Learning from Margot Adler

On the evening of Tuesday, July 15, 2014, I interviewed Margot Adler over the phone for my research on the biography of Isaac Bonewits.

After the interview, I posted on Facebook: “Wow. It was like my interviews with Oberon and Morning Glory: you want to listen to them forever.” I didn’t learn much about Isaac that would be useful for the biography. Margot frequently quoted Isaac in her book Drawing Down the Moon, but she hadn’t interacted with him all that much.

It turned out that she had a more interesting, though indirect, connection with Isaac. Margot was part of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley; she graduated two years before Isaac did. She recalled that this was one of the few times in the struggle between students and administration that the students won a complete victory. That may have led to the open expression at Berkeley that allowed Isaac to initially receive approval for his proposed major in Thaumaturgy.

Margot’s story of her role in the Free Speech Movement, including her arrest, is told in her book Heretic’s Heart. It is the next book in my reading list.

After talking with me for about 45 minutes, Margot said that she only had enough energy for a couple more questions. I said, “I’m going to be selfish. I’m a physicist, with no training in journalism or history, trying to do this biography project. Would you, as an experienced journalist, have any advice for me?”

She thought for a moment. “I think you go pancake by pancake. You get all your materials together, you figure out what it will be like. I had chapters that I never used, that I threw out. I got completely side-tracked at one point. You tell what you experienced. You don’t lie. It’s pretty simple.”

“Any tips on interviewing people?”

“Yes. Here’s the most important question, and you ask at the very end. You assume that the first ten minutes… you don’t care what it is. And the last question is, ‘What do you know now that you didn’t know before?’”

“To wrap this up, Margot, let me ask you: What do you know now that you didn’t know before?” We both laughed.

She answered, “I know that Paganism is lot deeper and more complex than I thought.”

She then told me a story that taught me a valuable lesson about my particular Wiccan Tradition. She asked me to keep it private, and so I shall.

Margot Adler passed away today, Monday, July 28, 2014.

At the end of every interview I’ve done since, and will do while I work on this project, I’ll ask, “What do you know now that you didn’t before?” I’ve already received some fascinating answers. Every time I ask it, I shall think of the professional and spiritual person who took time out in her last days to share her knowledge with me.

If I have reaped one benefit for working on the biography, it’s that I have had the chance to speak and learn from Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart and Margot Adler before I lost the chance to speak with them at all. I wish Margot a safe and swift journey to the summerlands.

Originally published at Argothald. You can comment here or there.

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