unnamed ()

The Passage To Eldership

Becoming An Elder

“Each of us comes to this world called. 

You choose to be physically embodied, in this place –

wherever it might be for you – and in these challenging times, you came bearing a unique gift that only you can offer the world. 

And you didn’t come here to play it safe.

You came here to risk everything.”


This week I was having dinner with an old friend and client I’ve known for over twenty years. In conversation we started talking about Eldership.

She explained that when she talks to others about ‘Eldership’ she’s often met with resistance as the word has religious connotations and a mystical dimension. 

So I wanted to speak to this in more depth…

First of all, it’s true. Religion does use the term ‘Elder’, particularly in the (Christian) Church. If you Google the word in this context it states, for example:

“The office of eldership is given in Scripture to provide spiritual nurture and protection for the church. 

Elders are to shepherd the flock of Jesus Christ through the faithful ministry of the Word and are to lead by godly example.

A church cannot be a fully healthy church without elders, and a church can most certainly not be a healthy church without qualified elders (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)”

However, the function of Eldership precedes religion, it wasn’t created by the Church or Religion, it was just adopted by them as part of how they structured their community. 

So it’s useful to look at this from the Indigenous perspective. There was a recognition that Eldership is an essential function of a healthy community. It explains:

“Someone is recognised as an elder by other community members based not necessarily on age, but on wisdom, skills, and knowledge (Wilson 2003). 

Therefore, not all older adults are considered elders and not all elders are older adults.”

So let’s explore the etymology of the word elder:

“elderly person, senior citizen,” c. 1200, from Old English eldra “older person, parent; ancestor; chief, prince” (used in biblical translation for Greek presbyter); see elder (adj.). 

Meaning “one having authority in the community” (originally through age) s from late 14c. and biblical translations of Latin seniores. Compare German Eltern, Danish forældre, Swedish föräldrar “parents.” The Old English for “grandfather” was ealdfæder. Related: Elders. Middle English also had olderes “parents, forebears” (mid-15c.), from the later form of eld. also from c. 1200

In Western Society in particular, we have LOST the function of Eldering and Eldership and instead the focus has been on Youthfulness and staying young as long as possible. 

So it’s missing. 

The loss of this function has many consequences for our communities and ultimately our planet:

  • We lose and disregard the important connection to our Ancestors and our History, therefore we’re unable to access Ancestral Wisdom and the rich resources it offers
  • We dismiss and diminish the ‘mudus imaginalis’, the imaginary and imaginal dimension of our human consciousness, infantilising  the mystical world, which is an essential part of being human and which inspires and informs deeper (spiritual) meaning, vision and transformation.
  •  We become stuck in a distopian perspective that paradoxically avoids embracing the reality of death and dying and is terrified of it at the same time.
  • We lose our relationship with the earth and non-human life and its precious resources and instead we plunder it without awareness of it’s role in our collective health and survival.
  • We live in an illusion that human beings are somehow ‘separate’, ‘superior than’ and ‘bigger than’ the planet itself and therefore we lose touch with reality 
  • We turn everything and everyone into a Commodity that can be bought and sold
  • We treat those who are old, frail and the vulnerable, as a burden and who therefore can be disregarded as irrelevant and with no value to our society. (In the UK we only need to look at what happened with the Care Homes during the pandemic as an example of this). 
  • We end up with a ‘Consumer’ society that no longer sees people as Citizens but instead measures them by how much they contribute to economic growth. 
  • Citizens then become commoditised.

How Do We Talk About Eldership?


When embarking on the Passage to Eldership, the ultimate purpose is not to ‘Label’ yourself as an Elder. 

We’re in the process of discarding these ‘labels’ that we’ve been given like, the job titles, the profession and our roles in our families.

You become an Elder by integrating all that you are and by embodying your soul’s calling. 

We do this through many ‘Rites of Passages’ that illuminate what we need to learn and integrate from our life’s experiences and the gifts and wisdom we now can bring to our families and our communities. 

It’s not our responsibility to convince, explain or justify the role of an Elder. That’s like trying to justify why a baby needs a mother or a father, it’s nonsensical. 

Not everyone will look to you as their Elder. 

That is their right. 

