American Pagan, author and
journalist, Adler is the first writer to chronicle in detail
the emergence and evolution of Paganism in the United
States. The results of her research, Drawing Down the Moon
(1979; 1986; 1995), make up a meticulous landmark study
of a highly complex and diversified religious movement.
Adler’s interest in Paganism began with an early fascination
with ancient Greek deities. Born April 16, 1946,
in Little Rock, Arkansas, she grew up in New York City
as the only child in a nonreligious household: her father
was an atheist and her mother a Jewish agnostic. Psychiatry
was a significant influence: her father and an aunt are
psychiatrists; her grandfather was renowned psychiatrist
Alfred Adler. Her mother was a radical educator.
At age 12, Adler became acquainted at grammar school
with the pantheon of ancient Greek deities. She was particularly
drawn to Artemis and Athena for their images
of strength and power.
While a student at the High School of Music and Art,
Adler made a religious search, visiting different churches.
She was attracted to the Quakers and their practice of
speaking from the heart, and to the moving, ritual splendor
of Catholic Mass in Latin.
Religion then took a back seat to politics for a few
years. From 1964 to 1968, Adler attended the University
of California at Berkeley, where she earned a bachelor’s
degree in political science, and became increasingly involved
in political activities. She participated in the Free
Speech Movement and was jailed for demonstrating. She
helped to register black voters in civil rights activities in
Mississippi in 1965. She was an activist against the Vietnam
War, and demonstrated at the Democratic convention
in Chicago in 1968.
In 1968, she entered broadcast journalism, first as
a volunteer for the radical/alternative radio stations in
Berkeley and New York owned by the Pacifica Foundation.
From 1969 to 1970, she earned a master’s degree in
journalism from the Graduate School of Journalism at
Columbia University in New York, and then went to work
for WBAI, Pacifica’s station in Manhattan. In 1971, WBAI
sent Adler to Washington, D.C., to manage its news bureau
In Washington, politics and religion came together for
Adler. She devoted extensive coverage to environmental
issues, which stimulated her interest in nature writers
such as Thoreau. She saw a connection between environmental
issues and religion: the Judeo/Christian view
that it is humans’ right to have dominion over the earth
seemed flawed and had led to exploitation of nature and
the earth. In contrast, Paganism and animistic religions
viewed humankind as a part of nature equal with all other
creatures and parts.
On a trip to England, Adler investigated the history
of the Druids, and in the process discovered numerous
Pagan organizations. She subscribed to The Waxing
Moon, which led to her introduction to witchcraft and
WBAI relocated Adler back to New York, where she
worked as a producer and then hosted her own live program,
Hour of the Wolf, which aired for two hours in the
early morning five days a week. Her show dealt with cutting
edges in such topics as politics, women’s issues, the
arts, ecology and religion. She hosted two other radio
shows: Unstuck in Time and The Far Side of the Moon.
She received a letter from two Witches in Essex, England,
who were selling tapes of rituals to Waxing Moon
subscribers. At first, the idea of Witchcraft rituals on tape
struck Adler as a joke. She replied that she might air them
on her radio program.
The first tape she received was of the Drawing Down
the Moon ritual and the Charge of the Goddess. It
evoked childhood memories of beautiful Greek goddesses,
and in a powerful moment, Adler realized that the idea
of becoming the Goddess as an empowering image was
not only permissible but was being done by others. She
began to search for such people.
In the early 1970s, contemporary Witchcraft was rapidly
gaining adherents in the United States. Imported
from England under the aegis of Raymond Buckland and
Rosemary Buckland, followers of Gerald B. Gardner,
the Craft was modified by numerous American covens.
Adler joined a study group in Brooklyn run by the New
York Coven of Welsh Traditional Witches. Another group
hived off from that coven to observe the Gardnerian tradition,
and Adler followed. She was initiated as a first degree
Gardnerian priestess in 1973.
Adler stayed in the coven about three years, then moved
off in new directions. She formed a Pagan Way grove in
Manhattan, which became an informal recruiting center
for persons interested in Witchcraft and Paganism.
A friend introduced Adler to New York literary agent
Jane Rotrosen, who suggested writing a book. Adler was
uncertain at first, then realized she was “on a nexus
point . . . standing on a crack in the universe.” The time
for such a book was right. With Rotrosen’s help, Adler
developed and sold a proposal.
She spent three years researching and writing Drawing
Down the Moon. She traveled around the country, interviewing
about 100 persons and groups involved in the
Pagan/Wiccan communities. Originally, she intended to
include Britain in her survey, but British groups and individuals
proved reluctant to participate.
To her surprise, Adler discovered that the Pagan
movement is not what she had imagined: an integrated
spiritual movement with environmental concerns. Some
segments did fit that image, while others were radically
different. A decade later, the movement had become much
more integrated and concerned with ecological issues, in
part, perhaps, due to the influence of books by Adler and
Adler also was the first to note the connection between
the revival of Wicca and the women’s spirituality
movement. In later editions of Drawing Down the Moon,
she chronicled the growing number of Pagans who entered
the Unitarian Universalist churches. For some 10
years, she was on the board of directors of CUUPS, the
Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.
Though she acknowledges that she is a Witch in the
Wiccan religion, Adler prefers to call herself a Pagan. She
feels the term Witch has so many negative associations
that it may never be reclaimed as a term of female power
and independence. Furthermore, what is now practiced as
“Witchcraft” has nothing to do with the heretical “witchcraft”
of the Inquisition.
In 1977, two years into the book project, Adler left
WBAI. Upon completing Drawing Down the Moon, she
worked as a freelance reporter for National Public Radio
(NPR) in Manhattan, then joined the NPR staff in 1979.
She was priestess of a Gardnerian coven for five years
until 1981, when she was awarded a prestigious one-year
Neiman fellowship to Harvard University. Following the
Neiman, she returned to NPR in New York, but did not
rejoin a coven or pagan group.
On June 19, 1988, Adler married her longtime companion,
Dr. John Gliedman, in a handfasting held outdoors
on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Selena Fox
officiated at the legal ceremony, conducted within a magic
circle made of flowers and greens. Adler and Gliedman
then jumped the broom, according to tradition. A reception
followed. The wedding was the first Wiccan handfasting
to be written up in the society pages of the New
York Times. A son, Alexander Gliedman-Adler, was born
In 1997, her book Heretic’s Heart: A Journey Through
Spirit & Revolution was published. It chronicles her upbringing
as a “red diaper baby” and her involvement in
the radical issues and movements of the 1960s, including
the emergence of Paganism. Adler sees that period more
as a ferment of ideas and ideals and of creative risk-taking
rather than as an indulgent drug-and-sex party portrayed
by most media. Heretic’s Heart also includes perhaps the
only known correspondence between a radical student in
Berkeley and an American soldier in Vietnam.
Adler is chief of the New York bureau of NPR. She is a
correspondent for All Things Considered and Morning Edition
and hosts Justice Talking, a national show on constitutional
issues. She presents lectures and workshops, represents
Paganism and women’s spirituality at conferences
and leads rituals at gatherings. She has especially emphasized
the importance of ritual, not only as part of worship
and rites of passage, but as an important way for the
human soul to commune with and understand creation.