Margot Adler 1946 – 2014

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 29, 2014 — 27 Comments

“I don’t believe in objectivity, but I do believe deeply in fairness.” – Margot Adler

The first time I met author and journalist Margot Adler in person, we were having lunch together at PantheaCon in San Jose, and she was showing me pictures of an Occupy protest that were on her iPad. It didn’t sink in at the time, but I later realized that she was generously acknowledging me as a part of her journalistic tribe. That she was sharing an emerging story she was excited about. During that weekend I wanted so much to transmit to her how important she was to me, to what I had become, but I didn’t really have the chance. On reflection, it seemed to me that for Margot the reward was doing the work, documenting her experiences, and sharing it with others.

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

Like many, I learned of Margot’s death yesterday morning, via Facebook.

“Old friends, long time fans, today at 4am Margot breathed easily for the first time in two weeks. Later today, at 10:30am she was pronounced deceased.

Her condition had been getting much worse over the weeks and months and the brain radiation (which she had a treatment of scheduled today, tomorrow, and wednesday) was thought to help her double vision, since it was the cause.

Well, Margot and John both won’t be seeing double anymore, but they will be seeing each other for the rest of time.

With much love and difficulty do I write this,

Her son, Alex”

Margot Adler was a noted journalist who worked for National Public Radio (NPR), and they have paid a moving tribute to their colleague.

“Margot once wrote in an e-mail that she absorbed the values of many of her colleagues in developing her own view of life – a belief, she said in a world without snark, of deep values, and that despite everything she’d experienced and encountered and covered, an abiding belief that people were basically good.”David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.

For almost every Pagan, former Pagan, or would-be Pagan, she will be largely remembered as the author of “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America.” It is truly hard to over-state the importance of Adler’s book, as it had a hand in shaping what many of us call “Pagan community” today. While Adler was not the first person to attempt an overview of the emerging groups of modern Pagans in America, her 1979 book was by far the best, the most read, and it helped catalyze the move towards a community/movement consciousness among the Pagans reading it. A largely small-group and regional assortment of religious adherents shifted towards a broader umbrella identity.

Margot Adler (author of "Drawing Down the Moon") and Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary sharing breakfast together.

Margot Adler and Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary sharing breakfast together.

“Blessings to Margot Adler in her journey to the realm of the Ancestors. She died this morning from cancer. Support to her son Alex, and to all of us mourning her passing. Margot and I were close friends since we first connected 36 years ago and had many adventures together, including conducting each others weddings and rooming together at PantheaCon. The world is a better place because of Margot. Let us remember and give thanks for Margot, her brilliant mind, her loving heart, her beautiful voice, her activism, her writings, her news reporting, her other works, her magic, her bright spirit. May we take comfort in knowing that she lives on in our memories, in the many people, organizations, endeavors she blessed. Hail & Farewell, Margot! We honor you, we remember you, we love you. Blessed Be.” - Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

“Drawing Down the Moon” was also important because Margot Adler was truly one of us. She was a member of The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), Covenant of the Goddess (COG), and other groups, she attended Pagan festivals, led workshops, and loved to lead Pagan chant sessions. She was not an outsider sampling our religious wares then making snarky asides during the book tour, she believed in our potential, loved us, flaws and all.

“Margot Adler was a brilliant, loving and passionate voice in Unitarian Universalist Paganism. As a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS), she stood for a democratically, inclusive organization that embodied Unitarian Universalist thinking and voices. She also brought to the denomination the joy of ritual, music and dance that celebrated our humanity, our place on the planet and our connections with the God/dess and Universal energies. Her voice, wit and liveliness will be missed deeply. We honor the gifts Margot brought to UUism and to CUUPS.” - Jerrie Hildebrand, Corporate Secretary, CUUPS

The last time I saw Margot Adler I said to her: there would be no Wild Hunt without your example, without your work, without your kindness in giving an emerging Pagan blog an interview back in 2006, and that I know you are fighting your cancer and are planning to win, but I’m truly thankful and didn’t want to miss this opportunity to tell you that. I didn’t think it would truly be the last time I would speak to her, but I’m glad I said those words, and I’m glad she attended the gathering for Pagan media practitioners that I co-hosted that year at PantheaCon so she could see how a journalist traveling the country, documenting an emerging religious movement could ripple out into a diverse and thriving ecosystem of Pagan media-makers.

“We are all part of the life cycle. Like a seed we are born, we sprout, we grow, we 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 all right to me.”Margot Adler

Margot Adler was a kind, generous, funny, talented, dedicated, and wickedly smart person. She gave us all so much. I have no definite answer regarding the persistence of consciousness either, but if she has simply returned to the elements, well, that seems all right with me too.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • TPW

    “You’re all in my downline.” That’s what she said to a group of 50-60 Pagans at a weekend event I was fortunate to attend a few years ago. And she was right: her book was the first recommended to me, and she helped shape me both as a Pagan and a journalist.

