In 1970, Isaac Bonewits graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in magic. According to his biography, he’s the only person ever to graduate from this or any other accredited university with that particular honor. If you search a list of UC Berkeley’s notable alumni, his name probably won’t be on it. But in my own small community, Bonewits was a leader, mentor and good-humored role model until his death in 2010. When I came to UC Berkeley, I was proud to follow notable alumni Jennifer Granholm and Joan Didion, but I was looking for Isaac Bonewits.
Bonewits came to UC Berkeley in 1966. Then, as now, the stretch of bricks between Sproul Plaza and Telegraph Avenue was home to a colorful assortment of mad men with megaphones. Like every freshman, he was bewildered at being shouted at about love and damnation on his way to class, and he took up the less-than-productive habit of heckling the preachers. This progressed to a bit of performance art in which Bonewits set up his own soapbox, secured his own megaphone and made himself a sort of devil’s evangelist. This act attracted the attention of the San Francisco Church of Satan of the time, led by Anton LaVey. Bonewits dabbled but did not join them.
Bonewits was just a kid from Michigan, but he saw through the racist and conservative (at the time) Church of Satan and knew it wasn’t what he wanted. His sophomore roommate Robert Larson was a Druid and invited Bonewits to worship with them in the woods near Berkeley. The young magician combined his experience chanting in circles in the forest with his intended major of psychology and signed up for an interdisciplinary studies major. Through the rigorous combination of anthropology, sociology, folklore and mythology, as well as a quick and careful unwatched hand on his graduation paperwork, Bonewits got his BA in magic. The university was so embarrassed, they disavowed any future individual course of study in magic, witchcraft or sorcery.
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