Pagans having two names can have some amusing consequences. How often do you tend to know someone’s mundane name or magical name, but not both? You know who Nightfire is but swear you’ve never met Michael, not knowing they are the same person. I recently had an experience like that.
Lord Athanor is one of those elder names I hear a lot when speaking to folks from my tradition. We’ve got a boatload of elders and countless names from the history of Paganism in Atlanta. I’ve never met most of these people, partly because I’m a hermit by nature and partly because many have already passed. So when I heard he passed it didn’t ring any bells for me.
In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that the news of his passing annoyed me. I’ve written a few trad Craft obits in my time, and almost without fail I was stonewalled in my attempts to get basic info, given grief for what I did write, and generally the whole process was a personal nightmare. After the passing of Lord Merlin last September I swore I wouldn’t touch an obit again. The trad Craft community didn’t seem to care whether a timely and appropriate notice was posted online so that those who had known the deceased across the country would be notified, and those that didn’t would learn a bit about our history.
Most of the elders who are passing now are veterans of the Witch Wars of the 70’s (and 80’s and 90’s) and have boatloads of baggage with them. There are still Witches nurturing grudges that are 30 and 40 years old. When one of these elders pass you either have people refuse to speak since they feel they have nothing good to say, or people anxious to share every sordid detail, every rumor and every crumb of secondhand gossip. In an overreaction to this, friends of the departed elder often write florid obits that lack even the most basic information. Write something that someone disagrees with in the slightest and you’ll find all the angst of the past heaped on your doorstep. It’s a sorry state to be in, and it’s the reason why when the HP who initiated me told me of Lord Athanor’s passing, my immediate irritated response was that I wasn’t writing an obit.
Yet Lord Athanor wasn’t some distant elder who I was entirely unaware of. It was only after his passing that I discovered that I knew who he was. I have been “Facebook friends” with his son Adrian for a long time, and I’d been following the updates regarding his health, sending energy and prayers. The John Monogue whose health I had been concerned about, and whose son I had come to think well of, was the very same elder I had dismissed earlier. I felt pretty ashamed of myself.
Thankfully, this revelation was followed quickly with the news that his family and students had already published an obit, published info for his memorial service and revealed plans to honor his memory. Maybe it wasn’t a carbon copy of a mundane obit, but it was timely, gave the pertinent facts and said something nice about the deceased. It’s a good obit, and gave other writers info for their tributes to Lord Athanor. It makes me feel a tiny twinge less guilty for my initial reaction to his passing.
This timely and appropriate response to Lord Athanor’s passing speaks well of him, his family and his students. This is how it’s supposed to be done. I should hope that every elder in our community should receive such a timely and respectful response to their passing.
Every elder that passes takes a universe of knowledge, stories and experience with them, and they also take our history. There are few Pagans in Atlanta today that remember the 60’s and 70’s, and maybe a scant few more that were active in the early 80’s. The Unicorn and Ravenwood traditions became the grand dames of the Atlanta Pagan community, surviving for decades and still going strong today. Not many people are left who remember when they were new, fledgling groups trying to find their way. Often when people try to talk about the past, they try to dredge up the dirt, but the truth is there are stories that will make you laugh, that will inspire you, and that are sober, cautionary tales. And those are the ones that are most worth saving, not the catty ones.
I wish Lord Athanor rest, reunion and rebirth. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and the members of his tradition. I hope his memorial service is full of the good stories. We need more of those.