By now, you probably know of the passing of a true giant, Phillip Emmons Isaac Bonewits. I did not know Isaac all that well, be we did spend many hours together at various festivals and I will always consider it an honor that he called me his friend.
Actually, I knew Isaac long before I met him. He graduated from UC Berkeley in 1970 with a degree in magic and thaumaturgy, the only person to ever receive such a degree from an accredited university. The following year he published Real Magic. It was something incredibly new. Until that time, books on magick had primarily been either the mocking and debunking, or the repetition of historical texts. In this book, Isaac revealed his experiences and discoveries with magick and spirituality from the viewpoint of an intelligent college graduate. But this was no thesis in book form. He interspersed personal stories and humor, making the book lively reading. In my opinion, many of the books on magick, Wicca and Witchcraft, Paganism, and Druidry would not be what they are today if it had not been for Real Magic.
Soon thereafter, Isaac began working for Llewellyn. For two years he was the editor of Gnostica Magazine. Many of you reading this may not remember that magazine. In my opinion it was the best popular magazine based around magick, occultism, Wicca, and the paranormal ever published in the U.S.
In 1983, Isaac founded Ar nDraocht Fein (A.K.A. “A Druid Fellowship” or ADF). This has become a leading druidic (or more accurately neo-druidic) organization in the world.
Although he will be remembered for his founding of ADF and Real Magic, I doubt if his real impact on the Pagan world will ever be fully known or appreciated. Like an editor behind the scenes, his frequent writings and teachings have directly and indirectly influenced thousands. Many of the leaders in the community received input from him, thus shading their eventual concepts and ideas. Isaac will never receive credit for this because he did it from his heart and not for the publicity.
Perhaps the one thing I’ll remember about Isaac was his indefatigable energy. Even when he was diagnosed with a disease that exhausted him (from taking some badly produced L-triptophan), he seemed to always be going and doing; awake, alert, knowledgable, and always willing to share information, a story, a song, or a laugh.
In the coming days, you will read many memorials to Isaac, all of them earned, and all of them, no matter how glowing, not even half of what they could be.
Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have been able to see further than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” If I am remembered at all for anything I have said or written, it will be because I, too, have stood on the shoulders of giants.
Isaac Bonewits was one of those giants.
Rest well in the arms of the Goddess, my friend. You have earned it.
October 1, 1949–August 12, 2010
Do you have recollections of Isaac? Share them in the comments section.