A Tribute To Phillip Emmons Isaac Bonewits, Scholar & ArchDruid Emeritus
Rest In Peace : October 1, 1949 – August 12, 2010
Isaac @ Newgrange, Ireland
photo given to me by Isaac, photographer unknown
I fondly remember when I first met Isaac back at the Gathering of the Tribes in Atlanta Georgia in 1991. At the time, I was a Graduate Student doing his research on the Ethnography of Wicca in the Southeastern United States – having not only the academic interest but undergoing a transformation from being a devout Catholic to a Neo-Pagan Witch. Various covens I had initiated with and worked under as well as studied had not so many nice things to say about Isaac. Many of the coven leaders I had known at the time were threatened by him and said he stirred trouble for Witches. Oddly, I took that as truth so was very biased about this amazing man in 1991. Mix that with being a relatively new Wiccan and having a bit of Fundamentalist Witch attitude about me – I was actually rude to him when he walked up to my table. He humbly picked up my ‘Wiccan practitioner survey’ and asked if he could have one to fill it out … I snapped at him and said “You’re a Druid, Not A Witch.” He looked crushed and walked off. This was not the man I was forewarned about. So I had someone watch my table and I wandered off to his workshop “Introduction to Druidism 101”. What I met in that lecture was an overwhelming sensation of connectedness to the Druidic faith and admiration for this man others spoke harshly about. Turned out that “Druidism” described who I actually was, not “Wicca”. I apologized to him and quickly sought out his book “Real Magic” and information about his Druid Organization “ADF: Ar nDraiocht Fein. I found him to be an amazing kindred soul – and it was canny that our paths to Paganism and the Occult were pretty identical from Catholic upbringing with a Catholic mother and a Presbyterian father to being altar boys looking into becoming Catholic priests. We were both intrigued by the divine at a young age and discovered spellcraft independently by Voudon priestesses while visiting New Orleans. I think that was a cohesive glue that gave us a commonality. Within months I started up a proto-Grove in Tallahassee, Florida called “The Wakulla Cypress Grove”. Within a year I had a full clergy and we gained Full Grove status. Correspondence and chats with Isaac were very motivating as was learning from him, attending his multiple workshops at Starwood and Wellspring. I videotaped a number of his workshops (reminds me I need to convert them to DVD and Youtube) and learned everything I could from the Man. I was roped into becoming the Assistant Pursewarden for Regalia in ADF – carrying ADF wares with me to various festivals. But after dealing with Debt, Death, and Divorce – (Divorce from my Wife, Death of my Father, and Bankruptcy) I had to resign and moved off to the Pacific Northwest where I started another ADF Grove – the Ancient Forests Proto-Grove in Eugene, Oregon. With Isaac’s long-distance guidance we had tried to kindle it with the Outpost proto-nest of the Church of All Worlds – but it was short-lived as I had to move back to Florida to deal with my Bankruptcy. Isaac was very supportive of me with my ups and downs at the time. He also guided me through some things I was uncomfortable with when I was getting my Minerval degree with a local chapter of the O.T.O. (Ordo Templaris Orientis) I had always known I could depend on him for answers … he was my personal Merlin of sorts – a Dial a Druid – with his own 800 number at the time … 1-800-DRUIDRY. The man made me laugh, gave me a deep insight into questioning various Pagan groups and their claims of heritage, to use academic scholarship to cross-check everything in the Occult. He was truly an inspiration to me. I went from despising to loving his “Devil’s Advocate” stance with all Occult Groups. I used his shared knowledge, articles, treatises, and handouts for all of the classes I taught from “Neopaganism 101” to “Druidism 202”. While from 1991 until 1996 my involvement with him was only thru a distance when I was part of ADF, and what adored times I got to hang out with him at various festivals annually. I even left ADF when he stepped down as Arch Druid (of course drama in the organization at the time contributed to that as well).
