The Call of Eldership – by Mary-Alice Arthur

It was May of 2010 and I was sitting on a hill, looking out over the Aegean, when the grandmother energy came for me in a way that I can’t explain.  I was attending a gathering called “Immersion” at Axladitsa-Avatakia, which lies in the southern tip of the Pelion Peninsula in Greece.  The gathering lasted for ten days, and I was with a group of others there, living in a yurt on the land, being an intentional community and focusing on Apprenticing to Mastery.

It was my second time on the land, which I’d already experienced as a place of challenge and initiation.  This time something new was happening – it felt like the muses were working with me, and stories kept pouring out.  The perfect stories, just at the right time.  It seemed all I had to do was to be present, to stay awake and to be willing to speak when the story came.  Soon after this began, I had the distinct sense that the grandmother energy also arrived and when one of the other attendees posted an Open Space session called “Tea with Grandma” I laughed out loud.

In the end there were three of us who were included in that wave of energy and I checked with the other women: “How old are you?”.  Since I have no family of my own, I have no measure of my age and stage in societal terms, but if I had had children, they would be old enough now to have children of their own and I might, indeed, be a grandmother. It seems that this energy doesn’t need a nuclear family to embody it.

Since that time I’ve continued to think about the grandmother energy – or “the great mother nurturing energy”, as a friend called it – and to ponder how it is linked with Eldership.  I sensed back then that Eldership is calling to come onto the planet in a different way now, and I began to wonder how that might manifest itself. Other experiences through my life had shown me that wisdom doesn’t depend on age.  My recent experiences have led me to think that Eldership doesn’t either.  I began to wonder what my dance with Eldership would be.

In November and December of last year, I met Ben and Mark, two of the originators of the Youth & Elders Project.  They told me about their intention to inquire into what is a mature society is and the plan sail the Baltic for a week in June. Eventually, sitting in a tea house in Copenhagen, I heard them say: “We feel better and more grounded when you’re around.  Will you come with us?”  How could I say no to such a clear invitation, despite lack of gear and worries about my own seaworthiness?

I entered the journey with the clear intention of supporting the hosting team and holding the edges for the group.  What I got in return was both the request for, and the honouring of, my own eldership.  I experienced the journey as a profound initiation into eldership and a deep dive into the holding and healing a group needs to take a journey of initiation.  Although I stepped into the Hosting Team with Ben, Mark and Erik, not being the project holder freed me up to concentrate on the journey itself.  The challenges were many:


  • What is it we are holding and hosting on the voyage?  What do we want to harvest at the end?  How will we know if we are successful?
  • How would the group process elements blend with being aboard a ship? What if we strike bad weather? How will the process continue if participants – and especially the hosting team – are seasick?
  • Living and working together in very limited space brings its own challenges – how will we deal with rubbing up against each other?  Can we become a functional community quickly enough? What does this say about life and our planet right now?
  • We come from very different backgrounds and will have different expectations of what the journey is about and what we need from it.  How will these be managed?  Can we be compassionate enough and curious enough with each other to create our inquiry in a pressure cooker?
  • Is there enough of everything?  Enough food, gear, seasickness support, time, space, energy, friendliness, community spirit, humour, grace, to get us through?

In this work I was reminded again and again that we can never know who has decided to attend an event and why.  Our ship carried stories of light and deep trauma, of joy and sorrow, of relationship and strain, of courage and despair, of newness and experience, of curiosity and hope.  I felt I was called to support the healing that is needed for any group to do its work well and with good heart.

Which also means attending to my own healing and my own practice. Anyone called into Eldership needs to be prepared to do the inner work it takes to be clear, to harvest your own experiences for wisdom and to let go what you think you know in order to be present.

And it was a gift to be present.  To be deeply present with the people, the ship and the sea.  Every day.  Even when we sailed into Hel (which is a port in Poland, by the way)! It was a journey of the heart, so much so, that one of our group was fitted with a pacemaker by the end of his trip.  I think that speaks volumes about the journey that all of humanity is on right now.  We are on a journey of the heart, whether we know it or not.

I saw clearly that eldership doesn’t depend on age and that when we are awake and aware as process holders, the call is to open the space to the one who holds the wisdom for that time, no matter who they are.  We often wondered how well we supported the intended inquiry: “What is it to be a youth?  What is it to be an elder?  How do we together steward the planet?”, but the truth is that this is not an inquiry that can be finished in a one week journey.  The journey is a gateway to the next part of the inquiry and it could happen at any time and in any place, and with whoever is present. Perhaps our call is to hold the gateway open and see where the path leads.

In whatever focus this conversation continues – inter-generational dialogue, indigenosity, sustainability, youth & elders, global community, stewardship, eldership – and in whatever forms – voyage, work project, event, conference, online forum – it is an inquiry that calls us to hold the vision and muster the courage to continue.

One Response to “The Call of Eldership – by Mary-Alice Arthur”

  1. I am so very glad that our journey is continueing,I learned so much at just the point I needed it,and have so many questions to my fellow travellers..What have you done? what do you do?Jack and I plan some formal collection,,interviews..How do you feel about this?
    I know that we have important things to contribute and that we can do more together than we could individually..It would be marvellous to join you in Sweden nor Slovenia..but it’s not possible..perhaps other you are alwas welcome!

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