They’re Not My Elders

Recently, there has been much sturm und drang in the Pagan blogosphere over the clearly-just-not-getting-it comments about trans women by recognizable Names in the community who have been involved at a high-profile level since the 1970s or even earlier.

I feel a need to say something about this.

First–as seems unfortunately necessary in a situation like this–I will declare my allegiances: I am for the inclusion and acceptance of trans people. I think theirs is about as hard a road to walk as can possibly be imagined, and I support easing it at every possible turn.

AND I understand that as a man I don’t have any idea about women’s spaces, AND I recognize that there is a lot of real woundedness out there that can be easy to trigger, AND I get that being a victim doesn’t conduct the right to control the world around you, nor to victimize others, AND that this is probably a Gordian knot without solution, AND, finally, that though my heart beats for justice and equality, this really isn’t any of my goddamned business.  All I can be is an ally, to whomever.

But frankly, that is beside the point.

Much of the conversation about the trans-resistant (even trans-hostile) statements of some of said Pagan Names focuses not on their words or their analysis, but on the fact that they are, indeed, Pagan Names.

Bee-Enn-Pees. Big Name Pagans.

And as such, they have been characterized as Elders and–at least in the eyes of some–as worthy of indulgence sheerly because of their longevity in the movement which has become modern Paganism.

And this, I cannot countenance.

I think this is a poisonous principle. It is the principle of patriarchs and dynasties.

I’ve spent a goodly amount of time around some BNPs. Decades. And I can tell you: having stuck around long enough to get your name in books does not in any way imply you are not as fucked up as can possibly be imagined.

I will respect a position, if it is well sourced and argued. But I will not give a pass to someone simply because s/he is Prominent. However much I may appreciate the role they may have played in creating the modern Pagan movement, I don’t give “Elder Passes” to people who are, still, just people, and just as apt to be wrong, stuck in the past, and subject to all the other foibles of age as am I, or anyone else.

They’re not my Elders. They’re my peers. And as such, they are as subject to vigorous debate of their views as is any other person, much as I may appreciate what they have done for our community.

For the record, I agree with pretty much all that DuPree writes, except for this.

If we truly do not believe in power-over, we must believe in the essential equality even of those older and more experienced than we. We can learn from them, but they can learn from us, too.

We are equals. We do not live in a hierarchy based on experience, visibility, or achievement.

In Atheopaganism, we have no priests or priestesses. “To priest/ess” is a verb. It is a thing someone does–for a ritual, for a consultation or counseling. All are welcome to it, though it is a skill set, and some are far more adept at it than others.

This is deliberate, radical equality. None shall call themselves “high priest” in my tradition. And none shall be immune from the kind of interrogation, critique, and lively bandying of ideas that keep everyone honest, thoughtful, and grounded.

I have seen the alternative, and it isn’t pretty: stratospheric woo, dysfunctional behavior excused by supernatural explanations, and assertion of authority based on years and titles…sometimes to the degree of actual abuse.

I have no Elders in the Pagan community. I have those I honor for their service. But I don’t expect the twenty-somethings not to argue with me out of some kind of deference, and in turn I will not decline to critique what I see as wrong on the part of the seventy-somethings.

“Elders” is a concept for Abrahamic patriarchies, and for tribal hierarchies. We don’t need it. Let’s respect, honor, cherish–and challenge–everyone.

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12 thoughts on “They’re Not My Elders

  1. Well, I have to disagree with you, though at 79 my motivation may be suspect.
    I think you’re conflating “respect” with the concept of “obedience”.
    One of the things about which I lament in our national culture is the lack of respect for elders. In some cultures, it is assumed that a person who has lived for eight or nine decades may know a few things still to be learned by a twenty year old. Thus, when an elder speaks, people listen.
    This should not- and here is my point- mean that an elder should have the power to order others to do his or her bidding, but it does mean that an elder’s viewpoint, whether we agree with it or not, should be seriously considered, even if we choose to reject it.
    Certainly, elders are capable of poor judgement, foolish (not in the sense of “wise foolishness”) statements and all the other faults to which flesh is heir. But, a twenty-something, be he ever so intelligent, cannot be my “peer” in terms of experience- how can he be? This doesn’t mean that he is obliged to obey my orders, only that, if he is actually smart, he might want to listen and give some weight to what an elder says, before making up his mind.
    So, because you strongly disagree with what several people who have been around for a long time are saying, I think you’ve gone a little overboard, rejecting the entire concept of “Elderdom”, throwing out the proverbial baby. For the record, I agree with your opposition to what I take to be their statements, but I don’t agree with where you go from there.
    That’s what I’ve got to say about that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry, I just really don’t agree. There are plenty of people who last to a ripe old age and remain idiots the entire time; their “Elderhood” is a meaningless credential.

