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The term Elder (or its equivalent in another language) is used in several different countries and organizations to indicate a position of authority. This usage is usually derived from the notion that the oldest members of a group are the wisest and thus most qualified to rule, provide council or some other form of leadership.


Elder is a role played in the family and community that is most common in third world, non-industrialized cultures. Elderhood is the condition or quality of being an elder. Elder is a manner of being in the latter portion of life that results from an older man or woman answering the informal call from the family or community to accept the mantle of elderhood. Once having accepted this calling, elders are known by their interest in mentoring, sharing their long life experiences, modeling a sense of oneness with Earth and often, acting as the spiritual agent of one's community.

An example of elder expression is the good grandmother who at once enwraps her children with life assuring warmth and, at the same time, lets them go and grow to become independent and free adults. Another example is the journeyman who mentors the apprentice with goals of sponsorship and advocacy as well as the demonstration of skills. Elders believe the role of adults is to facilitate creativity in the young, not teach the patterns of the past. This often leads to mentoring, which is time consuming. Elders, therefore have less time to indulge themselves. Elders, in their wisdom, sense that they are caretakers and that their vitality depends on a personal shift from egocentricity to community.

The older person who resists the call is often submitting to the weight of bias toward the old found most commonly in the youth oriented industrialized part of the world. Elder is a generative model for moving from adulthood to a deeper expression of being in late life. Older people today are fully capable of rediscovering their generative potential and maintaining their social responsibilities as wisdomkeepers, earthkeepers, mentors and celebrants, sources of blessing.

Other Various Uses

  • Alderman - An Alderman in modern Anglo-Saxonmarker derived legal systems is synonymous with what in other systems might be known as a city councilman. It derives from the term ealdorman, from which the term Earl is also derived, meaning old man.
  • Gerousia - Gerousia was the Spartan equivalent of a senate. The term means Council of Elders.
  • Hor Chan - Mayan, meaning "Chief of Chan." Chan was a term some Maya used to refer to themselves.
  • Indigenous Australians use the term to denote a widely-respected man of authority who has been through many rituals and ceremonies and has a deep knowledge of traditional lore. He will be consulted on any important aspect of Aboriginal life. In some Aboriginal societies, the term is also applied to women holding a similar position of status in their society.
  • Kaumatua are the tribal elders in Māori society
  • Senator - In the Senate of Romemarker, the senators were men. Senator comes from the Latin root sen- "old" (senex "old man"), and the senators were actually called patres — 'fathers'.
  • Seniūnas - Ruler of Eldership, (seniūnija in Lithuanian), Lithuaniamarker's smallest administrative division.
  • Shaikh - Shaikh means "old man" in Arabic. There are specific cultural and religious connotations as well.
  • Starosta or Starost - Starosta, derrived from word stary - "old", is a title for an official or unofficial position of leadership that has been used in various contexts through most of Slavic history (see also Starets).
  • Vanem - Ancient ruler of an Estonianmarker parish and county. From 1920-1937, Estonian head of state and head of government was called Riigivanem, meaning "State Elder".
  • Witan - In Anglo-Saxon and other Germanic traditions was a wise man although usually just a noble. The term is most often used to describe those who attended the Witenagemot.

See also


  • Bolen, Jean Shinoda (2003). Crones Don’t Whine. Conari Press. Boston.
  • Gutmann, David. Reclaimed Powers. Northwestern U. Press. Evanston, Ill.1994
  • Dass, Ram. Still Here.Embracing Aging, Changing, and Dying .Riverhead Books.New York. 2001.
  • Jones, Terry. Elder: A spiritual alternative to being elderly. Elderhood Institute. 2006.
  • Jones, Terry. The Elder Within: Source of Mature Masculinity. Elderhood Institute. 2001.
  • Leder, Drew. Spiritual Passages. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam. New York. 1997.
  • Levinson, Daniel J. The Seasons of a Man’s Life. Ballantine Books. NY. 1978.
  • Raines, Robert. A Time to Live. Seven Steps in Creative Aging. A Plume Book. New York.1997.
  • Schachter-Shalomi, Zalman. Ageing to Sageing. Warner Books. N.Y. 1995.

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