I don’t have many role models.
There just aren’t a lot of people like me. I see pieces of myself here and there; I take my examples from a wide and varied field of individuals who have some quality that I want to have. Rarely do I come across someone who is more than a few of those things at once.
No heroes. First, I want to be an original. Second, nobody’s whole life is enviable.
Margot Adler was an incredibly important force in my life.
I read Drawing Down the Moon when I was 14 or 15. There was a tinkling, incense-scented occult shop in the town where I lived. They were remarkably tolerant about my reading habit. Or maybe they were just patient, because when I did have the money I delivered it to them with shocking regularity. I bought the regulation fetish objects for a teenage Pagan: a black-handled knife, ostentatious jewelry, candles and other things to burn. Mostly I bought books.
The two first books I read were by women. They had both been published on October 31, 1979. The first was The Spiral Dance, which was my first official how-to-be-a-witch book. The other was Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon.
DDTM was not a how-to. It was written the way a journalist writes about religion, once she’s found it. She was somewhere between skepticism and the tone that I cringingly described as ‘woo-woo’ when I didn’t have the words for facile or sentimental prose in religious nonfiction. She connected her experience of ritual to scholarship; to her early fascination with mythology and compelling interest in the old gods found in childhood. She approached groups of witches and their practices in a way that I could relate to; cautious, but with an unfolding wonder.
The movement of Paganism as a religion is like the ocean on the cover of that book. I always imagined myself like the woman in the picture; like Adler herself. Casting my own circle, touched by those waves, but not caught in them. Allowed to be a skeptic, but deeply engaged and raucously in love with being a witch.
I met Margot Adler two years ago. I go to Pantheacon every year in San Jose. Mostly, I go for big ritual and the panels, not to spot celebrities. But I do see them. I’ve seen M. Macha Nightmare put her California poppy-tattooed wrists on the floor to show me how they grow. I’ve partied with Lon Milo DuQuette, who is one of the coolest men I’ve ever met. It was at his show that I first saw Margot Adler in real life.
She came into the outdated neon bar carrying a drink. She made her way into the pit just in front of the stage and spent the whole show hollering and cackling and whooping whenever the rest of us just clapped. She was irrepressible to the point that Lon told her it was too flattering and that his ego might crush the room. She was joy itself, unselfconscious, grey hair shining, beyond worrying what other people thought.
I was able to shake her hand and thank her for her Work. That was a good moment.
Margot Adler was my favorite kind of Pagan writer, which is to say: a writer who happens to be Pagan. She never hid from it, never shied from identifying herself. But she worked in regular press, with a regular job, being herself fully in public. She inspired me to look beyond Llewellyn and to bring my faith to what I write in a way that does not attract attention to itself or make itself anyone else’s business.
I don’t have many role models. And tonight, I have one less left in this world.