Isaac Bonewits (1949 - 2010)
Written and compiled by
Bonewits was a well-respected, influential
and sometimes controversial leader in the present day Pagan movement in
American. A pagan, priest, author,
scholar, bard and activist, in
1983 he co-founded Ar
nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship (also known as ADF), one of the largest
druid organisations in America with groves in every state, and associated
members all around the world.
Emmons Isaac Bonewits was born on the 1st October 1949, in Royal Oak,
Michigan. He was the forth of five
children (three girls and two boys) and spent much of his early childhood living
in Ferndale, a suburb of Detroit. His
mother was a devout Roman Catholic from whom he acquired an appreciation for
religion. His father was a convert
from Presbyterianism to Catholicism, who instilled in his son a healthy dose of
skepticism. In 1961, the family
moved to Southern California,
first to the Capistrano Beach area, before settling in San Clemente.
after their move to California, Bonewits met a young Creole woman from New
Orleans who practiced Voodoo. This
was his first exposure to magic and mysticism.
She showed him some of her magic spells and he was so impressed by the
accuracy of her divinations, it launched him on a life long study of magic and
During his teen years, he read extensively and was a keen fan of science
fiction, which often featured strong magical and psychic themes.
school during the second semester of his ninth grade, Bonewits decided to become
a Catholic priest and entered a Catholic seminary. However the constraints of formal religion didn’t suit him,
and returned to public school where he graduated a year early.
In 1966 after spending a year in Junior College gaining foreign-language
credits, he enrolled for a course of study at the University of California in
Berkeley. At the same time after an
intense study of the structure of ritual through books, and observing rituals
performed in various churches, Bonewits began practicing magic and devising his
chance would have it, his roommate at Berkeley was Robert Larsen, a Druid, and
alumni of Carleton College where the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA) had
been founded in 1963. Larson
introduced Bonewits to Druidism and he was later initiated into the RDNA.
Together, they established a grove in Berkeley, and in 1969, Bonewits was
ordained as a Druid priest. Unlike
other groves of the RDNA who considered the order of philosophy, they shaped the
grove at Berkeley as a contemporary neo-Pagan religion.
As the grove flourished, they and other neo-Pagan groves became part of a
new branch of Druidry called the New Reformed Druids of North America (NRDNA).
his time at Berkeley, Bonewits also joined the Church of Satan:
“…an adventure that began as a bit of a laugh”, he says.
The campus at Berkeley featured a place where evangelists from various
persuasions gather to lecture anyone willing to stop and listen.
As a bit of fun, Bonewits showed up one day and performed a satirical
lecture acting as a Devils evangelist. The
lecture proved so successful, he was asked to repeat it a number of times.
Later a lady representing Anton Szandor LaVey, founder of the Church of
Satan, approached him, and invited him to join them. Bonewits began to
attend their church meetings and also improved on some of their rituals, however
he soon left after a personality conflict with LaVay himself.
Later in 1970, Bonewits appeared
in a TV documentary called Satanis: The Devil's Mass, and in a following
article entitled: “My Satanic
Adventure”, he states: “that
the rituals used in Satanis were staged for the movie at the request of the
filmmakers and were not authentic rituals”.
Anton Szandor LaVey
enrolling at Berkeley, Bonewits had signed up for the individual group-study
program, which allowed him to create his own degree study course.
He graduated from Berkeley in 1970 becoming the first, and to the present
day, the last person, ever to graduate from a Western University with a Bachelor
of Arts degree in Magic and Thaumaturgy. The
publicity his degree caused so embarrassed the Universities administrators, that
Magic, Witchcraft and Sorcery was banned from future individual group-study
programs. A year later in 1971,
Bonewits wrote and published his first book entitled “Real Magic”.
The book was an immediate success, and was later revised and updated in
1979, and reissued again in 1989.
Bonewits met his first wife, a lady called Rusty Elliot, a folk singer who
frequented the Berkeley cafes. Together
they moved to Minneapolis where they were married. For the next 18 months, Bonewits worked as an editor for Carl
Llewellyn Weschcke of Llewellyn
Publications, working on their most popular neo-Pagan publication ‘Gnostica’.
However, his scholarly approach and tone alienated him from many of its
reader’s who found the magazine too high brow, and as sales of the magazine
began to falter he was forced to move on.
Carl Llewellyn Weschcke
1974-75, Bonewits remained in Minneapolis where he established a new druidic
grove called the “Schismatic Druids of North America”, a schism of the RDNA.
