Witch at Large: Ruminations from a Grey Perspective

Seeing Paganism in terms of being a movement, explorations of our history, societal context, comparisons to other religious movements, and general Pagan culture.

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Judy Harrow

Judy Harrow
1945 - 2014

I've just learned of the passing of my old friend Judy Harrow.  Her health had been fragile for some years now, so her passing is not entirely unexpected.  That said, it is a great loss to American Witchcraft and the Pagan movement in general.

First Meeting & CoG

Judy and I first met at CoG's very first MerryMeet festival at Rodeo Beach, Marin County, California, in 1981.1  Not only was this the first MerryMeet, but it was a first in other ways.  It was my first exposure to Witches2 beyond my Northern California Local Council of CoG.  It was the first time Witches from other areas attended a CoG gathering, and among those was Judy.  Also there were two Witches from Chicago and two from Salt Lake City.  From there Judy left to sow the seeds of a CoG presence in the Northeast.  If memory serves me, she also left with a membership in CoG and the first officership!  I'm not entirely sure about that, since it's possible that the two Chicago Witches, unnamed here because I don't know their preferences about being identified publicly (although I suspect that now, as opposed to then they wouldn't object) left with that office.  CoG records can determine this accurately.  (There is more about Judy's involvement in CoG on Wikipedia; however, since her birth date listed therein is incorrect, I can't say how reliable the rest of the entry is.)

Judy left that event full of enthusiasm for CoG and its goal of assuring Witchen clergy the same rights and privileges as clergy of other religions.  Of course, the definition of clergy has changed since then, and is hardly uniform now.  That was a time when Witches were viewed as the 'clergy' for the rest of Pagandom.3 In any case, shortly thereafter there came into existence, in large part due to Judy's activism, the Northeast Local Council of CoG (NELCOG), encompassing New England, New York, and New Jersey.4

One of Judy's earlier efforts on behalf of CoG was to get CoG ministerial credentials accepted by the City of New York.  I recall this as having involved applications, hearings, petitions and meetings and other bureaucratic bother, with much help from Phyllis Curott, over a period of five long years.  In the end, Judy's and Phyllis' efforts resulted in one more jurisdiction recognizing the validity and authority of ministerial (and elder) credentials issued by a Pagan organization.  For that achievement alone Judy should be honored.

But she didn't stop there.  Judy's coven, Proteus, has engendered many prominent, and I daresay well-trained and -educated, Wiccans.  Some have gone on to write books and help to change and shape culture in other ways.

Some years later, in the 1990s I think, Judy and I sat on a panel at MerryMeet somewhere in Upstate New York.  The panel concerned different Craft traditions; among those speaking was the late Grey Cat of the NorthWind Tradition of American Wicca. This was at a time when Judy was struggling with the Gardnerian oath to which she'd been bound conflicting in some ways with what she believed was "right."  Now one individual's "right," "correct," or "proper" is not necessarily everybody else's "right," "correct," or "proper" even when presumably done with the understanding that everyone is swearing the same oath.  Since I'm not Gardnerian, I hadn't witnessed any of her efforts within that trad.  I do know, from a conversation with a Gardnerian elder this very day, that her statements on that panel claiming a "Protean schism" continue to have repercussions to this day.

I'm reminded of that day by Ivo Dominguez, Jr., who says (to Judy's spirit):

I first met you in 1991 at the COG MerryMeet when you gave a powerful speech before those assembled proclaiming that Protean Gardnerians were as valid as any other stripe of the Gardnerian Tradition. I was moved and impressed though I had no stake personal stake in the debate or the outcome. You made me care and you did it with clear words alone. I will miss the important though infrequent calls we had over the years. May you go forth shining and I'll see you on the other side. 

I remember standing up for Judy and saying I thought the venue she chose to make this announcement was entirely appropriate, much to the dismay of some others in attendance. I thought what she did and how and where she said it were entirely righteous.  I still do.

Gordon Cooper added:  "I encouraged her in that I told her if she felt a need to be heard, it should be said in public, in front of her peers."  Another in attendance, Cayte Jablow, says, "I was there also, & remember her courage & eloquence there as well." 

Good people disagree about what Judy did, how she did it, and what it has meant to some of them ever since.

Honoring Precious Friendships

One of the fall-outs from that public announcement involved Judy's and my mutual and much-loved friend, John Patrick McClimans (one of the first Priests of Church of All Worlds).  He had worked with Proteus Coven when he lived in the same apartment building as Judy in Manhattan.  He went on to initiation, and if I'm not mistaken, to his Third Degree.  He was just fine with that, until the time when Judy contacted her initiates about her change of heart concerning the oath they'd all sworn.  John refused to change anything he'd avowed.  This led to an estrangement between the two that lasted for some years, until just before he passed.

