Isaac Bonewits Biography

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 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.

“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. Edit: I’m posting this as a WordPress page in 2017, and I’m not much closer to completion.

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.”)

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