Archives For Drawing Down the Moon

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“I didn’t really set out to be a priestess for a living . . . that’s what happened.”  — Selena Fox

Indeed, that’s what happened. Selena Fox is the High Priestess for Life at Circle Sanctuary, a legally recognized Shamanic Wiccan church that will be marking its 40th year this Samhain, October 31 and is celebrating with events and online reflections all month. The Wild Hunt spoke with Reverend Fox and several longtime members of Circle, as it is alternatively known, to get a sense of what Paganism looked like in 1974, and how Circle Sanctuary has participated in its evolution.

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle Sanctuary logo

Circle is aptly named, as circles are particularly significant in Wiccan theology, serving as both the border of sacred space and a metaphor for the repeating cycles of life. Over the past four decades, the group has focused a lot of its energy on the beginnings and endings of life. Its Lady Liberty League was instrumental in efforts to get the pentacle approved as a religious symbol on military headstones; the group’s retreat center now includes a Pagan cemetery; and Reverend Fox has performed dozens of baby blessings, including one for this reporter’s long-since-grown stepson. The church’s calendar begins each year at Samhain, around which time some of the most significant milestones in its history tend to congregate.

In late October 1974, Fox “had a vision of starting Circle Sanctuary, the name and logo came to me, as well as the concept of having a rurally-based center that would help humans of different nature religion paths connect with each other, as well as the circle of nature of which we are all a part.”

Before the explosion of online social media, Paganism was a very different group of religions. How diverse the religions were under the Pagan umbrella is difficult to say. Solitary practitioners were very isolated, while some people practiced together in circles, covens, and groves. In the days before Drawing Down the Moon and The Spiral Dance, books were rare and publications, such as Green Egg, were the best source of knowledge. Fox had been traveling and working with Pagans around the country, “but it was not very public,” she recalled.

CIRCLE Magazine's incarnations over time

CIRCLE Magazine’s incarnations over time

With a vision clear in her mind, Fox put an ad in the Witches’ Almanac, inviting like-minded individuals to write to her at a Madison, Wisconsin post office box. From those early responses she formed a core group that rented some land and lived together. Networking locally wasn’t quite enough to satisfy her desire to connect across traditions.

So Circle began publishing a two-sided, typewritten newsletter and, together with her partner at the time Jim Alan, Fox became one of the earliest traveling Pagan musicians in the United States. She said:

Now it’s common for Pagan musicians to travel, and for there to be festivals, but in the 70s there was not much in the way of face-to-face communication across traditions. We felt called to do that.

There were other calls, as well, and other things for which Circle found itself at the forefront. Fox’s chants became a songbook, for which there was an incredible demand. They experimented with radio and television before most other Pagan groups, and still produce podcasts today.

First edition of Circle Guide

First edition of Circle Guide

But 1979 was the year that Paganism in general — and Fox in particular — got pulled into the public spotlight. It was the year that Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon was published on the east coast, and Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance was released in the west. Circle began putting out the Circle Guide to Wicca & Pagan Resources to help Pagans find each other. It was also the year that Time magazine set out to write about Paganism for its religion page, which was a significant departure for the staid publication. To that end, Time staffers went to the Pan Pagan Festival in Indiana to learn more.

“I happened to be doing a handfasting, and that got their attention,” Fox said. “Maybe it was the broom.” A picture of Fox, holding the broom aloft, accompanied the Time piece on Paganism, and led to her being “bombarded with media requests,” including an interview in People magazine. The coverage was largely positive, and “really positive things came out of it.”

While the seventies were a time of change, no change comes easy. After four years in the same place “with no problems,” Circle’s landlord decided to evict the group due to the media interest. The eviction came from the sheriff right after Samhain, and they were faced with finding a new place with the Wisconsin winter looming before them.

With her typical optimism, Fox explained what went through their minds when dealing with the big pile of lemons that life had dealt them. She said, “Sometimes, you really just have to make lemonade. We found an opportunity to rent month-to-month, and we moved up the timetable to buy our own land.”

CSNP Prairie, Barn, House overviewAcquiring land for Pagan use was also a new idea. But in 1980 Circle Network News evolved from a two-page newsletter to a newspaper, and carried in it the announcement of the ambitious project. The network of Pagans, who had been corresponding through Circle’s network and meeting at the occasional festival, responded with half-throated support. “There were a lot of different opinions about that,” Fox said. A vocal portion of the Pagan community raised concerns about adopting an institutional model. Circle had incorporated as a church just two years earlier, and acquiring land raised a red flag for some. But several years later, in time for Samhain 1983, those who supported the idea had their way, and the land, destined to be the Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, was bought by the organization.

