Knowing where you come from: In memoriam Margot Adler
Margot Adler died of cancer a year ago today. I count Adler among my ancestors in spirit for her book Drawing Down the Moon, her seminal book on neo-paganism and the Craft in all their forms. If Starhawk excited me by showing in The Spiral Dance that paganism was alive and magic was afoot, Adler spurred me on by showing me wider possibilities. It’s been decades since I read the book, but I do remember her discussing Hellenic, Heathen, and Egyptian pagans along with Wiccans and witches.
It’s hard to go forward without a lineage at your back, without having a place and a people that you come from. As I was doing my dishes just now, I thought of my grandmother, my great-aunt, and my father, all of whom assumed the job of household dishwasher in my childhood home at one time or another. When my mother cooked, my grandmother washed up; when my grandmother died, my dad or my aunt washed up. I wash dishes and think of generations of women doing the daily household tasks.
Knowing where I come from, who I come from as a polytheist and pagan is more challenging. But I grew up in a church that paid some attention to the saints, so I haven’t any scruples about adopting people as ancestors. When I sang in a church choir, every boy soprano who ever put on a cassock and surplice became my ancestor as I wore those vestments and sang music written for boys’ voices. The composers whose music I love are my ancestors, and there are musicians living whom I will honor as part of my lineage when they pass on. I know where my roots are as a writer; Lewis and Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander and Evangeline Walton, formed my ideas of fantasy and story. I like to describe myself as the unholy lovechild of Anais Nin and Thomas Merton–one obsessed with sex, the other with religion, and both obsessed with writing about themselves.
Without initiation into a tradition, or joining of an official organization, one may not have a clear sense of my religious lineage these days. That’s why I keep up as much as I can with the calendar of sancti in the Ekklesia Antinoou. PSVL defines the sancti as “people without whom we can not imagine the Ekklesía Antínoou and what we know and do now being in existence”. The list of sancti includes everything from Antinous’ deified contemporaries such as emperors Hadrian and Trajan, women of the Imperial family, and others, through those killed by violence against queer and transgender to people, to poets, novelists, scholars, musicians, and actors who embody an Antinoan spirit. There are Christian saints and Christian heretics on that list, the Sufi poet Rumi, Zen Buddhist Issan Dorsey Roshi, and no doubt many people who defined themselves as atheists. What we celebrate is not where they may reside in their afterlife–you might say that’s their business–but what they created in life.
So I don’t hesitate to claim Margot Adler as ancestor, as I claim Victor and Cora Anderson (because they influenced Starhawk and Thorn Coyle, who have influenced me), or Rumi for his poetry, Coltrane for his music, Frida Kahlo for her painting. I come from a long line of artistic, creative nonconformists, obsessed by religion and sex and making art and finding beauty in the body and in erotic love. They’re standing behind me when I write, just as Mom and Dad and Aunt Margaret are standing behind me as I wash dishes.