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In Memory of Judy Foster

Judy Foster
mother and grandmother, activist, friend, singer, Witch, cook, poet...
longtime member of New Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn and of Reclaiming Collective; founding member of East Bay Food Not Bombs

For Judy Foster

There were moonlight picnics
Park cops lurked by our cars
We were naked and moonmad
Of crescent cakes and honey wine
Lunar melon
Hand to hand
We danced the Spiral of Rebirth
the Meeting Dance
in wingfeathers
And the power rose, coiling
We have seen beneath the surface of the world
Building a language of symbols
In layers of images
Shards of mirror and loss
Treasures of thought and word and grain
O, thou Creature of Salt!
We called the stolen car
The perfect job
The luck
The Guardians of the World
came to our summoning
She bound my hand fast
To her old friend and my beloved
Sealed in mead and candlelight and kisses
There was power in our chant
Smooth and pulsing
over bellies full of babies
over bellies full of death
came each, in turn
I gave her the kykeon to drink
When last I saw her eyes, she knew
She gave up her bones for bread
She will not fade away

— Liodan, 11/00


Personal Recollections

The teardrops over the past few years contained the anticipation of Judy's demise, and more recently, many memories of her life. How we met is a significant part of this story of our friendship. I was called in to teach at a childcare center where many of the staff had quit the previous week. Judy was there as the reliable quirky cook. She had a festive kitchen with many hand-written signs, and the radio was usually on KPFA. She had a stool handy for three-year-olds to sit on to watch her, and for her to be entertained by their fresh impressions.

Fresh impressions pleased and fed Judy; she held council in an unassuming way but also was ready with her curt opinion. Our bond developed out of love for kids and ways to educate, and our latest fun and folly from each of us living communally. She had a colorful life, and I was ripe for such knowledge. Judy opened my world to the spiritual community I was seeking and had dallied in a bit before meeting her.

Judy invited me to gatherings that I missed, until the Spiral Dance book party came along at Samhain 1979. That night I requested she and her friend Rosie introduce me to ritual on the hill above the Ft. Mason building where Starhawk and friends were doing their ritual. The chants and the serendipity brought me to the Goddess. I was apprehensive about the Craft but Judy answered my questions, offered me tools, books, astrology, tarot... And together we got involved in the dynamic anti-nuclear direct actions of Livermore Action Group. Magic and community were afire.

Her rebel spirit was often a nudge for my conformity. She and I traveled to work at times over the bridge and our third passenger to get over the bridge "free" was a dummy she had propped in the back seat. Her car was a treasure to me; it held a ceramic frog, a Buddha and more often than not, boxes of fine fruits, prepared goods and recipes and a scent of smelly vegetables. I left the job but moved to the East Bay and found more opportunities to be her friend. Many a conversation about love and lust; enjoying a joint, finding engaging parties, taking dance and stretch classes and grooving to late night boogies on Telegraph Avenue. Seems so common, friendship, and yet it's a distinction that was mine to hold. Close bonds built on more fragile times. She was there for me when I got a call that my brother had committed suicide. My developing understanding of the Grim Reaper, and having Judy's shoulder to cry on, cottoned me to the Goddess.

Judy was a great listener with a generous heart. She contributed a share to help me buy a collective house with some sense that she might move in some day. She brightened our annual poetry readings with the depth of her selections. Her voice was unique and commanding. As my partner mentioned to her, "You read like you speak." An apt compliment.

Over New Year's almost eleven years ago, Judy was planning to cook for Pagans who held an annual tree-planting known as Forever Forests. It was being held at our old haunt, Harbin Hot springs, so I decided to go. There I met my dear consort, Tom Lux. She saw me aglow, and with a knowing smile told me that certain of her friends would chide each other when that loving feeling came along, and so called out to me, "Lucky Bitch." Intrigued but not jealous was her nature with me.

Judy was a major player in my initiation. She challenged me to read The White Goddess. This information was extremely obtuse to me. Usually I related to a grassroots Reclaiming training, and I have a pea-brain for memorizing and grasping esoteric text on subjects like tree alphabets. Judy, a founding member of the New Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn tradition, opened my sense of history with her poetic vein.

Judy had a lot of pride, a matter-of-fact resignation, and some nagging projects, but didn't necessarily want to talk about the short time left. In September, a gathering in her appreciation at Ashkenaz was a mutual gift that I was grateful to be able to help organize. The room was filled with over two hundred people. Judy brought carefully wrapped photos of herself, her family, her partner Charlie Foster and her daughters. In her final months, she was given time to organize many fine details about her life and spent many precious days with her daughters and loved ones. I, like so many others, was inspired by her life and her passing.

— Valley High

We Witches of a certain age have very few elders. When we got into the tradition, not too many others were practicing and few of them were responsible adults. I've often envied Native Americans who speak with gratitude of the elders they can turn to for advice and teachings. I had teachers in the Craft, but not all of them were teachers of how to live.

Judy Foster was one of my elders. She died just a few short weeks ago. Although we knew she was dying, her passing seemed sudden and unexpected, as if someone from the other side gave her a whistle and called, "Hey, come on over, we've got work for you on this side!"

Judy was not so much my teacher in the Craft as my teacher in life. She lived an alternative, Bohemian life at a time when not too many women did. She was a beatnik, a poet, a hippie, a radical, and an activist as well as a Witch. She took part in all the major social movements of her day, and she lived with grace and a wry sense of humor that carried her through all setbacks.

Judy never got rich. She wasn't famous, or glamorous, or stunningly successful in the usual terms. Yet she lived one of the richest lives I know of.

Judy fed people. She cooked wonderful, elegant food as a caterer for money, but she cooked for Food Not Bombs for love. She fed people as a political act. She cooked for the homeless and the hopeless. And she cooked for activists and actions. I remember hanging out with her at a rally in People's Park, and seeing her sweaty and bleary eyed last year in the dungeon-like confines of the Convergence Center at the WTO action in Seattle, not letting cancer keep her down, rolling her eyes at the chaos and disappearing back into the kitchen.

Judy was never on time and she was terrible in meetings, always wandering away from the subject at hand. But she was wonderful in ritual. I remember Judy rising from the sea as Demeter during a long-ago ritual, and for me Demeter will always wear Judy's face. She was the originator of the big, installation altars for the Spiral Dance, and the North Altar was her inspired creation. But most of all I remember the many, many nights we met, both pushing brooms at one in the morning, cleaning up after some ritual, the last ones to go home.

Judy never left before the job was done. I have to believe that the timing of her going now means that her work here was complete. She lived as a free and independent woman, curious and enjoying life up until the moment of her departure. She was an artist, a poet, a lover and a mother. She fed the hungry. She died surrounded by love.

She was our true elder, teaching us by her example how to live and how to die.

— Starhawk