Margot Adler

I stopped being a Christian when I was sixteen. It was a conscious decision. I was raised in the Lutheran church. My parents insisted that I go through catechism class, at which point they considered me a spiritual adult and I could make up my own mind.

Even at the time I saw a lot of good in the Christian religion. The problem was that I struggled to find a personal connection inside that religion. I wanted, more than anything, to really feel that God was part of my life. I never got that feeling from praying or worshiping in a church.

From the time I was sixteen until I was twenty two, I described myself a spiritual seeker. I read about and practiced many faiths for a time. I meditated with a Zen Buddhist group in Iowa City. I studied Taoism, Shinto, Hinduism, several New Age groups. I learned a great deal from all of them and I had a deep respect for all of them as well. But none gave me a sense of personal connection to the divine. I despaired every finding such a thing in real life.

In 1992 I was working at a summer camp for the disable just outside of Des Moines, Iowa. One weekend between sessions, I went to the public library and stumbled across Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon. I read it over the course of the next week. I was struck, forcibly, by a sense that she was talking about people like me. It’s almost cliche in pagan circles, but I felt a sense of homecoming.

The next weekend after the campers and staff left (I was one of the few live in staff) I hiked deep into the back forty. I pondered and prayed over her suggestion, that the divine was originally female. I asked the mother goddess to show herself to me. A sense of presence came over me, the feeling you get when someone walks into a room only many times greater.

Over the years, the Goddess has shown herself to me many times and in many ways. But I attribute a lot of my start in paganism to that one book.

Margot Adler’s soul slipped out of it’s mortal coil yesterday. She was sixty eight and had been battling cancer for more than three years. In addition to being a pagan writer and elder, she had a long successful career as a journalist, working for NPR.

She will be missed by many. May the Goddess welcome her with open arms.


Hiding in Plain View

The Science Fiction community is reeling as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s daughter has come forward with allegations that she was sexually abused by her mother. MZB was a prolific writer, writing dozens of books in the Darkover series alone. She ran a science fiction/fantasy magazine that bore her name and helped an entire generation of writers get started down the road to publication.

The book she was best known for was The Mists of Avalon, a feminist retelling of the Arthurian saga. It earned her a strong following in feminist circles and a cult like following of fans who are now struggling to cope with this news.

I would l like say I was shocked by the revelation. But just a few months ago I stumbled across this thread, now sadly prophetic.

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This was not the first time that I have seen someone question that one line in particular. Defenders of MZB say she is describing a primitive world where these things did, in fact, happen. She’s doing so with a stark honesty that is rare in any literature. They say this is one line in a book that runs over three hundred pages. How much can we read into one line?

This is not the first such revelation to come out of the Bradley household. Her second husband Walter Breen was a serial pedophile. He spent the final years of his life in jail on eight counts of felony child molestation and MZB faced a civil trial over her enabling behavior. While there are still those who will defend MZB’s literary achievements, almost no one is doubting these new allegations.

The new defense of MZB is that she’s been dead for fifteen years. Hundreds of fans have grown up loving and cherishing her work. She inspired a generation of new writers and helped them start their careers. Should we tarnish that with the details of her personal failings?

I have written before and about good books by bad authors. Much of that blog would seem to apply to MZB. She’s dead. Unlike Orson Scott Card’s homophobia, buying her books no longer puts money in her pocket or indirectly supports her cause. With the exception of that one line in The Mists of Avalon, her personal failings, as heinous as they were, don’t seem to have any obvious connection to her writing. It would be easy to join those voices and say, what she did was wrong but it doesn’t change her books.

There are two flaws in the argument. The first is that while MZB may be dead, her daughter and victim is not. History may be able to separate MZB crimes from her writing, but I can not. To dismiss what she did is to dismiss the very real damage done to real people who are still alive. Moira Greyland, MZB’s daughter, stayed silent about her abuse because she felt her mother’s life and reputation was somehow more important than her own. She deserves to be heard, because her life is every bit as important. If a writer or fan has a positive memory of MZB, that’s wonderful, but let’s not use those memories to silence or dismiss the pain of her victims.

