"Who are the Elders?"
by Daniel Crowfeather
It seems that there are many people these days who are trying to find a spirituality that they can believe in. For whatever reason, we are beginning to pay more attention to our spirit and to our direction in life. Many of us have found ourselves drawn to the First Nations beliefs, perhaps because they are seen as clean and pure, and based on the simpler times that we all seem to miss.
As we make our way along the Red Road, with luck we are led to a person who has been given the wisdom and knowledge to be a teacher. We call these people Elders, and from them we begin to learn the ways and traditions that form the heart of First Nations beliefs. While these Elders generally do not think of themselves as anything special, they are usually highly regarded and treated with great respect.
For some of us, however, these early times can be dangerous. Being human, most of us have a desire to be respected by the people around us. When we see the respect being given to our Elders, we may begin to hope that, someday, we may earn that respect for ourselves. We try to learn as much as we can as quickly as we can, hoping to impress people with our wisdom. We forget that knowledge of facts is not the same as wisdom, which only comes from a lifetime of reflecting on these facts.
The danger is greatest at the time when we realize that there are people who share our road that know even less than we do. These people may be easily impressed by the tiny amount of knowledge that we carry. Such people might even mistake that knowledge for wisdom, and we may find ourselves receiving some of that respect that we crave. We may find that we enjoy the taste of that respect, and our egos may even lead us to think of ourselves as Elders... and the trap is sprung!
It is important to understand what an Elder is. Aboriginal traditions hold the elderly in high regard, because a long life full of experience leads to wisdom. But an Elder in the spiritual sense is not just old; today an elderly person may have no knowledge whatsoever of spirituality. While such a person may have valuable wisdom in other areas of life, they obviously cannot be a spiritual Elder. A real Elder carries facts about their traditions AND the wisdom that comes from long study and practice of those traditions. However, when you are just starting out on the path, it can be hard to tell the difference. Those who are impressionable can be fooled by an older person with a small amount of knowledge, claiming to be an Elder.
Another very popular claim is to be a Healer. True Healers are those who are given the ability to Heal others using only their own energies and resources. Such people are extremely rare: perhaps a handful walk the earth today. My wife and I do not know of any, and probably neither do you. If you know someone who is claiming that they are a Healer, rest assured that they are either lying or deluded... true Healers never advertise, because they know that the people who need them will be brought to them, quietly and without fuss. They do not seek recognition, because they are only too aware of the heavy burden of responsibility they carry, and they do not wish to add to it.
Finally, there are all the self-proclaimed Visionaries. At best, these people learn from real Seers, then pass on the visions as their own. At worst, they will invent any vision that will impress their audience. Once again, if the person brags of it, then it is not so. True Seers do not advertise, because they do not need to. Again, those who need their help will be brought to them, and they know it. They never seek the spotlight.
The lure of prestige and notoriety can be hard to resist. I am saddened that there are people within our own circle of friends who have started to call themselves Elders, and pretend to carry far more knowledge than they actually have. There is one who has appointed himself a spiritual leader, and has created a following of people who have virtually no knowledge of tradition. He tells them that they are Elders as well. There is another who claims to be a Healer, and performs smudging and purification ceremonies for others. Because she has not learned the proper use and purposes of sacred medicines, she has no understanding of the danger this poses for both herself and for the people she tries to help. There are still others who ask questions of Elders, then pass on the answers to other people claiming to have received them direct from the spirits. We call this 'riding someone else's tobacco,' and it is a simple attempt to gain notoriety at the expense of others. In each case, these people have brought a great deal of trouble into their own lives by doing these things. However, despite these warnings, their egos lead them to continue to misguide others, and they cause much suffering as a result.
Each of us has a best possible path to walk, and each of us is here for some specific purpose. For most of us, our walk is all about learning. While we may not see this as significant, the Creator does not make mistakes: each life interacts with many others, so each one is as important as any other. Ignoring our path and trying to do something more spectacular simply wastes a lifetime, and possibly endangers ourselves and others. While a person's life is their own, to waste if they so choose, causing someone else to waste or misuse their life is perhaps the vilest and most disgusting thing that one human can do to another.
© Daniel Crowfeather
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