No Man Is an Island: Remembering Dwayne Sortor

No Man Is an Island: Remembering Dwayne Sortor April 5, 2020

      No man is an island entire of itself; every man

      is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
      if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
      is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
      well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
      own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
      because I am involved in mankind.
      And therefore never send to know for whom
      the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
            -John Donne

I was indifferent student in both high school and college. I excelled at the subjects that interested me, and mostly ignored the subjects I didn’t care about or struggled with (math). I didn’t learn as much as I should have in my more formative years, but there are lessons and passages that have stuck with me, most of those coming from literature and history. The advice of John Donne is more cliche today than a torch shining in the darkness, but they are words I continually circle back to.

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is . . . a part of the main . . . any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”

When thinking of Dunne’s advice I often ponder another piece of wisdom, one written centuries after Donne’s death and for the cinema. It’s a Wonderful Life is a bigger cliche today than “no man is an island,” a movie that’s somehow become a Christmas Classic simply because its last scenes take place on December 24. But It’s a Wonderful Life is not really about Christmas, or even charity, its biggest lesson is that everyone is a piece of the continent, a part of the main:

Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

Our lives are a series of ripples, each ripple affecting the waters around it. Our actions have consequences, the small things we do full of repercussions. Who we are as people are the sum total of all of our experiences, and many of those larger experiences are our interactions with others. One does not need to be well known or famous for their ripples to touch and change the lives of others for the better.

Dwayne and I at Lake Superior in 1998.

In April of 1996, through the pages of Green Egg magazine no less, I met Dwayne Arthur Sortor (1968-2020). Dwyane was the first practicing Pagan I had ever really met, later he would be the first person I ever did ritual with, led ritual with, talked about Paganism with, and later wrote stuff with. Dwayne is one of those people whose life had large ripples, and it is not hyperbole to say that this blog, the books I’ve written, and pretty much my life as I know it today, would not exist if not for Dwayne.

Our first meeting took place in a coffee shop, set up through letters and one (landline) phone-call. Dwayne gave me no description of himself, and every time someone walked into the cafe I wondered if they were Dwayne. Finally a mountain of a man sporting a pierced septum and a mohawk walked in, it was Dwayne. The look did not seem to really match the man, Dwayne was open and kind with a hearty laugh and an absolute love for his wife Marie and his daughter Laura. We had a nice conversation, and then he informed me that he would be heading up to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for the Summer (we were both college age brats, mostly) but that he would write over the Summer and we would hang out again in the Fall.

To say that we “hung out” again that Autumn would be an understatement. We were pretty close to inseperable for the next few years. That September we presented an open Wiccan ritual at a local psychic fair. Not only was it the first public ritual I had ever had a hand in leading, it was also the first public ritual I had ever been to. In ritual Dwayne had a huge presence, but didn’t say all that much, and he didn’t need to. When it came time to dismiss a quarter he’d approach his cardinal point, say nothing, and then press his handmade wooden athame into the candle’s wick, snuffing out the flame and coating his knife with wax. It’s still the coolest fucking quarter dismissal I’ve ever seen.

I had no business writing anything in 1996, let alone stuff about Paganism and Witchcraft, but for some reason Dwayne and I started publishing a local Lansing Michigan ‘zine called The Wiccan Read. The internet existed in 1996, but it was still the age of the zine, and our first issue was, well, awful. Neither of us knew anything about laying out a magazine (though Dwayne could actually write, me not so much), but somehow we sold 30 copies and even received a few letters.

Dwayne and I worked on that (damn) magazine for the next five years or so, eventually recruiting our amazing friend Maggie to do the layout for it and make it a lot more presentable. Sometimes I look back at those years and find them rather embarrassing, but in truth, they really were some of the best years of my life. We had fun, we laughed a lot, and we were proud of the work we did. I’m not sure I want any of you reading our work from twenty-plus years ago, but at the time it felt like we were doing something big, something important.

In the Fall of 1996 some exceptionally forward thinking young women started a Pagan student group (Green Spiral) on the campus of Michigan State University. I missed the first meeting, but Dwayne was there and dutifully wrote me a letter about it afterwards. I think to both of us community was important, and this was a way to be involved in the greater Pagan Community. That involvement was something Dwayne kept up with until right before he passed this past week, on April 1. The way people constantly come and go from our community, it’s quite an achievement to be in the same place doing the same self-less things for over twenty-five years.

Over the years the closeness that Dwayne and I shared early on began to dissipate. There was no anger or hurt feelings, or anything of that nature, our paths just diverged a little bit. When we started we were both practicing Wicca in some way or another. Dwayne’s interests were always too large to settle down with any one spiritual pursuit, while Wicca mostly dominated my life.

Dwayne was also a married man when I met him, and eventually the father of three. I was incapable of relationships lasting longer than three months and could barely take care of my cat. In my 40’s and even 30’s those waters would have become more easily navigable, but as a self-absorbed 20-something I had trouble handling them. As I write this I’m full of regret for not trying harder, for not doing more, for not being more available. There were still moments when it felt like it had in 1997, we’d share a conversation and a beer and find ourselves in old familiar roles: Dwayne the shaman Viking and Jason the wanna-be hippy Witch. (Over my shoulder I can hear Dwayne laughing at me, that laugh will always be with me.)

In many ways Dwayne has always been with me, whether he realized it or not. Dwayne was an exceedingly generous person, either gifting handmade objects or sharing some of the cool tools he had picked up over the years. For Yule one year he gave me an old sword that had been in his family for several decades, I’ve been using that sword in ritual now for twenty years, and for the last nine years it has been the sword in our coven. Dwayne was also a fine artisan, and the penis-shaped wand he made for me in the Upper Peninsula still sits my on altar and gets used today. The last few days I’ve held both items in my hands just to feel a bit of the energy of my oldest Pagan friend.

Dwayne will best be remembered for being a caring father (and grandfather), a devoted husband, and a steadfast friend. He was also involved in labor issues, continued to write, and even raised chickens. But the ripples that he generated will also be felt in the Pagan world for years, decades, and perhaps centuries to come. He touched thousands of lives, and through those lives, touched tens of thousands more. Continue to be strong my friend. Hail the Mighty Dead.


Note: It’s interesting how few pictures I have of my friends from the pre-cellphone era. I’m thankful that Ari was always cognizant that we should take at least a few pictures now and again.

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