Michael Wiggins, a pillar of the Michigan Pagan community, passed away on the morning of May 4, after suffering a sudden heart attack. Michael was not only the “face of ConVocation” and president of the Magickal Education Council, but also a well-respected artist, dancer, entrepreneur, and visionary.
On June 13, 1965, Michael John Wiggins was born “Guilain Michael Palmateer” to Donald and Alyce Wiggins. He was baptized in a local Catholic church and later given a Wiccaning within his mother’s own coven. Family friend Sue Wert remembered him as being “a little and lovable kid, always sharing smiles and hugs.”
Michael grew up in Highland Park and Hazel Park, both suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He attended Hazel Park High School, where he was introduced to theater, dance and marching band. This ignited a creative spark that never burned out.
After graduating in 1983, Michael went on to study music, performance, and theology at Finlandia University in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In 1986, he earned his associate’s degree and went on to a long successful career in the arts. Sue Wert wrote, “My biggest memory was when you said this was your life and you would live it as you wished. You did just that.”
While still in school, Michael began working for Arthur Murray Dance Studios. He fell in love with dance and, as a result, it became the focus of his career. Since 2000, he was a principal dancer with the company Dance Thru History (The Madam Cadillac Dance Theater and The Detroit Renaissance Dancers). The troupe performs 16th-19th century French and English court dances at museums, schools and historical reenactments around the country. Over that time, Michael was also a choreographer and instructor.
In addition to dancing, Michael became increasingly active in Detroit’s Pagan community. He had grown up with Wicca due to his mother’s own practice and the community as a whole was not foreign to him. In 2013, wife Cindy Wiggins said that he had always kept up with his “involvement in the Pagan community […] in different facets: co-leading a private teaching group for friends and children of friends; attending ‘Meet Your Local Witch’ nights at the long-gone Lavender Moon Cafe.”
But Michael is most known for his involvement in ConVocation. He first joined the event’s security team in 1997. The following year, he volunteered to be the Magickal Education Council’s public relations officer. In 2000, he was named its president, a position that he held until 2014. In a tribute, M.E.C’s Board said, “As a board member and longest sitting president of the Magical Education Council [Michael] was afforded the opportunity to shape the development of a community he loved deeply. It was an opportunity he made the most of. The institutions he helped to build will continue to inspire generations of seekers yet to come.”
In 2013, Michael was honored as Detroit’s Pagan of the Year, an award given to the “person or group that has done the most to influence events and who best serves as an advocate for the Pagans of Michigan.”
In addition to community service and a dedication to dance, Michael was also the creator of other artistic and theatrical ventures. He was the owner of the Phoenix Cafe art and music venue in Hazel Park. And, he is the founder of the Steamtopia and Up in the Aether conventions. Just as Michael was instrumental in helping to strengthen the local Pagan community, he was also instrumental in bringing together Detroit’s steampunk community. In a Facebook post, Guy Cox explained, “After the first World Steam Expo, [Michael and DJ Tom Downey] started holding monthly dance parties at the Phoenix in Hazel Park. It was these events that brought all of the unique individuals in the Detroit area together. These events lasted several years and the people from there (myself included) helped support and encourage the creation of Capitol Steam and other Michigan steampunk groups. Without Michael, there is a good chance none of us would know each other.”
Of himself, Michael said that he was always interested in and involved in community and human interaction. He wrote, “With Detroit’s economy being where it is, there is a special value to the many community centers and creative collectives […] that have sprung up […] As money has run out, society has been more able to refocus its attention on something that it can’t always buy in the first place: connection. Connection to ourselves and to others is the substance of life, the deepest measure of success that especially reveals itself when the material measures, such as money and possessions, either run dry or lose their luster.” Through his work, Michael attempted to create these bonds, and to “help refocus our potential for connection in all its forms.”
It was announced May 4 that Michael had unexpectedly died of a heart attack, leaving many people throughout the Detroit area shocked at the sudden loss of a respected leader, teacher, dancer, friend and family member. The M.E.C. Board wrote:
It is an impossible task to encapsulate the entirety of a life in a few sentences, especially if lived well. To attempt to do so with the life of Michael Wiggins would be an exercise in futility. The man we know was a loving father and husband, stalwart friend, artist, dancer, singer, motivational speaker and a dedicated leader of our community. His works speak volumes about the degree of change he inspired in everyone who knew him. […] Losing him is something none of us will recover from quickly and so we mourn his passing while we honor his motto “The Show Must Go On.” He is and will continue to be missed.
In a blog post, Detroit native Kenya Coviak said, “Michael was a truly beautiful soul. A witty conversationalist, one evening, I had the privilege of hearing a little about his story as a young boy growing up in ’60s Detroit. You never knew what insight you would get, but it was always something thoughtful and surprising. His wisdom helped shape a vision of what greatness and beauty that can be ours if we grasp it. It sustains those of us who knew him.”
Oberon Osiris, another longtime member of Michigan’s Pagan community, said, “Michael came to the community during a time of great change and brought cohesion, stability, humor and common sense to it. He was the face of Convocation for years and always ready and there for anyone.”
Michael’s cousin and a fellow MEC Board member Claudine Durham started a GoFundMe campaign at the request of both the Pagan and steampunk communities. All raised funds will be used to offset the expenses associated with Michael’s memorial and funeral services. Durham wrote, “Michael was a pillar in the community and was loved by many and respected by all. Even though this is a great shock and loss I know from the amount of requests already in the early hours that we need to help in any way we can. […] We ask that you keep the family in your thoughts and hearts and remember that with each person Michael touched, a part of him lives on in our stories and memories.”
To date, the fund has raised $7,191 with a goal of $10,000, a figure that’s been changed twice already after donors met and exceeded the first two goals. This outpouring of support speaks to Michael’s reputation within the various communities that he has served. In a note attached to its donation, Michigan Pagan Fest said, “Remember him with smiles and laughter for that’s the way he’ll remember you.”
Michael Wiggins lived a life out loud, dancing and creating in ways that he loved. He shared that vibrant spirit with all those around him, through his own art, his teachings, and his unique ability to make creative connections and bring people together. As he told Sue Wert many years ago, this was his life, and he would live it as he wished. And the Detroit community and all of those people he has touched are better for it.
What is remembered, lives.