Isaac Bonewits has begun his journey to the Summerlands today. He died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Nyack, New York, this morning surrounded by his family and friends. Isaac was a seminal figure in the Druid movement – his keen wit and far-seeing mind was admired all over the world. Only a few days ago his German publisher was talking to me and we were both enthusing about his writing and his humour. I remember giving a workshop in the room next door to the one where Isaac was also holding a workshop about 15 years ago. So much laughter came from his room we seriously considered abandoning our workshop to join him.
In the Foreword to his book Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism I decided John Lennon’s words described him best, and wrote:
“Some kinda druid dudes lifting the veil. Doing the mind guerrilla, Some call it magic – the search for the grail.’ John Lennon – Mind Games.
If you want a Druid dude to lift the veil on Druidism, you’ve come to the right place. Isaac is like an eccentric and dedicated botanist who has decided in this book to recount his view of the exotic jungle that is modern Druidism. He’s well placed to do this because he’s been in the thick of it for some time. In fact he’s played a crucial role in its development in the modern era.”
Last year Isaac and Phaedra came to London and he gave a talk at London’s oldest occult bookstore – The Atlantis Bookshop. That was the last time Stephanie and I saw him. I am so glad we did. He was in fine form: as radiant and as witty as ever. I asked him if we could record his talk and he was happy for me to leave a voice recorder beside him. You can hear his talk here.
Isaac was not only historically significant, he was a warm, generous, funny, and very very bright guy. We will all miss him very much. May his journey to the Summerlands be swift and sure. Now is the time of the spectacular Perseids meteor shower, named after the descendants of the god Perseus. He’s taken off during Nature’s most spectacular firework display – it’s just like him to do that! Many blessings and condolences to Phaedra and all his family.
You can read a memorial to Isaac on the website of ADF (the group he founded) here.
Here is the official announcement that is now being posted on a number of sites:
Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits, founder and Archdruid Emeritus of of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, one of North America’s leading experts on ancient and modern Druidism, Witchcraft, magic and the occult, and the rapidly growing Earth Religions movement, died today after a short struggle with cancer.
Mr. Bonewits first came into the public eye when he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts in Magic and Thaumaturgy (1970). During his tenure there, Mr. Bonewits worked with many renowned professors including Nobel Prize Laureate Owen Chamberlain. The work he did for that degree became his first book, Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic (1971).
In 1983, he founded and became the first Archdruid of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) an international fellowship devoted to creating a public tradition of Neopagan Druidry. In 1995, he retired from a leadership role due to complications from eosinophilia- myalgia syndrome. ADF has grown to become the best-known Neopagan Druid group based in North America. At his death, Mr. Bonewits held the title of ArchDruid Emeritus.
During his forty years as a Neopagan priest, scholar, teacher, bard, and polytheologian, Isaac Bonewits coined much of the vocabulary and articulated many of the issues that have shaped the rapidly growing Neopagan movement in the United States and Canada.
Mr. Bonewits was internationally known as a speaker who educated, enlightened and entertained two generations of modern Goddess worshippers, nature mystics, and followers of other minority belief systems, as well as explained these movements to journalists, law enforcement officers, college students, and academic researchers.
His personal papers will become part of the American Religions Collection at the Library of University of California at Santa Barbara.
One of his most influential contributions was the Advanced Bonewits Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (the “ABCDEF”), developed in 1979 as a response to the Jim Jones People’s Temple tragedy. It has been translated into many languages and used around the world to evaluate how dangerous or harmless an organization might be. It was the first such scale to use theories of mental health and personal growth to judge rather than theological or ideological standards.
His other books include Authentic Thaumaturgy (1979, 1998), The Pagan Man (2005), Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca (2006), Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism (2006), Neopagan Rites (2007), and Real Energy (2007), which was co-authored with his wife, Phaedra, as well as numerous articles, reviews and essays. As a singer-songwriter, he released two albums, Be Pagan Once Again (1988), and Avalon is Rising (1992).
He is survived by his wife, Phaedra, his son from a previous marriage, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits of Bardonia NY, his mother Jeannette, his brothers Michael and Richard, and sisters Simone Arris and Melissa Banbury.