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 dads office
was around the corner from the old State Street location of Chicagos
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
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
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 Associations 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 Altheas
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
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 Peorias first public Pagan ritual in the basement
of the UU Church.
While running a vendors 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, Greensboros 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 areas first public
Pagan ritual, held in the basement of the Kernersville Public
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
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.