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Pagan Pioneers: Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others
Isaac Bonewits (1949 - 2010)
Written and compiled by George Knowles
Isaac 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.
Philip 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.
Shortly 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 parapsychology. During his teen years, he read extensively and was a keen fan of science fiction, which often featured strong magical and psychic themes.
At 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 own rituals.
As 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).
During 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 LaVey 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
When 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.
In 1973, 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
Throughout 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 founded much earlier by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart. 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 himself.
During 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 discontinued.
Back in 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 in 1978. This was essentially a rewrite of his earlier book Real Magic, but written for players of fantasy role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons.
In 1979, 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 Dawn). Later that same year he and Sally married before relocating to New York City.
Up until 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 businesses.
While in 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
In 1986, 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 Shaffrey Lipp-Bonewits.
Their 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 his side.
Bonewits 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.
Bonewits own website can be accessed at http://www.neopagan.net.
May he rest in peace
Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic. (1972, 1979, 1989) Weiser Books
Authentic Thaumaturgy. (1978, 1998) Steve Jackson Games
Rites of Worship: A Neopagan Approach. (2003) Earth Religions Press
Witchcraft: A Concise Guide or Which Witch Is Which?. (2003) Earth Religions Press
The Pagan Man: Priests, Warriors, Hunters, and Drummers. (2005) Citadel
Bonewits's Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca. (2006) Citadel
Bonewits's Essential Guide to Druidism. (2006) Citadel
Real Energy: Systems, Spirits, And Substances to Heal, Change, And Grow. (2007) New Leaf. Co-authored with Phaedra Bonewits.
Neopagan Rites: A Guide to Creating Public Rituals that Work. (2007) Llewellyn
To be posted later.
First published on the 30th January 2007 - updated 13th August 2010 © George Knowles
Best Wishes and Blessed Be
Site Contents - Links to all Pages
A Universal Message:
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
Wicca & Witchcraft
The 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 Mythology) / Esbats & Full Moons / Links to Personal Friends & Resources / Wicca/Witchcraft Resources / What's a spell? / Circle Casting and Sacred Space / Pentagram - Pentacle / Marks of a Witch / The Witches Power / The Witches Hat / An esoteric guide to visiting London / Satanism / Pow-wow / The Unitarian Universalist Association / Numerology: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / A history of the Malleus Maleficarum: includes: Pope Innocent VIII / The papal Bull / The Malleus Maleficarum / An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum / The letter of approbation / Johann Nider’s Formicarius / Jacob Sprenger / Heinrich Kramer / Stefano Infessura / Montague Summers / The Waldenses / The Albigenses / The Hussites / The Native American Sun Dance / Shielding (Occult and Psychic Protection) /
Sabbats and Festivals:
The Sabbats in History and Mythology / Samhain (October 31st) / Yule (December 21st) / Imbolc (February 2nd) / Ostara (March 21st) / Beltane (April 30th) / Litha (June 21st) / Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st) / Mabon (September 21st)
Rituals contributed by Crone:
Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar and Totem Animals) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Unicorn / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat / Rats / Unicorn
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
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
Wisdom and Inspiration:
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murdered 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, Elders and Others)
Pioneers: Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others
Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A Kelly / Albertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda Metteyya / Allan Kardec (Spiritism) / Alphonsus de Spina / Amber K / Ann Moura / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Balthasar Bekker / Biddy Early / Barbara Vickers / Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christopher Penczak / Christina Oakley Harrington / Cornelius Loos / Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Donald Michael Kraig / Doreen Valiente / Dorothy Morrison / Dr. John Dee & Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Edain McCoy / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake / Fiona Horne / Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater - Horrible Herman / Heinrich Kramer / Isaac Bonewits / Israel Regardie / Ivo Domínguez Jr. / Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick / James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches / Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone / Jean Bodin / Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johann Weyer / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" / Johann Georg Fuchs von Dornheim - the “Hexenbrenner” (witch burner) / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred / John Michael Greer / John Score / Joseph “Bearwalker” Wilson / Joseph John Campbell / Karl von Eckartshausen / Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" / Laurie Cabot - "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Lodovico Maria Sinistrari / Ludwig Lavater / Madeline Montalban and the Order of the Morning Star / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Michael Howard and the UK "Cauldron Magazine" / Margaret St. Clair - the “Sign of the Labrys” / Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Martin Antoine Del Rio / Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" / Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set / Monique Wilson / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellars / Mrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Olivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Paul Foster Case and the “Builders of the Adytum” mystery school / Peter Binsfeld / Philip Heselton / Raven Grimassi / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Richard Baxter / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" / Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Rossell Hope Robbins / Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) / Rudolf Steiner / Sabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough" / 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 and Cotton Mather ) / Thomas Ady / T. Thorn Coyle / Vera Chapman / Victor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / Walter Ernest Butler / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest /
Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete. If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below. Many thanks for reading :-)
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