When someone says the word Elder, does the image of a wise and sagely man or woman immediately pop into your mind's eye? Who in your immediate community does come to mind? In the wider public arena, does your association with the word immediately link to someone like Raymond Buckland or Laurie Cabot?
Any dictionary will include the following definitions for elder:" Someone who is wiser, or an influential member of the tribe or community; one with superior knowledge or wisdom."
Notice that the definition does not include someone who has been awarded any degrees within a magickal group, a lengthy biographical resume,scholarly pursuit, curriculum vitae or educational pedigree, nor is it defined by the number of years one has been alive.
Being older does not necessarily make one wiser, although there is a natural tendency to make the assumption that with each passing year some knowledge would be gained. Being long in the tooth doesn't equate with being smarter. Age and tenure have nothing to do with it. Claiming mastery of a discipline does not guarantee ascension to elderhood as a done deal, either.
Prefixing your name with a title or adding a string of academic abbreviations does not automatically make an Elder. In fact, our community has too many members with titles running about like so many rabbits. Lord and Lady, are pronouns of distinction awarded to those who are peers of rank, in other words, you earn them.They are otherwise not a part of a given name. Like wise High Priest/ess, which is more realistically descriptive of a designated role or degree ( in some traditions the third degree members are called High Priest/esses). I am the High Priestess in my home circle: it's my elected office. It does not mean I am a High Priestess anywhere else- and it certainly doesn't mean I am an Elder. Any esteem in which I may be held by the members of my circle is seperate from respect they hold for the office.It seems to me that we have so many members of 'royalty' out there that we could create our own little principality, and after awhile the affectation gets down right silly. Let's face it. It's hard to keep a straight face and your sense of credulity intact when someone introduces him or herself as Lord Kissmyhinnie or Lady Lookatme. ( Magus is just as bad-sorry.)It is not something you claim as a part of your given name, magickal or otherwise. It is a title of office bestowed by the coven, circle or grove.
So what does it take to become an Elder? What particular qualities do we look for? My answer would be that the individual in question has authentic wisdom that stands the test of time both in the past and for the future. Their experience and proficiency in a variety of areas far exceeds the ordinary. They are capable of teaching multiple age groups in an appropriate manner, and a legitimate resource to the community.( By the way, being a great teacher doesn't necessarily mean you are cut out to be an Elder.)Finally, they are humble, mindful and sensitive to the abilities of others-and they are always open to learning and the ever changing landscape of their community. All of which is an incredibly heavy burden and takes much patience and skill. Not many of us are up to the task.
The presumption of proclaiming ones self an Elder within the community for the entire community is galling to me at the least and heretical in the extreme. Elders are made by recognition within and by their immediate community. Being an Elder in one community does not make that particular individual an elder in the next community down the road. The fondness for the Elder of one community by another community is a courtesy, not a requirement.
There is a great onus in being a true Elder.
Elders have not only earned the respect and reverence of their peers but of their community. But that alone is not enough. Through proven leadership and ability to contribute true wisdom, they are the shining example of what has gone before and the voice of what is yet to come.