How to Approach an Elder

fj.jpgWhen I saw this article offered by Native American Medicine Woman (and Elder), Fawn Journeyhawk, I was reminded of my early days of spiritual exploration, when the Native American way held such strong and meaningful attraction for me: Walk gently upon the Mother. Speak truth. Maintain honor. Take only what you need, and bless it for what it provides. Share with the tribe. Practice sacred ritual. And so on.

This all began for me in my early 20’s when a boyfriend gave me the book, Rolling Thunder, about a medicine man by that name. Deeply moved this city kid’s heart!

I read numerous accounts by young white people who sought to understand the “medicine way,” and grappled with how to “be” with the elders holding the wisdom. Young Americans were a rebellious, often snarky bunch, full of self importance! ~ Which did not impress the wisdom keepers one iota. The elders would simply send the clueless on their way.

No offering of respect? No humility? Impatient? No teaching. No apprenticeship. No time for you. Period.

And one’s demeanor couldn’t be faked. An Elder will see the truth of you.


In the following writing, Grandmother Journeyhawk speaks to this. Perhaps it will serve how you regard any elders in your life. Or better yet – everyone in your life, including yourself! Clean up your attitude, your space, your language, your sense of self. Honor! It will certainly serve your spirit.

May you be blessed ~ Whitehawk


In today’s society many people have lost the time honored way to properly approach an Elder for teaching.  Every day an Elder passes and with that Elder goes an important part of history and sacred knowledge. It is imperative that the younger generations take the time to sit and observe the wisdom those before them have earned through their decades on this planet before they pass.

For those who are not familiar with tradition here are some basic guidelines on approaching a tribal Elder or Holy person when you are seeking guidance or information.

Most of the time you will be in the community and know the Elder through family and friends, you will know the custom in which you should approach them. This article is for those who are seeking direction but are not sure what may be the proper method to go forward without offending anyone.

Introductions to an Elder or Holy person are usually made through a friend or relative. Someone that person knows and can trust deeply. It is considered impolite to start asking questions immediately. It is preferred to visit them over a cup of coffee or a small meal first. Then after everyone is comfortable set a time at another visit if the Elder agrees to discuss another matter.

When you come to an Elders home, certain respects should be paid; it shows a level of sincerity on your part. In many parts of the country a gift of groceries, tobacco and sage is presented. A bag of groceries is a sign of generosity and respect to the woman of the house. But always give these gifts in a humble way, by sitting them on the counter or on the floor and not making a fuss over them.

Give the tobacco and the sage to the head of the house-be it the man if you are visiting a couple or the woman if she is the head of household. The tobacco should be loose leaf tobacco for ceremonial purposes, not in cigarette form, along with a small sage bundle. The tobacco is important, you have come to ask for something this is the significance of the gift of tobacco. It is an exchange on a spiritual level.

Never be pushy! Follow the pace of the Elder! After you have had a small visit with the standard pleasantries, asking about friends and family, when the Elder is ready they will ask you what you have come for and what you are seeking or wish to know. Ask your question.  Do not interrupt but wait until they have finished talking to ask further questions. Listen with patience. Often they will refer you to other Elders.

Remember Elders are the keepers of the knowledge and when not approached in a culturally acceptable manner they will often appear to not know the information you are seeking. Remember talking with an Elder is not an interview so bombarding them with questions will backfire resulting in them usually not wanting to participate with you.

Bring a notepad and keep mental notes so you can write down what you hear. Always leave in a good way and strive to maintain your friendship with them.  Never just visit an Elder or Holy person for what you can get and then just leave this is bad form.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s