Margot Adler passed away this morning
, after living with cancer for 3½ years.She is probably best known as a long-time reporter for NPR
. Yet she is also one of the most recognized names in the Neopagan community, and introduced many of us to that world through her book Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and other Pagans in America Today
. The book was published in 1979, a time when it was often difficult for people with minority interests to find like-minded people. In addition to cataloging the ideas and practices of a lot of different individuals and groups the book had an extensive section of contacts and resources, enabling the curious and isolated to plug in and learn more. The book was also an opportunity to educate outsiders: given a long history of Pagan persecution, most Neopagan groups in the 1960s through at least the 1980s kept a low profile. Since the Neopagans weren't telling their own stories in public, it was left to paranoid parents who watched Rosemary's Baby
evangelicals who conflate all non-Christian religious practices with Satanism. While Margot's book probably didn't make it onto Focus on the Family's bookshelf, it provided a non-sensationalist journalistic source that someone could point to which demystified the contemporary occult.
Margot used her three decades at NPR to share the stories of many other subcultures and marginalized groups, religious and otherwise. She approached her work as an educational conduit. Her stories didn't have a sensationalist bent with the unusual habits of a minority group used to titilate mainstream listeners, nor were they partisan promotions. Rather, she dove deep into the culture and brought their world view and social context to curious ears.
Margot was a frequent visitor to Boulder
, attending CU's Conference on World Affairs
22 times. She came to CU in the fall of 2001 as part of the CWA Athenaeum
speaker series. The main subject of her visit was journalism and her reporting on post-9/11 New York City. What neither she nor the CWA organizers realized was that CU's Pagan Student Alliance group was working through Drawing Down the Moon
to learn about the history of modern Paganism. I managed to get on the list for the Athenaeum dinner and happened to choose a seat next to Margot's. She seemed a little surprised when I told her I was part of a group reading her book and asked about how the Pagan community had changed since the 2nd Edition was published in the late '80s. With true reporter skills she turned the question back to me and my perceptions.
At a CWA panel one year, an audience member talked about an African community she was involved with. She said there were people in powerful positions who used witchcraft as part of their trappings to remain in power and make decisions the questioner felt negatively impacted the village. She asked how she could bring up the negative effects and suggest change in a culturally-sensitive way. I remember Margot answering "Not all witches are wonderful" and suggesting that there were likely village members who were unhappy about the state of affairs and that they might be a good place to start organizing. This is what I love about Margot Adler: even though she was perhaps the most famous witch in America, she was really just a radical who happened to be a witch just as she happened to be Jewish and happened to be born in Arkansas.
I hope Margot's journey to the other side was the start of a fantastic new story. I'll toast her fondly in a week and a half as I dance and draw with Colorado's Neopagans.