We’ve had a lot of deaths of prominent Pagans in the last few years, the recent death of Morning Glory-Zell this year and Issac Bonewits’ death in 2010 to mention just two. In addition, Mary Daly, author of Beyond God the Father, and Merlin Stone, author of When God was a Woman, passed away in 2010 and 2011 respectively. (While neither was Pagan, both were prominent in the Goddess Spirituality movement and important influences on the Pagan movement.) But none of these has struck me so hard as the death of Margot Adler. And I know I am not alone. Many eulogies and tributes to Margot have already been posted. Here are just a few:
NPR of course covered Margot’s death here and here. And HuffPo announced Margot’s death in this way: “Margot Adler: Pioneering Pagan Activist, NPR Journalist Dies At 68”. I was fortunate to be able to attend Margot’s chant workshop at Pantheacon earlier this year and to sit near her in other workshops. I’ve written a fair about about Margot over the years, including Carl Jung’s influence on her ideas and the influence of Margot’s own writing on Neo-Paganism (she was the Emperor card in my “Neo-Pagan Celebrity Tarot”. But I think Thalassa summed it up best for me when she wrote, “Margot Adler is the reason that I never thought that I had to live “in the broom closet”. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that I might not be a Pagan today if it were not for Margot’s book, Drawing Down the Moon. It was Margot’s vision of Paganism that made me want to be a Pagan. In her epilogue to Drawing Down the Moon, Margot discusses the figure of George Mylonas, director of the excavations at Eleusis, where the rites of the Eleusinian mysteries were held for some two thousand years. Margot concludes:
“Mylonas is, then, a potent symbol. We are all searching among the ruins. He is all of us who have admitted our spiritual impoverishment, hoping that objects, words, and inscriptions will give us clues to things that can be learned only through experience. What Mylonas (and most of us) have been denied is the experience of being ‘tricked’ into this initiatory process. We are forced to rely merely on our intellectual tools, which will not allow us to enter certain hidden chambers. The secret that Neo-Paganism seems to have begun to learn over the past ten years is this: If the methods for creating such experiences have been lost, the way to find them again is to create them again.” (from Drawing Down the Moon, emphasis added)
(Here is a link of Margot talking to NPR about being a Wiccan. And here she is talking to Unitarian Universalists about why she was a UU Pagan.) Last night, when the new moon set, I lit a candle for Margot and sang one of the chants Margot loved to sing:
Amazing Grace, how sweet the Earth that formed a Witch like me. I once was burned, but now I thrive, was hanged but now I sing. T’was grace that drew down the moon, and grace that raised the sea, the magic of the people’s will, will set our mother free.
(I know she will forgive my faltering voice.) I then poured a libation in Margot’s memory. I can think of no better was to conclude than with Margot’s own words on what death meant to her:
“My husband had what I would call the ‘high tech view of death’; it was to be avoided at all costs. He was a runner; he was in perfect health; he took various supplements and anti-oxidants. He drank a glass of wine for resveratrol, never smoked, was fit, and, unlike me, he never did any drugs in his youth. He thought he would live to be 100, preferably even older. A science journalist, he followed all the discoveries and advances of aging research. And he thought that when he did die, he might have his ashes flown up in space. His attitude was definitely, ‘rage, rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ “I, at that same moment, had more of an Earth-centered Pagan perspective. “We are all part of the life cycle. Like a seed we are born, we sprout; we grow, mature and decay, making room for future generations who, like seedlings are reborn through us. As for the persistence of consciousness, deep down, I thought, ‘How can we know?’ Perhaps we simply return to the elements; we become earth and air and fire and water. That seemed alright to me. In fact, I remember reading a book by the feminist author Barbara Walker, in which she said that the ancient meaning of the four elements was the way we went to die: we were left for carrion in the air, we were buried in the earth, we were burned on the pyre, and we were buried in the depths of the sea. That also seemed alright. Although, there was a part of me, deep down, that was on his wavelength and wanted to live forever.” (from a sermon given by Margot at the Judson Memorial Church)