Then in 1996 he came to Tallahassee to legally handfast in a Druid Ceremony me and my second wife Hena. I was nothing more than honored. It was an event I’ll never forget and will always hold true to my heart. A couple of years after our handfasting, Me and Hena moved to Putnam Lake, New York where we were only a short drive from Isaac. Isaac was kindling up the “Black Dirt Protogrove” and roped us into re-joining ADF and assisting him in getting it started. It was a honor and ceremonies with him were amazing. I always learned something new every time I saw him. He had suggested I write his Biography at the time, which I had always pondered, but never pursued as I was very busy at the time with the Dotcom wave in running my own Web Development firm and things were getting rocky between Me and Hena. Life shattered for me and after divorce I was on a walk-a-bout to the Pacific Northwest and Canada. I fell out of contact with him, except for the annual visits to his camp and workshops at Starwood or another random festival we were at during the same time. By 2005 I completely fell out of touch with him until we re-discovered each other on Facebook when it came out. I always regretted that. This was a man who inspired me so much through my life – I should have taken him up on his offers to come back to New York and write his Biography for him. I truly Appreciated Isaac and all that he taught me. He’s been a role model. He’s been a guiding light. Much of what I contributed to the Neo-Pagan community wherever I lived was because I saw what Isaac gave to the community and I wanted to do the same. It was also Isaac’s dedication to the Goddess Brigid that led me onto the path to her. He may have been the one to introduce me to her. I do not remember. But thankful nonetheless for that wonderful connection.
- “Isaac …. you did so much for the Neo-Pagan movement – You are loved and honored – You are an amazing man and soul. Thank you for all that you have done. You will be missed tremendously, not only by Me, but the Neo-Pagan movement in all its faiths, traditions, and sects. We would not be where we are today without you. May your Passing to the Otherworld and Summerland Be An Amazing Adventure – I Hope You Are Reading This As You Sip Mead Side-by-Side With The Gods … Thank You. “
About Isaac Bonewits:
Phillip Emmons Isaac Bonewits, Scholar & ArchDruid Emeritus
Rest In Peace : October 1, 1949 – August 12, 2010
Phillip Emmons Isaac Bonewits, known simply to most as “Isaac” was a world reknown Pagan author, magician, priest, activist, theologian, ritualist, academic, artist, singer, and leader. He was a mover and shaker and a Devil’s advocate. He believed in thorough research and questioning the origins of everything. He was (and as far as I know – Is) the World’s First Academically Degreed Magician – receiving his Degree in Magic and Thaumaturgy from University of California Berkeley. Isaac passed away on this day in his sleep with his family at his side – Wednesday, August 12, 2010 to a long battle with a rare form of colon cancer. Isaac was a true icon of “Neopaganism” and knew that himself as he operated the web site “Neopagan.net“. He is responsible for much of the terminology that exists in the academic study of the modern Neo-Pagan movement. He’s had a long and diverse exploration into magic and religion – having been initiated in numerous traditions of Wicca, Witchcraft, and Druidism; as well as Santeria, Satanism, various Magical Orders, and the O.T.O. (Ordo Templaris Orientis). He is the author of many books, videos, treatises, articles, and publications. He has spent much of his life travelling around the world officiating ceremonies, handfastings, marriages, and lecturing from the classroom to the festival green. Without him, the Pagan movement would not be out in the open like it is today and would not be so accepted in the world. He also served as liason for various law enforcement agencies and foreign governments in understanding Satanism, Witchcraft, and the Occult – and had authored the world-famous “Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (ABCDEF)” that is still used by Law Enforcement and Teachers worldwide to identify harmful religious cults. He speculated many claims that various groups had with being from an ‘unbroken lineage’ of family traditions or secret orders – and pushed groups to put their evidence where their mouths were. This caused him to be loved and hated by many religious groups – including his being too radical for the Church of Satan and is probably one of the very few people to be kicked out of that religion. He expected intelligence, accuracy, excellence, and success from those who were in the role of clergy or educators. Those of course who could not meet up to these standards found friction with him and his challenges. He became the definition of the “Devil’s Advocate” in the Neo-Pagan movement. With his humor and uncanny wit, he stepped on many toes of various Pagan elders. This was a good thing.
