Word has come to us that seminal Pagan author, theologian, singer, and Druid leader Isaac Bonewits has passed away after a long battle with a rare form of colon cancer. Tributes and blessings for this influential figure within the Pagan movement have been pouring in since Isaac’s wife Phaedra Bonewits announced on August 9th that he was “nearing the end”. On the morning of August 12th, surrounded by family, he passed away.
“This morning, August 12, 2010 at approximately 8 AM ET, Isaac Bonewits passed away peacefully in his sleep. All his brothers and sisters arrived at his side last night. His family and friends surround him now.”
Isaac Bonewits, photo by Ava Francesca, from the ADF website.
A true Pagan polymath, Bonewits seemed to drink deeply of modern Paganism in all its myriad forms. He’s been an initiate into Santeria, religious Witchcraft (both orthodox and heterodox), various magic(k)al traditions, and fraternal Druidism. A man of letters, he wrote many celebrated books, and many more influential essays. Many of the phrases and terminology we now use on a regular basis had their genesis with Isaac Bonewits. His Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (ABCDEF) has been used by Federal law enforcement and foreign governments to evaluate religious minorities, and he’s been a visionary in predicting the growing pains our movement would encounter.
Perhaps his greatest gift and legacy to the Pagan movement will be the founding of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), a Druid fellowship that from the outset anticipated the ramifications of our growing numbers, and the strove to meet the challenges that would bring.
“We believe that Neopaganism is eventually going to become a mainstream religious movement, with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of members, and that this will be A Good Thing, both for the individuals involved and for the survival of the Earth Mother. Neopaganism is riding the crest of the “baby boom.” Many people who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s are discovering us at about the same time that they are realizing both the desperate state of our planet and the eternal relevance of our youthful ideals. Membership in the Neopagan community is quietly growing at a geometric rate, both through word of mouth and the many do-it-yourself books now available, giving us an ever-greater impact on the mainstream culture as a whole.
All these Neopagans are going to need publically accessible worship, teaching, counseling, and healing. Within thirty years we expect to see indoor temples and/or sacred groves throughout North America and Europe, staffed by full-time paid professional clergy. They’ll provide the full range of needed services to the Neopagan community, with no more “corruption” than the Unitarians, the Buddhists, or the Quakers experience. We see globally televised Samhain rites at Stonehenge, and Beltane ceremonies attended by thousands in every major city. We see Neopagan clergy taking part as equals in international religious conferences with clergy from other faiths. We see our children wearing pentacles, Druid Sigils, and Thor Hammers to school as easily as others now wear crosses, Stars of David, or Hands of Fatima.”
That vision of the ADF, written by Bonewits nearly thirty years ago, captures what was so vibrant and vital about him. The audacity of expecting excellence and success from himself, his coreligionists, and his peers. We are now entering the age that Bonewits predicted would come about, and he can cross the veil knowing that the ADF is well-prepared for it. With stable leadership, an engaged and socially conscious membership, and confident clergy performing their rites in public for hundreds. His role in founding the ADF alone has earned him a place in history. The ADF, in honor of their founder, has erected a special memorial page on their web site today. Including a guestbook where you can leave your condolences.
On a personal note, I would like to say that Isaac’s writings were very influential for me as a younger Pagan, and it is a great sorrow to me that I never got to sit down and speak with him in person. Jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie said, “No him, no me,” regarding Louis Armstrong, and I feel a similar sentiment is true for several of us now making waves and gaining notoriety within modern Paganism. I don’t know if I’ll ever work on televising Samhain at Stonehenge to a global audience, but I will do my part to build a Pagan news and media ecosystem he would have been proud of. Farewell to you Isaac Bonewits. My deepest blessings to Isaac’s family and friends at this time of transition, may he rest with his gods and return to us once again.