Mourning Wendy Griffin

Wendy Griffin as a Sixties folksinger.

My day was knocked sideways around noon when I learned that Wendy Griffin (1942–2021) had died a couple of hours earlier, peacefully and at home, according to Doug Cox, her husband.

After a late-blossoming career as an academic, where she retired after charing the Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at California State University, Long Beach, she took on the job of academic dean at Cherry Hill Seminary for a few years more. Earlier, she had been a folksinger, a published novelist,[1]As Wendy Lozano, author of She Who Was King and other works. and I don’t know what all else.

(For more on Wendy’s bohemian, pre-academic life, go here.)

Doug Cox and Wendy Griffin.

In 2004, when after eight years of trying, a group of scholars persuaded the American Academy of Religion to recognize Pagan studies by granting us our own program unit, Wendy was the first co-chair, along with Michael York. When I succeeded her, she walked me through how to handle all the bureaucratic scutwork that came with the job, something I am not always good at doing.

Wendy’s Paganism and academic life were intertwined. In an autobiographical essay for The Pomegranate she wrote,

When the large red-headed student stood up the first week of the semester and announced to my women’s studies class at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), that she was a Dianic Witch, I knew it was going to be an interesting semester. It was 1987 and I was a “freeway flyer,” one of those PhDs teaching on multiple campuses, trying to patch together enough part-time jobs to survive until that magical tenure-track position appeared.

Attending a Dianic Witchcraft campout, she had a realization:

From the time I was two years old until I was 16, I had spent every summer surrounded by women in the forests of Wisconsin and Michigan. My mother was the associate director of a Campfire Girls camp during WWII and then opened a girls’ camp of her own.6 Before the campers arrived and after they had gone, I would be left pretty much on my own. I would take a lunch and walk in the woods, build fairy gardens, try to communicate with small animals. When I was a little older I’d take one of the canoes and paddle around the three small connecting lakes, losing myself in the tall reeds. I always felt safe, protected because, I would actively pretend, I was part of the wilderness. I remembered how we campers would walk two by two, singing softly as we processed down through the silver birch trees to the lake and the campfire that awaited us. I didn’t know the word “spirituality” at the time and probably wouldn’t have recognized it if I had. But as I stood there in the mountains outside Los Angeles, the memories flooded back and the magic of the night brought that sense of connection from my childhood. That was when I realized the feelings were spiritual, that I was a spiritual person, and what these women were doing were practices that they believed healed them and connected them to a greater whole.

Wendy at the American Academy of Religion, Atlanta, 2015.

She had published an edited collection, Daughters of the Goddess: Studies of Identity, Healing and Empowerment, with AltaMira Press, who asked her to edit a Pagan-studies series. She knew me only through email, but she asked if I would help, and now here I am, with the series at home at Equinox.

Birth of a book series? Wendy Griffn (l), AltaMira Press editor Eric Hanson, and Kristy Coleman, author of “Re-riting Women: Dianic Wicca and the Feminine Divine.” American Academy of Religion, Denver, 2001.

When Wendy retired from teaching and book-series editing, she was not done yet: in 2010 she agreed to help Cherry Hill:

I took the [academic dean] position a few months before officially retiring from CSULB. At Cherry Hill, I have been fortunate to work with deeply dedicated and hard-working professionals. That is especially important, as only the executive director and the faculty are paid, the latter only during the semester they teach and never what they are really worth. We are a small seminary and exist on a shoestring budget. Fortunately, I get a small pension from CSULB now that I am “retired,” so I can afford to do service at CHS.

O Fortuna, velut luna statu variabilis

She continued,

Writing this article is the first time I have looked back at my career as a Pagan studies scholar in any detail. Four main things stand out to me. First, I never would have gotten anywhere without putting in a great deal of hard work. That is a given for all of us, but to begin undergraduate education as a single parent on welfare in her thirties is uniquely challenging.

Second, the networking I have been able to do through professional organizations and the contacts I made there have been invaluable, beyond anything I could have imagined at the time. To me, that is why these annual meetings are worth it, even if there have been times when I had to go hide out in my hotel room from overload.

Third, I believe it is important to take risks, and I certainly have taken my share. Risk-taking doesn’t always work out, but you can always learn something from it. That knowledge can pay off in future, unexpected ways.

Fourth, all the hard work in the world would not have led me to a successful career without good luck. In several key places I was in the right place at the right time and prepared enough to take the hand of the Goddess Fortuna when she offered it to me.

I have been blessed.

Wendy, we have all been blessed to know you.

Notes

1 As Wendy Lozano, author of She Who Was King and other works.

3 thoughts on “Mourning Wendy Griffin

  1. I am so sad to hear of Wendy’s passing. She was an important mentor for me while we worked together at Cherry Hill Seminary. Thanks for putting together such a sensitive remembrance of her.

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