He also joined a number of Jewish friends and created the “Hasidic
Druids of North America”. However,
based in St Louis, this group only lasted for a brief time as its membership
overlapped with that of the Church of all Worlds.
He also wrote, edited and self-published the “Druids Chronicles
(Evolved)”. This was a
compendium of the history, theology, rituals and customs of all the Reformed
Druid movements operating at that time, including the ones he had created
that same period of time, Bonewits founded the short-lived “Aquarian
Anti-Defamation League (AADL)”, an early civil
liberties and public relations organization aimed at protecting the legal rights
of Pagans and other members of minority belief systems.
As president of the AADL, Bonewits devoted much of his own income and
unemployment insurance to funding it. While
the AADL scored a number of small victories defending people in court, in 1976,
Bonewits divorced his wife Rusty and returned to Berkeley, after which the AADL
Berkeley, Bonewits rejoined the RDNA grove and was elected Archdruid.
He then established the “Druids Chronicler” in 1978, a
national Druid publication (later known as the Pentalpha Journal).
However, he was accused of trying to make the Berkeley grove more
neo-Pagan, as he had done with his earlier grove while at University, and this
led to clashes with other long-term members.
As a result, he was forced to leave and soon after the Pentalpha Journal
folded. He also researched
and wrote his Authentic Thaumaturgy
This was essentially a rewrite of his earlier book Real Magic, but
written for players of fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons
Bonewits married for a second time to a lady called Selene Kumin, but after a
brief stay in Santa Cruz, California, where Bonewits worked as a print
typesetter, their relationship ended in 1982.
A year later in 1983 he met Sally Eaton, the actress who created the role
of the hippie Witch in the Broadway hit musical “Hair”. Together
they became involved in the California revival of the “Ordo Templi Orientis”
(O.T.O.), an Order based on the working of the famous occultist Aleister
Crowley. He was also initiated into the New Reformed Order of the
Golden Dawn (the Wiccan
organization, not to be confused with the earlier Hermetic Order of the Golden
Later that same year he and Sally married before relocating to New York
this time Bonewits had worked mainly as a freelance journalist, and earned a
sporadic living from writing and editing. After
moving to New York with Sally Eaton, he began a new career in computer
technology. He started first as a
technical writer for a computer firm in Manhattan, however this position
didn’t last long as he left the firm over an ethical matter.
He then set himself up as a self-employed computer consultant for small
New York, Bonewits met up with Shennain Bell, a fellow neo-pagan, and discussed
the idea of setting up a new Druid organization, but this time with no ties to
the ancient Druids or the RDNA. They
called it “Àr nDraiocht Féin”, which is Irish Gaelic for “Our Own
Druidism”, later it became known
as The Druid Fellowship or ADF. With
Bonewits as Archdruid
and Bell the Vice-Archdruid, between them they made it into the largest most
successful neo-Pagan Druid organization in North America.
In 1990 the
ADF was incorporated in the
state of Delaware as a U.S. 501(c)3 tax-exempt
non-profit organization. However the ADF grew more slowly than Bonewits had envisioned, for while
they initiated a clergy-training program, it still lacked a seminary facility.
Logo of the ADF
Bonewits and Sally Eaton parted company, and in November of 1987 moved to Nyack,
New York with his intended forth wife Deborah Lipp.
Deborah was a Gardnerian Wiccan high priestess and together they ran a
“Pagan Way” group in New York and New Jersey.
Bonewits had continued working as a computer consultant and after they
were married in 1988, made their home
in Dumont, New Jersey. In 1990 they
were blessed with a son, Arthur
elation was short lived however. That
same year Bonewits began showing the debilitating symptoms of Eosinophilia
Myalgia Syndrome, which they believed to have been caused by contaminated L-teyptophane
tablets. On the first of January
1996, Bonewits was forced to resign from his post as Archdruid of the ADF, but
retained the lifelong title of Archdruid Emeritus.
He was also forced to stop working as a computer consultant, and to rely
for an income on his writing abilities. His
life and his family’s life had started to deteriorate.
Slowly Bonewits began to recover from the disease, but the
long periods of convalescence he required put too much strain on his marriage,
and he and Deborah separated in 1998. Into
the new millennium and except for
relapses in the winter months, Bonewits returned to his writing and
lecturing schedule. During his
travels on the lecture circuit he also met a new love interest, Phaedra Heyman a ceremonial
magician, Wiccan Priestess, and a
former vice-president of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS).