I had the privilege of serving a one of John's death priestesses, an experience I described in "Sitting Vigil with the Dying" in The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997).  Something not mentioned in that piece is the rapprochement between Judy and John while he lay on his literal death bed in California.  I had alerted Judy to the direness of John's condition.  Judy phoned John, and they talked in low voices for a couple of hours during his final days.  I watched John's face from across the room.  I know both John and Judy were deeply moved and much relieved by this triumph of love over differences of opinion.  I know I was, because I loved both of them and knew how much each meant to the other.  I mention this because I'm hoping that any friends from whom Judy was estranged before her death had the opportunity to make things right between them.  I mention it because it's my hope that no one loses another or leaves this world with fractured relationships that remain unmended and unhealed.  I mention it because none of us ever knows how much time we or our loved ones may have to make such needed repairs.

Writings

Judy also was among the 40-odd contributors to The Pagan Book of Living and Dying, with "Coup de Grâce: Neo-Pagan Ethics and Assisted Suicide."

Shortly after that book was published, a Canadian publisher contacted me to write a book about the impact of the World Wide Web on Witchcraft and Paganism, resulting in Witchcraft and the Web (2001).  At that same time the publisher sought to publish a line of books about contemporary Paganism.  They asked me for suggestions.  I immediately thought of Judy and the late Grey Cat.  As a result, I'm happy to say that ECW Press published two of Judy's books, Spiritual Mentoring (2002) and Devoted to You (2003) as well as Grey Cat's Deepening Witchcraft (2002).

From there Judy and I, who had the same agent, moved to Citadel Press, publisher of subsequent titles.

Interfaith

In 2005 Judy, Katrina Messenger, and I were both invited toCenter for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary for what they called a "text study," which meant discussing Torah and Bible writings about women and Witches (or women with power?).  We had an interesting discussion with a rabbi, a Catholic sister, a Protestant pastor and others, all subscribers to book-based religions, whereas we are not.  Later than evening we sat on a public panel, at which Judy presented her piece "Exegesis on the Rede."  Others who are active in international interfaith organizations likely have more to say about her involvement on that level.

Cherry Hill Seminary

Somewhere around that time (late 1990s-early 2000s), Judy's and my mutual friend, Cat Chapin-Bishop, asked Judy and me to take a course she's designed for Cherry Hill Seminary.  That class was "Boundaries & Ethics," one of the best courses I've ever taken anywhere, and now a standard required course for all matriculating students.  The results of Cat's scheming have played out big time in Judy's and my continuing involvement with the seminary.  Cat was Chair of the Pastoral Counseling Department at that time, and when she returned to school to earn a teaching credential, she left the department in Judy's hands.

Judy took on this job with her usual determination, broadening the scope and fleshing out the department with new courses and new teachers.  At one point when she was ailing, she chose an assistant department chair, with the understanding that she'd be prepared to take Judy's place if Judy was no longer able to perform her duties.

I ended up taking on several different jobs over our first few years of feeling our way along, striving to keep to the vision, and making a school that worked.  Eventually the seminary shifted and settled and arranged itself into a stable state of operations.

It was during this time that Judy became the strongest influence in overcoming my reluctance to seek accreditation.  Now I'm a proud old hippie, one who treasures the fact that we arose from the smoky rainbow-hued '60s counter culture.  Not entirely, to be sure, but many seekers who eventually found a Pagan spiritual path wore flowers in their hair.  Anyway, Judy was active in a professional organization I recall as being the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, specifically the New Jersey Chapter.  I disliked the entire notion of pastoral care because of its Christian connotations.  Sheep in need of a shepherd indeed!  Hnf!  It seems an inaccurate term when applied to broom-closet Witches and other Pagans.  She convinced me that it is the accepted professional term for the field she'd devoted herself to, and that we needed credibility with such organizations.

Even more, she convinced me that Pagans in the military had a right to Pagan chaplains -- she wrote, or co-wrote, a Wiccan5 chaplains' manual for the U.S. military at one time; I don't think it's in use currently -- and that having graduates come out of an accredited seminary with a Master of Divinity was essential in order for them to be accepted.  The more I learned about the situations of Pagans in the military, especially with the evangelical Christian agenda of most career military chaplains, the more I agreed about accreditation.  The fact that hospital and school chaplains, as well as others in professional counseling positions, benefited too made the prospect even more compelling.

Judy and I both served on the CHS Board of Directors for a while, she for one term, I for longer.  In more recent years her health led to her reduce her workload, so she's left more of the day-to-day work of making a seminary to others.

In 2009 when Judy had retired from CHS, the Board honored her service by designating its new online resource the Judy Harrow Library & Information Center "to meet the specific information requests of professors for their courses and students, and serve as a repository for faculty and student work" and to complement our current relationship with the New Alexandrian Library.

