In his brief, “immodest third-person” biography, Isaac Bonewits called himself, “articulate, witty, yet reasonably scholarly.” I never knew the man, but I hear he was a bit cantankerous, too.
In the early part of 2009, a year before Isaac’s passing, I was encouraged by T. Thorn Coyle during an intuitive reading she gave me to make my way to a Druid gathering in California to meet Issac. The event would be a Lughnasadh celebration at the Pema Osel Ling Retreat Center in Corralitos, California, organized by the House of Danu, an alliance of California OBOD groves and seed groups. In attendance would be Phillip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, John Michael Greer, Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, and Issac, the articulate, witty, yet reasonably scholarly Founder and Archdruid Emeritus of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship.
At the end of the reading, Thorn looked at me and said,
You really should go to this.
I didn’t quite understand her urgency, and she explained that Isaac wasn’t well and may not live much longer. This was also an unusual intra-faith gathering; it wasn’t often that ADF, AODA and OBOD representatives came together to celebrate their commonalities.
I felt such a pull towards the Pagan community at the time, and a real sense that Druidry would provide me the spiritual and religious tools that I’d been missing. The three leaders in attendance at this gathering had each made an impact on my early introduction to Druidism, and I knew that meeting them in person would pull me in deeper; seal the deal, so to speak.
But I didn’t go.
In 2009 I was gearing up for the release of an album, one which had been in the making for years. In preparation for the release I’d become hyperaware of my public image. Druidry, and Paganism for that matter, seemed more a little difficult to work into the marketing plan. I was afraid that if I went to the Gorsedd, I might wind up on a YouTube video in some compromising Pagan position — naked around a fire, perhaps — and that the work that I, and so many others had invested in would fall by the wayside before it had a chance to live in the world.
I’m not an advocate of regret, but if I were, this would be a moment I might indulge.
I didn’t go, and I didn’t meet Isaac. He passed the following year — two years ago today (August 12). On October 13th of that year I would join ADF and begin exploring my religiosity through the tradition he founded in 1986.
Someone asked today on Facebook whether or not Isaac would have wanted to be remembered. They wondered if, in death, he might still want that today. I read the question, and I thought back to my last few posts here on Bishop In The Grove. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the origin of gods, the evolution of consciousness, and all sorts of difficult-to-know things. There’s a time and place for the philosophizing — I like to imagine that Isaac would agree — but there is also a time to put aside the musings and simply do your religion.
I didn’t go to the Druid gathering because I was trapped in my head. I was over-thinking the implications of every little action, avoiding any choice that might interfere with my career goals. And while I was in my head, the Druids danced around the fire and celebrated the earth.
I’m choosing not to be in my head today.
Today I will remember Isaac. I will pin on his “Druid” name-tag, hold up my pants with his belt buckle, and I’ll be a Druid.
So I leave you with this video of Isaac. Enjoy it. Share it, or share this whole post. Then, share your memories of Isaac here in the comments. I’d love to know how you knew him.
30 responses to “Think, Drink, and Be a Druid in Honor of Isaac Bonewits”
I only managed to see him once , at one of his last appearances b/f he passed . Was at the wicked winter fest in NJ . Only got to say hello in passing , his appearance was quite breif . But what can i say …………his lifes work effected me greatly , and i also understand he was a freind of my ADF grove in MD.Wished i had gotten time to sit and talk to him , but so it goes. I own most of his books , greatly effected me as i was moving to a more Druid, CR path and faith.Now i’m a member of the organisation he formed . Altho I never realy got to meet or know him , we are kindred spirits . Kilm
I first met Issac through the alt.pagan discussion forums on usenet newsgroups back in the early 90’s. I was a young seeker looking for knowledge. He was one of the few people who would give me honest answers no matter how simple my questions were. Years latter I became involved with Stone Creed Grove in Cleveland, Ohio (one of the oldest groves in the ADF). The first time I met him in person was at a Wellspring event. I was chatting with this wonderful older man who had the same wicked sense of hummor as me and I said “I wonder what Issac would think of this gathering of the tribe he worked so hard to form?” not knowing that I was speaking to Issac. He said “I’m pretty sure that I am thrilled no end about it” here he grinned that mischevious grin of his and said “My name is Issac Bonewits by the way”. We both had a huge laugh about that. We went on to have many long talks as we shared some “herbs” over the course of that weekend. We continued our friendship and discussions right up till the end. He was a mentor to me. It was Issac that I spoke to when I began feeling the call of Jesus as my patron. He supported me and told me to follow my heart. I am forever grateful to him and to all the druids I met along the way. They helped me become the man I am today and let me say they follow the teaching of Jesus better than most christians do.
