Merry Meet Family and Friends,
Yesterday, Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits, lost his battle with a very rare form of cancer.
I listened to the sound of the rain falling outside my window. A brief shower the meteorologist reported, that would end later that morning. It seemed only fitting that it would rain steadily throughout the day. I watched the candle flickering on my altar. A light to guide his soul on it's journey to the Summerland.
The first time I'd met Isaac was 3 years ago during our New Year's Eve celebration. Friends of ours were planning to announce their engagement and being friends of Isaac and Phaedra's as well, asked if they might invite them to join us.
Wait, allow me to ponder the question. Would Isaac Bonewits, author of some of my favorite books on the study of Wicca, Witchcraft and Magick and one of the most influential people in the neopagan community be welcome to celebrate New Year's Eve at our home? Seriously? Give me a moment to think this over. Ok, moments up!
To say I was a little nervous about meeting Isaac Bonewits would have been an understatement. Yet when he called me that afternoon for directions to our house, it was as comfortable as chatting with an old friend. I, on the other hand, was certain that I babbled something incoherent that didn't even resemble directions. After I'd hung up, I couldn't even remember what I'd said, but I was sure that Isaac would be lost somewhere in Ridgewood trying to find my house.
I have never been easily "star struck". My husband and I had chatted with Tony Bennett while having dinner in Manhattan and with Nell Carter in the lobby of a hotel when we were on our honeymoon. But, this wasn't Tony or Nell, it was Isaac Bonewits and I couldn't think of anyone I wanted to meet more!
And yet, there was someone that I was sure would want to meet Isaac just as much as I did. My son, Justin. Justin was just beginning to explore an interest in Paganism and one of the very first books I had given him to read was Bonewit's Essential Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft. While I thought it might be a tad advanced for a beginner, I knew that Isaac's humorous writing style combined with Justin's love of history would be a perfect combination of education and entertainment.
That said, I made the mistake of mentioning to Justin that Isaac and Phaedra might be stopping by that evening. He could barely contain his excitement and haunted me, relentlessly, throughout the day for an estimated time of Isaac's arrival.
Later that evening, as the hour grew late with no sign of Isaac, I knew Justin might be disappointed. I explained that Isaac and Phaedra had important plans and may not make it. They were to be married earlier that day.
The celebration was well under way and we were caught up in the merriment, when I heard the front door open. We have an "open door" policy in our home, so that anyone that's been here before is welcome to just come in. When I didn't hear the doorbell ring, I expected to see the familiar face of a late arriving friend. As I looked up to see who it was, there stood Isaac and Phaedra!
After a few moments of being in his company, I realized that whatever trepidation I had about meeting this wonderful man had completely vanished. He was sweet, shared openly his wisdom, knowledge and infamous wit, as well as anecdotes about his life. His wife, Phaedra, was a gentle soul, whose eyes filled with love when she looked at him.
Suddenly, I realized, I'd completely forgotten about Justin! I called for him to come down from his room. There was someone I thought he'd want to meet. As I introduced my son, Isaac shook his hand and said, "Hi Justin! I'm the most famous person you've probably never heard of!". Oh, but of course, Justin had heard of him!
I'm sure there are those reading who've never heard Isaac's name before today. As I write this, I find myself struggling to put into words just who Isaac was. Yes, he was "North America's leading expert on Witchcraft and the occult". He's was an author. A scholar. A songwriter. A Druid Priest. He was the one and only person who ever received a degree in Magick from an accredited university. He has been one of the most colorful, notoriously witty and influential people in the Pagan community. And all this accurately describes who Isaac was. An yet, it just doesn't seem to say enough about the man who gave so much of his heart and paved the way for us to follow ours.
Isaac Bonewits 1949-2010
Thursday, August 12th, 2010
Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits, founder and Archdruid Emeritus of of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, one of North America’s leading experts on ancient and modern Druidism, Witchcraft, magic and the occult, and the rapidly growing Earth Religions movement, died today after a short struggle with cancer.
Mr. Bonewits first came into the public eye when he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts in Magic and Thaumaturgy (1970). During his tenure there, Mr. Bonewits worked with many renowned professors including Nobel Prize Laureate Owen Chamberlain. The work he did for that degree became his first book, Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic (1971).
In 1983, he founded and became the first Archdruid of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) an international fellowship devoted to creating a public tradition of Neopagan Druidry. In 1995, he retired from a leadership role due to complications from eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome. ADF has grown to become the best-known Neopagan Druid group based in North America. At his death, Mr. Bonewits held the title of ArchDruid Emeritus.
During his forty years as a Neopagan priest, scholar, teacher, bard, and polytheologian, Isaac Bonewits coined much of the vocabulary and articulated many of the issues that have shaped the rapidly growing Neopagan movement in the United States and Canada.
Mr. Bonewits was internationally known as a speaker who educated, enlightened and entertained two generations of modern Goddess worshippers, nature mystics, and followers of other minority belief systems, as well as explained these movements to journalists, law enforcement officers, college students, and academic researchers.
His personal papers will become part of the American Religions Collection at the Library of University of California at Santa Barbara.
One of his most influential contributions was the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (the “ABCDEF”), developed in 1979 as a response to the Jim Jones People’s Temple tragedy. It has been translated into many languages and used around the world to evaluate how dangerous or harmless an organization might be. It was the first such scale to use theories of mental health and personal growth to judge rather than theological or ideological standards.
His other books include Authentic Thaumaturgy (1979, 1998), The Pagan Man (2005), Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca (2006), Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism (2006), Neopagan Rites (2007), and Real Energy (2007), which was co-authored with his wife, Phaedra, as well as numerous articles, reviews and essays. As a singer-songwriter, he released two albums, Be Pagan Once Again (1988), and Avalon is Rising (1992).
He is survived by his wife, Phaedra, his son from a previous marriage, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits of Bardonia NY, his mother Jeannette, his brothers Michael and Richard, and sisters Simone Arris and Melissa Banbury.