Home > Uncategorized > Isaac Bonewits Died of Cancer

Isaac Bonewits Died of Cancer

It’s official, the ArchDruid Emeritus Isaac Bonewits has died this morning. The official obituary is here. Bonewits was one of our American elders. He studied, wrote about, stood up for, classified, created and served the Neo-Pagan community since the early 1970’s. He pretty much founded the druid movement in America. He’s written a number of books, all of them very good, particularly Real Magic. He also added a lot to the polyamory movement, having lived the lifestyle for many years.

He was scholarly, witty, adventurous and tough. He worked hard to live his life by his beliefs, and to share what he’d learned with others. We are fortunate that he has left us so much writing to enjoy, both as books easily found online, and his miscellaneous found on his website. He wasn’t universally loved, but who is these days? Still, his service to the community, in his own way, is undeniable, and he will be missed.

Rest in Peace.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Theo Williams
    August 12, 2010 at 11:16 am

    Isaac’s passing leaves a large empty place in the communitry of Pagan Elders—one which will at best be difficult for anyone else to fill. His delight in leaving conservative minds flabbergasted was evidenced when he obtained his degree in Magick and Thaumaturgy from UC Berkeley. Not everyone saw the comedy; I’m amazed the Board of Regents didn’t take out after him with torches and pitchforks. But for all his playful outrages, Isaac asked pointed questions about just when and where spirituality veered dangerously into dogmatism. The Cult Danger Evaluation Frame may end up being his most valuable contribution to American religion, and should be taught and argued over in ANY seminary worthy of a charter. A remarkable man, was Isaac. We who call ourselves Pagans owe him an immense debt.

    • August 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm

      I heard that Isaac’s BA in Magic is, ironically, signed by Ronald Regan himself, from when he was governor of California. I wonder if Regan even realizes what he’d endorsed and unleashed upon the unsuspecting public!

  2. Frank Comeau
    August 13, 2010 at 2:55 am

    The passing of Isaac Bonewits, beyond the specifics of his contributions with which I am unfamiliar, sets into relief the broader history of neo-paganism in America. With the passing of the first generation of that movement, comments from those who know more of Isaac and his role in shaping the times we’re still living would be appreciated.

    • August 13, 2010 at 6:19 pm

      Margot Adler, the author of Drawing Down the Moon and an NPR correspondent, had this to say about him:

      I think she actually knew him too. It was a lovely story, and when I heard it on the radio today, it felt good knowing that the public at large could hear this information as a news piece.

  3. Theo Williams
    August 14, 2010 at 9:46 am

    My last correspondence w/ Isaac Bonewits was a few years ago, when I was deep in debt. An appeal had been put out online to help pay Isaac’s substantial medical bills. Reluctantly I put a note and a check for twenty bucks in an envelope and sent them off—and an hour later received a check for two thousand dollars from my mom! “It was just easier to disburse this to you now”, she said nonchalantly when asked about it. I’ll always think of it as a two-hundred-percent kharmic payback (along with it being a prompt one).

    • Theo Williams
      August 29, 2010 at 5:25 pm

      A correction to the math in my previous entry: it should have read “a hundred-fold repayment” of the twenty bucks which I originally sent to Isaac. He’s been playfully nudging me on the subject ever since. Okay, it’s amended and I’ve admitted my lousy math—are you FINALLY happy, Isaac?

