It is with a heavy heart I learned this morning: the Passing of Isaac Bonewits. Surrounded by friends and family he stepped through the veil 8 am in his home in New York.
Isaac Bonewits made a very big impression in my life for many reasons. In the early Seventies he wrote what was originally to be a thesis, a published work called Real Magic. I was given a copy in hard back in 1976 after reading many books on Magick. His writing clarified everything I had read before and since. This simple book addressed questions never before addressed, definitions never revealed and terms never before used to describe the hidden workings of the mind and the world around us. Real Magic gave me a tool to decipher the true from the false, the real from the un-real and the actual from the fluff other writers hinted at, lied about or simply didn’t know and made up. It also gave me a sense of how cults were created, developed and used as weapons against their own people and the danger they represent to their communities. All this with humor, awe and wounder as the subject opened before me.
So taken by this volume, I purchased multiple copies and distributed them among my friends and family, offered copies to students (as I took up teaching Tarot in the 80s) and fellow teachers.
I finally met Isaac in the 90s while he was recovering from a near fatal illness. Isaac was in the final stages of his recovery, the Druid Foundation he formed was moving on as he grasped a more solitary life. I told him about the many copies I had purchased and distributed at the CraftWise convention I attended as a jewelry designer and teacher of the Tarot. He laughed and commented about the spike of sales of his book as I bought and distributed Real Magic around the country. On packing up I discovered he had left early, but not before he had dropped off a signed copy of Real Magic (“this one is for you to keep!” he told me). I saw him many times while I was on the circuit, each time I greeted him as an old friend, each time he treated me with great kindness.
In 2000, he was asked to lead the ritual for Blessed Be in DC; to be held at the Jefferson Memorial. Although he agreed to “lead”, he insisted that the group write the ritual. Because he requested I facilitate the drumming for it, I was honored to attend the workshop Isaac conducted at Rosemary Kooman’s home. There he taught the Essence of Ritual from his notes that were later to be formed into his book Rites of Worship. This is his way: he taught those around him the essence of what is being done rather than dictate “do this or that”. Many people stepped up to be leaders in their community because his instruction; we learned the process and better understand what we do because of his generosity.
The event was concluded by a drum circle in the Jefferson Memorial at midnight. During the drum circle, I saw many smiling faces: Isacc’s beaming with pleasure and joy as drummers and dancers made circles in the dome. A Father and Son were noted to enter and the boy asked his Dad “What are they doing?” “Making History, Son” was his answer. As we continued to drum, the Father read to his boy the famous Jefferson quote about religious freedom as the rhythms echoed up and down the Mall.
Over the years Isaac wrote and published several other books, one of which was The Pagan Man featuring the Men of the Pagan Movement. Most volumes of this new religious movement focus on Women and he noticed we(as a gender) were being marginalized. Doing what Isaac does best, he interviewed many of us and compiled a perspective of the contributions Men have made to Neo-Paganism (his term!) and in his generosity one of the groups featured were the men of our tribe: Tuatha de Kelti.
I offered to create jewelry for him, thus he designed several pieces from his drawings of which he then carried to the events he attended: selling Sigils, Awens and more with his books and other artifacts.
With the help and encouragement of his wife Phaedra, Isaac moved forward in completing several important books in the last few years: Real Energy, The Rites of Worship, the Essential Guide to Druidism and several others, each one offering a fresh look at subjects often unnecessarily clouded with confusion and misinformation. Even as his body was failing him Isaac Bonewits’ contributions to Paganism continued to flow with clarity, honesty and humor. His books will continue to be valuable assets for everyone: Pagan, Wiccan and those of other religious communities. As his body is discarded by his Spirit, his wisdom and laughter will echo in the Halls of the Afterlife forever.