Brontë Mansfield

Margot Adler: Modern Journalism and the Construction of Magical Histories

In 1979, Margot Adler achieved two major feats: she published her seminal text Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today – and she became a general assignment reporter for NPR. Adler, who passed away in 2014, is remembered as a Wiccan priestess and perhaps the first author to produce an authoritative, expansive text on American neopaganism that was consumed by both the pagan community and mainstream audiences. But Adler was also a working journalist, reporting on New York City for NPR, covering a range of topics aside from her groundbreaking work reporting on neopaganism.

In Drawing Down the Moon, Adler takes time in the text to grapple with her own religious beliefs and to consider the ways in which those beliefs influence her research, reporting, and writing. She grapples with the ways that constructing magical histories requires the reexamination of previous historians and their work–namely English anthropologist Margaret Murray (1863–1963) and The Witch-Cult in Western Europe.

Since 1979, paganism and witchcraft have only become more prevalent and visible in the mainstream, but reporting on the topic has not sustained Adler's level of nuance, research, and deep understanding. As recently as 2015, the pagan community clashed with journalist Alex Mar over her history-cum-memoir of contemporary witchcraft, Witches of America. What can we learn from Margot Adler about ethical reporting and constructing responsible magical histories? What lessons from Adler can guide us through the rapid growth of paganism and help journalists navigate our post-truth world?

There is no better moment to examine the work and practices of Margot Adler than in 2019, the fortieth anniversary of the publication of Drawing Down the Moon and the beginning of Adler's remarkable career as a journalist. 

Brontë Mansfield

Brontë has a BA in Art History and English literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she specialized in Victorian art and literature. She recently completed her MA in Arts Journalism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her thesis project was a podcast about paganism and witchcraft called Mystic. A weird and witchy This American Life, Mystic took her from Paganicon in Minneapolis to a Haitian Vodou botanica in New Orleans. The debut of Mystic was reviewed by The A.V. Club and was recently featured in an "Art on the Airwaves" showcase at UnionDocs in New York. She is based in Chicago, not far from her childhood home in rural Wisconsin, where she was raised by a solitary pagan and spent her allowance on crystals at the nearby New Age bookstore.