I've recently become aware that famed neopagan elder Isaac Bonewits appears to be in his last moments of battle with cancer. Isaac has had health difficulties for some time now, and the latest word is that he has been diagnosed with a specific form of cancer that does not respond well to treatment. A recent photo shows the pagan scholar absent his traditionally full mane, and his website is seeking financial help from supporters to aid with mounting treatment costs. I would whole-heartedly recommend that we send what we can, even if only a little.
Isaac Bonewits had been a mixed bag of extremes for me. The few books of his that I've read have had great impact on me in my development along the Wiccan path. To clarify for the Cowan, much of Wiccan literature is filled with nonsense, ranging from attrocious history tailored to support favored conclusions, to delusional fantasy dressed up in pleas for acceptance, to rabid political ideology masked by pseudo-religious speak. This comprises the bulk of what many have relied upon for their pagan education.
One of the most impressive authors I have come across for the related subject matter is Professor Ronald Hutton of the University of Bristol. A solid academic historian, Professor Hutton was one of the first who held a harsh candle of truth to the delusional histories perpetrated on the public by less than honest pagan authors previously. His work was so thorough and relatively air-tight that it forced the community in large part to accept a large dose of reality check, all while maintaining respect and even admiration for the religious approach itself, and its practitioners.
Isaac has served in very much the same capacity as Professor Hutton. He has probably done more critical research into pagan history, practice, and magical theory than any other contemporary author I can think of, and like the previously mentioned author, much of it has been so solid that it has forced the community as a whole to adopt new mindsets and approaches. In other words, it has forced us to grow up and be more honest with what and who we are. Because he has forwarded an intelligent and more honest approach to modern paganism, I very much respect him.
Now I hate to hit a guy while he seems to be down, but Isaac has also had the unfortunate habit of allowing his own rabid socio-political biases and ideologies to taint his body of otherwise extremely impressive work. One of his distinguishing flaws as a nonfiction author has been to punctuate solid scholarship with quick-witted political attacks against perceived groups of ideological enemies. This would not be so bad, except for the fact that Bonewits overall embraces some pretty loopy fringe ideals and theories that are rejected by the more down to earth mainstream. So when he bashes the things that they hold as traditional wisdom in favor of some sort of socialist gaian fairyland, well, he loses a lot of credibility as an intellectual author.
So, in one respect, I have for some time found Mr. Bonewits somewhat repugnant in his tendency to indulge and advocate extreme radicalism. As a highly respected pagan author, there is so much more he could have done, had he been willing to simply rethink or simply suppress his desire to attack more conventional beliefs and values. On the other hand, there are few who have made such monumental contributions to a religious group, and within the Wiccan community, and there are fewer still who have forced an entire group to reaquaint itself with reason as an essential part of spiritual growth.
In the end however, if indeed this is the end, my wish is not to hold Isaac accountable for his failings or faults...we all have them. Instead, I want to thank the Elder Arch-Druid for all he has done to help a religious group in so many ways. He is part of an extremely small and exclusive group that may legitimately call themselves pagan scholars...and that is quite an acheivement. There are very few pagans who have not been impacted by his ideas or his work, although many may not know it.
Thank you, 'O Great Arch-Druid.