      I’ll respect someone for who they are and what they do, not for how old they are.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve known people who were out of touch at 70, 80, 90 years old. What they had to say was bigoted and judgmental.
    I’ve known people who were declared elders of a tradition they had just joined/met only because of the gray in their hair.
    I’ve known (so many) people who think that being old means they have the right to be heard over those younger (or poorer, or less educated, or more female, or browner).

    I respect everyone to the point that they have the right to speak their opinion. I respect people enough to try not to jump to conclusions. I respect people enough to hear them out, at least once.

    Having gray hair and a few decades under your belt, however, doesn’t give you the right to demand my attention or attendance. If you speak the fool’s tongue, I will leave to sit with philosophers, no matter your age.

    And if you speak hatred, I will call you on it. No matter your age.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I like to think of elderhood as a status that isn’t defined by age, though age may be correlated. I know a small number of astonishing men and women in their late 20s to early 30s who embody the soulful weight, clarity and wisdom of a true elder, even though I’m in my 50s. And I know a much larger number of such people in their 70s.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. For the record, Erick DuPree, the author of the linked blog post turns out to be a thin-skinned discussion controller, and insulting to boot. Deleting my brief comment to his post, he described himself as “the matriarchy” (not kidding) and me as “the patriarchy”. Clearly, he didn’t even read my post.

    Scratch another potentially credible author from my list…

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  5. Thank you for writing this. It is true that I moderated your comments. I moderated several comments that consistently attacked Macha Nightmare, and elders. While I think it is great for people to have a dialogue, that wasn’t the tenor of the conversation. You are entitled to your tradition and your opinion and I respect it and lift it up. I kind of think it is rude to go to another persons’ platfrom however and link your blog, inserting yourself. I would never do that.

    I am curious, what it is that you “mostly agree with.” There is an assumption that everyone has made that I am using ‘elder’ to mean having authority, as defined in Ephesians. When I actually used elder as I would and do as my grandmother. Someone to whom you should show respect. We should respect elders. For various reasons, in part they are old, been around the block, paved the way, are due credit.

    You may not agree. Your tradition and it’s tenants are different. That aside, inserting an opinion that was moderated out because the person who tends the blog felt it was either not in keeping or was for whatever reason is a power position. It is inserting your power and will over mine. That is patriarchy. You can discredit me should you choose, or not publish this. If you want to discuss this further, we both moderate things and have email addresses. Hit me up.

    Erick

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    • So–your moderating out something that disagrees with you, calling it “mansplaining” (which it wasn’t), calling me “the patriarchy” and congratulating yourself as “the matriarcy” (apropos of nothing), and then coming here to mansplain to me about patriarchy is somehow…not patriarchal? Hmm.

      I think you need a long, reflective look in the mirror, Erick. I see no point in engaging with you over the issues in the post when you clearly have much deeper issues to contend with around understanding of power, respect, and humility. Good luck to you, but I will not be communicating with you further until you learn something about these topics.

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      • Well said. I especially loved how when I challenged him on the whole “I am the matriarchy” business, he took it upon himself to educate me on the concept of matriarchy – if assuming I’m ignorant because I disagree and throwing out a bunch of authors and books I’ve already read ISN’T mansplaining, I’m sure I don’t know what is!

        You know, I can deal with sexist pricks who are loud and proud of their positions… it’s way more hurtful to be talked to that way by someone who has positioned themselves as an “ally”, as a rep of the Goddess, and claims to understand the power dynamics and rampant injustice in our culture. It’s pretty disheartening to see how far we have yet to go.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I agree. This is the saddest part to me about the vitriol that gets aimed at me and several other non-theist Pagan writers for daring to be and believe as we are and do. It isn’t as though they’re radical fundamentalist Christians; we should agree on most things, and I imagine we do. But the idea of someone not believing in their gods sends them out of control.

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