Lost and Found and What’s Next

A couple of days ago, Christopher Chase sent me some pages from an old issue of The Crone Papers that mentioned Isaac Bonewits. (Christopher, brother to Sabrina Chase of Blue Star, is on the faculty of the Philosophy and Religious Study Department at Iowa State University.) After I downloaded the pages, I went through my usual practice of placing the pages in a Dropbox directory, coding the pages, and storing the codes in Zotero.

I took a glance at another directory I had on Dropbox that contained Isaac’s documents that I had not yet coded… and found the directory almost empty. I searched the hard drive of my computer, and those files weren’t anywhere on my hard drive. I searched my backups on Apple’s Time Machine, Dropbox, and Backblaze. They weren’t on the backups either. Three levels on backups, and none of them had the missing files.

What happened? In reverse chronological order:

  • When I set up Backblaze, I found that I’d deliberately omitted all my Dropbox directories from the off-line backup. I probably felt having two offline backups of the same files was not necessary. (Pro tip: I was wrong.)
  • Periodically, my Time Machine disk drive fills up in a such a way that it requires a fresh backup from scratch. This last happened at the beginning of May 2019. Since I suspect that these files disappeared before then, they weren’t on the Time Machine backup.
  • Dropbox only keeps deleted files for 30 days.
  • In addition to off-line backup, I use Dropbox to synchronize a suite of files and directories between three computers: my home computer, my work computer, and a laptop. The laptop is primarily used for the Science-on-Hudson talks, but I also use it for when I go on trips.

    When I was in the hospital at the end of December 2018, one of my work colleagues brought the laptop to me so I could watch movies to pass the time. But while Nyack Hospital offers excellent medical care, their wi-fi stinks. I struggled with turning off the Dropbox synchronization for the laptop to save on bandwidth and disk space.

    What I suspect happened, though I will never know for sure, is that somewhere in that process the flaky wi-fi connection made Dropbox interpret “do not sync this directory” as “this directory has been deleted”. This would have been propagated to all my other computers running Dropbox.

As I write this, I’ve not yet had the chance to inspect my work computers. It may be that the files are there in their separate Time Machine backups. However, I strongly doubt it.

What have I lost? As far as I can tell, I’ve lost most of the contents of two directories related to Isaac’s biography: the documents I had not yet coded; files I copied from Isaac’s old laptops and had not yet even started to look at.

The most important directories were unaffected by this: the files I had already coded, which to some extent were of the greatest interest to me; the recordings of the roughly 50 hours of interviews I’ve done so far.

Is the material really, truly lost? The answer is no, on two levels.

  • The originals are in the Religious Studies Archives of the University of California at Santa Barbara. They’re available to anyone willing to make the trip. For medical and practical reasons, I can’t make that trip. But if someone is willing to be an Isaac Bonewits scholar, it’s all still there.
  • I used two devices to scan Isaac’s files. One was my scanner at home, a low-end consumer device that could only scan one page at a time. The other was a scanner at work, which was fast and could scan piles of 8 1/2″x11″ paper placed in its document feeder.

    I also scanned some files into Adobe Creative Cloud using my phone, but these were relatively unimportant documents that Phaedra sent me a couple of years after my main scanning efforts. I can live without copies of Isaac’s old debts and bills.

    The work scanner delivered its scans to me via email. I checked last night, and I kept all those emails. So anything I scanned at work is, in principle, still retrievable.

Why “in principle”? The work scanner labeled the files it sent to me with coded names like “20110501163942716.pdf”. I took those files, used tools like PDFPen for OCR, and extracted/moved pages into files and folders with appropriate names. It took me hours to do this work, though it didn’t seem like much at the time because I worked on relatively few files after each scanning session. To do it all over again seems like a Sisyphean task.

Now comes the big question: How much did I really lose when it comes to the actual biography?

In a previous blog post, I addressed some issues associated with reducing the scope of this project. Maybe losing those files could be a positive thing. I’ve already have a lot of material. I have 50 hours of interviews; Jimahl di Fiosa wrote a biography of Alex Sanders based on less material than that. When I think about the material I had not yet tagged, I don’t remember most of it except for a big folder on Isaac’s EMS, and I only needed that for dates and such.

