Spend any time at all in the Pagan community, and you’re bound to hear someone referred to as an Elder. Typically used as a term of respect and honor, Elder is a status that is generally given to someone, rather than claimed for oneself. It is considered bad form to announce that you are a Pagan Elder - let someone else grant you the designation, if you have indeed earned the status.
You may often find that someone who is a Pagan Elder is a little uncomfortable with the title - not because they haven’t earned it, but because often they do their work for the community out of love, rather than because they’re out collecting titles. They are individuals who have taught, shared, blazed new trails, spoken out for those who could not speak, and who have, in general, tried to make the world a better place.
Sometimes, someone has been active in the Pagan community for so long that other people begin referring to them as an Elder. This is not necessarily indicative of age so much as it is a matter of time spent serving the community. Someone who is only forty, but has been active in planning and organization of public events since the age of fifteen has a good two and a half decades in as a Pagan community servant. It would not be unreasonable to refer to this person as an Elder, despite the fact that he or she is only forty.
In many traditions of modern Paganism, there is a lengthy training process involved before someone can be considered clergy. Whether this is a degree system, or a series of classes and continuing education, within each tradition there may be guidelines on what confers the status of clergy. After someone has attained the role of clergy, and spent time doing pastoral counseling or other leadership work, members of the tradition may consider the individual an Elder.
Other Role Models
It’s entirely possible that someone can be considered a Pagan Elder who is not a community organizer or licensed clergy. Often, someone who has been involved in the Pagan community for a long time, and has shown that they have a significant amount of knowledge and wisdom to share, can be considered an Elder. People who are teachers, counselors, authors, and other leaders can all be designated as Elders, if others feel they have earned it.
Be sure to read Where are the Pagan Role Models?
How to Honor Our Elders
As the Pagan community grows, our Elders are - quite obviously - getting older. It’s important that we, as a community, support those people in as many ways as we can. In addition to treating them with the respect they have earned, we can pay back their service to our community.
If you have a Pagan Elder who is attending your event or ritual, make sure they have everything they need - a comfortable chair, plenty to eat and drink, and assistance if they require it. If they’re an Elder who’s actually a senior citizen or who has medical issues or disabilities, offer help with things like transportation and housework when it’s needed.
Most of all, show by your actions, not just your words, that you’re thankful to these folks for taking the time to share their lives with the Pagan community.