Isaac was born on October 1, 1949, in Royal Oak, Michigan to Catholic parents as a sibling amongst three sisters and a brother. He was raised in Detroit (suburb Ferndale) until his parents moved him to San Clemente, California. Because his parents were a mix between a Roman Catholic mother and a recently turned Catholic from Presbyterianism Father, he had many questions about religion and why people believed in what they did. He bounced from parochial to public schools never completely fitting in. His IQ at a young age was tested at 200. At Age 13 he met a Voodoun Priestess from New Orleans who told him his future and weaved spells that worked so well he had to investigate magic on his own. He read extensively about fantasy, science fiction, magic and parapsychology which molded much of his belief structure as a teen. He pursued Catholicism and entered a Catholic School seminary in the 9th grade. He quickly realized becoming a Catholic Priest was not his calling. After returning back to public High School, he began heavy practice of magic and involvement in the occult. He graduated from high school a year early and by 1966 he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley. His roommate Robert Larson was a Druid and an alumnus of Carleton College who was part of founding in 1963 the RDNA – Reformed Druids of North America – stories of which molded and inspired Isaac into Druidism. Isaac was initiated by Larson into the RDNA and together they established a grove in Berkeley. Unlike the other RDNA groves, with Isaac’s influence, their grove became very influenced by Neopagan beliefs and was much more of an actual religion rather than the usual RDNA practice of a philosophy. This mutated into the NRDNA or the “New Reformed Druids of North America”. For fun, Isaac would go down to the student Union and taunt the fundamentalist preacher by setting up a Satanic altar across from him and jokingly preaching about Satan. This was initiated by Isaac as a prank and to give the fundamentalist competition. Little did he know that the actual “Church of Satan” would encounter his stunt and become impressed – set on recruiting him into their order. He spent 8 months in Anton Lavey’s Church of Satan. He appeared in the 1970 documentary “Satanis : The Devil’s Mass”. Isaac found Lavey and his members to be stuffy conservatives who were more ‘rightwing & racist’ than actual textbook ‘Satanist’. He caused ruckus within the Church as was kicked out. Isaac continued his education in Psychology at Berkeley and decided to invent his own degree … much to his amazement he was sponsored by a professor to graduate from Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Magic and Thaumaturgy in 1970 even though it turned out to be an embarrassment from the school because of all the publicity it incited. The fame from the degree led to the book contract for “Real Magic”, publishing his theories and treatises on magic, ritual, and parapsychology. This was published in 1971 with revised editions in 1979 and 1989.
Isaac fell in love with folksinger Rusty Elliot in 1973. They moved to Minneapolis where Isaac took over Carl Weschcke’s Neopagan journal “Gnostica”. Married and settled, Isaac established a splinter group of the RDNA called the “Schismatic Druids of North America”. He also created with some Jewish Pagan friends the “Hasidic Druids of North America” and mingled with the Church of All Worlds. He founded the Aquarian Anti-Defamation League (AADL) as a civil liberties organization for minority belief systems such as Witches, Rosicrucians, Theosophists, Neopagans, Witches, and Occultists. He believed in combining religious groups and interfaith networking. Through Interfaith he felt they could effectively fight opposing mainstream religions. From 1974-1975 Isaac partially wrote the self-published “Druid Chronicles (Evolved)” which served as a compendium of rituals, beliefs, history, and customs of the Reformed Druid movements. His personal financial investment into his writing, publishing, advocacy, and activism drained his resources. This sacrifice led to several victories for the AADL in court. Numerous strains on his personal life and relationship eventually led to his and Rusty’s divorce, after which Isaac returned to Berkeley which led to the demise of the AADL. Isaac rejoined the NRDNA after which he became the Archdruid. He began publication of “the Druid Chronicler” in 1978. His push for stronger Neopaganism in the NRDNA caused some friction with established members leading to Isaac’s leave of absence that dominoe effected the journal to fold. He began at that point to write a version of Real Magic for fantasy role-play gamers called “Authentic Thaumaturgy”. He wanted to bring authentic magical philosophy to the gaming systems and successfully did so through time. Much of this publication became absorbed by Steve Jackson games.
