Isaac and Hermes Council

This is kind-a sort-a the speech I gave at the memorial service for Isaac Bonewits on Aug 21, 2010:

I’d like to tell you about one way in which Isaac’s efforts within the pagan community led to support for others and for himself.

The Hermes Council began with a Wiccan group. Our High Priestess, who had been one of Isaac’s students, as I myself had been. decided that in addition to our regular meetings, the women and the men would meet separately, to explore the unique women’s and men’s Mysteries.

The women met for about a year, and then stopped. The men took a while to organize themselves, but they began to meet in 1994, and still meet to this very day. We took a separate name and identity for themselves: the Hermes Council. The membership changed over the years; we’re not the same group that met in that Wiccan circle years ago, and you certainly don’t have to be a Wiccan to be one of us.

We strive to share some of the ideals of Hermes: Intellect, understanding, communication, and an appreciation of wit; we never forgot that Hermes is a trickster god. At every one of our meetings, no matter what else we may do, we hold a Council: one person has the privilege of speaking, while the others have the privilege of listening; this goes around until everyone has had a chance to speak and listen. We speak of our challenges, our insights, and our problems.

No, we don’t talk about women! What made you think that? I just said that we talked about problems and issues. How could women be a problem or an issue?

In our early years, we also held frequent classes and rituals. Our initial ritual was based on one that Isaac helped write. Later on, when we felt we’d reached the point for a formal ritual dedication, Isaac worked with me to design our Dedication ceremony.

In those early years, Isaac attended an occasional ritual or meeting every year or two, but he was too involved with his other commitments to participate regularly. During that time the Hermes Council transitioned from alternating rituals, classes, and councils to focusing on councils, with a ritual perhaps once or twice a year.

Isaac’s participation changed when Arthur felt that he wanted to go through a manhood ceremony, and asked the Hermes Council to arrange one for him. For various reasons it took months to design and arrange the ceremony, so even though Arthur asked for it in 2003, it wasn’t until 2004 that the ceremony took place. During the process of designing the ceremony, Isaac decided he should start attending our meetings regularly. The decision was made easier by his move to Rockland County to a place about five minutes from where I live.

Isaac became one of us. He listened to us as we shared the problems of our lives. We listened to him as he shared his struggles, including his battles with the writer’s relentless enemy, the blank page. He inspired us; I like to think that in some ways we inspired him.

It’s difficult to describe the closeness that’s shared in groups such as this one. Part of the difficulty is due to our promise of confidentiality: what’s said in Hermes Council stays in Hermes Council. The other part is experiential: you don’t know what it’s like until you’ve made that commitment, built up a circle of trust, and felt the magic that results. If you’ve been in a group like this, you already know; if you haven’t, I hope you find it.

So I can’t tell you directly what it was like to have Isaac be a brother in Hermes Council. All I can offer is examples.

When Hermes went out for occasional trips or activities, he was there. He was there to help re-model the house of one of our members: you demo a kitchen; you sit, have Council, share your innermost feelings; then you go paint a hallway.

When another member was injured in an accident and in a nursing home, Isaac joined us as we marched in unannounced to visit our friend, carrying our drums with us. We rocked the wing of the nursing home with our drumming! We were prepared to be kicked out or arrested, but despite our best efforts, they loved having us there. You can read more about that event in Isaac’s description of the Hermes Council in his book "The Pagan Man".

The Hermes Council was also privileged to be part of the dynamic between father and son. One of the requirements of that manhood ceremony was that from that time forward, Arthur was expected to attend Hermes Council, and he did. None of us held back when Arthur was present, including Isaac… and including Arthur.

As Isaac’s health took a turn for the worse, the Hermes Council was there. We began to meet at his place, to help with the basics: cleaning, washing dishes, putting up Yule decorations, taking down Yule decorations, and that most ancient of Hermetic practices, setting up a home computer network.

We were present at the fundraiser in this very hall last May, and helped to facilitate the drumming. We held two of our Councils at Isaac’s bedside, though at one of them he was so knocked out by painkillers that I don’t think he knew what was going on. I’ll share with you what Isaac said to us that meeting: "Number one, I want a whiskey. Number two, I want a whiskey." So we gave him a whiskey.

At the end, Hermes was there. I addressed Isaac by the honorific that we in Hermes reserve for one another: I called him "Brother." This confused Isaac’s brothers Mike and Richard who were there; I had a bit of explaining to do.

Those of you familiar with Greek mythology know that, among other attributes, Hermes is the psychopomp, that is, the guide of spirits between this world and the next. I know as Isaac walks along that path, accompanied by many other spirits, guardians, and gods, that Hermes also walks by his side.

I’ll end with the last words I said to Isaac directly: "Wherever you are headed, Brother, may the embraces be warm, may the booze be flowing, may the music be lovely, and may the conversation be stimulating… but not necessarily in that order."

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  1. sabrinamari

    Listening to you made me laugh as much as it made me cry. For that, I am tremendously grateful!

  2. freyas_fire

    It was very nice to meet you in person, and sorry I didn’t get there in time to hear your speech…but at least I got there in time for the whiskey. 🙂

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