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 writer, film historian, editor, and journalist, living in the Deep South. She is an acquisitions editor at Llewellyn Publishing and the author of the book "Bell, Book, and Camera." She has collaborated with Lady Liberty League, and formerly served as Public Information Officer for 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.