In 1979 Isaac fell in love again and married a woman named Selene Kumin for three years. In 1983 Isaac was initiated into the New Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn. That same year he met Sally Eaton, fell in love again, and married. Together they became involved in the California revival of the “O.T.O. – Ordo Templi Orientis”. He was also one of the founding members of the N.R.O.O.G.D. (New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn) Wiccan Tradition. From California they moved to New York City where they met a Neopagan named Shenain Bell and were inspired to create a new Druidic Organization, separate from the NRDNA/RDNA. They founded the modern Neo-Pagan Druid fellowship in the United States known as Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) – translating to “Our Own Druidism” or “Our Own Magic” which has become one of North America’s largest legal Neo-Pagan religious organizations to be accepted by the Federal Government. Isaac became Archdruid and Bell became ViceArchdruid. By 1986 – Isaac and Eaton separated. Isaac moved to Kansas City to work as a computer consultant. After bouncing around the country from coast to coast, he finally found stability on the East Coast in New York. In 1987 he met his fourth wife, Deborah Lipp, a Wiccan High Priestess. He continued working in the computer industry and built up ADF. He also started writing the book “Rites of Worship: A Neopagan Approach” (2004/2007). Bonewits and Lipp became involved in Polyamory and from 1988 to 1995 had several partners across North America. They had their hands full running ADF and the Gardnerian Wiccan Coven “Pagan Way”. In 1990 they gave birth to their son Arthur in Dumont, New Jersey. The same year Isaac came down with “Eosinophilia Myalgia Syndrome” that was caused from the chemically contaminated L-Tryptophan tablets manufactured in Japan and consumed by thousands of Americans in 1989. This slowly degraded many of Isaac’s motor skills causing his loss of employment in 1992 and a need for him to step down from being Archdruid of ADF. In 1996 ADF decided to give him the everlasting title of “Archdruid Emeritus”. By 1998 Isaac began to see signs of recovery from his illness, but not before causing marital problems with Deborah leading to their separation that same year. Isaac met Phaedra Heyman, a Ceremonial Magician and Wiccan Priestess and they were handfasted in 2004 and legally married in 2007. They wrote a book together called “Real Energy: Systems, Spirits, and Substances to Heal, Change, and Grow” (2007). Phaedra stood by Isaac’s side and helping heal him during his struggle with a rare-form of Colon Cancer. Isaac passed away in his sleep on Wednesday, August 12, 2010. He left this realm at a very early age. We can only hope he now sits with Brigid and Dagda drinking Mead while discussing the future of humanity.
Isaac questioned everything in the study of religion and the practice of the Occult. He demanded Intellectual Honesty and Integrity. He wanted to see real scholarship in the reconstruction of Pagan faiths. He wanted to see adaptation to Modern needs but to preserve what was traditional and what was not. He challenged in 1973 the alleged antiquity of Wicca, calling it “hogwash”. This caused much friction amongst his Pagan Elders in the Craft. He claimed it was a New Religion that did not go back beyond Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente. He published various articles and treatises on the subject that met much debate. These were eventually published as his book “Witchcraft: A Concise Guide”. It took about 10 years for Neopaganism to accept his theories. His ideas about Paganism becoming Mainstream and needing advocacy was also before its time and not readily accepted by the movement. Within 10 years of his creation of the AADL numerous Pagan advocacy groups came into being. He also saw a need for Pagan social services and self-help groups counseling recipients of domestic problems and drug dependency. He believed that 80% of Neopagans came from non(dys)functional family backgrounds and were mainly highly intelligent and artistic, yet neurotic individuals than one finds in the mainstream populace. This led to the creation of various Pagan 12-Step Programs.
