A Biography of Isaac Bonewits

My name is Bill Seligman. I am writing a biography on the life of Isaac Bonewits. I intend to tell the story of his life; how he influenced the Neopagan, Druid, and Wiccan communities; and to include a generous share of "Isaac stories." It will be a biography, not a hagiography; I don't think he'd want his image to be polished (nor tarnished!) from anything other than what it was.

 

Please share this web page (http://bit.ly/IBbio) and my e-mail addresses ([bonewits.research] of [gmail.com] or [william.seligman] of [gmail.com]; sorry for the obfuscation) with anyone you know who is strongly connected to Isaac's life.

What's happening now

As of September 2011, I'm finished with a quick review of the masses of paperwork Isaac left behind. I've scanned anything that looks to be of biographical relevance. Isaac's papers are now at the University of California at Santa Barbara to be part of their American Religions Collection, and are only accessible with the permission of the UCSB library.

I've started the next phase: to interview people who were close to Isaac and, by reason of age or illness, might not be available if I were to wait too long.

The interview process is taking longer than I anticipated. Many of the people with whom I'd most like to speak have not yet responsed to my attempts to contact them, not even to tell me that they're not interested. If you click on my list of biography posts, you'll see a post that lists those I'm trying to contact. Any information you can provide with be helpful.

"Why hasn't this guy contacted me for an interview yet?" The answer is: I will! Please give me time to get to you. Isaac was friends with so many people, and connected professionally and magically with many more.

By the way, you may be contacted by Jessica Spinelli, a Wiccan and one of my students. She's a talented (and undiscovered) director who's looking to make a documentary on Isaac's life. She's pursuing other avenues of research than I am, and she might contact you before I do. She also knew Isaac towards the end of his life, and wants to honor him with an honest film.

"When will it be done?" The smart-aleck answer is, "When it is finished!" The real answer is that I don't know. I have a full-time job, and I teach a Wiccan group of my own. I'm learning how to do this as I go along (see below). My best estimate is at least three years, and even that is a guess.

Who is Bill Seligman?

I have a Ph.D. in high-energy physics; I am a physicist and systems administrator at Columbia University's Nevis Laboratories. I am also a Gardnerian Witch, and a teacher of my own group. Twenty years ago, Isaac was my first High Priest and teacher. In the last few years of his life, I had the privilege of being one of his close friends.

I know Isaac would be the first to ask this question: How does any of the above qualify me to write a biography? Many of Isaac's friends are published authors and trained researchers. Why not leave this task to one of them?

It has to do with being in the right place, at the right time, and knowing the right people. I am friends with Phaedra Bonewits, Deborah Lipp, and Sally Eaton; one was my teacher, I worked for another, and a third often came to my place to play Munchkin (I'll let you figure out which I did with whom). I've spoken with them and have their approval for this project.

Also, I had access to Isaac's papers before Phaedra had to send them to UCSB. Anyone else who wants to write Isaac's biography will have to go there and apply for permission to see them.

Finally, I have a job that keeps me, if not in luxury, in reasonable comfort. I can afford to fund the research effort myself, without a publisher or an advance. Of course, since I'm not working on a contact with a deadline, it becomes harder to predict when I'll finish.

I'm not worried about writing the book; I've written longer works (my Ph.D. thesis and a set of game rules; you can also look at my blog if you want to see what an editor will have to put with… I mean, with what an editor will have to put up). For me, the hard part will be the research; an experimental scientist is not automatically a biographical historian. This will definitely not be a scholarly work.

What will happen when it's published?

My intent is all my profits from this book go towards a fund for the care of pagan elders. This was an important cause for Isaac, and the existence of such a fund would have been of help towards the end of his life. In the spirit of Isaac's sense of humor, I'd like to call the fund "Livelihood, Medicine, and Nutrition for Older Pagans" or LMNOP. (Someone else will have to start a fund to "Give Hope, Inspiration, and Joy to Kids.")

I'm in the process of investigating the legal requirements of such a fund with my lawyer… who was also Isaac's lawyer. The fact that there are now pagan-friendly lawyers is, at least in part, a tribute to Isaac's legacy. I hope to share that in the book.

Addition: I've just heard of an existing organization to aid pagan elders: PEARL. They've only just started. If they are still active at the time I finish the biography, then I might simply give the profits to them; there may be no need for multiple pagan elder-care organizations yet.