I still have questions about Isaac’s life that I would want the biography to address: Who was the Creole woman who introduced the Christian-raised Isaac to magic? Why was he attracted to Druidry over Wicca? Why did he found the ADF? What were the issues he faced as ArchDruid that caused him to resign? But if I don’t have the answer after interviewing Isaac’s spouses, what makes me think that some mysterious key to his life lurks within the files that I had not coded?

So I’ll set a limit: One more interview, with a member of the musical group Real Magic. If I’m able to recover the lost files, be ruthless: Only code those files that look critical. Then listen to the interviews and take notes of quotable sections. Use the already-coded material as reference.

Then do what Deborah Lipp has encouraged me to do for the past few years: Just write the damn thing already.

It won’t be the work of scholarship that I originally hoped for. But the first biography of Gerald Gardner wasn’t a scholarly work either. Let those with the credentials, the will, and the means become Isaac Bonewits scholars. Who knows? Maybe what I write will inspire them.

The shipping is done!

The last remaining boxes of Isaac’s papers are out of my apartment. They’re on their way to the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Religious Studies Collection.

I used to think that the stuff Phaedra Bonewits and I were sending to UCSB was just being warehoused somewhere. If you click on the above link, you’ll see I was wrong. In an e-mail sent to us by David Gartrell, Manuscripts Curator and Religious Studies Librarian of the UC Santa Barbara Library, he said “…each box I received was opened with appreciation, and often delight.”

When Isaac passed away, he left behind piles of papers packed into several boxes that were labeled “to be sorted.” Finally they were, but by Phae, David, and me.

Isaac, I wish you were still around to do this sorting. Since you’re not, rest assured that the process is in good hands.

Now, if you could just tell me the name of that Creole woman who introduced you to magic…

For old pagans with deep closets

I seem to be slowly moving back to working on Isaac Bonewits’ biography. I’ve let it lie fallow for about two years, mainly because I became frustrated at my attempts at some hard-to-reach interview subjects.

Recently, Phaedra Bonewits has tried to identify the original members of the American Council of Witches. She was kind enough to forward me confirmation from Oberon Zell-Ravenheart that Isaac was the main author of the Principles of Wiccan Belief (though some editing was done).

This reminded me of another gap in my biographical research:

Isaac was editor of Gnostica, and wrote many articles for the Green Egg; what interests me more about the latter are his exchanges with the Satanic community in the magazine’s letter column. Back issues of Gnostica and Green Egg are hard to find, at least for the period of Isaac’s involvement. I know that Oberon and the Weschke family have the complete run of back issues, but they’re not going to mail them off to some dude (namely me) they don’t know.

I don’t really want the issues themselves. What I want are PDF files of those publications so I can reference them at my leisure. That leads to the title of my post: Are you a pagan who’s been around for a while you might have back issues of Gnostica from 1973-1975, or Green Egg with Isaac’s letters, sitting around in a back room, a box, or a closet? Would you be willing to send them to me if I paid the postage? What I’d do is scan the magazines to PDF, then send them either back to you, or to the University of California at Santa Barbara to be part of their American Religions Collection.

I can be reached at <bonewits.research> at <gmail.com>. Please feel free to re-post, re-tweet, share, forward, or shout this blog post from the mountaintops.

Playing with the Mojo

I recently picked up Playing at the World by Jon Peterson. This book is a history of the game Dungeon & Dragons.

Since many of my readers are Wiccan, I’ll use an analogy that will make sense to them: Playing at the World does for D&D what Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon did for Wicca. It explores the different elements and influences that resulted in D&D, and follows the chain of influence forward as D&D affected the world around it. [1] [2]

Continue reading “Playing with the Mojo”

Biography today

I’m having trouble sleeping, so I might as well blog about my day’s work on the biography.

I coded a few documents, but my primary task was to go over the folder of newspaper clippings Isaac had on the February 26, 1979 total eclipse of the sun. What made that eclipse special is its path intersected the location of the Stonehenge replica near Maryhill, Washington. A great gathering of pagans took place, to create a spiritual intersection at the same time as the astronomical one.

Continue reading “Biography today”