well said. Bonewits made such amazing contributions to the community, our faith, and those around him. Though I never had the honor of meeting him, his works have definitely impacted the spiritual practices in my own life and as a Pagan mother.
During his battle with cancer, I talked to him on facebook a few times and wished him well with his battle. I sent a Brigit Blessing, and he said to me: “She’s my Lady!!!” Our contact was brief, but I hold a profound respect for all of his accomplishments, and, well, for Isaac being Isaac. He inspires me to follow the Druid Path.
I also had the wonderful opportunity, for a few years, to chat with Ellen Cannon Reed, who left a profound impact on my life, and whose patience, candor and compassion helped me through some rough times and tough questions. She went to the Summerland some years ago, but it was a blessing to know her.
I was fortunate enough to meet Isaac twice in person: once at the CUUPS Convocation in 2004 and again at the 2009 Druid gathering Teo referenced. He was great fun and very inspirational, even in 2009 when his health was clearly in decline.
But like so many of us, Isaac’s biggest influence on me was through his books. I learned more about how to DO ritual from Isaac’s writings than from any other source. All of us who call ourselves Pagans owe him a tremendous debt.
Hail Isaac! Thank you for sharing this, John.
I knew Isaac only lightly and only through internet communication, not enough to even say I knew him, really. The people I know who knew Isaac on close and personal levels, of which there are many, talk about him, smile and laugh about him nearly daily. Oddly, I did not officially become a member of ADF until after his passing.
Thank you, Valerie.
I joined Ár nDraíocht Féin in 1993 and was introduced by phone to Isaac Bonewitz through a mutual friend. I was eager to reach out to other North American druids but living in a part of the United States where there were few Pagans, let alone members of my particular denomination. Isaac put me in a position of minor leadership in the organization, and I tried therafter to correspond with my fellow members, but my efforts were so often ignored that I became disheartened and quit the fellowship after a year and a half. Interestingly, I finally met Isaac in person in Ireland in 2000, where I was on scholarship through the University of Toronto in Glean Cholm Cille at Oideas Gael and he was studying Irish Gaelic there. We had signed up for the same classes at the same time, some would say completely by coincidence. But of course, nothing that laden with spiritual significance happens by chance. He came to my rescue when I ran into trouble with a local car rental company and included me in the private rituals he had planned for himself all over Western and Northern Ireland. We traveled together for several days, invoking the Daghda at Grianán Ailigh and the Morrighan at Emain Macha, watching British troops parachute from helicopters into the Irish countryside and patrol the small town where we were grudgingly offered tea at a local pub, sharing stories about our lives that we asked each other to keep in confidence. We drank together, toured the countryside together and shared what was, for both of us, our first experience of the country. And though our friendship was completely platonic, the matron who ran the B&B where he was staying was careful to demand that we not share his room, so certain were the locals that we were lovers. At the end of that time, I accompanied him to Stuart Farrar’s wake, met Janet and Gavin and had an unfortunate run-in with one of the wake’s drunken guests that I have previously relayed in writing for the OBOD journal Touchstone. It was the one and only time I met Isaac in person, and while my opinion of him was justifiably mixed for years after that (for reasons I prefer not to share), I find that now I can only remember his kindness and the way he turned my academic journey into a sacred one. I’m grateful to him for coming to my rescue, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to share the time I did with him. If I am to be an imperfect vessel of the Gods, I hope I might still shine as brilliantly as he did.
Thank you so much, C.S., for sharing this story. I’ve heard many tales of Isaac extending hospitality and kindness in moments of need. I appreciate getting to know him a little better through you.
