I was around the age of thirteen when I began my search for spiritual truth. In those early years, I yearned for the knowledge that would guide me down a clear of well defined path of continued growth and wisdom. I struggled, like many beginners do, in my attempts to decipher authentic information from misinformation. I read every book I could get my hands on, went to every event I could find and even had short discussions with people who claimed to practice some form of spiritual/magical tradition. Despite my efforts, I still felt lost with no real direction. It seemed as if I was taking one step forward and two steps back, unable to progress. I knew that the best way for me to move forward was to find a teacher who had the experience and wisdom to point me in the right direction.
I define an elder as a person who's been on their spiritual path long enough to gain the respect of their respective communities. An elder is both a master student and a master teacher. They are familiar with the trials and tribulations a student will run into as they continue to develop. An elder has already gone through the difficulties that a new seeker will face, and they are able to gently lead you over those hurdles. A good elder should have a communication style that takes into consideration how you learn and tailor their process of teaching specifically for you. They should be someone that you can respect and build a strong relationship with over time. The importance of elders within spiritual and magical traditions cannot be overstated. They are the glue which holds a tradition together and without them, new seekers would be perpetually lost in a sea of contradictory information.
While it is not required for an elder to be associated with any particular path, the title is most commonly found within the structure of a well-worn tradition with a clear hierarchy. Before seeking out an elder it is important for you to be sure that the tradition which they are an elder of is right for you, otherwise no amount of teaching and learning will be a good fit for you. Within the structure of a tradition, elders are absolutely necessary. An elders job is to hold you accountable for your progress, acting as a dutiful parent with a watchful eye. Elders maintain the order within their group and initiate beneficial connects between their students. They are also responsible for initiations into their tradition when the time comes for the student.
Wise elders can be found outside of the structure of spiritual/religions traditions as well. Like elders within a tradition, they are a person who's been on their spiritual path long enough to gain the respect of their respective communities. The journey to finding these elders is a little different than the path of finding elders within a tradition, you may find that it is harder to pin them down and even more difficult to get information out of them. They are not obligated by responsibility to assist you in any way, which means that you may have to put in extra work just to get their attention. Although the path to apprenticeship may be difficult, it is well worth it for the opportunity to gain even a small amount of their experience and wisdom. You will usually need to speak to the local community to find them, and then, you must have a good reputation within the community for them to even take you seriously. My best advice is to keep knocking at their proverbial door until they become annoyed enough with your persistence to take you on as a student.
Then there are the elders that we have in our family line. For a lucky few, our elders are family members, your grandmother, grandfather or aunt and uncle. You don't have to look far to find them, and chances are that you already know what they do. I have found that the tradition of hoodoo works on its own, meaning that it will survive by any means necessary. In a family line, the elders are looking for the next generation of their lineage to take up the mantle. When it comes to African American folk magic, this is the ideal way that information is passed on, from one generation to the next. Even though you may have easy access to elders, still there is a vetting period where the generation before you will watch and wait for the signs that you are next up. It is important for you to express interest in your elders' knowledge, and even go to them and ask for lessons. In one way this is the easiest way to find elders and in another this is the hardest.
The most common hurdle you might face is the teachings of the religion that your family practices. Folk is so steeped in the DNA of a family that they rarely make a separation between magical practice and religious practice, so approaching the subject may require some navigation. I suggest firstly giving respect to the religion that your family practices by using the language of that tradition, meaning keeping the discussion in the context of what they believe. Structure questions according to religious information that they are familiar with, and try not to push too hard for more than that, in the beginning. It will take time for your elders to open up and discuss the esoteric aspects of their belief. Be patient. Continue to ask questions and engage your elders because their story contains valuable information, listen closely. When an elder in the family line realizes that you 're truly dedicated to following the spiritual aspects of faith, they will begin to open up.
There is no difference between you finding your elders through tradition, your community or your family, what's important is that you have people around you that you can trust to help guide you down your chosen path. The difference between a good practitioner and a great one is the support system that they have behind them. A good student listens more than they speak and they apply all of the lessons that they are given to demonstrate that they have digested the knowledge that their elders have provided. A good elder watches the students progress carefully, and they decide when they are ready to move forward in their studies. The relationship between student and elder is based on trust and mutual respect. The goal of an elder is to elevate the student to a level of mastery where the student no longer needs their guidance. An elder would be proud to see their student blossom and one day become an elder themselves.