  • Michael Lloyd

    Margot Adler had an incisive intellect, and was naturally curious. This allowed her to burrow to the nub of a debate pretty darn quickly. These were useful traits when it came to her greatest contribution to Paganism in the US – “Drawing Down the Moon” (1979). Margot was prescient enough to begin documenting what the Pagan community in the US was doing long before the community itself recognized the need to preserve its own history. In doing so, she set the standard for future authors on this subject, including myself. Indeed, the first book on contemporary Paganism that I read (like many others) was DDTM. I counted Margot as both a friend and a mentor, and she will be sorely missed. Blessed be.

  • Courtney Weber

    This was a wonderful tribute, Jason. I’m thankful we had her work, I’m thankful we have her memory and legacy.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/paganswithdisabilities/ Tara “Masery” Miller

    I was in college when a religion professor gave me a copy of DDTM by Adler.I became a Pagan and I still have the book almost twenty years later.

  • Diotima Mantineia

    Great tribute, Jason. Thank you. I also just found this on the Huffington Post — they noted that she was a “pioneering Pagan activist” **in the headline**, and showed a photo of her clearly in ritual. I suspect that would have made her happy. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/28/margot-adler-dead-dies_n_5627883.html

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Margot Adler gave Unitarian Universalist Paganism a grand kick-off when she delivered the first-ever CUUPS Keynote Address in the late 1980s. She set the table for a Pagan perspective within UUism, which was then intramurally controversial, in a way that was impossible to dismiss as fringy or shallow. The whole UUP tradition is permanently in her debt for many reasons, with that speech near the top of the list.

  • http://entdinglichung.wordpress.com Entdinglichung

    Margot presente! … a chapter from her book “Heretic’s Heart” about her involvement in the 1964 Free Speech Movement at Berkeley can be found here: http://www.fsm-a.org/stacks/margo_adler.html

  • Pitch313

    Margot Adler was a founder of American Craft and Paganism. I had the good fortune to take part in a festival for which she was a key participant. She was warm, inquiring, open, honest, and rootedly Pagan. Filling out one of her questionaires probably linked me as strongly with America’s Pagan community as any meeting or membership. Drawing Down The Moon certainly shaped my journey through my own understanding and practice.

  • http://ianphanes.livejournal.com/ Ian Phanes

    “We believe that when the human life is over, the soul returns to trees, to air, to fire, to water,to animals, so that [Margot Adler] has simply returned to the life forces in another form.”

    • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

      “When we are gone they will remain… wind and rock, fire and rain”

  • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

    Margot was not only an exceptional person, she was an exemplary Pagan for many of us. Her presence on the national level with NPR as a Wiccan created pathways for others.

  • PegAloi

    Great piece, Jason.

  • Obsidia

    Jason, I love the quote you used to introduce this article, “I don’t believe in objectivity, but I do believe deeply in fairness.” What a woman! She is a great example to so many of us….to live in this world, to truly live, and to apply fairness to all she touched. Even vampires! ;-) Love to you, Margot….you are truly immortal!

  • Anna H.

    Thank you. This is beautifully written.

  • Gus diZerega

    A beautiful tribute for a beautiful soul.

  • Raksha38

    Ah, this loss hurts. Drawing Down the Moon was the first Pagan book I ever read when I was finally free to pursue my true beliefs. It gave me a lot to think about and made me feel, for the first time, that I wasn’t alone in my devotion to the old Gods (growing up in rural Wyoming is very isolating for a Pagan!). I will always be thankful for her work.

    May your Gods keep you close, Margot! What is remembered lives!

  • fyreflye

    Her book showed me that that experiences I never spoke of were shared by others. Her immeasurable influence continues today.

  • Verity

    Very well done, Jason. Very much from the heart. Margot Adler taught me that it doesn’t matter if someone worships a god or a cockroach or nothing at all – we’re all human and we can all love each other.

  • Karen Wheeler

    My heart skipped a beat before the words were said that she was gone from us.
    I will never forget her at the FPG at Beltane in 2009. She was in class with me for Thorn’s workshops and she was all over the place laughing and full of smiles and a childlike joy each and every glimpse of her. She was shopping at one of the venders early one morning and I saw her flitting amongst the dresses and such, while I sat in front of my tent sipping coffee. She all of a sudden came back into view in a bra and undies and snatched a different dress off a rack and another off a different one and ran back to the dressing room. Just a few moments glimpse of a simple action of a real woman who was just another happy face in the crowd for a lot of the weekend.
    It showed me how simple it is to stay grounded and strong in your core while still being this incredible and lovely being of grace and power.
    Later as she was on a panel of discussion with Thorn and many other leaders of the craft, she showed how supple her mind was and how fairly she really could extend her ideas out there into the world. She was totally grace in action in a sticky place as a few others tried to bait her into anger or whatever over things being discussed. She slowly turned to one person and grew two times larger as she quietly set them back on track. Awesome. I have been smitten with her simplicity and power since that lovely weekend.
    She will forever be on my Ancestors Altar right there with my own Mother and Father. I hope to hell to be half of what she was. Love you Margot.

