Menu

Bonewits, P. E. I. (Isaac) (1949– )

American Pagan,
author and scholar, and a leader in contemporary Druidry
and Paganism.
Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits was born October 1,
1949, in Royal Oak, Michigan—the perfect place, he likes
to joke, for a future Archdruid. The fourth of five children
(three girls, two boys), he spent most of his childhood in
Janet and Gavin Bone (Courtesy Janet and Gavin Bone)
Bonewits, P. E. I. 33
Ferndale, a suburb of Detroit. When he was nearly 12, the
family moved to San Clemente, California.
From his mother, a devout Roman Catholic, Bonewits
developed an appreciation for the importance of religion;
from his father, a convert to Catholicism from Presbyterianism,
he acquired skepticism. His first exposure to magic
came at age 13, when he met a young Creole woman from
New Orleans who practiced “voodoo.” She showed him
some of her magic, and so accurately divined the future that
he was greatly impressed. During his teen years, he read
extensively about magic and parapsychology, and was fascinated
by the power of the mind. He also read science fiction,
which often has strong magical and psychic themes.
In his second semester of ninth grade, Bonewits entered
a Catholic high school seminary because he wanted
to become a priest. He soon realized that he did not want
to be a priest in the Catholic faith. He returned to public
school and graduated a year early. After spending a year
in junior college to get foreign-language credits, he enrolled
at the University of California at Berkeley in 1966.
At about the same time, he began practicing magic, devising
his own rituals by studying the structure of rituals in
books, and by observing them in various churches.
His roommate at Berkeley, Robert Larson, was a selfprofessed
Druid, an alumni of Carleton College, where
the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA) had been
born in 1963. Larson interested Bonewits in Druidism,
and initiated him into the RDNA. The two established
a grove in Berkeley. Bonewits was ordained as a Druid
priest in October 1969. The Berkeley grove was shaped as
a contemporary Pagan religion; other RDNA groves considered
the order a philosophy.
During college, Bonewits spent about eight months as
a member of the Church of Satan, an adventure which
began as a lark. The college campus featured a spot where
evangelists of various persuasions would lecture to anyone
who would listen. As a joke, Bonewits showed up one
day to perform a satirical lecture as a Devil’s evangelist.
He was so successful that he did the act repeatedly, and
soon was approached by a woman who said she represented
Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan.
Bonewits attended the church’s meetings and improved
upon some of their rituals—he was never seduced, as the
woman had promised—but dropped out after personality
conflicts with LaVey. The membership, he found, was
largely middle-class conservatives who were more “rightwing
and racist” than satanist.
At Berkeley, Bonewits created his own degree program,
graduating in 1970 with a bachelor of arts degree
in magic—the first person ever to do so at a Western
educational institution. He also was the last to do so in
the United States. College administrators were so embarrassed
over the publicity about the degree that magic,
witchcraft and sorcery were banned from the individual
group study program.
His first book, Real Magic, about magic, ritual and psychic
ability, was published in 1971.
In 1973, Bonewits met a woman named Rusty. They
moved to Minneapolis, where they were married. For a
year and a half, Bonewits edited Gnostica, a Pagan journal
published by Carl Weschcke of Llewellyn Publications,
but his scholarly approach was not popular with many of
the readers.
Bonewits remained in Minneapolis for about another
year. He established a Druid grove called the Schismatic
Druids of North America, a schism of the RDNA. He
also joined with several Jewish Pagan friends and created
the Hasidic Druids of North America, the only grove of
which existed briefly in St. Louis, where its membership
overlapped with that of the Church of All Worlds. In
1974–75, Bonewits wrote, edited and self-published The
Druid Chronicles (Evolved), a compendium of the history,
theology, rituals and customs of all the reformed Druid
movements, including the ones he invented himself.
He also founded the Aquarian Anti-Defamation
League (AADL), a civil liberties and public relations organization
for members of minority belief systems, such
as the Rosicrucians, Theosophists, Pagans, Witches, occultists,
astrologers and others. Bonewits served as president
of the AADL and devoted most of his income—unIsaac
Bonewits (Courtesy Isaac Bonewits) employment insurance—to running it. The organization
34 Bonewits, P. E. I.
scored several small victories in court—such as restoring
an astrologer to her apartment after she had been evicted
because a neighbor told her landlord that her astrology
classes were “black magic seances.”
Bonewits and Rusty divorced in 1976 and he returned
to Berkeley. The AADL disintegrated shortly after his
departure.
In Berkeley, Bonewits rejoined the RDNA grove and
was elected Archdruid. He established The Druid Chronicler
(which later became Pentalpha Journal) as a national
Druid publication in 1978. After a few clashes with members,
he left the organization. Pentalpha Journal folded.
In 1979, he was married for a second time, to a woman
named Selene. That relationship ended in 1982. In 1983,
he was initiated into the New Reformed Order of the
Golden Dawn. The same year, he married again, to Sally
Eaton, the actress who created the role of the hippie witch
in the Broadway musical Hair. They moved to New York
City in 1983.
Since the late 1960s, Bonewits had worked as a freelance
journalist, and, since college, had earned a sporadic
living from writing and editing. In 1983, he entered the
computer technology field as a technical writer for a firm
in Manhattan. He left that over an ethical matter and
became a self-employed computer consultant for small
businesses.
In 1983 in New York, Bonewits met Shenain Bell, a
fellow Pagan, and discussed the idea of starting a Druidic
organization. The religious fellowship, Ár nDraíocht Féin
(“Our Own Druidism” in Gaelic), was born, with no ties
to the ancient Druids or to the RDNA. Bonewits became
Archdruid and Bell became Vice Archdruid.
Bonewits and Eaton parted company in 1986. He
moved to Nyack, New York, in November 1987 with his
intended fourth wife, Deborah, a Wiccan high priestess.
He continued work as a computer consultant and worked
on the building of the ADF. He and Deborah married; a
son, Arthur, was born in 1990.
The ADF grew, but more slowly than Bonewits had
envisioned. A clergy training program was launched,
but a seminary facility was not created. A prolific author,
Bonewits wrote numerous articles and essays on Druidry,
magic and Paganism. He predicted that Paganism
would become a mainstream religion with millions of
members.
In 1996 he resigned as Archdruid of the ADF due to
the debilitating effects of eosinophilia myalgia syndrome,
which also prevented him from working as a computer
consultant. He retained his life membership in the ADF
and devoted himself to his writing. His Authentic Thaumaturgy
2.0, a new edition of Real Magic (revised in 1979)
designed for players of fantasy games, was published in
1998.
Bonewits and Deborah separated in 1999 and divorced
in 2007. In 2004 he handfasted, then in 2007 married,
Phaedra Heyman, a former vice president of the Covenant
of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. The couple live in Nyack,
New York, but they plan to move to Ashland, Oregon,
in 2008.
Bonewits’ other published books are Rites of Worship
(2003), The Pagan Man (2005), Bonewits’ Essential Guide
to Druidism (2006), Bonewits’ Essential Guide to Wicca and
Witchcraft (2006) and Neopagan Rites (2007). With Phaedra,
he coauthored Real Energy: Systems, Spirits and Substances
to Heal, Change and Grow (2007).
Bonewits is also songwriter and singer and has performed
at Pagan gatherings.
Bonewits has had involvements with Santería, the
Caliphate Line of the Ordo Templi Orientis, Gardnerian
Wicca, and the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the
Golden Dawn, as well as others.

Categories:   Paganism and Witchcraft

Comments

Sorry, comments are closed for this item.