News came around mid-day today that High Priestess Margot Adler had passed into the Summerlands. I felt a real tug at my heart reflecting upon the news. I saw Margot at Pantheacon a couple of times and heard her speak briefly. If I recall correctly, she spoke once as an audience member in a panel on Queer Pagan Traditions. She was a vital part of the New York Pagan community. At the end of the 1970s, she authored Drawing down the Moon, a portrait of the budding American Pagan movements that displayed brushwork that managed, somehow, to be both broad and sweeping and yet delicately nuanced. When I began to take a formal interest in the movement in the 1990s, one of the most impressive things I read was Margot’s interview with harp teacher and musician Sharon Devlin, who got an entire chapter to herself: “Interview with a Modern Witch.” Although there have been additions and subtractions from successive editions, this chapter has remained throughout and is still a part of the most recent 2006 revision. In that interview, Sharon Devlin bravely offered her personal opinion that gay people were just as well suited to the practice of Paganism and Witchcraft as heterosexuals. She offered a great deal else; notably a very earthy, grounded, peppery folk wisdom. Later, when I began formal study of the Craft, my Teacher turned out to be an old friend of Sharon’s. Talk about the Wheel turning full circle.
In the 1989 revision, Margot included a chapter about the Radical Faeries movement, which was then just finishing its first decade of activity. It was probably not quite accurate to portray the Faeries as a Pagan queer men’s movement, but Margot started out as she remained–a passionate advocate for the rights of LGBT people in the Pagan sphere. Her no-nonsense support for and very positive portrayal of the activities of LGBT Pagans was in stark contrast to a lot of the homophobia that was around in the scene back then. We hail her for her courage, far-sightedness, and fierce passionate love for us.
While I was still searching for a teacher, I had the chance to see The Occult Experience, a 1980s documentary put together by writer and visionary Nevill Drury (who we lost last year, in October 2013). Again, Margot’s segments were among the high points of the film. She spoke persuasively and clearly about the suppression of occult teachings and practices across a very wide spectrum of cultural and social matrices. Her analysis made it very clear that the underlying reason for this is because even simple magical practice offers a way for a person to come to understand the vast source of power that lies within the self. By all rights such power should be considered as every human’s birthright, one that can be never taken away. But the sad thing is that religious, political, social, and cultural networks of power all contrive to manipulate people into willingly giving away their power–abdicating their birthright–and never even knowing the great treasure that has slipped through stiffening fingers of neurotic compulsion, twisted complex, subtly nurtured fear.
Margot was great because she had the power to take the bull by the horns and speak directly to people about things they would have preferred not even to have acknowledged openly, as in this memorable passage from an interview:
We are not evil. We don’t harm or seduce people. We are not dangerous. We are ordinary people like you. We have families, jobs, hopes, and dreams. We are not a cult. This religion is not a joke. We are not what you think we are from looking at T.V. We are real. We laugh, we cry. We are serious. We have a sense of humor. You don’t have to be afraid of us. We don’t want to convert you. And please don’t try to convert us. Just give us the same right we give you–to live in peace. We are much more similar to you than you think.
I am not sure she was right about that final sentence. But Margot exemplified many notable aspects of the modern Pagan–she was supremely intelligent, sharply articulate, able to craft an argument or pull it apart, and utterly fearless in speaking her own truth. She exemplified one of the most baffling facets of modern Witchcraft for the typical rationalist/materialist academic or journalistic onlooker… why are intelligent people choosing to take part in such mumbo-jumbo? If anybody had the knack of explaining in clear, lucid English what Magic can mean to the full development of human potential and a more organic vision of the human being, it was Margot Adler. After all, she was Alfred Adler’s granddaughter.
I send Blessings upon Margot’s spirit; may she know true Peace, may she grow young and vibrant once again in the healing meadows and fields of that bright Land beyond, and in love may she return. Io Evohe.