For many years she also served on the Board of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

During those years Judy and I also enjoyed our participation in the Nature Religions Scholars Network, which grew to become the Pagan Studies Section of the American Academy of Religion.

As news of Judy's passing circles the globe, our AAR colleague from Dale Cowley Wallace in South Africa writes me:

"It is so early here in Africa and I have woken to your mail on Pagan Studies telling of the passing of Judy.  My heart is broken at this news and I feel lost, bewildered and so far away.  This wonderful person I loved so dearly and whose life was such a gift to so many.  I spoke to her very regularly and my last call just a few days ago.  My friend was filled with optimism, new thoughts and much laughter.  Like she told me once in another context, she is 'off to new adventure.'  Out of words I send blessings to you."

High Maintenance

Like many of us strong, proud, opinionated women, Judy tended towards high-maintenance.  Not so much in physical terms, more in emotional and intellectual terms.  If you knew her, you know what I mean.  That's not a criticism, merely a statement of fact learned from observation and experience.  I'm not exactly low-maintenance myself, though I try to be.  In fact, such tendencies may be evidence of one who is driven to change culture, to serve one's community(ies).

Oh, there's so much more to say about Judy and her life!  Others have told their Judy stories elsewhere.  There's plenty of drama to go round.  In my experience, however, over many years and many projects, Judy maintained the ability to keep her eye on the prize.  Regardless of personal disagreements -- and they could be long and heated and irresolvable -- Judy made sure we kept our focus on the goal toward which we were striving.  Her life influenced many people, from teaching coveners to getting NYC to accept CoG's credentials, from writing a Wiccan chaplains' manual for the military to schmoozing with world religious leaders in Barcelona, from dancing round a bonfire to helping create a respected Pagan seminary.

Knowing Judy has enriched my life beyond measure.  She was a Pagan pioneer.  If you knew her, you know all this.  If you didn't know her in life, know that her work has advanced our religions and made our futures more assured and comfortable.  She has blessed us all.

Judy went to the simmering cauldron of emerging American Paganism and added something every once in a while.  Then she'd stir it to mix it all in and to keep stuff from sticking on the bottom.

Hail the goer! 

~~~~~~~~

Note:  I am positive that the date of April 3 that appears on Judy's Wikipedia entry is incorrect.  I know she was a Pisces like me, since we often made note of that fact.  I'm now informed that her birth date was March 3.

Additional Note: Memorial arrangements are pending and will be announced when determined.

1 This was not the first CoG Grand Council, only the first MerryMeet.
2 CoG is an organization of Witches, some of whom are Wiccans (i.e., lineaged British Traditional Witches). 
3 No need to get on my case about this.  This is not a stance I take, it's just the way it was then.
4 NELCOG dissolved some years later and reformed in other iterations, including Weavers LC.
5 Yes, Wiccan, not Pagan.  After all, Judy was a Gardnerian priestess.  Getting this manual under the eyes of military chaplaincy personnel was a righteous act that ultimately benefited all Pagans.

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Aline O’Brien (M. Macha NightMare), Witch at Large, has circled with people of diverse Pagan paths throughout the U.S., and in Canada and Brazil.  Author of Witchcraft and the Web (2001) and Pagan Pride (2004), and co-author, with Starhawk, of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying (1997), Macha has also contributed to anthologies, periodicals, textbooks, and encyclopedias.  A member of the American Academy of Religion, the Marin Interfaith Council, and the Nature Religion Scholars Network, Macha also serves as a national interfaith representative for the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and on the Advisory Board of the Sacred Dying Foundation.  Having spent the last eleven years developing and teaching at Cherry Hill Seminary, the first and only seminary serving the Neopagan community, Macha now serves on its Board of Directors. An all-round Pagan webweaver, she speaks on behalf of Paganism to news media and academic researchers, and lectures at colleges, universities and seminaries. www.machanightmare.com

Comments

  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward Tuesday, 01 April 2014

    Macha,

    This post brings together a confluence of forces in my life. For one, I knew Judy Harrow, but only for a few short years, and not deeply enough to gain as much as I would have liked from the acquaintance, but I'm glad I knew her at all. For another, your book on death and dying has been a favorite of mine for many, many years. And finally, your reference to an inaccuracy in her Wikipedia entry speaks to an ongoing concern I have about how Pagan topics are treated on that site. If you can help me document her actual birth date, or anything else about this amazing woman, I will certainly work to align Wikipedia with reality.

  • Aline "Macha" O'Brien
    Aline "Macha" O'Brien Tuesday, 01 April 2014

    Hi Terence,

    Thanks for your kind words.

    Judy's birthday was March 3, 1945.

  • Byron Ballard
    Byron Ballard Wednesday, 02 April 2014

    Thank you, Macha. This is lovely.

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