Born in Royal Oak, Mich., Bonewits was only 13 years old when he first became interested in the occult. Although he briefly considered becoming a priest, and even entered a Catholic high-school seminary, he decided against that path and began studying magic, parapsychology and the structure of rituals.
Bonewits joined the Reformed Druids of North America while attending the University of California, Berkeley, where he would earn a bachelor’s degree in magic and thaumaturgy in 1970. That degree, which was signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, led to a publishing contract and the release of his first book, “Real Magic: An Introductory Treatise on the Basic Principles of Yellow Magic.”
Over the next four decades, Bonewits became one of North America’s leading experts on ancient and modern druidism, witchcraft and the rapidly growing Earth religions movement. He was a 3rd Degree Druid within the United Ancient Order of Druids, a retired High Priest in both the Gardnerian and the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn traditions of Wicca and an initiate of Santeria and the “Caliphate Line” of the Ordo Templi Orientis. Despite all these achievements, Bonewits said he was not a pagan spiritual leader, but merely one of the Neopagan movement’s better-known “unindicted co-conspirators.”
Bonewits edited the neopagan journal, Gnostica, and founded the Aquarian Anti-Defamation League, a civil liberties organization for members of minority belief systems. He published several books (“Bonewits’s Essential Guide to Druidism,” “Neopagan Rites” and “Real Energy: Systems, Spirits, and Substances to Heal, Change and Grow,”) and released two albums (“Be Pagan Once Again” and “Avalon Is Rising.”) In August 2010, he donated all of his scholarly papers to the University of California, Santa Barbara, for inclusion in the American Religions Collection.
When not focused on his religious and occultist path, Bonewits made a living as a computer consultant, technical writer and professional speaker. He married six times, the last to tarot expert and Wiccan priestess, Phaedra Bonewits, with whom he also co-founded the Real Magic School, an online school of neopagan and general occult studies. Bonewits also fathered one son, Arthur Lipp-Bonewits.
In 1983, Bonewits launched Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF), an international fellowship devoted to creating a public tradition of neopagan druidry. Druids are polytheistic nature worshippers who practice in a solitary fashion or in congregations known as groves. The organization, which was founded with the goal of “researching and expanding sound modern scholarship about the ancient Celts and other Indo-European peoples, in order to reconstruct what the Old Religions of Europe really were,” currently has more than 1,100 members. ADF plans to hold a special service to celebrate Bonewits’s life and achievements on Aug. 19 during Summerland, an ADF unity festival and pagan spiritual retreat in Yellow Springs, Ohio.