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Memorial Tribute To A Great Scholar: Phillip Emmons Isaac Bonewits (R.I.P. 1949 – 2010)

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. “

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