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Book Spotlight

 

Margot Adler

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Drawing Down the Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Drawing Down the Moon
2006 rev. edition

by Margot Adler


TWPT:  Drawing Down the Moon was first published in 1979 and that means it has been in print for the last 27 years.  When you were writing this book did you ever think that it would strike the chord that it did in the hearts and minds of all those who have read it during the last 27? 

MA:  I had no idea the book would have such an impact! In fact, it is an amazing thing to have a book that has a whole movement behind it. I know this well, because my other book, “Heretic’s Heart,” which is a 1960’s memoir sells a few copies a year – and you would think the 1960’s would be of interest to people…but Drawing Down the Moon is in a whole different category, precisely because it is a book about our movement, and our movement has grown exponentially over the last 15 years, and it still remains the only real history of our movement. Hutton’s book is clearly the history of the movement inBritain, and in some ways goes much deeper, but as for the USA, DDTM remains unique.

TWPT:  Why do you think that your book is still a favorite among those who want to understand the Wiccan/Pagan movement inAmerica even after 27 years?

MA:  I think there are many reasons. First of all, it’s the only book that really talks about the theories that created the Neo-Pagan movement, the kinds of ideas that everyone from the Zells, and Aidan, Harold Moss, Fred Adams and Z Budapest Gwydion Pendderwen and others were talking about and struggling with. Second, it attempts to connect Paganism with all kinds of other movements from libertarianism and anarchism to the ecology movement, feminism, and so forth. Third, and probably as important as anything, it has the voices of so many people who came to Paganism and thought they were the only person in the world with these views, and found solace by finding a book filled with other similar voices. Lastly it has a resource guide, and until Witchvox there was only one other real guide to Pagan resources, the one put out by Circle. 

TWPT:  In terms of your personal understanding of the community and your personal explorations along this path what did the writing of DDTM mean to you?

MA:  I was in a little coven based inBrooklyn. The priest and priestess were lovely people, but they were not really interested in philosophical ideas. I was desperately searching for a larger, richer, deeper Paganism. And I started reading Green Egg and Nemeton, and I went toCalifornia and met Alison Harlow and Gwydion, and Alison and I had a meeting of souls: we had gone to the same tiny Grammar School inGreenwich Village, and through them I met others, and Later met Bonewits and the Zells. The letters in the Green Egg also opened my Pagan world and led me to a movement based on serious ideas. Drawing Down the Moon allowed me to enter this larger Pagan world and make sense of it, and find my place in it. It was life changing! 

TWPT:  You touched on this briefly the last time we spoke but do you think that your book and perhaps a few others most notably Starhawk’s Spiral Dance were able to influence those who would eventually become the elders in this community to look at Wiccan/Paganism with a new sense of what it might ultimately be and if so do you think that in the intervening 27 years you have seen some of your visions for the community emerge into reality? 

MA:  I think I said that Starhawk and I occasionally would joke that our books were about Paganism not as it was, but as we wished it to be, sort of like the Society for Creative Anachronism was not about the Middle Ages as it was, but as people wanted it to be. The Pagan movement in the early seventies was filled with wonderful people and some very magical people, but there was little relationship to ecology, and working for change in the world. Now, there are so many people and organizations that are working for important things. Who could have conceived of Pagan Pride twenty years ago, not to mention the incredible work done by EarthSpirit, Circle, Reclaiming and a dozen other large Pagan organizations? No one was doing Pagan charity, now there is actually a Pagan homeless shelter. I think there is much that has come to fruition, the pentacle fight, ecology work, prison ministries,  family festivals, places for Pagan teens, nature sanctuaries… these are all things that were simply dreams back at the beginning. 

TWPT:  Did you purposely craft DDTM to lean more towards the positive aspects that you observed during your interviews and research into the pagan community as a participant yourself musing on the potential of this group of people in the years to come?

MA:  You know that is a really difficult question… because I think I didn’t purposely craft it that way, but that instead I just am a bit of a glass half full kind of person, so I probably didn’t even notice some of the glass half empty stuff…as I wandered along. It is true that I never really talked about the coven that threw me out on the streets of Chicago after I got into a political fight with its leader, and it is true that I almost dropped the book project after that experience, saying, “These people don’t have my values, why should I care and write about them?” But a week spent with Morgan McFarland inTexas and with her groups renewed my faith in the project. It is also true that when you visit a group for an evening or even several days, you don’t always see the warts. One group turned out to have some abusive practices, and I cut out some stuff about them in subsequent editions after people alerted me. The chapter Living on the Earth was really a kind of angry spat at Pagans, saying “How can you be in an ecological religion and be so unecological?” And I have shortened that chapter a bit because my critique isn’t as justified now. But, mainly, I am an optimist, I see the good much more easily than the bad, and I am a science fiction person, always thinking about what can the future be?

TWPT:  Tell me about some of the friends and acquaintances that you made during the writing/researching of DDTM and have you stayed in touch with any of them during the intervening years?