Circle Sanctuary bought their land in 1983, and by doing that Circle transformed the community and their organization: people put down roots here, and some portion of the organizational energy flow shifted toward maintenance and stewardship of the land. That exerted a powerful stabilizing influence.– Bob Paxton, a 20+ year Circle member

That stabilizing influence allowed the organization to start focusing on helping people whose problems stemmed from being Pagan. “It does help to have some kind of institution when you’re fighting for Pagan rights,” Fox explained. The land allowed Circle to ramp up holding festivals of its own, such as Pagan Spirit Gathering, and use those events to fund other activities, which included public education and assistance for those being discriminated against.

That work was increasingly needed as this was the time when the United States was gripped by a “Satanic panic.” In Fox’s mind, it also led to what happened next. But the events she described are complex, so it’s not easy to draw clear lines of cause and effect.

  • 1983:  Circle members began remodeling buildings on their new property, including the conversion of a barn into the church’s headquarters. “In the 1980s, people were running businesses and non-profits out of barns . . . it seemed to be common practice,” Fox said.
  • 1984: A zoning administrator from the county came by to inquire into the work being done. “He starts asking questions, So I ask him some back,” Fox recalled, such as, “Are you asking people having boy scout meetings in their homes?” She adds, “I was polite, but it was really clear somebody was opposed to us having a Pagan center on that land. The administator couldn’t find anything to charge us with, so we did not hear for awhile.”
  • 1985: Circle applied for — and received — the necessary permits to do additional work, to remodel part of an old, historic barn into offices. “We had no building inspectors in that rural area back then, and started remodeling,” Fox said.
  • 1985: In September, three amendments were circulating through Congress with the aim of stripping tax-exempt status from organizations that “promote witchcraft.” One of these was attached to a tax-reform bill by unanimous voice vote of the Senate. Originally introduced by North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms to an appropriations bill for the postal service, the bill got the attention of many Pagans including those in Circle. “We got very involved in battling that,” Fox said. “We sent out thousands of fliers, urging people to contact their congress people about this.”
  • 1985: Just in time for Samhain, the amendment was laid aside in joint conference, having been deemed “not germane” to the bill.
  • 1986Local zoning officials sent Circle a notice of violations that could result in fines of a hundred dollars a day. In Fox’s words, “The zoning wars began. We got an attorney, went to the first meeting, which should have been a discussion of traffic patterns and sound, but it wasn’t — it was about religion. Government officials were attacking our religion in a government meeting. The room was packed with people riled up and concerned.” She later learned that much of that concern came from an earlier meeting, held without notice in violation of open meeting laws. In that meeting, attendees were shown a Geraldo Rivera special about Satanic crime in America, spliced in with some footage of Fox on the Phil Donahue and Today shows.
  • 1987 An “intense religious battle” continued to be waged with the press reporting on discrimination, while Circle Sanctuary was subjected to trespassing and threats of violence and death. Reverend Fox called this: “close encounters of a problematic kind.”
  • 1988:  The “zoning wars” ended when Circle Sanctuary received the church zoning designation that local officials had said it needed. Fox attributes the success in large part to the network of Pagans and others who rallied to support the church. But, in the end, the ACLU attorney working on the church’s behalf was able to secure a settlement without going to court, “when [local officials] realized we knew they were doing illegal things.”

Whether the “zoning wars” were directly connected to the fight against the Helms amendment can’t be corroborated either way, but it felt that way to Fox. That time was also a test for the nascent Lady Liberty League, which Circle had formed in the wake of that federal fight to defend Pagan rights. “In its earliest days, it was involved in our own Pagan rights cause,” Fox said.

The reason the land purchase was, and still is, so important to Circle’s success, is because it established a place where shared activities could occur and collaborative activities could occur. Over the many years I have been involved with Circle, it has become plain to me that people working together on projects, helps people form bonds. The more passionate people are about the work and the results of the work, the stronger the bonds. Wherever I go now, that is one of my primary mantras; collaborate together on projects that deliver real consequences in our own lives and to the benefit of the many outside of our own selves. — Nicholas Sea, Circle member since the 1970s

The first Pagan-Christian VA marker was placed in 2007.

The first Pagan-Christian VA marker was placed in 2007.

The years since have been perhaps less turbulent, but no less active for Circle Sanctuary. Its cemetery project began in 1995, after the land was paid off, and now has about 25 people interred on the grounds. Lady Liberty League led the charge to get pentacles onto military headstones to honor the Wiccan fallen. Although Fox’s role is enshrined in the by-laws, the organization includes its members in decision making. It recently completed developing a strategic plan that sought input from all community members, and is now surveying users of its lands for their input into the nature preserve’s future.

