Druids and Wizards and Warriors, Oh My!
by Craig PhoenixWolf
Before I found my way to Paganism I was drawn to stories of magick and epic tales. The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks and The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien were my first introductions to the world of Magick. George Lucas took the epic adventure and brought it back with his telling of the story of a farm hand turned warrior with the aid of a wise old man who guide him to grow. Ben Kenobi, like Allanon the Druid and Gandalf the Magician before him, takes the somewhat hapless youth, one who's life before meeting the older man seemed to be destined to the mediocre life. Like Merlin guiding a young Arthur to be a great King, The Youth is taught to think about things in a new way. In all cases The Youth is changed by the wise old man. He is taken from student to warrior; the hero of the adventure.
Throughout literature the same theme runs. The innocent fool, unaware of things outside his small piece of the world is taken on an adventure that not only broadens his perspective but the journey is usually traumatic; a trial by fire so to speak. The Youth must face his fears and some challenge but in doing so he is forever changed. The Elder is both the cause and the instrument of the Youth's adventure into Manhood.
The relationship is symbiotic in nature; the Youth gaining training, knowledge, guidance to grow and the Elder in turn getting a champion to stand where he despite his knowledge and power can not. We see too often a passing of the torch to The Youth who then becomes the Master both of his own destiny and to the next generation; the student becoming the teacher. We see this in Bilbo Baggins passing the Ring to Frodo, in Ben Kenobi being struck down and then again in Yoda's death leaving Luke to finish his training and to be the last of the Jedi or the first, depending on your point of view.
So what are the qualities of the Elder?
We see the Elder as a wise old man. Ben Kenobi, Allanon, Gandalf, Merlin and his more recent incarnation, Professor Dumbledore, all mature men, often seen as greyed and wizened. Old certainly but not feeble though not above hiding behind the perception others might have that they were weakened and helpless. Age though is not a necessity for an Elder as these examples show for while they are old they are active both mentally and physically. They use their knowledge and experience to continue to explore.
In the classic tales The Elder spends time walking the world. He is the chronicler recording the affairs of the people he visits. He is the Bard bringing stories to those who are off the beaten track of the events of the world. He is educated and an educator. Often his own education was interrupted by the death of his own teacher. He walks alone in most cases. Often The Elder is a skilled speaker able to get his message across clearly though he is not above being cryptic to make his apprentice think for themselves or to hide a truth the apprentice needs to discover for themselves. When Shea Ohmsford was given the Sword of Shanarra he was not told of its power, only that it had the power to defeat his foe. Had he been told the sword's power, he could not have accepted it as being strong enough; he had to discover its strength and his own for himself. The sword's power was, by the way, Truth. His foe was deluding his followers and more so himself and the sword took away the illusion which immediately ended the evil's power.
Where would Harry Potter be if Dumbledore told him in the first book that he was going to have to fight You-Know-Who? Who can forget the scene in Star Wars Empire Strikes Back when Vader and Luke confront each other in the Cloud City and Luke learns Vader is his father? Ben could have told him, prepared him, but could he or Harry face their destinies if they knew what those destinies meant?
As a teacher the Elder guides the student, mentoring them and helping them discover their own truths.
We see this in many of the Elders of the Pagan community. People who have gained knowledge and respect through study and through the sharing of that knowledge but in a way that encourages others to think and explore.
What then are the roles of the Elder in our community?
In a ritual the Elder takes on the role of imparting knowledge. Dagonet Dewr, in his book Sacred Paths for Modern Men, describes rituals for men's groups. These rituals are led by four men; the Youth, the Warrior, the King and the Elder. In his Coming of Age ritual the four roles play a part in trying to explain to the initiate the ways of Manhood.
The Youth tells the young initiate, "You have taken the first step on the road to manhood. Manhood is a hard thing to describe. Our society would have you believe it involves power over things: possessions, women, excess. We here, though, know that manhood is sacred."
The Warrior says, "Manhood is about being a warrior, about fighting for what you know to be right."
The King says, "Manhood is about being noble, keeping your word, honouring others."
The Elder says, "Manhood is about being wise, and learning that wisdom comes through pain and experience."
