“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.