And Circle is active in interfaith dialogue, including that which takes place within Paganism. “Our world is not a monoculture,” Fox said, “and neither is Paganism. It’s a beautiful diversity. Everyone can be enriched by being part of a larger community. We do have to problem solve around issues having to do with language in different traditions, there are some challenges  but it’s still a really exciting thing.”

Rev. Selena Fox may not have set out to be a full-time priestess, but as High Priestess for Life at Circle Sanctuary, Selena Fox has had close encounters of the historic kind. For four decades, Paganism has unfolded around this organization, much of which is not included in this remembrance. On Oct 22, Circle Sanctuary will have a call-in radio show celebrating its anniversary, providing another opportunity for interested readers to hear more of Circle’s story.

“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.

[I’m away at the Florida Pagan Gathering, and won’t return to normal blogging activity until November 10th. In the meantime, I’m presenting some of my favorite posts to tide you over, consider it a “greatest hits” of The Wild Hunt. Today, I’m re-printing an interview I did with ground-breaking Pagan author and journalist Margot Adler. Done way back in 2006, it was this blog’s first foray into doing regular long-form interviews with figures of note within the Pagan community, and I couldn’t have been more honored than to have the subject be the author of “Drawing Down the Moon”.]

The beginning of this month saw the publication of the third revised and updated edition of one the classic books on modern Paganism “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America” by journalist Margot Adler. Originally published in 1979, “Drawing Down the Moon” was the first extensive look at the growing modern Pagan community, and has since become a touchstone for modern Pagans, academics hoping to understand our communities, and those outside our faiths curious about our motivations and worldviews. I was lucky enough to conduct a short interview with Adler via e-mail about the new edition of the book and her current views on modern Paganism.

Margot Adler

This is the third revised and updated edition of your seminal book “Drawing Down the Moon”. Do you think there will come a point where you will no longer desire to update and revise the work? Is this a life-work or do you think you’ll come to a point where the book is “finished” and you won’t feel the need to do more revisions or updates.

When I first wrote Drawing Down the Moon, I had no idea that it would become the main history of Paganism in the United States, and continue to be regarded as such a resource. The first serious revision which was done in 1985 and was published in 1986 was necessary because the movement had changed so much due to the festival phenomenon, the emergence of new groups like the radical faeries Now, it seemed necessary to revise again because the movement has probably tripled or even quadrupled in size; some festivals are huge; the movement has mainstreamed and opened itself to families and children. Also, the internet has brought huge changes to the movement. There are probably more than 5000 Pagan websites and there are people who come to Paganism completely through the internet, for good and bad. I could go on and on. So, I have no idea if this will be the last update or not. What might happen is that in a few years I will put out a new resource guide as I did in 97, with no other changes.

Despite the explosion of Pagan publishing since 1979, your work is still pretty unique. Did you expect the book to remain so important to our communities (and to outsiders looking in), and do you think with the growth of modern Paganism that such a work like “Drawing Down” would even be possible in today’s communities?

As I said, I never expected the book to have, as it were, a movement behind it to fuel its success. I do think it would be possible to do a completely new book today, but it would take even more time than my original work took, and that was three years. And remember that was the 70’s. You could actually live on a $7500 advance with a part time job. That would be impossible today. So the book could be written today, but it would be much harder to survive and do it.

One area that receives a sizeable update is reconstructionism. How have your feelings changed about religions like Asatru? Do you have much contact with other reconstructionist faiths like the Celtic, Hellenic, and Kemetic reconstructionist communities? What role do you think such movements play in the larger modern Pagan context?

My feelings have changed about Northern European Paganism, or Heathenism, including Asatru. I started with a pretty negative view about it, stressing the groups that were racist and so forth. But I have really come to see the movement as incredibly diverse, and growing! I have met Heathens from all kinds of ethnic origins, and gay Heathens. Heathenism is incredibly complex, with different strains philosophies, and shamanic practices. As for Hellenic Paganism, remember that was my first love, and is still really the deep Paganism of my heart. If Wicca hadn’t been the only thing in my back yard in 1971 and 1972, I would have ended up in a Greco-Pagan group, if such had been available. I have had very limited encounters with Kemetic groups, only a few contacts, so far.

You have listed yourself as not only a Pagan, but as a Unitarian-Universalist. Your book “Drawing Down the Moon” is listed in the Unitarian Universalist Association Ministerial Fellowship Committee Reading List (and is in fact the only book on modern Paganism in that list), and Pagan and “Earth-Centered” spiritualities make up around 20% of the UUA. What role do you see congregational religion playing in modern Paganism? Is our involvement with bodies like the UUA a positive thing? Where do you see that relationship developing?

