Susu Jeffrey – Community Elder Marks Seventy Years at Coldwater Saturday

Highway 55 encampment, Susu's birthday 1999

Susu Jeffrey is an elder in many spheres, and in our Pagan community. She is a visionary, writer, and poet. She is a percussionist, singer, and ritualist. A social activist and advocate for human, water, environmental, and Native American rights. Once a reporter for a major daily, she has contributed to PNC-Minnesota. This month Susu turns seventy and invites you to join her celebration!

Come to Susu’s 70th Birthday Party at the entrance to COLDWATER SPRING Sat., Dec. 10, 2011, from 2-4 PM.
Bring a biodegradable vision gift for the last natural spring in Hennepin County-to tie onto the 30-foot locked fence. Coffee, hot chocolate & ice- cream-cake: Full Moon-traditional group howl!

Coldwater is between Minnehaha Park & Fort Snelling, in Mpls. From Hwy 55/Hiawatha, turn East (toward the Mississippi) at 54th Street, take an immediate right, & drive South on the frontage road for a half a mile past the parking meters, to the cul-de-sac. Dress for the outdoors.  … BYO Chair !

I interviewed Susu today. Many know her, but many also don’t know much about her. Susu can be maddeningly irritating, persistent, loving, and deeply profound all in the same conversation. However she makes you feel, you know she has wisdom. I usually include my questions, but with Susu just state a subject, and she will share her thoughts!


I have three degrees, five books, and thirty or forty non violence civil disobedience arrests. My first Pagan gathering was in 1979. It was a Pan Pagan gathering and it was like coming home, ya, this is what I believe. I asked my mom when a child, “What do you believe in?”, and she said, “I don’t know honey, I guess the sun”. My parents didn’t believe in a deity, you would call ‘god’, but they did believe in social justice. My father was in Congress, and I am very proud of what they both did, particularly my father. He was in Congress in 1942-44, one term, and he was one of the authors of the GI Bill of Rights. He was a poor kid, his parents were gypsies. They had no social standing at all. He put himself through school and became a lawyer who always remembered his roots. He always said, “You know honey, if you haven’t given away more money that you are allowed to on your income tax, you haven’t given away anything.” I grew up in the era of being part of a community, with the ethic of accepting obligations in being a part of a community.

I grew up a writer. My first two books were about my gypsy heritage . My dad was very embarrassed about my writing about it. My Mom ‘s basic ethic was , “No Lieing”. My mother was extremely blunt, and perhaps I inherited that trait (laughs). I heard a  radio ad for a training session for a civil disobedience training session to oppose the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. I responded to the ad that night. I thank the stars that I was trained by the Quakers and not a group that was into violence. I have strong opinions, but non violence is the bottom line of all the groups I have been involved in. Force doesn’t work, it eventually gets defeated.

I was always a Pagan, I just didn’t know they existed! After that 1979 festival, I just knew it had a name and existed. My first arrest was also important. 1977 was my first arrest in civil disobedience at Seabrook. It was a perfect example of ‘big”. I have a new bumper sticker, “Small is Big”. We know that this works whether in the kitchen, schools, or at work. Small businesses really drive the economy. Big businesses suck the energy out of our economy. I like the Native American tradition of planning for seven generations. If you do that, you are surely not going to leave a load of nuclear waste, that will be toxic forever, to your children. I love this country. I love the people. I love the land, but we are doing bad things and bad things are being done in our name. We seem to be powerless to change a lot of things. On the other hand, small is big is really happening. Solar collectors on roofs, a little garden, parents in the schools. It looks like the future to me, the rest is breaking down. Big is just money for the few.

I have had a private life, a writing, poetry life. I have also had a public and political life.

Susu's photo, Coldwater Spring; January 1998—This is called “the ducks photo”—very cold day, about minus-6-degrees—steam is coming off the reservoir water

I am a freelance Pagan. I was initiated by Starhawk and Luisa Teish, in the early eighties. It was fabulous! We started on the Saint Croix river at one of my power spots and went on from there. My dedication was as a drum witch.  I found out dragging a drum around is hard as you get older, so now I specialize in hand percussion. My favorite thing to do as a Pagan is to accompany a ritual. To enhance the dynamics of a ritual. In 1990 I stopped smoking and took up singing. I made up a song, “Mississippi Mother’ and sang it at every crossing of water (adapted to the body name). I took singing lessons and joined a series of different choirs. Singing is wonderful, and you don’t have anything to carry around. I didn’t know music growing up. I discovered first percussion and then voice. Music is a collective experience. I was in rock and roll bands, and enjoyed marvelous practices and performances. Music keeps you balanced. People sang before they spoke I believe. It is older than speech. It is cross cultural.  Christianity believes we come out of darkness into light. I don’t know why we don’t just start in the light. If you start there, you are further on the road to enlightenment and fulfilment.