MA:  I am still in touch with Z, with Morgan McFarland, with Bonewits and the Zell-Ravenhearts, with Harold Moss, Penny and Michael Novack, Selena Fox, and many others.  Some of those who I established the deepest friendships with are now dead, like Alison Harlow and Gwydion Pendderwen. Gwydion said I was one of the only people in the world that could sing his song Ceridwen  - and that is something I have treasured my whole life.

TWPT:  While you were writing DDTM did you have it in mind to dispel some of the erroneous stereotypes that had developed over the years about pagans and Witches and if so how was it that you wanted to achieve this goal as you wrote the book?

MA:  There were several stereotypes I wanted to dispel. The first level was the obvious stuff: the confusion of Wicca and Satanism, the misunderstandings about the words Pagan and Witch, but on a deeper level I think I was also writing this book so that my very intellectual, atheist father would understand me. So I was writing the book for intellectuals, and for people who, when confronted with the word “witch”, would say, “I don’t believe in that,” and I would reply, well it is really not something that has to do with belief., etc. and go on for hours. I think if I didn’t feel my father standing behind me giving me his atheist spiel I might have written the book a little more personally.

TWPT:  In our last talk you mentioned the “unexciting cover” of the original edition before the revised edition was available. How much of a role do you think that the covers of DDTM made a difference in how much the book was noticed or read?

MA:  I think a lot of things converged to make the book NOT sell in the hardcover and first paperback edition, including the covers. The Hardcover edition had only a 5000 copy printing, but there was a perfect storm of events after Beacon published the book. I met the woman who took the picture used for the 86 cover at a festival, fell in love with the picture, and I think the cover had a real impact. I don’t really like the new cover, and I sent it to about 20 people, and most of the Pagans didn’t like it, but all the non Pagans and academics loved it, and Penguin insisted upon it. So my feeling is, at this point, Pagans know about the book and in a way having a cover that puts it in the mainstream is a good thing… But I still love the woman in the circle of candles on theOregon beach.

TWPT:  In the first revision of your book that came out in 1986 what was it that were changing about the book and how much additional writing and research did that mean you had to do to make it happen? Given the distance of a few years between the first edition and the revision what were your impressions about what had changed in the community between the first writing of your book and the 1986 revised edition?

MA:  The movement I entered in the early 1970’s was dominated by newsletters. That was how people communicated. There was very personal interaction within covens and groves, but very little communications between covens and groves. That completely changed with the phenomenon of festivals, which really began just as Drawing Down the Moon was first published. Festivals have exploded now, there are more than 350 a year… but in the beginning, mixed Wiccan covens had never seen an all women’s ritual. Most covens had no music, no drumming, and very few chants. The Festival phenomenon opened up the whole Pagan movement, a national and even international body of chants went from coast to coast. People could come to a festival and in five days, see rituals from a half dozen different traditions, and that meant that they were not as loyal to their old covens and groves, they began to see the warts in their own traditions… sort of how you gonna keep em down on the farm once they have seen Paris. And the power of the coven diminished, in some ways a good thing (fewer power tripping gurus) and in some ways bad (the new celebrities were book writers not coven leaders).

TWPT:  Which brings us to the reason we are chatting about DDTM and that is that there is another revised edition that was just released at the beginning of Oct. 2006 of this classic title. I notice that this edition has had a change of publishers. How did you come to find yourself moving this title to Penguin this time and will it take your book to an even wider audience than what you were able to achieve before?

MA:  Well, actually it is a return. The book was originally published by Viking in Hardcover, which joined with Penguin. But Viking did nothing with the book. 5000 copies and no publicity. Beacon did the paperback, and when it came to the 86 revision, did it beautifully, but there was a hidden aspect to the contract, my share of the royalties was split between me and Viking/Penguin. Viking/Penguin had not really noticed the book. I don’t think they really noticed it - even though they published it - for the first ten years because I didn’t get any royalty payments in those years. But when I started to get some royalty payments, which didn’t happen until after the 86 edition, and they got half of those payments, they suddenly noticed the book - my guess is for the very first time. So they suddenly wanted it back from Beacon. At that point I didn’t really want to go back, but they made me an offer which included doing the 97 revision, so I agreed. The main change from the last edition is that the 97 edition was Penguin Arkana, which was Penguin’s occult branch, and this edition is being published by Penguin, pure and simple, so maybe that will help publicize it in the mainstream, in England and internationally.

TWPT:  What was it like delving back into this material again after such a lengthy absence?

MA:  I felt like rip van winkle… waking up and seeing a very different and a much larger Pagan movement. I had really not been that active for about ten years. I was still doing rituals, had a group I went worked with here and there, did some large group rituals a couple times a year, and gave some speeches, lectures, and a few workshops, but the truth was I had only gone to a few festivals in the last ten years, and hadn’t traveled much, and so I didn’t really know what was happening around the country. So, I went to Rites of Spring and Pagan Spirit Gathering, and Pagan Pride and Harvest Home in 2005, and it was a stunning experience because I really felt there were significant changes in the Pagan movement that I had not been aware of.