But rest assured that our Societies and Communities hunger for something that’s been lost. 

Without Elders in Society, life loses its meaning. 

This is why it’s part of the deeper questions we experience as we enter mid life…

  • What’s the meaning of (my) life?
  • What am I doing here? 
  • What’s it all about?
  • What will be my legacy?
  • What will I be remembered for?  

Above is an image I drew back in 2013. I’d entered mid life and the reality of the ‘wasteland’ I felt in. I sat with the question: 

Who am I?

Instead of words I silence and solitude to tune into what symbols and images answered this question…

Trying to explain Eldership and Eldering to those who are not at this stage of life, reminds me of Rumi’s poem: Wean Yourself. 

The Message?

Have the wisdom to know that we don’t really know the world, it’s a mystery.  

And never try to explain something to someone whose either:

  1. Not ready to listen or 
  2. Not at that stage of their own development…

(I have two teenage girls who keep me in check by rolling their eyes if I ever try to pass on my ‘wisdom’ when it’s not wanted or needed!) 😉

Wean Yourself

“Little by little, wean yourself.
This is the gist of what I have to say.
From an embryo, whose nourishment comes in the blood,
move to an infant drinking milk,
to a child on solid food,
to a searcher after wisdom,
to a hunter of more invisible game.

Think how it is to have a conversation with an embryo.
You might say, “The world outside is vast and intricate.
There are wheat fields and mountain passes,
and orchards in bloom.

At night there are millions of galaxies, and in sunlight
the beauty of friends dancing at a wedding.”

You ask the embryo why he, or she, stays cooped up
in the dark with eyes closed.

Listen to the answer.

There is no “other world.”
I only know what I’ve experienced.
You must be hallucinating.”

― Rumi, The Essential Rumi

The Passage To Eldership

One of the wonderful aspects of growing old and midlife is that we can stop explaining and justifying who we are and what we believe. 

And stop trying to be ‘seen’. 

That’s a young part of us. 

The passage to Eldership is about us acknowledging, knowing and being at peace with ourselves. 

We care ‘less’ what ‘others’ think. 

However, one of the more difficult passages we may go through is letting go of our attachment to our ‘Reputation’. 

In the ‘Corporate World’ our reputation is important for our survival. 

You had to ‘get with the programme’ or leave. In my own life, even though I was an external management consultant, I still experienced the fear of not belonging, so I conformed to the Corporate rules. 

Being seen as ‘different’ could have risked me getting contracts (and money). 

It was only after years of feeling in a kind of  ‘Wasteland’ did I finally find the courage to push the boundaries and start being more of myself. 


The photo above symbolises me making this movement, I was starting to embody my ”Rebel’ self). 

I did lose some clients, but it was leaders and organisations that I was no longer a fit for. I was increasingly embodying my truth. I was stepping away from rescuing and colluding with my clients.

It wasn’t long before new opportunities appeared that were a better fit for my new, more authentic self (I was asked to become a tutor and an Elder working on their High Performance Leadership at Cranfield Business School). 

If I’d listened to my fears about losing my ‘Reputation’, I wouldn’t have grown and developed. I wouldn’t have been able to be my authentic self or be able to do the kind of deeper transformational work I do now.  

I would have avoided stepping into my own Eldership and my Soul’s Calling.. 

Some questions to reflect on:

  1. What does Eldership look like for you?
  2. What’s your Eldership Calling? 
  3. What could stop you from answering the Calling?
  4. I encourage you to find your own explanation as to what an Elder looks like for you; however, here is my own current working definition…

My (Working) Definition of Elder & Eldership

Elderhood – the stage beyond adulthood. It’s a stage where you’ve integrated your life’s experience and have embodied your life’s purpose and values and take your place in society.

Eldership – where you’ve embodied the role of the wise Elder and are consciously in service to your family, your community, society and the planet.  

Elder – is someone whose role in their family, community and society brings deep soul wisdom by acting as a secure bridge between the ancestors, the living systems and the future generations.

A Guide on how to step into Eldership


Receive a free copy of my e-book “A Guide on how to step into Eldership”

You will also be added to my Zena Me mailing list.

COnnect with me
book a call
Scroll to Top