I am not concerned with the street, that is not my focus. I am interested in the ‘Changers”, what comes before the ‘street’ gets their information. As a writer, I am allowed that. The street is not my focus, well, except in ritual. Ritual is the attempt at unity beyond speech and understanding, a feeling of powerful unity and equality.  I love ritual without a lot of words, ‘post verbal’  I guess I would call it. I love ritual. I am a creator rather than a mass cultural worker. I think changes come from, well take ‘occupy’, it came from an article in a Canadian newspaper. The people read it, and they went to wall street and took action.  I am interested in catalyzing ideas and putting them out there. Sometimes you write things to kick people in the brain. Economic hardship in this country is completely unbalanced. We have to help each other.

My husband was in Vietnam. When he came back he wanted to sleep with a gun, and with me. He wasn’t even in combat. We managed to kill him, I think he got microwaved in his air force job. He died when he was 33 years old. I was against the war before I even met him. You fall in love, you take the person, warts and all. I can say Vietnam clearly destroyed our marriage. I may not have been ideal anyway but it was destroyed. The military did that to his brain. He never fought, had one physical fight in high school. That was his fighting career, and then the fighting killed him. There are so many better ways than sparing with each other. I think the government and the people are so far apart from each other now. It is not like it was. In the micro, people are getting together because you can’t exist as a separate entity any more. I can’t build a house, fix the oven, or make my own shoes. At the community, tribal, family level we need a lot of help, because you can’t do it by yourself. American individuality is a rubric that we can let ‘them’ try to hold up. I came of age (of consciousness) during Vietnam—so I started out politically in peace politics (beyond anti-war).

When I look at my political career, it has all been about water. Nuclear power is all about water, heating it up and dumping it back. Water is an interesting metaphor for all of culture. We are drinking dinosaur piss. All water is related. We are the water people on the water planet. People are 70% water, the earth’s surface is 70% water. One water issue involves all the water issues.

I grew up in SW Ohio and there were three distinct classes: white, black, and hillbilly. They each had very distinct religion, cultural norms, family traditions. I lived in seven different states, gypsy thing in my blood. When I cam to Minnesota in 1972 I was struck dumb by the anti Indian prejudice. It hit me like a brick in the face. Why aren’t we looking at ancient Native American wisdom, personified by planning for seven generations? They didn’t poison the water. People who have genetically lived in a place for thousands of years. We are ignoring so much practical wisdom from the tribal level it is heart breaking. Refusing to go to school. How stupid that we are not listening to Indian people? This anti Indian prejudice is extremely dangerous, especially at a time when we are poisoning the water. Everything points to water. You can go without a lot, but you can’t go a day without water.

 My dad taught me how to talk to trees. We would go to a tree and he would say, “Take this leaf honey and bend it back and forth. Does this tree feel thirsty?” He taught me that. My mother taught me to garden, and to recognize and see beauty. On a family vacation, with us kids grumbling at dawn in the back seat she said. “Look at that sunrise, isn’t that picturesque. “ It shut us up, and we looked. She taught me not just to see beauty, but to acknowledge it and talk about it. I sat with a child on a dock twenty years ago watching the day, the wind, and the water. I said,”Look at the clouds move Jonathon, they must be alive.” He said, “Uh hum.” “And the water, it must be alive.” “Uh hum.” The water was alive, the clouds were alive, the trees were alive. Everything was alive. This was so obvious to him, and a very profound moment for me because it was like I was teaching myself. Jonathon got it right away.

In the Pagan community we love to honor people. We honor them for teaching, for generations of coven ‘children’,  for service, for words. Rarely do we get to honor someone for standing within their own truth, consistently, and for 70 years. If you know anything about Susu, the truth is about water. Please join her this Saturday!

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