© Lady BonaDea Lyonesse
An Elder is one whose whole countenance speaks of wisdom and experience. Being in their presence informs and enlightens. No need for questions and answers, just observing how they interact with their environment and the people around them, teaches. Watching how they process information, the facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, illustrates how knowledge becomes wisdom. A palm raised in blessing or a smile from their eyes speaks more than quotes uttered from books or facts pontificated.
Being in the kitchen or the garden with any of my Elders was the best place for me to learn. The magic of creation was alive in those places and the dance of gestures pulled me into communion with the wisdom.
Being awed by the secrets of making good piecrust with my mother and seeing how a perfect crust respects the apples we had picked, and all of it honoring the ones who would be eating that pie, taught me much about showing love without words. And I was imbued with a sense of responsibility to pass that love and respect on through my deeds. My mother also taught my sisters and me to set a proper table and have excellent table manners just in case we ever had lunch with Queen Elizabeth. I have yet to dine with the Queen, but those skills have served me well over the years. It gave me social confidence and permission to dream big.
Each of my senses stored lessons learned. Now, when smelling the pungent aroma of a tomato leaf rubbed through my fingers, I am once again a child in my father’s garden, watching his soil-caked finger point to the sky, showing me how to read the weather. His bedtime stories of the South where he grew up held insights into human nature for me that unfolded as I gained life experience.
As a young teenager, our family housekeeper/nanny taught me about dignity. Nora lived a mid-century servant class life for a woman of color, but she wasn’t just a housekeeper in a uniform consigned to cleaning and enforcing my curfew, she was a lady full of strength. She stood up straight, walked with grace, spoke softly, and looked people straight in the eye. She wouldn’t let me chew gum or whistle, but she encouraged me to be self sufficient and responsible and to command respect with how I carried myself.
Sitting with my spiritual mentor, the Lady Circe, at her table, sipping tea, hearing stories of her amazing life, taught me how to live my spiritual calling and still be comfortable with my human-ness. She didn’t preach. Instead she would choose her words, watching my reactions, and hide the lesson in the story. When she was frustrated with my incessant questions and intenseness, she would pat me on the head and say, “Oh, you poor, dumb child!” There was love in that statement. It was a verbal hug. And it was my cue to settle down and pay attention. And then she would let me think it was my idea when I figured out the lesson.
I have had many influential Elders in my life. Some of them would be surprised to find themselves in that category. They all fostered in me a love of learning, an insatiable curiosity, a dedication to serving the greater good, and the true meaning of wisdom, which is the experience of knowledge applied.
I am an Elder, now, both in the Pagan community and in my family. I had often wondered what that would feel like. I wondered when it would happen. It snuck up on me. People come to me for advice and I try hard not to give them any. I would rather tell them stories, so I do. I choose my words carefully and hide the lessons as best I can. I am aware that those who want to learn from me are watching, so I strive to lead by example. I am aware of my age-related tendency to judge by old standards and do my very best to keep an open mind to new ideas. It is a big responsibility being an Elder, if taken seriously… but not too seriously. There is great wisdom in laughter.
We are the Ancestors still living in this world. It is up to us to be responsible Elders for the newer generations coming in. They need us in ways we might not understand because they will and are facing challenges we never did. What they really need to learn from us are the basics, like how to navigate their own inner journey to their truth; how to be strong enough; how to make everything in their environment allies; how to listen to Spirit, the Earth and the stars; and how to listen to each other. They need to know how to apply the knowledge they have acquired to how they are living day to day. They need to feel confident that they are developing their own wisdom. Most importantly, they need us to be present so they will know it can be done.