A Brief Biography of Phaedra Bonewits

Copyright © 2006 c.e., Phaedra Bonewits

Phaedra Christine Heyman Bonewits, by any other name, was born in Chicago in 1951. She was raised Roman Catholic and educated as such through the eight grade, which accounts, surely, for both her cynicism and her persistent love of candles, incense, and ritual. Not to mention her obsession with ancient mythologies.

When she was but a child, her dad’s office was around the corner from the old State Street location of Chicago’s Occult Bookstore. Her oldest metaphysical memory (besides praying for miracles) is that of her nose pressed against the glass of that venerable institution.

In 1969, she interrupted her hippie life long enough to meet and marry (at Fall Equinox) Richard Willett of Mobile, Alabama and the USN. She proceeded to follow him to Boston, Mobile, and Pensacola, Florida, where she gave birth to their son, Donovan Alexander Willett, in September of 1970. In 1972, she returned to Chicago and some semblance of her former life. (Donovan remained on the Gulf Coast, where he still resides today with his delightful wife Betty and assorted step- children and grandchildren.)

In the early seventies, she pursued a college education in the arts, eventually receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1978. During this time, she became the long-time companion of actor J. Daniel Murphy. They eventually married in 1986 (at Spring Equinox), but divorced in 1990.

In art school, Phaedra continued to explore her love of myth, often creating performance pieces and other artwork with mythological themes. In 1977, she enrolled in Women and Myth, a course that touched on the then emerging discipline of feminist and Goddess spirituality. She was hooked. During this time, Phaedra also became a serious student of the Tarot, a subject she pursues avidly to this day.

In the early 1980s, she had the honor of becoming a recurring character in the comic books Starslayer and Grimjack, written by her friend John Ostrander. To this day, she will cheerfully answer to the name of the “real” Chris Heyman.

However, it was not until the spring of 1986, after reading many books, doing many card readings and making many trips to the Occult Bookstore, that Phaedra met Real Live Practicing Pagans in the Chicago area. By summer, she was participating in and helping to plan open public rituals sponsored by the Heartland Pagan Association’s New Moon Experimental Liturgy Committee. By the end of the year, that committee spun off into Panthea, a public Pagan temple. In 1990, Panthea became the first intentionally Pagan congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA). Phaedra was a charter member of both incarnations of the institution.

Under the informal tutelage of Christa Heiden Landon, chair of the New Moon committee, Phaedra began serious study of magic. The required text: Real Magic, by some west coast hippie occultist named Bonewits.

In early 1987, Phaedra began her most intensive training in the magical arts, under the supervision of priestess Althea Northage-Orr. Phaedra was formally initiated as a priestess and Hermetic magician (Earth degree) at Beltane, 1987. She continued her public ministry with Panthea and private working with Althea’s circle until leaving Chicago in 1990.

Phaedra spent half of 1989 on a prolonged sojourn to the West Coast, primarily to study the Hakomi Method of Body-Centered Psychotherapy in Ashland, Oregon. One side trip was to the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco. Twenty years too late, but she finally made it. No other hippie occultists were in evidence.

Later that year, she attended her first Starwood festival in Ohio. Also in attendance was an aging hippie occultist, formerly of the west coast, by the name of Bonewits. (Cue Significant Music.)

Upon her return to Chicago, Phaedra hooked up with Keith O., then a member of Panthea. They moved to Oswego, Illinois, and then further downstate to the tiny rural community of Granville, where they became known as “the Witches of Granville.” In this bucolic locale, they combined their various initiations, training, and local produce to produce first Cornfield Coven and later Cornfield Tradition. Phaedra and Keith married at Winter Solstice in 1991 (is there a pattern here?) at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Peoria.

From 1992 until 1994, they owned Explorations, a metaphysical shop near Bradley University in Peoria. They were also active members of the UU Church of Peoria. Phaedra and Keith presented Peoria’s first public Pagan ritual in the basement of the UU Church.

While running a vendor’s booth at the 1992 MerryMeet in Michigan, Phaedra met Californian Aidan Kelly, a founder of NROOGD and Gardnerian arch-heretic. He initiated her into his Aradianic Faerie Tradition, a path of sexual shamanism. Aidan and Phaedra handfasted during her initiation/elevation as a Gardnerian 3rd, on her trip to California in January of 1993. They maintained a long-distance relationship until 1994. Although it ended ugly, Phaedra is grateful to Aidan for the magic she learned from him. To this day, she is the de facto head of the AF Tradition, which means she can proudly proclaim herself High Priestess of a Gen-Yew-Ine Sex Cult ™.

In 1994, Keith took a “temporary” straight job in North Carolina. A year later, Phaedra closed up shop in Illinois and joined him, accompanied by her handfasted priest Robert. The three lived together in Greensboro until 1996.

During her time in North Carolina, Phaedra contributed time and energy to several public Pagan groups and Unitarian Universalist organizations, including Path of the Moon Collective, Greensboro’s Pagan Night Out, Open Community Circles in Winston-Salem, Triad CUUPS in Greensboro, and All Souls Welcoming Congregation in Kernersville. It was in Kernersville where, with her family, Phaedra led the area’s first public Pagan ritual, held in the basement of the Kernersville Public Library.

After a serious back injury in 1999, Phaedra retired from the workplace for a time and pursued a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She almost finished it, before poverty and distance intervened.

From 1999 to 2002, Phaedra was on the continental board of trustees of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans. Previous to that, she was keynote speaker at the continental CUUPS Convocation in 1997. During her board tenure, she coordinated their merchandising, oversaw the revamping of the CUUPS website, and served a term as vice-president of the organization. In 2001, she had the honor of representing CUUPS at the national Pagan Summit in Bloomington, IN.

Phaedra and Keith separated permanently in 2001, under less than pleasant circumstances, whereupon Phaedra moved to the Raleigh/Durham area.

Early in 2003, Phaedra finally listened to the urging of the Gods and of a persistent Druid and moved to New York state, where she resides in genteel poverty with her beloved, his teen-aged son, and too many companion animals. On July 23, 2004 she was handfasted to that Druid, the well-known (that is, notorious) Neopagan author Isaac Bonewits (hope springs eternal).

She has written a book with Isaac called Real Energy: Systems, Spirits, and Substances to Heal, Change, and Grow (New Page, March 2007), and is working on another. In her day job she sell the world's best beds at the Select Comfort Store in the Palisades Mall in West Nyack, NY.

Copyright © 2006 c.e., Phaedra Bonewits. This text file may be freely distributed on the Net, provided that no editing is done, the “as of date is retained, and everything in this notice box is included. If you would like to be on one or more of the Bonewits’ emailing lists, click here to get subscription information.

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