  • fyreflye

    Here’s the well hidden away, snarky NY Times Obituary. Probably the first obit of a witch to appear in those august pages:

    Margot Adler, 68, Journalist and Priestess, Dies
    By MARGALIT FOX JULY 29, 2014

    Margot Adler, a longtime correspondent for NPR who was also a recognized authority on, and a longtime practitioner of, neo-pagan spiritualism, died on Monday at her home in Manhattan. She was 68.
    Her death, from cancer, was announced by NPR.
    Ms. Adler joined NPR, then known asNational Public Radio, in 1979 and was variously a general-assignment reporter, the New York bureau chief and a political and cultural correspondent.
    She was the host of NPR’s “Justice Talking,” a weekly program about public policy broadcast from 1999 to 2008, and was heard often on “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.”
    She reported on a wide array of subjects, among them the Ku Klux Klan, the AIDS epidemic, the 9/11 attacks,Hurricane Sandy, the Harry Potter phenomenon and the natural world.
    Ms. Adler was also a self-described Wiccan high priestess who adhered to the tradition for more than 40 years.
    She was the author of “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today” (1979), a book that both documented contemporary pagan movements and was credited with helping ignite heightened interest in them.
    Reviewing the volume in The New York Times Book Review, Richard Lingeman called it “a comprehensive account,” adding: “Given the lurid connotations the subject has acquired,” Ms. Adler’s book stood as “a healthy corrective.”
    The daughter of Kurt Alfred Adler and the former Freyda Nacque, Margot Susanna Adler was born on April 16, 1946, in Little Rock, Ark., and reared on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
    Her father was a psychiatrist who helped continue the work of his father, the distinguished Viennese psychiatrist Alfred Adler, who was first an ally and later an ideological adversary of Freud.
    Ms. Adler graduated from the High School of Music and Art and enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was active in the free speech, civil rights and antiwar movements.

    After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Berkeley, she received a master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. In 1982, she was a Nieman fellow at Harvard.
    Before joining NPR, Ms. Adler was affiliated with WBAI in New York, serving as the original host of “Hour of the Wolf,” a show exploring the work of noted science fiction writers. The show has been hosted by Jim Freund since 1974.
    Ms. Adler’s husband, John Lowell Gliedman, a psychologist, computer consultant and science writer whom she married in 1988, died in 2010. Survivors include their son, Alex Dylan Gliedman-Adler.
    Her other books include “Vampires Are Us: Understanding Our Love Affair With the Immortal Dark Side,” published this year, and a 1997 memoir,“Heretic’s Heart: A Journey Through Spirit & Revolution.”
    Ms. Adler was drawn to neo-paganism in the early ’70s, she said, because its invocation of ancient goddesses appealed to her feminism and its ecological concerns resonated with her love of nature.
    In her sprawling apartment, on Central Park West, shemaintained a pagan shrine in her bedroom and had formerly helped lead “a small coven” in the living room, The Times reported in 1991.
    Though witchcraft was for Ms. Adler a serious endeavor, it also furnished an outlet for her constitutional puckish humor. To report a Halloween piece for NPR, she once outfitted herself with vampire teeth and took to the microphone.
    She drew the line, however, at the rustic, gnarled-handled broom she kept in her kitchen. In 1991, when a reporter from The Times visited her apartment, Ms. Adler declared in no uncertain terms that she was not to be photographed alongside it.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I see they couldn’t resist the appellation “self-described.” Sheesh!!

    • Anne Agard

      I wrote this to the New York Times:

      <>

      • Anne Agard

        Sorry, it didn’t copy and paste very well.

  • NeoWayland

    “Fare thee well” is the only thing I can think to say.

    And it is not nearly enough.

  • fvrnite7537

    Merry Part to a wonderful woman. I fee sadness at her passing, and also annoyance at a ” Christian” who disses her on his blog, http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Bob-Larson–Did-You-Buy-a-Witch-.html?soid=1101641219446&aid=xk_wQBk5jbE

  • fvrnite7537

    Margot’s DDTM was the first modern book on Paganism I read that convinced me that Wicca and other forms of Paganism are alive and well and are valid religious paths. When I first became a self-described WIccan in 1979, I was in a rural area south of the Mason-Dixon Line and did not know anyone who was a Pagan, much less a Wiccan. The books I did have ( this was before the internet) were the books of the late sixties and early seventies, including Gardner’s book and a few by Sybil Leek, plus the usual ” spell” books of the era. I had thought that Wicca as just a hippie type fad until Adler’s book showed me Paganism is alive and growing. I cannot thank her enough for that book alone , much less her excellent reporting while she was at NPR. There is much to admire about her and I have no doubt she will be remembered decades hence.

    Be at Peace, Lady Margot.

  • La Forza

    I just miss her… for 3 almost 4 years I have sung for her every morning… giving her the spell of living well, breathing well, whatever she needed. Now, its just songs to express my grief. Its been a very hard week.