Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Remembering Margot Adler

Much has been posted in both mainstream and Pagan media about the untimely death of Margot Adler.  People have spoken about the many ways she as influenced them, about her teachings, her personality, her inestimable contributions.  Just to round out the picture with yet another perspective, I share her some remembrances.  Because what is remembered lives.

I first heard of Margot when I found Drawing Down the Moon on a shelf in a local bookstore in 1979.  I took it off the shelf and skimmed through it and what do you know?  There was a chapter called “Interview with a Modern Witch” about my friend Sharon Devlin Folsom.  And there on the cover was my friend Anna Korn, clearly identifiable in the photo of the handfasting of Isaac Bonewits and Selene Kumin.

I was friends with both Anna and Sharon by way of the Institute of Celtic Studies here in the SF Bay Area.  Until that time, I was unaware that either was Pagan.  Since that time, Anna and I have shared lots of projects together (in the context of CoG as well as with a former incarnation of Reclaiming Collective), and Sharon and I have done a few rituals together.  All three of us have remained friends.

However, it wasn’t until I went to the first CoG MerryMeet on the East Coast, at Rowe Conference Center in Massachusetts that Margot and I met.  By that time my late coven sister Bone Blossom had been living in Connecticut and connecting with all manner of NELCCOG (North East Local Council, now defunct).  I seem to remember that it was Bone who introduced us.  What I remember more clearly is that Margot had heard of a ritual that Sharon, Bone, and I had brewed up and performed at Ancient Ways a year or three prior.  That ritual, entitled “Kali and Other Dark Goddesses,” seems to have had a profound effect on many people who participated.[1]  In any case, Margot in NYC had heard of it and so had my late friend Sequoia when she was traveling in India.  So I had the thrill of being introduced to Margot, this prominent Pagan whose work I had admired, and she already knew something of me.

We maintained a casual friendship over the years, much like many who may read this.  We encountered each other at events.  She had me over for bagels and coffee at her NYC apartment one time.

Sometime around 2000, both the late Judy Harrow and I both became involved with the incipient Cherry Hill Seminary, thanks to the machinations of Cat Chapin-Bishop.  Margot was Judy’s Gardnerian teacher/initiator/elevator.  In addition to being a well-respected and –loved Witch in the Northeast and beyond, Judy was also Craft mother to another of the founders of CHS, Laura Wildman-Hanlon,  So I’m assuming, although if I knew at the time I don’t recall now, that that is the route by which Margot came to support the seminary.  However, it happened, Margot has been a consistent voice in support of CHS.  For the past several years she has served on the Board of Advisors, where I’m currently proud and honored to serve with her.

Thanks to my dear friend and literary mentor, the late Patricia Monaghan, Margot suspended her standing policy of not providing cover blurbs, and wrote one for my first solo writing effort, Witchcraft and the Web.  She wrote, in part, “…she deftly shows the impact of the Web on the Craft – how it is hanging the religion’s notions of authority, leadership, authenticity, and even the way rituals are conducted.”  I’ve included the quote here because it’s germane to our shared observations about the expansion and new understandings of Paganism in our cyber age.

One of the people Margot quoted frequently in DDTM (the first edition; I don’t know about subsequent ones) was our mutual friend, the late Alison Harlow.  Although Alison was Margot’s senior by a few years, they first bonded over the fact that both of them attended a progressive City and Country Grammar School in Greenwich Village when they were children.  Alison lived in my area of the country.  Our two then-covens, Holy Terrors and Wings of Vanthi, sometimes circled together, and both of us were active on CoG.

As sometimes happens when someone is in the process of leaving this plane, their loved ones get weird.  Alison was a Witch, a fact that some consider prima facie evidence of weirdness, or at least oddness.  In any case, Alison’s loved ones experienced some intramural, if you will, discord at the time of her passing.  Feelings were raw.  Margot was in NYC and I was in Northern California, and further, I was not among those attending to Alison.  I guess I was sort of a neutral yet engaged party.  Both Margot and I paid close attention to any news about Alison’s condition.  She and I had several phone conversations about what was happening surrounding Alison’s dying and in the days following her passing.  There’s nothing like sharing in someone’s birthing or dying to bond people.

In another context, I remember a wonderful and very noisy dinner with about eight Pagan scholars (and their groupies, such as myself) during the AAR Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, city of my childhood.  Some of those in attendance were younger and fresher; some were scholars whose exposure to Paganism had been mainly in the context of their studies rather than in situ, so to speak.  But Margot and I were old-timers by that time, and both of us are talkers and really relish stories about our communities.  Oh, the stories we shared at that lively dinner!  Our gales of laughter sometimes became too loud for a shared public space.[2]

When I last saw Margot, at PantheaCon 2014, she was constantly in demand so I didn’t intrude.  However, I was pretty sure our paths wouldn’t cross again in this life.  So before the con was over, I found a brief moment to embrace her and tell her how much I treasured her.  I’m really glad I had that opportunity.


We were enjoying the CoG reception at PantheaCon 2013 when someone called for a group shot of the crones in attendance.  There was lots of passing around of people's cameras; these are the shots that were captured in mine.  It's really hard to get people to all be looking at the camera for a group shot.  

Front row: Anna Korn, Glenn Turner; back row: Magenta Griffin, Rachael Watcher, Macha NightMare, Selena Fox, Vivianne Crowley, and Margot Adler

Late.  Late.  Late.  Late.  Late.  Late.  Do you notice how often my references are to folks who have crossed over?  Six cites!  I see many of Pagandom’s early pioneers passing through the veil.  It is my fervent hope that their work, the examples of the lives they led, their teachings, their spirits survive into the future as foundational to contemporary American Paganism.

[1]   That ritual was reprised, by request, at MerryMeet in Saratoga a couple years later, only Sharon wasn’t available so Sequoia took the priestess role originally performed by Sharon.
[2]   I remember that the late Judy Harrow was also at that Annual Meeting, and we had shared dinner the night before, but she wasn’t at this particular table.