Added Sep-2011: PEARL's website does not exist anymore. I think this shows the need for support for Pagan elder care. If you know of another pagan elder care organization, please let me know.

Mar-2012: Solar Cross Temple is doing fund-raising for pagan elder care; see the comments below.

Project Details

Here are links to blog posts I wrote after this one with details on my process of researching and writing the biography.

Project Plan

Research Methods

Interviews

Reading

Coding

13 thoughts on “A Biography of Isaac Bonewits

    1. Re: Bad link

      Yeah, they’re gone. It will be a while before the biography comes out, and even longer before I’ll see any money from it (if any). Perhaps by that time a pagan elder-care organization will start up again.

      1. Re: Bad link

        A pagan elder-care organization has been in my thoughts quite a bit lately. I’m still processing all of the things that might be needed. We have the professionals that would be required for such a venture—we just need to figure out how, where, when—you jnow, the details. I’m working on it, inside my head.

  1. I knew Isaac

    I worked with ISAAC starting in the early 1980s and was active in ADF and in the RDNA Coven that Sally Eaton and Isaac ran. I also arranged for Isaac to help lead the magical charging of the Goddess of Freedom when it was brought down from the Capital for cleaning.

    Since you ar looking for people who worked with him, you can contact me at lcornett@en.com

    _Larry Cornett

  2. Elder care

    http://www.solarcrosstemple.org/elder_care.html

    Solar Cross is happy to be a fiscal sponsor for groups attempting on-going care for their magical elders and mentors. We can also provide the option for short-term fundraising for acute need situations. Should you wish to raise funds to help pay for medicals costs or fill other needs for a local elder, we can work with you, and serve as a repository for funds collection and disbursement for properly documented groups and elders, taking only a small percentage to cover banking costs and administration time.

    General Information

    Jonathan Korman, Secretary

    Finances and Donations

    Robert Russell, Treasurer

    (Contact Robert for Solar Cross Kindred as well.)

    Morning Star Mystery School

    T. Thorn Coyle, President

    Mailing Address

    POB 460783 San Francisco, CA 94146

    1. Re: Elder care

      Thank you for the reference, and for the work you’re doing.

      I’ve got at least another two years of research and writing to go, with another year to publish after that, before any profits (if any) from this biography. So it will be a while!

    1. Re: Isaac’s biography!

      As you may remember, you’re already on my list of people to be interviewed for the biography. At the rate I’m going, it will probably be about a year before I’ll reach those who knew Isaac in his last years.

      If you want to do something now, try to recall and write down anything you can remember about the ritual Isaac led in Cornwall for Beltane 2009. I believe that it was the final ritual for which he was the HP. I’d like to describe it in the book.

  3. Isaac Bonewits Biography and Documentary

    I am so excited to hear about this work. Isaac meant a great deal to me, not only because I had the great joy and privilege of having known him, but because of all the wonderful things being a member of ADF has brought to my spiritual path and to my life generally. Not the least of these is my impending marriage; in June I am marrying a fellow ADF member I met an ADF festival–if not for Isaac, we never would have met.

    I had the honor of singing at his ADF memorial rite at the Summerland festival in 2010. At the wake afterward, I performed a filk I wrote called “Bonewits Wake” (to the tune of “Finnegan’s Wake”) that tells the story of myself and a friend helping Isaac back to his camp after a night singing (and drinking) around our Grove’s fire. It’s become a crowd favorite, and I’m confident that Isaac, humorist and filker that he was, would have enjoyed it. I’ve also written an “ADF Anthem” called “Together We Grow” which sort of tells the story of ADF through our Nine Virtues which of course features Isaac’s vision and courage in creating ADF.

    Sorry for prattling on, but I’m just so happy that this is happening and that the proceeds will go to a cause whose importance Isaac so fervently championed.

    Bright Blessings,
    Diane “Emerald” Bronowicz
    Bard Laureate, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF)

    1. Re: Isaac Bonewits Biography and Documentary

      It’s not prattling to me, it’s more information.

      I’m very low on “cute Isaac stories.” Please feel free to send that song or the story behind it to me at bonewits.biography of gmail.com, along with any other memories or ideas of how he influenced you or others.

      Please also spread the word to other ADF members about this project. Lots of people say “Isaac had an influence on the pagan community.” I want to document what that influence was.

      Thanks!

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