They were handfasted on the 23rd July 2004 and made a new home
for themselves in Rockland County, New York. Together they wrote: Real
Energy: Systems, Spirits, and Substances to Heal, Change, and Grow (New
Page, March 2007). After his
divorce to Deborah Lipp was finalised on the 7th December 2007,
Bonewits and Phaedra were legally married on 31st December 2007.
Having never really
regained the best of health, Bonewits was dealt another serious blow when on
the 25th October 2009 he was hospitalized
and diagnosed with a rare form of colon cancer.
Despite undertaking several sessions of chemotherapy to beat the disease,
he finally succumbed to the inevitable. At
8:00 am (ET time) on the 12th
August 2010 he passed away peacefully in his sleep with family and friends by
was a prolific writer, not only of books, but also of numerous articles and
essays on Druidry, Magic and Paganism. His
final book The Laws of Magic: From Antiquity to the Quantum Age is to be
released by Llewellyn Publishing later this year.
Aware of his
own imminent departure, and in consultation with his wife Phaedra, all his scholarly papers will be donated to the American Religions Collection,
which is held by the Santa Barbara library at the University of California.
This means that his notes and personal papers will be properly preserved
and available for researchers and scholars in the future.
own website can be accessed at http://www.neopagan.net.
Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic.
(1972, 1979, 1989) Weiser Books
1998) Steve Jackson Games
of Worship: A Neopagan Approach. (2003) Earth Religions Press
A Concise Guide or Which Witch Is Which?.
(2003) Earth Religions Press
Pagan Man: Priests, Warriors, Hunters, and Drummers.
Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca.
Essential Guide to Druidism. (2006) Citadel
Energy: Systems, Spirits, And Substances to Heal, Change, And Grow.
(2007) New Leaf. Co-authored with Phaedra Bonewits.
Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work.
May he rest in peace.
To be posted later.
First published on the 30th January 2007
Updated 13th August 2010
© George Knowles
Best Wishes and Blessed Be.
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Wicca & Witchcraft
Wiccan Rede / Charge of the Goddess / Charge of the God / The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) / The Witches Chant / The Witches Creed / Descent of the Goddess / Drawing Down the Moon / The Great Rite Invocation / Invocation of the Horned God / The 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief / The Witches Rede of Chivalry / A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality
Traditions Part 1 - Alexandrian Wicca / Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) / Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) / Blue Star Wicca / British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) / Celtic Wicca / Ceremonial Magic / Chaos Magic / Church and School of Wicca / Circle Sanctuary / Covenant of the Goddess (COG) / Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) / Cyber Wicca / Dianic Wicca / Eclectic Wicca / Feri Wicca /
Traditions Part 2 - Gardnerian Wicca / Georgian Tradition / Henge of Keltria / Hereditary Witchcraft / Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) / Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) / Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition / Nordic Paganism / Pagan Federation / Pectic-Wita / Seax-Wica / Shamanism / Solitary / Strega / Sylvan Tradition / Vodoun or Voodoo / Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /
Other things of interest:
Gods and Goddesses (Greek
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Full Moons / Links
to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft
Resources / What's a spell? /
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- Pentacle / Marks
of a Witch / The Witches
Power / The Witches Hat
esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism
Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1
/ Part 2 / Part
3 / A
history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope
Innocent VIII /
papal Bull /
Malleus Maleficarum /
An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum
/ The letter of approbation
Nider’s Formicarius /
Heinrich Kramer /
/ Montague Summers /
/ The Albigenses
The Hussites / The
/ Shielding (Occult
and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Rituals:
Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder. Also see: The Willow Tree (Folk Music)
Rocks and Stones:
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin: / Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murder by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
(Ancient, Past and Present)
(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders and Elders)
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A. Kelly / Albertus Magnus “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary / Carl Llewellyn Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Dorothy Morrison / Doreen Valiente / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gerald B. Gardner / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater "Horrible Herman" / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell / Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) / John Michael Greer / John Score / Johannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg / Karl von Eckartshausen / Laurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata / Monique Wilson the “Queen of the Witches” / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellers / Mrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /Rudolf Steiner / Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids / Sabrina - The Ink Witch / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather / Thomas Ady / Vera Chapman / Victor Henry Anderson / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest
Many of the above biographies are brief and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with aditional information, please cantact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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