The other problem with separating MZB writing and public reputation from her abuse is that silence is a big part of the problem. The Catholic church shunted pedophiles from one parish to another because their superiors didn’t want to confront the problem head on and in many cases the men had served the church well in other ways. All too often abusers are allowed to resign, quit or retire, rather than face prosecution. For those in charge it offered a quick easy solution to a messy problem, but for society it creates an even bigger problem, where pedophiles escape prosecution again and again.

Shades of the same language crop up in defense of MZB. She was a good writer, a good editor and to some, a good friend. So? Pedophiles can be nice to people who aren’t their victims. Pointing these things out does little but dismiss the victim. When we dismiss the victim, we create an environment where the next victim doesn’t feel safe coming forward. And the abuse continues.

I am raising a son with one foot in science fiction fandom and the other in the neo-pagan community. MZB’s writing has been incredibly influential in both communities and likely will remain so, despite these revelations.

We have a choice. We can use this revelation as an opportunity to discuss abuse openly. We can let other victims come forward, share their stories. We can talk about how to spot signs of abuse, ask what needs to be done to make Sci-fi cons and pagan festivals safer. Or we can dismiss the allegations and wonder later how our communities became havens for abusers.


The Story of Babi


There have been two books I have read that really got under my skin because of the situation I was in when I read them. One of those books was Russalka by C.J. Cherryh. The book is set in ancient Russia. The two main characters have to flee town and they become trapped by a wizard in the woods. Most of the action takes place in a two room cabin in the woods. This being ancient times there is nothing more than candlelight. Every night they try to leave when the wizard falls asleep but they are foiled by one of the wizards servants, Babi.

Babi is an earth spirit. The wizard feeds Babi with offerings of vodka. When the characters try to leave Babi is waiting for them. He appears as something between a large black dog and a bear. When they go inside it is as if a large bear has made it’s den in the cellar underneath the cabin. The cabin itself bucks and twists as if a large beast is underneath.

I read the book just after my ex and I moved out into the country. We had a trailer but no regular electricity or running water. During the day we would work the land, planting gardens, clearing woods and working towards building out permanent home. At night I would sit up and read by candlelight.

About this time “something” started to visit our trailer at night. It would bump and then run alongside the edge of the trailer. It was big and heavy enough to rock the trailer slightly. The first time it happened we were certain that the neighbor’s cows had escaped. But when we went out with a flashlight there was nothing there.

This continued for some time. Some nights it would sound like a deer in rut running it’s antlers back and forth along the trailer. Other nights it would just be the bumping. Often there was a sense of a presence.

It matched the story almost too well and I started reading sections of the book to my ex. She agreed, the similarities were eery.

So the next time I was in town I bought a bottle of vodka. That night I filled a shot glass and set it on the outside edge of a window. I sat it up high enough that the chickens couldn’t disturb it. In the morning the glass was still there, undisturbed. The vodka however was gone.

After that he was our friend. Babi became a friendly helpful spirit on our land. I learned as time went on that our Babi like peppermint Schnapps even better than vodka. Many nights after working all day I would sit on the front porch, pour a glass of schnapps and then drink a toast in Babi’s honor. You could almost feel the sense of contentment rolling off the darkness.

As the years went by many friends and visitors had encounters with Babi as well. Once we left the chicken cage in the shade and then we were stuck in town longer than expected. We were terrified that the sun would have moved and the chickens would be scorched in the sun and died. We came home to find that something had undone the latch and let the chickens out so they could get in the shade. More than once something chased coyotes off our property. Visitors would see a black dog-like form checking them out or have something bump their tent at night. It was never unfriendly.

And that is the story of Babi. I still keep a bottle of vodka or schnapps handy whenever I go out to the land and I always leave him a little something.