  4. November 2, 2010 at 5:45 am

    As a born-again Christian, I can only trust in the Lord who knew all about Mr. Philiip “Isaac” Bonewits. I met “Isaac” in 1971 in Berkeley, California, soon after he’d graduated from U.C. Berkeley & written his book, “Real Magic” as part of his college studies there. It had been published & was on sale. Mr. Bonewits didn’t like his name, “Philip,” which of course isa biblical name meaning lover of God, or beloved of God, so he’d taken the name “Isaac,” because, he said, it meant laughter. That was partly true, for in the Bible it was part of the Old Testament story of how God enabled an elderly lady to give birth, which made her & her husband smile (or laugh delightedly at God’s blessings!) That wasn’t what Isaac Bonewits meant. He went thru life laughing at Christian concepts and at the way he could get the better of people by FOOLING them. He told us when he got bills, he printed up a wise-guy reply putting the onus on the biller, clever enough to fool them. One time I was amazed at an apparent gross contradiction between what he said & his personal practices. I was astounded & asked why. His reply was “Surely you don’t expect me to be CONSISTENT,” & he chuckled. His last book, written with his last wife, Phaedra, states plainly that he believed in multiple truths — that that was his “paradigm.” Isaac B. delighted in using big “scholarly” words & associating himself with people who had advanced degrees (Ph.D.’s) but he never sought a degree beyond his Bachelor’s earned at UC Berkeley. He was very near-sighted & frail-looking & surrounded himself with a sort of personal guard of men who were big & strong, who felt as protective of him as they might a younger brother — or delicate sister — or Freud might have said, they had a kind of Gay protectiveness, unconsciously. Isaac claimed on his website & in person that he was 99% straight, but his 1971 girl-friend who weighed almost 400 lbs. & whose real name oddly was similar to “Lard”, said she’d seen him holding hands with his roommate, a big, silent man whom others in their crowd said paid the rent, & she seemed to imply that Isaac had more thana friendly relationship with him. Isaac looked up to Aleister Crowley, who took heroin & did homosexual “magick” rituals that shocked Crowley’s contemporaries (early 20th century.) Mr. Bonewits had 4 or 5 wives, divorced each, had a son & wed Phaedra, all while he publicly promoted what he termed “polyfidelity” (a “scholarly” term for what most would call “infidelity.”) His first wife went by the name of “Rusty” & had a Jewish background. She was a very talented musician, & he described her as a “genius.” When she was 30, he married her, & moved to Minnesota where Mr. Bonewits took charge of the Llewellyn advertising brochure. Rusty however, had for some time wanted to become a man (thru a sex-change operation.) They parted company and some Pagans said he was fired from his Llewellyn job; other said he just left. Rusty had published an article Isaac allowed orapproved in Llewellyn’s brochure headlined “Why I Am Not A Witch,” an honest account of his first wife’s observations of hostilities between various Wiccan people or groups. But many were attracted to Isaac’s publicly proclaimed philosophy. When Isaac was a student at UC Berkeley, he’d been involved with Anton LaVey’s Satanic “Church” in San Francisco nearby. Isaac was kicked out of that group and later posted his version of what he called “My Satanic Adventure,” saying he’d pretended to faint so he could avoid getting hurt when they kicked him out. However, he still had adhernts who followed Mr. Bonewits instead of their leader, Mr. LaVey. Well, Mr. Bonewits wound up on the east coast, & he had no trouble attracting adherents & admirers & people who helped him by contributing money to various causes he supported — his website spoke charmingly to solicit contributions — he found talented & intelligent wives, till he’d had 4 or 5, plus whoever he felt attracted to since he believed in “polyfidelity” — & the world was still engulfed in the tragedy of the AIDS epidemic, in wars and other such problems — and Isaac continued his path, with songs he wrote to make fun of Christmas carols & books, travelling to give Pagan groups his “wisdom” (for a fee) but always making appealing appeals to viewers of his website to send cash…the poor fellow found he’d contracted a disease that was no surprise to those who’d observed his lifestyle. As Mozart said in “Don Giovanni,” “Non piu andrei, farfallone amoroso, nott’ e giorno, d’intorno girando, delle belle turbando il riposo, narcisetto, Adoncino d’amor…” Was Isaac Bonewits a “Don Giovanni” (Don Juan) to prove to himself, & others such as his birth-father, that he wasn’t Gay, with serial-marriage, to gain a father’s approval? It’s hard to say. But in a homophobic society, he’d gained what fame he could, ascending like a comet, brightly burning, till he plummented down, caught in a disease of the genitals, poor fellow! His vaunted “expertise” on energy & magick, his having a loving wife, & others who knew Reiki & “healing” couldn’t help, & like Humpty Dumpty, Isaac Bonewits had a great fall, to be followed by many Tributes to his wonderful caring and courage by Pagans who followed his path … I daresay this is one Tribute that tells a more amplified story, & it’s factual. May he rest in peace. +++

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