James L. Bianchi 1949 – 2015

Heather Greene —  May 13, 2015 — 10 Comments

James L. Bianchi [Photo credit: Venee]

James L. Bianchi [Photo credit: Venee]

It was announced on Tuesday that James L. Bianchi,co- founder of the House of Danu and Bay Area Pagan Alliance, passed away. He had been in the ICU of John Muir Medical Center for several weeks suffering from a staph infection that had attacked his heart. Throughout this time, he was cared for by family, friends and medical professionals, but the infection was too severe.

James was born in 1949 in Oakland California. He attended Skyline High School, graduating in 1967. From there, he went on to San Francisco State University where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science. Then in 1978, James graduated from the New College of California School of Law, one of the oldest public interest law school’s in the country. After passing the Bar Exam, he began practicing law in 1979 and has continued to do so ever since.

James Bianchi, 1967 [Yearbook photo capture]

James Bianchi, 1967 [Yearbook photo capture]

Over the past three decades, James built his personal practice and became a vocal community activist. During the Vietnam war, “he operated the largest draft counseling center West of Chicago that freed over 15,000 men from the War. He later worked to help returning veterans at Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco.” In addition, he served on various boards and commissions, some Pagan and some not. He worked with “homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, sexual assault programs, drug treatment programs, legal aid offices, and after school programs for elementary school children.” His most recent work included advocating for Pagan chaplaincy in California prisons.

Outside of his professional career and activist work, James was also a dedicated and active member of the local Bay Area Pagan community and the extended national community of Druids. In 2001, he helped establish the Bay Area Pagan Alliance, becoming its first president. In 2008, he was one of the founding members of The House of Danu, a “fellowship of solitaries, seed groups, and groves of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD).” James was the Ovate of Taliesin in San Francisco, a former core member of The Spark Collective and a council member of Phoenix Fire.

For over ten years, James was also a dedicated member of the Cherry Hill Seminary faculty. His signature course was “Religion and the Law,” during which he discussed the post-911 legal structure, how to combat discrimination, First Amendment rights and more. He was scheduled to begin a new course called, “Moral Advocacy: Overcoming the Divide.” In the description, James wrote, “We are a nation divided by disinformation. Such polarization is not sustainable if we have any hope of solving the serious problems that confront our people.

Cherry Hill Seminary Director Holli Emore said, “He was excited about the new summer course he had developed … He helped CHS set a standard for excellence in our very early years. We will all miss him more than I can say.” 

If all of that work wasn’t exhaustive enough, James was also a talented musician and visual artist. He was most known for love of drumming. Trained on 23 instruments, he has a long list of credits performing at festivals and events throughout the Bay Area, including Mission Creek Music Festival, the Pagan Festival, Burning Man, the local Renaissance Festival, and the Harmony Festival. He recently performed in a House of Danu ritual at PantheaCon 2015.

In addition, James was a singer, receiving training from The Jazz School in Berkeley. He was a member of Reclaiming’s popular Spiral Dance Chorus and could sing in Latin, Lacume, Spanish, Portuguese, Zulu, Sanskrit, and Arabic.

James was a true renaissance man. He acted as a theatrical music director, a videographer and filmmaker. His film La Masquera, was screened by The San Francisco Film Society (formerly Film Arts). In addition to all of that, he was also a loving husband and father.

James Bianchi with John Beckett and Kimberly Kirner at a 2012 OBOD East Coast Gathering [Courtesy J. Beckett]

James Bianchi with John Beckett and Kimberly Kirner at a 2012 OBOD East Coast Gathering [Courtesy J. Beckett]

In mid-April, James went into the hospital to check his health and medications. He was admitted immediately and found to have a MRSA staph infection that had spread to his heart. He was sent to ICU and, eventually, put on life support.

At the time, hope remained high for recovery. The House of Danu sponsored a healing event April 18, which was supported by people from all over the country. Candles were lit; prayers were said. As would be expected, there was also drumming and chanting. His son Andrew posted on the event page, “We are so very thankful for the love and energy you all are providing.”

At the same time, his wife Susannah set up a Caring Bridge account to share news and updates on James’ illness. Over the following weeks, reports continued to be promising as James seemed to be recovering from the condition. On April 24, his wife reported, “Jim is improving slowly but surely. He is receiving less sedation and is more alert.”