TWPT:  How much of a revision did you make to the book for this new 2006 edition?

MA:  Well there were some constraints. I have two radio jobs, my NPR news job and hosting a constitutional debate show. And I have a family and a boy in high school. So I couldn’t afford to take off as much time as I wanted, but I took off about five months, and it would have been impossible to do this revision without the internet. So here is what is different. The first three chapters are pretty much the same. The chapter on Witchcraft has some changes, including some of the new scholarship, Hutton and the like. The Craft Today chapter has many traditions that were not in the old editions… from Greencraft and 1734 and others. There are new sections on Heathenism, and Gay men’s spirituality, and a lot on changes over the last 15 years, how festivals have changed, the movement of Pagan studies, and many other aspects, the growth of Pagan families, attention to end of life issues, mainstreaming, the influence of the internet, the rise of drumming circles, the huge growth in the number of Pagans, probably at least a tripling or more of our numbers over the last 15 years, a section on where is Paganism going in the 21st century. So a lot of the book is the same and quite a bit is new, here and there. The resource guide is completely new, and includes more international groups, including five South African groups

TWPT:  Did you find that the resources section of DDTM had changed a lot since the 1986 edition and this new one? Was it difficult to make this section relevant and to include references that wouldn’t be gone by the time that the book was published?

MA:  I sent out about 400 letters, and about 100 came back, but when I used the internet there was more consistency than I expected. Often I would get no response in the mail and then find the group on the internet and even more. For example, in my last resource guide there was an organization called The Toronto Pub Moot, a meeting for Pagans in Canada…I wrote them, got no response, the letter came back. Then I googled Toronto Pub Moot, and not only found the group, but eleven other related pub moots all overCanada! Here’s another example. Feraferia was one of the earliest Pagan groups with a complete cosmology, ritual cycle and so forth. But I had always assumed it was very much the private vision of Fred and Swetlana, who are now quite old. I assumed that when they died, there would be no one to carry on the traditions. They are both still alive. But there are two people, one in theNetherlands and one in theU.S., who are now trying to revive interest in Feraferia. And there is now a new place on the web where Fred Adams’ writings and art work is available for a new generation. I think that the resource guide usually lasts about five years and then is much less relevant, but often you can go to the internet and get new addresses, so perhaps the guide will be relevant for a longer period.

TWPT:  Has the internet made some of the research that you had to do for this revision easier than what you did originally or in 1986? In the opinion of someone who has been observing pagans since about 1979 what impact has the internet had on the community at large in terms of growth, teaching and getting the word out about what we are and what we are not?

MA:  The Internet made my revision possible. I had only about five months, and there was no way I was going to be able to visit or even have long term correspondence with many groups, but having email and websites made things so much easier. There are probably at least 5000 Pagan and Wiccan websites, perhaps more. I didn’t get to a fraction of them.  Places like Witchvox have become amazing resources for people. It is now very easy to get the word out. But, on the down side, I came across many people, and quoted many in the new edition who talked about the plusses and minuses of the internet. Andras and Dierdre of EarthSpirit talk a lot about what you lose if you don’t sit face to face with a real teacher, and I think that can be a serious problem. But remember all the tens of thousands who felt they were alone, that no one knew there was anyone like them anywhere in the world; the internet has changed that picture for many.

TWPT:  You mentioned in our interview a few years back that you said you were “terrified of the written word” when asked about writing a book by a literary agent. Has the success of DDTM or the impact it has had on the community over the last 27 years lessened or worsened your fears of the written word? Why or why not and could you explain what it was about the written word that terrified you?

MA:  I think it was because what you say in a book is forever. I have never been one to get a tattoo, because I am so changeable. I had a terrible time choosing a magical name and both the ones I have used in various traditions have not been totally satisfying to me. And with radio, people don’t exactly remember what they hear, so you aren’t called to account in the same way… but I am a lot older now, and don’t feel nearly as frightened by standing by my words and thoughts. Remember, I got my contract for drawing down the moon when I was in my late twenties! At sixty, it is much easier to be less frightened about most everything. And also to be less upset by the inevitable mistakes one is going to make.

TWPT:  As a closing question assuming that we are all still around in another 25 years do you still expect your book to be available and still acting as a touchstone for those seeking information about the pagan community? And if so are you going to keep revising it every few years or so to help make it something that will always be relevant?

MA:  I don’t really have a clue. I think it will always be relevant as a history. I would like to write a different book on Paganism, but I will have to wait until I don’t have to be a wage slave to do that, which means I have to get my almost sixteen year old through college. I don’t really know what I will feel about future revisions.

TWPT:  Thanks for stopping back by and talking to us again here at TWPT Margot. I know how hectic your schedule is and I do appreciate your interrupting it long enough to answer these questions. Thanks again for writing Drawing Down the Moon and I hope that it see many more revisions and editions over the years to come. Take care.