Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Just Being Old Doesn't Necessarily Make You an Elder


The first time I heard N say, “I'm always so surprised when I hear people calling me an elder! I certainly don't feel like an elder”, I can remember thinking, You and me both.

I've been doing this for a long time and, I think, can claim to know as much about it as many, if not most. Nonetheless, I still not infrequently find myself feeling like a beginner. That's the burden of being one of the new pagans, a community without experienced elders.

The second time I heard N make her blithe little declaration, I thought: I've heard this before.

The third time, I thought: Methinks the lady doth protest too much.

Devious: You lay claim to an identity by denying it yourself, but having others attribute it to you. Hey, those anonymous others—assuming they exist, anyway—couldn't possibly be wrong, could they?

Any real elder, of course, would know that other people—other elders, anyway—are smart-cum-experienced enough to see through this kind of smokescreen.

All elderhood is relative, of course. If I've been doing this for three days, and you've only been doing it for one, in one sense that makes me your elder. Your senior, anyway.

Yet, in another way, it doesn't. You may be more thoughtful and natively gifted than I am, in which case our temporal inequality becomes virtually meaningless. If your understanding is deeper than mine, who now is the elder?

Being old doesn't necessarily make you an elder except in the most general of senses. N is old, certainly. An elder? Sorry, N, we've got a lot of shared years in this community, and I need to tell you: from what I've seen, I am not impressed.

I'm an acknowledged elder in my own community. Don't take my word for it: ask around. Even those that don't like me or think I'm an arrogant f*ck will still admit that I know what I'm talking about. For myself, I view other elders as my peers. They're the ones that I go to when I have a question, or when I'm thinking something through and need other perspectives. My friend Volkhvy, an elders' elder if ever there was one, always says: Elders tend to ask more questions than they answer.

Funny: I can't recall ever having heard N ask anyone else a question. Why ask questions when you've already got all the answers?

The fourth and fifth times that I hear N's smug little bon mot, the withering replies line up in my head.

Girl, you gotta get yourself a new line.

Funny, I've never heard anyone refer to you as an elder.

Well, I certainly don't think of you as an elder.

Good Midwesterner that I am, of course, I think loudly, but say nothing.

Aînesse oblige: Elderhood obligates.




Khazi Khoshnawaz, an elder of the Kalasha people

Numbering about 4000, the Kalasha of what is now Pakistan are the only Indo-European-speaking people who have practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity.




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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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