I became a Unitarian-Universalist through the back door as it were. I was put on the board of CUUPS, the Pagan UU organization, and then from there sort of joined a church, and even was a delegate a couple of times to their General Assembly. But I am not a church goer, I may go to my local UU church a couple times a year at most. I mainly associated myself with the organization to fight for the sixth source, to have earth-based spirituality included as an important part of Unitarian-Universalism, and that fight was won. But I am not an organization type. I think having a congregational part of Paganism is mostly very good, particularly for people in small communities where Paganism is still in the closet; it provides a respectable cover for feminist spirituality, men’s spirituality, rituals, etc.

Are there trends and movements within modern Paganism that you wish you could have added to the updated edition of “Drawing Down” but couldn’t due to time or space constraints?

I think I did pretty well on some of trends, particularly on the changes in festivals which I think are huge… Some festivals are now so large, and there is so much new music and ritual, that we are fragmenting a bit which is complex. Once everyone knew the same chants, that’s impossible now. If I had had more time I would have expanded some of the sections, included more traditions and visited more festivals and groups to get a sense of what is new. And the 300 groups, festivals and newsletters in my resource guide would have been more than 600.

What are your current frustrations with the modern Paganism movement? What one piece of constructive criticism would you give our communities today? Have your frustrations changed over the last 30 years or are many of them the same?

Actually, many of my frustrations with Paganism are the same as always. Isaac Bonewits once said that the basic principles of a polytheistic outlook make certain abuses less common, but it doesn’t mean they don’t happen. I still find egos, guruism, arbitrary rules, “by the book” attitudes in a religion that is supposed to be in contrast to the religions of the book, and so forth. On the other hand, Paganism now has real leaders, people who are doing real work to heal the planet, real nature sanctuaries, seminaries, charitable organizations, and that was much less true when I started out. Also, the large Pagan organizations – places like Circle, EarthSpirit, that is something no one anticipated when all of us thought entirely of circles, covens and groves. There are now people who come into Paganism through these organizations, that is a new difference.

Which voices within modern Paganism today do you feel are shining a light towards our future? Who are we not listening to that we should?

I really don’t know how to answer this. I think we are beginning to have real elders, people who have been in this movement for 40 years, and some of them have real wisdom to impart. Then there are young people, often the third generation and second generation Pagans are a really interesting phenomenon, and some of them are dynamite!!!! I also love that there are actually books that are deeper than mine at this point…I started out when there were few books around, except for Murray, Gardner, Graves, Lethbridge, Justine Glass, and a few others. “Triumph of the Moon” is utterly brilliant! I think we have to keep true to the anti-authoritarian, pluralistic spirit at the heart of contemporary Pagansim. It is truly an antidote to the authoritarian religions of our time.

Do you think you’ll ever write another book on Paganism, or do you feel that “Drawing Down” is your definitive statement and contribution?

I might well write a totally different kind of book on Paganism. But first I have to stop being a wage slave and get my 10th grader into and through college.

Since the first edition of “Drawing Down” academic works about(and by)Pagans have expanded considerably. Do you keep up much with current scholarship within Paganism? If so, what works have impressed you?

Triumph of the Moon by Hutton, some of Chas Clifton’s works, there are many works I like that are recent, including “Witching Culture” by Magliocco and “Coming to the Edge of the Circle,” by Bado-Fralick, in fact my bibliography is about double the size it was last time. But Triumph is my favorite book.

Where do you see yourself within the world of modern Paganism? How has that conception changed since 1979? As one of the most “famous” modern Pagans, what role do you envision for yourself in the years to come?

Heavens! I don’t have a clue! I hope to keep a bit of humor and humility, and tell people that this is a hugely important movement for changing the world and ourselves but that doesn’t mean we should take ourselves overly seriously. I think some of the things I emphasize in speeches, that the sacred is in the hear and now, that you don’t have to die to “get the good stuff,” that everyone’s ancestors way, way back were Pagan, and that every person in the U.S. had their ancient traditions torn from them, whether through slavery, colonialism or by assimilation, and that it is possible to combine ecstasy and rationality, body and mind, and that reality is like a jewel, more paths mean a richer deeper reality, those are the kinds of things I have always emphasized and continue to. Other than that, I am still a minstrel, singing, chanting, doing ritual and believing in the polytheistic vision, and being involved in less magic and more earth reverence.

Previous Wild Hunt interviews: Starhawk, Gus diZerega, Jeff Sharlet, Brendan Cathbad Myers, Rita Moran, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, Phyllis Curott, Tim Ward, Lupa, J.C. Hallman, Margot Adler.