The one and only time I met Isaac was at that Druid gathering in 2009. I was unemployed at the time, broke, but HAD TO GO. I felt it in my deepest self that I simply had to show up. My primary “head” reason was so that I could finally meet Phillip Carr-Gomm, Chosen Chief of my order. Phillip ended up unable to attend due to family emergency, but it was still wonderful. My heart knew better than my head, because the real reasons I had to be there were: to come together for the first time with many Druids to heal the earth, to hear John Michael Greer and Isaac Bonewits have lively discussion about Druidry/ism, and to meet T. Thorn Coyle… who became my teacher through some challenging and turbulent soul work. I came away inspired, supported, and committed to a path that took me farther than I thought possible.
It wasn’t until I realized how ill Isaac was (I did not know ahead of time or at the gathering), and then with his passing, how very fortunate we were- all of us who had gone to the gathering in 2009. We got to hear his songs and stories around the fire, his harp-playing, his feisty debates with John Michael Greer. It was my last chance, though I didn’t know it, to get to know him. Each year as our grove recalls the 2009 gathering, we find gratitude for having met him during his final year on earth. Thanks for reminding me of his passing, and bringing forth those memories once again.
Thank you, Kim. I’m grateful to you for sharing your story.
Peace and blessings to you.
I saw Isaac speak at Starwood a couple of times in the last decade, but my most distinct memory of him is around that bonfire, the big one at the end of the week, dressed in a loin cloth, ululating, wild. I remember him thus.
This, Paganmama, is not an uncommon story!! Thank you for putting that image in my mind.
I met Isaac a few times. One time in particular stands out. He and I were both attending Gathering of the Tribes and we were picked up at the airport together. Most of the drive to the gathering we ended up discussing theories of magic, pop culture, and various projects we were working on, but what was really cool is that later on during that same event he invited me to his camper, and for a couple hours we talked one-on-one. It’s one of my most cherished memories.
That’s wonderful, Taylor. Thank you for sharing this with us. I imagine that conversation to have been quite stimulating!
This is what I need to hear – and do. I think I have been caught up on “knowing” everything I need to “know” in order to practice… but the more I talk, to the CUUPS group a friend and I have gotten going at our fellowship, to others at my first Pagan festival this year at Wisteria on the Summer Solstice, to the problems I have when I am practicing… the more I think I need to relax and just “be” Pagan. Thank you for posting this and sharing this, it was exactly what I needed to hear. Many blessings!
And Druidry is something I have been very interested in for a long time. Again, thanks.
You’re quite welcome, @2d43e2c42f7f24094f62f602b3a767e9:disqus. It’s a reminder I need to tell myself now and then. I’m glad the post spoke to you, and I hope that your be-ing, whether through Druidry or through some other practice, brings you peace.
Some people are so easy to think of as Ancestors. He certainly is one of those for me, through his books.
I think Isaac is one of those people who was an ancestor before he crossed the Veil.
This is an interesting idea, @facebook-100001321892479:disqus – What do you mean, exactly?
We hosted him in our home when he was on his way to visit his grandmother in Indiana, a very fond and warm memory. We were at Brushwood for Sirius Rising and had planned to stay through Sunday just to see him, since he was coming in for Starwood…but it was rainy and cold and we decided to head home, thinking we’d see him the following year. When he started getting SO sick the following spring, I asked if we could visit on our way to Vermont, and he told me “Let’s wait until I’m feeling a little better…” He was gone 3 months later. *cries* Tonight, I know he’ll be dancing with the Perseids, and I’ll wave as he goes by.
Thank you for sharing this, Lisa. While you may have missed the opportunity to see him, he can still be honored in spirit.
Blessings to you!
Thank you for this reminder of his passing. I never got to meet him, but his work and his self-carved path has inspired me greatly.
You’re quite welcome, Kayla.
Teo, you done made me sing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mio10VFcH9E
Someone actually ASKED if The Isaac would want to be remembered? The is only one possible answer to that – that would be an affirmative. Totally, 100%, no-actual room for questions YES. He’d want to be remembered on the day of his birth, the day of his death, the dates of all his weddings, the dates of all his divorces, and every day in-between.
Indeed! Someone needs to make an Isaac calendar!