Leader Bio: Isaac Bonewits
Isaac Bonewits MemorialPhillip Emmons Isaac Bonewits 10/1/1949 - 08/12/2010
I write today to celebrate the life and mourn the death of Isaac Bonewits, 20th century occultist of note, Pagan and environmental activist, author, bard, humorist and family man. Isaac has gone too young, but will be remembered fondly and with honor by more people than he, himself, could know.
Personally, Isaac has been a part of my life in one way or another for most of it. I met Isaac's ideas as a 16-year-old occultist, when I purchased the first edition of Real Magic while on a hitchhiking jaunt. From a small city in Ohio, the first big-city 'occult shop' I ever saw was in Toronto, and there I held the first edition of Real Magic. The book was perfectly timed to speak to the gang of boomer occultists coming up right then, and has more influence than is often admitted.
I met Isaac in 1984, when he attended the first Winterstar Symposium in central Ohio. He had returned to the northeast, and had spent the early 80s working with a small study group in NY City, developing a new ritual order based loosely on his RDNA roots, but also based in direct research into ancient Pagan ways. When he attended Winterstar that year he made his first direct announcement of the formation of ADF. As organizers we (and surely I) have been pleased to support Isaac's organizing efforts. During a phase when Isaac's writing was stalled, he continued to produce audio lectures and, of course, music through the Starwood organization (ACE).
Over the years Isaac and I became friends and, I might hope, even colleagues. In the small-things-that-make-life-cool dept I consider this one of the honors of my life. As a chum, Isaac was clever, generous, a fine raconteur, a supporter of home-made music, and an open-hearted guy, interested in new people. He was flexible and adaptive with his ideas, and our many chats and debates about mythography and ritual, magical theory and Pagan culture, changed and shaped both of our ideas.
Let me tell you more about my friend.
Isaac & Paganism
Isaac was a man of ideas, especially as concerned practical spiritual and magical art and religion. At heart Isaac was a Pagan – a lover of nature in all its forms, including human nature, he loved the Old Gods and the Old Ways. He was not only a freethinker and an experimental occultist, but was always concerned to bring back the worship of the Gods in modern times. This troubled him through his interaction with the various RDNAs, which included many secularists and universalists. Isaac's determination led him to produce several variations on his idea of Neopagan Druidism, and when his ideas finally met the emergent Pagan festival culture they found fertile ground at last in Ar nDraiocht Fein.
Public Pagan organizing was always Isaac's goal. Beginning with his mildly famous degree in Magic and Thaumaturgy, he strove to be a public face of the growing Pagan and magical movement. In this he largely succeeded, becoming a well-known speaker at events and gatherings as well as the author of several more valuable works on the state of Neopaganism in the early 21st century. ADF continues Isaac's vision of providing reliable, inspiring public Pagan worship in cities all over North America.
Isaac was a part of Llewellyn publication's turn to total support of and participation in the Pagan scene. During the early 70s Llewellyn's Gnostica News was providing the best occult, witchcraft and Paganism periodical content available. Isaac's years as editor of Gnostica made it relevant to the growing Earth Religions movement.
Isaac considered himself a Druid, but that didn't prevent him from writing, teaching and practicing a variety of other Pagan ways. Real Magic is broadly theoretical and relevant to everything from Wicca to heathenry, in many ways it is Chaos magic ahead of its time. Isaac's personal spiritual adventure included Druidry, neopagan Witchcraft and a variety of other cultural experiments. Isaac's later writing ranged from energy work to Pagan anthropology to historical and descriptive surveys of modern Pagan traditions.
Isaac & Druidism
While Isaac always valued his roots in the Reformed Druids of North America, it was by creating his own system and organization that he was able to have his greatest influence on Druidic Paganism. In the nearly three decades since Isaac founded Ar nDraiocht Fein we have steadily pursued his central goals for a modern Paganism.
Isaac valued real scholarship and intellectual honesty. He helped build a Paganism that tries to keep track of what is really known about the Old Ways, and adapts to new knowledge. He chose to set aside discredited scholarship from the early 20th century and work from the best modern sources. Isaac had an optimistic view of human nature, and felt that formal and professional organizing and institutional growth could only benefit Paganism in the modern world. He developed a church model that has helped ADF grow in a careful but steady way into one of the largest Pagan religious organizations in the world. Isaac hoped to build Pagan organization and spirituality that could transcend its founders, surviving into the future. That he has surely done.
It was typical for Isaac to focus on work and results, on thaumaturgy rather than mysticism and theology. He invented his liturgical outline and gave it to Druidry, with a bare minimum of theological constructs. From the basic symbols and ritual tropes of that outline we have built a working system of Pagan worship. Isaac's patience, and his wise choice to refrain from 'writing a religion' have helped his system to grow organically and produce good spiritual fruit.
Isaac was always collegial and open-minded, valuing different viewpoints and interested in new inputs. Over the years he worked with many colleagues to refine and rework his outline based on experiment and result. Isaac never resorted to a fixed dogmatism, but remained interested in real effects in the real world.
Under Isaac's direct leadership ADF survived its first decade in a pattern of modest growth, building organization and spiritual depth. When the time came Isaac stepped aside, and allowed the organization to find its feet without him, until returning as an honored emeritus member of ADF's clergy and spiritual work. Since his departure as our formal first officer his vision, plans and specific teachings have remained a central guide of ADF's growth.
Isaac's name and ideas will be remembered in ADF. We'll remember with affection his humor and wisdom, his compassion and his effort. We'll remember with honor his work to establish our ways, his strength in the face of criticism and the wisdom of his initial designs. We'll remember with reverence the core spiritual and Pagan ideas that still light the heart of Our Druidry.
Isaac's divine patrons were the God Dagda Mor and the Goddess Brigid. May they receive him into a fate fit for a hero of the Old Ways.