|Adler at her spiritual home, New York's Church of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation as she was about to preach from her last book.|
Word came yesterday of what seemed like the sudden death of long time Public Radio broadcaster, reporter, author, social critic, and leading figure in American paganism Margot Adler. Although battling endometrial cancer for thee years, she preferred to keep her illness quiet as long as she could so that she could continue to do the work that she loved undeterred by pity or hovering concern. Just last week when she was finally too ill to work, she informed fellow NPR staffers that she had been diagnosed three and a half years ago but had been relatively symptom free until the last three months.
Her 23 year old son Alex Dylan Gliedman-Adler who personally tended her throughout her final days posted an anguished note on her web page.
Old friends, long time fans, today at 4 am 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 [late husband] John both won’t be seeing double anymore, but they will be seeing each other for the rest of time.
Margot Adler was born on April 16, 1946 in Little Rock, Arkansas to a family of accomplished and intellectual secular Jews. Her grandfather was Alfred Adler the noted Austrian psychotherapist, collaborator with Sigmund Freud and the founder of the school of individual psychology.
Her family returned to the more nurturing ground of New York City when she was a child and she grew up amid books, intellectual discussion, and, of course the political, philosophical, and moral turmoil of the 1960’s. She would be an activist participant in that turmoil. She was among the 800 protesters arrested during a massive sit-in at University of California at Berkeley; she helped to register black voters in Mississippi, and she demonstrated at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. She later wrote a memoir of those days, Heretic’s Heart: A Journey Through Spirit and Revolution.
While attending Berkeley, Adler began as a volunteer reporter on KPFA, the Pacifica Radio station in the college city. She soon found a voice, a passion, and a calling. After receiving her master’s degree from Columbia University School of Journalism, she hired at the New York public radio station WBAI as a general assignment reporter. She would be associated with the station in one capacity or another for the rest of her life.
In 1972 she created and hosted her own first program for the station, the talk show Hour of the Wolf which is still on the air now hosted by Jim Freund. Among other shows she created and/or anchored for the station was Unstuck in Time.
By 1979 she was also contributing to NPR as a reporter. Her interests were wide, her story telling capacity vivid, and her delivery compelling. Adler became a familiar voice as she covered the stories large and small that defined her time from the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic to confrontations involving the Ku Klux Klan in Greensboro, North Carolina, to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Her reports were often heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. From 1999 to 2008 she hosted the weekly court report, Justice Talking. More recently she was assigned the network’s art desk, where she made headlines securing the first American interview with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowlings.
The arts assignment did not limit her, however. Her on the streets and in the crowd coverage of Occupy New York demonstrations were among the most dramatic and revealing of any national coverage and allowed the protestors to speak unfiltered for themselves. The havoc wrecked on the city by Hurricane Sandy and the relief and rebuilding efforts was riveting at a time that she was recovering from the death of her beloved husband and beginning the struggle with her own illness.
Adler married John Lowell Gliedman, a psychologist, science writer, and author in a Wiccan handfasting ceremony on June 19, 1988. Their only son, Alex Dylan, was born in 1990. The marriage was an exceptionally close and loving one.
Adler’s “other life”—although she would insist they could not be separated—was spiritual. As a high school student she was drawn to the feminine powers of the Greek goddesses Artemis and Athena. “My heart was always with the ancient Greeks,” she says. “I’m a Hellenic reconstructionist at heart.”
That may be, but Adler found her spiritual home in the new, neo-pagan Wiccans. She first encountered the ancient group on an early 1970’s trip to England to investigate the Druids and the growing number of small witchcraft and pagan groups arising from their legends. Among those she met was Joseph P. Wilson, and American who had founded and edited Waxing Moon in 1964, the first magazine devoted to Witchcraft in America. He was then in England collaborating with British pioneers of the Pagan Front and its underground magazine The Wiccan.
Back in the States Wilson founded an American Wiccan group, the Pagan Way. Adler on her return joined a study group led by Ed Buczynski of the New York Coven of Welsh Traditional Witches headed by. Then in 1973 she left the study group and took a more active role in Iargalon a practicing Gardnerian coven called, through which in 1976 she was elevated to High Priestess. Gardnerism is considered the oldest, foundational tradition of Wicca and is often referred to as British Traditional Wicca.
Despite her status as a priestess, Adler never considered herself as a witch or had a particular interest in magic. “Most people, when they think of witches and witchcraft, think of power and magical abilities,” she told a reporter three years ago. “I’m not a particularly occult-oriented person. I’m not into astrology. I’ve never felt I had magical abilities.” Instead, Adler focused on the power of ritual to connect a community and on the spiritual connection to the whole natural world.
Seeing very little information on Wicca and the pagan tradition that was both scholarly and accessible to the general public, Viking Press published Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today in 1979. It quickly became a foundational document for American paganism, selling 30,000 in its first addition. Subsequent revised and enlarged editions have been published by Beacon Press and Penguin Books it remains in print and has sold more than a quarter of a million copies in all editions. Its publication placed Adler along with the West Coast Wiccan writer Starhawk, as the most influential voices of America’s most rapidly growing spiritual tradition.
In 1982 after taking a year off as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University Adler declined to resume her role as High Priestess, preferring to worship as a solitary. But she did continue to contribute to neo-pagan journals and to attend various annual gatherings, where she conducted chanting rituals and affirmations. She attended one such gathering as recently as May.
In the mid ‘80’s Adler joined the Church of All Souls, a Unitarian Universalist congregation in New York where she became a very active member. She also became very active in the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and was on their Board of Trustees for ten years.
In a 1996 issue of the World, official magazine of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Adler explained her dual affiliation and what paganism meant to her.
A lot of the Pagan movement today, including a lot of the Wicca movement, is based on going back to our ancestors’ traditions or creating them anew--since many of these traditions have been lost. It's an attempt to create a vibrant, juicy contemporary culture based on old sources, on what our ancestors were doing, or at least part of what they were doing, or at least a tiny slice of what they were doing thousands of years ago, but it’s also an attempt to bring these traditions into contemporary reality, in ways that are in keeping with democracy and freedom.
When her husband John was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Adler was shocked, “He was the healthiest man on the planet, I mean literally. You know, he was a runner. Unlike me, he’d never done any drugs in the ‘60s. He’d never smoked. He ate perfectly, you know, one of these people. And he only lived nine months.” During his rapid decline she explored the issues of mortality and immortality and their place in modern culture by undertaking a study of vampire literature reading over 280 books, most of them novels.
The result was Out for Blood, a short work released as an e-book in 2013. It was a fitting final project.
As word of Adler’s death has spread salutes have taken the social media by storm. She touched so many lives in so many ways.