Isaac was a seer, a diviner, and an oracle. He knew what growing pains Neo-Paganism would meet through the years. He once wrote 30 years ago for ADF:
Isaac was an activist. He stood for protecting the Earth, Mother Nature, and All Her Children – regardless of what faith they were part of. He lobbied for the financial support of full-time Neo-Pagan clergy. He pushed interfaith relations and the formation of Pagan-owned land sanctuaries. Isaac was a staunch animist and polytheist. His Matron was the Goddess Brigid and his Patron was the God Dagda. He was a loyal comrade to the Old God/desses. He wanted to see everyone worshipping them again. He had alot of struggles with opposition from Monotheists and Duotheists who had problems with Polytheism in its true colors. This was part of the struggle with the RDNA/NRDNA and his evolution into ADF. His brilliance in the understanding of Magic and Thaumaturgy led to easy-to-understand liturgical design that could work for all religions. He often embraced experimental occultism balancing the occult with science. He proposed several (now well accepted) hypothesis on the Laws of Magic. He created the terms “thealogy”, “Paleo-Paganism”, “Meso-Paganism”, “Pagan Reconstructionism”, and the phrases “Never Again the Burning” as well as “Bring Back the Snakes” as part of his Pagan Reconstructionism. Isaac found peace, connection, and harmony with the arts and music. He became a singer, songwriter, and independent recording artist which led to the release of several tapes and CDs through A.C.E. (The Association of Consciousness Exploration). Isaac will forever be remembered, loved, and honored. The Neo-Pagan movement would not be what it is today without the grand contributions of this Elder.
More Pictures to come as I find them in my archives …
- Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame or ABCDEF
- Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic. (1972, 1979, 1989) Weiser Books ISBN 0-87728-688-4
- Authentic Thaumaturgy. (1978, 1998) Steve Jackson Games ISBN 1-55634-360-4
- Rites of Worship: A Neopagan Approach. (2003) Earth Religions Press ISBN 1-59405-501-7 OP
- Witchcraft: A Concise Guide or Which Witch Is Which?. (2003) Earth Religions Press ISBN 1-59405-500-9
- The Pagan Man: Priests, Warriors, Hunters, and Drummers. (2005) Citadel ISBN 0-8065-2697-1, ISBN 978-0806526973
- Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca. (2006) Citadel ISBN 0-8065-2711-0, ISBN 978-0806527116
- Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism. (2006) Citadel ISBN 0-8065-2710-2, ISBN 978-0806527109
- Real Energy: Systems, Spirits, And Substances to Heal, Change, And Grow. (2007) New Leaf ISBN 1564149048, ISBN 978-1564149046. Co-authored with Phaedra Bonewits.
- Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work. (2007) Llewellyn ISBN 0738711993, ISBN 978-0738711997
- Be Pagan Once Again! – Isaac Bonewits & Friends (including Ian Corrigan, Victoria Ganger, and Todd Alan) (CD) (ACE/ADF)
- Avalon is Rising! – Real Magic (CD)(ACE/ADF)
- The Structure of Craft Ritual (ACE)
- A Magician Prepares (ACE)
- Programming Magical Ritual: Top-Down Liturgical Design (ACE)
- Druidism: Ancient & Modern (ACE)
- How Does Magic Work? (ACE)
- Rituals That Work (ACE)
- Sexual Magic & Magical Sex (with Deborah Lipp) (ACE)
- Making Fun of Religion (with Deborah Lipp) (ACE)
- The Magickal Movement: Present & Future (with Margot Adler, Selena Fox, and Robert Anton Wilson) (ACE)
- Magick Changing the World, the World Changing Magick (with AmyLee, Selena Fox, Jeff Rosenbaum and Robert Anton Wilson) (ACE)
- Links for Isaac:
- ADF: Ian Corrigan’s Tribute to Isaac
- Examiner: Pagan Author Isaac Bonewits Passes
- Neopagan.Net: About Isaac
- Pantheon: Isaac Bonewits, Hail & Farewell!
- Remembering Isaac Bonewits by Patti Wigington
- The Wild Hunt: Isaac Bonewits
- Wren’s Nest Tribute to Isaac