus was on partying and living life by using the maximum amount of money and time possible – much like the rest of my generational cohort in the middle of the decade of excess. My focus seems to be on how this newer Pagan generation might view the stupidity of my generation.

Perhaps my thoughts are focused on a concept of legacy, or maybe its the sentimentality of an older, foolish me. But then, what the fuck am I expecting? Trumpets? Cheers? Back slaps and fist-bumps? To be told that my generation of Pagans actually matters? All I really need to do is look at the authors, the bloggers, the podcasters, the musicians, the artists, the poets, the metal-smiths. I’ll find my answer there. Wake up and look at that, Tommy! The legacy is already there – who gives a shit how smooth or polished it is or isn’t. You are an Elder here and NOW. Whether you like it or not. Deal with it. However that happens. There are other things that need to be done. Some Pagans will look to you for leadership; again, whether you like it or not. BE THAT PAGAN instead of the one mooning and pining over a Past that is already written. Come to the now, not the yesterday. Be the Pagan Priest that are meant to be – stop worrying about the Pagan that you weren’t.

“Elder is just a word; focus elsewhere. You want a place to start? Be who you are, not a definition. Start with helping to grow more Bardic Arts. Learn and tell stories by the campfires with the other Bardic folk. Get used to being in front of people. Because that’s who you are. You cannot hide any longer.”  -Crow

 

Thoughts on the Label of “Elder”

During Pantheacon 2016, I was reminded by a young lady I was talking to before one of the panels, that I am an elder within Paganism.

“Well, at 50, I guess I can be considered an Elder of some sort.”

“No. That’s not what I meant. I was talking about all the time you have been on your Pagan Path. You said it in one of your podcasts, you’ve been on your Pagan Path for something like twenty years. That’s where you get the perspective of an Elder.”

At that point, I politely nodded, and smiled. Luckily for me, Shauna Knight started her panel, and our attention was diverted to her. But those few moments managed to stick with me through the entire Convention, and on through to today.

I’m no fan of labels, particularly ones such as “Elder” or “priest”. But I do have to continually remind myself I have been on my Pagan Path since 1987. In 2018, I would be ending my 30th year as an individual on a Pagan Path. Thirty years. ::sigh:: It certainly does not feel that way. I have only been picking my way through the OBOD Bardic Grade for the last five-plus years, and what I have read through, and worked through is about the closest framework I have ever found for what I believe. Wicca didn’t do it for me. Moving through a Spiritual-but-not-religious framework was even worse. For the longest time, I wasn’t sure how to classify what I believe and practice. That’s twenty-plus years of wandering through the Pagan desert of Spirituality.

And how does time really make me an “Elder”? Perhaps time should really be a better utilized measure towards personal experience. I have always envisioned “Elders” as those who have accumulated knowledge with that experience – they are the ones that can help keep people on their chosen Paths. I don’t see myself as some kind of Elder. Smeg, I just got here….thirty years ain’t nothing.

Or am I wrong? Last year, I struggled with the terminology associated with “priest” – and I eventually came around to understanding how I am a priest, just not one of the Christian-style concept I had carried around for that word for so long. Truthfully, I still cringe when I hear my name associated with being a priest. But I no longer react as quickly as I had before. But Elder…this is definitely going to take a lot more unpacking. And I am not sure there is enough bed-space, table-space, and floor-space for me to completely unpack this in a way that I can work with.

Walking on Wild Horse Island in Montana

I definitely need to do more walking on my Path before accepting a label of “Elder”

I see the word Elder as being associated with older…getting grey, if you will. But. I haven’t shaved in a few days, and I certainly see a massive amount of grey in my beard. Vast amounts of Knowledge is another area, and here it is my perception that will hold me back. I am not that knowledgable about religious or faith concepts. I couldn’t utilize the etymology of the folks that argue articles and aspects of faith. In fact, that’s usually the fastest way to get me to bow out of a discussion – start arguing the semantics of a term or concept. So I definitely do not see myself as an Elder in that regard. And then there’s the function of helping people on their own chosen Paths. Pointing out some of the pitfalls that one has gone through, so that others may walk the Path smoother than you had. Ok. I’ll plead guilty to that one. I do that with the podcast. In fact, that was one of the primary reasons I started “From the Edge of the Circle” in the first place.

But where does all of that leave me? Can I pick up the cloak that was offered? Can I really be an Elder of some sort? Should I pick up that cloak? And here, unlike my self-discussion over accepting the concept of priest, I just cannot bring myself to do so for Elder. I may have the experience of being a Pagan for nearly thirty years, but I just don’t have the Knowledge-base to do such a title or label any form of justice. In many ways, my Path has only become more developed and refined over the last eight years. Previous to that, it was akin to wandering the desert – aimless, without true definition, and without the necessary dedication I should have had, but didn’t.

And for me, there’s nothing to be ashamed of in what I have stated in the previous paragraph. Its a statement of honesty. Its a statement of perspective. Sure, I can be classified as an Elder simply by the amount of time I have been on a Pagan Path. But time is no measure of experience. And neither are a replacement for Knowledge. And an Elder needs all three, in my opinion, to accept such a label. Sorry, for the time being – that’s definitely not me.