In the epic stories the young apprentice or reluctant hero has to learn these lessons. Often he needs to learn when to fight and when to put down his weapon and listen. He has to learn to respect the Elder Druid, Wizard or Jedi and the knowledge they are trying to impart to prepare him for the pain and experiences that will bring about the most change in the young hero. Manhood in the epic tales is not about conquering others. He must conquer himself as he makes his journey into manhood. It is not about gaining reward. It is about mastering themselves. Learning the wisdom to look at each situation and to assess the action needed.
In modern Paganism we most often see the Elder as Druids and Craftsmen. They are the bards telling tales and entertaining young and old alike. They are observing the events and recording an account of it; some in words, some in images. There is strength in the Elder and his eyes show the energy he feels. In ritual he is portrayed as the Winter and as the God in recline through the cold winter months when the aging God is at his weakest, but there is nothing weak about the Elder as he still has much to give.
What then is a teacher with out a student? Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Bilbo Baggins and Shea Ohmsford all play the role of student to their Elder. Some lessons are those of Magick. Some are those of human nature and most are a journey of self discovery as the hero starts off as a seemingly innocent youth. We all remember Harry as he looked up at the huge Hagrid as he told Harry; "You're a Wizard, Harry."
The Youth must learn quickly the lessons of the Elder. Time is a factor in the epic tales as there are dark things in the night to be feared and faced. The Elder will teach the Youth but only on the terms known only to the Elder. The Youth is guided by the Elder's hand on his journey.
Some things, the Youth is not ready for.
This is also true in Paganism. We learn about things and as we do we grow. We should not rush into unfamiliar territory quickly. We should not perform dark rituals before we have learned to control ourselves. We, like the epic hero, have to mature. Like him we are prone to rash action. We can be impulsive and rush forward with things. "Decide you must how to serve them best. If you leave now, help them you could. But you would destroy all for which they have fought and suffered", Yoda tells Luke, following a vision of his friends in trouble. Impulsive action did indeed come at a price as Luke both learned the horrible truth about his father and lost his hand in battle. A permanent reminder of the costs of rushing foolishly into a situation you are not ready for.
Most Pagans are aware of Magick, of the energy that is around us. Of the power of Prana or Ki or the Force. This can have a powerful influence if we understand how to manipulate it correctly but equally it can go horribly wrong if this energy is not channelled correctly. We had such a discussion recently at a Gathering when during a ritual where we were throwing negative energy into the air, a plane flew over head. It would not do to have such negatively charged energy hit the plane and affect the plane, passengers or crew.
The Elder can be a part of each of us just as is the Youth, the Warrior and the King. We listen to them and hear them in our decision making. The Youth is brash and impulsive. The Warrior stoic and convinced he has right on his side. The King is noble and assured that he is doing what is right for others and the Elder is the voice of reason and wisdom.
From the Youth comes the Warrior like a phoenix rising from the flames. The Warrior is the Youth's potential realised as the Warrior takes his place and fulfils his destiny. All warriors start out as students. All warriors learn what they need to. They learn that sometimes it is necessary for us to take up arms. Some do this for the wrong reasons; reasons like revenge.
In the Pagan community we see examples of Warriors, those who are passionate defenders of the things we believe in. They are the ones who stand up when we are challenged. Yet often the Warrior is not hungry for battle. In many of the epic tales the Youth turned warrior is a reluctant hero. He stands before his future and has to face the desire to run away. To me, it takes great courage to admit you are afraid and to still stand there facing the thing you fear.
While the Elder is the Wisdom, the Warrior is the courage within us to face our own personal journeys.
The Wizened One Speaks of things
The Youth too young to Hear
The Warrior takes up his Sword
The King His Shield to Wield
The Elder warns against the brash
The Youth head strong doest clash
The Warrior does to battle cry
The King noble observes the sky
Red Flames bright the dark night
Shrill cries wretched in the light
The Wizard yells ENOUGH!
The Youth freezes though by deaths cold touch
The Warrior arm raised high
His blade silhouette against the sky
The King raises a staying hand.
The Elder looks to the blood on the land
"Is this what you would do?
Stain the earth with those you slew?"
The Youth cringes anger spent
The Warrior mourn the heroes that went
The King orders peace once more
The Elder doest war lament.
Youth and Warrior amongst those that die
A lone eagle in the night does cry.
Those who heard The Elder that day
Know now that anger is never the way.