But then, last week, everything changed. James was taken off all life support and moved to a comfort care facility. On Monday, May 11 at 7:15pm PST, James passed away. He was surrounded by his family and closest friends. As was reported, “A Harpist played in the corridor, Druids anointed an Awen upon his forehead with the water from St Brigit’s well, and Oak branch was upon his lap. The magic mists surrounded him for his peaceful journey to Tír na mBeo (The Land of the Living), Mag Mell (Delightful Plain), and Tír na nÓg (Land of the Young),Orbis alius(Otherworld).”

Since the announcement, there as been an incredible outpouring of prayers, stories, blessings and love for a man, who had so many talents, touched so many lives, and simply dedicated himself to making the world a better place.

Druid Priest and CUUPS member John Beckett said:

 James was a good friend who had big dreams for the Druid community and worked hard to make them real.

The Bay Area Pagan Alliance posted:

James was an integral part of the Pagan Alliance as our in-house counsel as well as our spiritual advisor and a commited community leader. He has helped our organization thrive as well provide services and guidance to many around the country when they were in dire need of legal and spiritual guidance … And for all of his personal outreach, he was always present and made himself available to anyone who needed help with just about anything.

Coru Cathubodua Priest Rynn Fox said:

James L. Bianchi came into my life because he heard I needed a lead drummer for my first [PantheaCon] ritual. He didn’t know me; he only knew I needed help. This is the kind of person he is.

Rev. Sean W. Harbaugh Ar nDraiocht Fein: A Druid Fellowship (ADF) said:

James was a giving, kind man, who always took time to help others. His efforts in promoting the growth of west coast Paganism cannot be overstated. I became friends with him through the Druid community, and I will miss him greatly.

The family is currently maintaining its privacy. There has yet to be any word on a public memorial. For those who wish to send wishes and prayers, the Caring Bridge site does have a place for tributes.

What is remembered, lives. 

Heather Greene

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Heather is a freelance writer, film historian, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League on religious liberty cases, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for Dogwood Local Council and Covenant of the Goddess. She has a masters degree in Film Theory, Criticism and History from Emory University with a background in the performing and visual arts. Heather's book on witches in American film and television will be published by McFarland in 2018.
  • May he meet his ancestors and rejoice in the next life.

  • Damiana

    Criminy, this is awful. What a terrible way to die. I’m so sorry for his loved ones. In glad he was able to enjoy one last PantheaCon.

    As a Bay Area resident, I know that this is a tremendous loss, beyond the Pagan community.

    (It’s staph infection, not staff. I’m thinking Sean meant Bianchi’s contributions can’t be overstated, not understated.)

    • Sean Harbaugh

      I did mean overstated. It’s been changed.

      –Sean

      • Both errors are fixed. Thanks!

        • Sean Harbaugh

          You’re awesome!

  • KK

    I will always remember James as someone whose generosity in all his resources, including his many gifts, led to me finding Druid community and support I needed in my spiritual path… He was one of the most generous people I’d ever met with a true heart for service. He loved his family a great deal, enjoyed travel and great food, and was both analytical and artistic. He lived passionately and intensely, and as much as it is difficult not to feel that his life was cut short… he did more living in that time than most people I know. I will miss him — his flute music waking us up at Druid West Coast Gatherings, his drumming calling us to movement, his wit and laughter providing light-hearted moments. /l

  • Arlynne Camire

    A memorial is being planned for the Pagan Community.

  • Davin Raincloud

    Rest in Peace.

  • Patrick McCollum

    James was a special friend and we connected on multiple levels. We worked on creating Cherry Hill Seminary together, and he helped me with strategies for both my lawsuit for Pagan rights in the prisons, and on the Pentacle Quest. He also gave me advise when I started my Foundation. James was alway quick to offer assistance, and seldom asked for anything in return.

    James and I played music together and I can still hear the sound of him playing the recorder, which was only one of his many musical talents. Each year I looked forward to him calling the quarters in Gaelic at the Druid rituals, and his robed presence in the Dance macabre.

    James was a multifaceted guy with a foot in several communities, and he played a significant role in each and every one. He will be dearly missed!

    I feel honored to have been able to have served him during his last days and to comply with several of his last requests.

    I had the opportunity to bless and anoint James before he passed, with the Sacred Oil from my tradition which he himself helped make. A pact which we jokingly renewed each year at Pantheacon. And per his and his son’s wish, I will carry some of his ashes across the sea with me to be buried under the ancient Druid Tree on the Windsor Estate in Ludlow England.

    You will be missed my friend, but I know you will make your presence known when I walk in the deep woods and secret places.

    What is remembered lives!
    Patrick McCollum

  • dantes

    His achievements command lots of respect.