Zell-Ravenheart, Oberon (1942– ) American Pagan, visionary and author and the key founder of the Church oF All Worlds. Oberon Zell-ravenheart (formerly Tim Zell, Otter G’Zell and Otter Zell) has played a leading role in Paganism. A self-described modern wizard, Zell has worn many hats in his career: transpersonal psychologist, naturalist, metaphysician, mystic, shaman, theologian, teacher, author, artist, lecturer and ordained Priest of the Earth-mother, Gaea.
He was born Timothy Zell on November 30, 1942, in St. Louis, missouri. His father served in the armed forces in the South Pacific during World War II. A year before his birth, Zell’s maternal grandfather died at home. Zell believes he reincarnated aspects of his grandfather’s personality.
As a child, he experienced dreams of dying and going into a void. He exhibited many personality characteristics of the man he never knew, and at an early age he developed a love for spending time in the woods with nature—just as his grandfather had loved to do. After his father’s return from the war, the Zell family moved to Clark Summit, a small town outside Scranton, Pennsylvania.
As a child, Oberon kept to himself and spent virtually all of his free time in the woods behind the family home. He would sit motionless and let the wildlife come around him. Perhaps because of this solitary time, he became telepathic at a young age and could hear the thoughts of those around him. As a consequence, he shunned large groups of people, because the telepathic commotion was too much to handle.
His early years were fraught with serious illnesses (including a nervous breakdown), which he says “erased and reprogrammed” his mind several times. During Oberon’s teenage years, his father was promoted and the family moved to Crystal Lake, northwest of Chicago, Illinois. Oberon took naturally to the lake, as he had to the woods.
He learned instinctively to swim “like an otter,” folding his arms by his side and wiggling through the water. Otter became his nickname. He was introspective, read a wide range of literature, and delved into science fiction and fantasy. He enrolled at Westminster Fulton College in St. Louis, where, in the early 1960s, he met Richard Lance Christie, an association that eventually led to the formation of the Church of All Worlds.
Zell shaped the church to his personal vision: religion should not be concerned merely with personal salvation, a goal overwhelmingly insignificant within the total context of the cosmos, but should be primarily focused on connecting with all time and space, the lifeflow of the universe and the oneness of all things. He coined the term “Neo-Pagan.” Under Oberon’s leadership, the church, which filed for incorporation in 1967 and was formally chartered in 1968, attracted a following of intellectuals.
It and Oberon played major roles in the coalescing and networking of the budding Pagan movement and the alliance of Paganism with the environmental movement. Oberon edited the church’s journal, the Green Egg, and made featured appearances at Pagan festivals and science fiction conventions. Sometimes he carried his pet boa constrictor, Histah, on his shoulders as he gave addresses.
In 1963, Zell married his first wife, martha, with whom he had a son, Bryan, his only child. That relationship ended in 1971. Between 1965 and 1968, Zell earned undergraduate degrees in sociology/anthropology and clinical psychology, a teaching certificate and a doctor of divinity from Life Science College. He entered, but did not complete, the doctoral program in clinical psychology at Washington University.
In 1970, Oberon formulated and published “the thealogy [sic] of deep ecology,” which later became known as The Gaea Hypothesis, the concept of mother Earth as a sentient being who, in order to survive, needs the harmonious balance of all things on the planet.
He preceded James Lovelock, whose similar “Gaia hypothesis” was published in 1974 and gained a popular acceptance. Oberon was invited to give a keynote address at the 1973 Gnosticon Pagan festival in minneapolis on “Theagenesis: The Birth of the Goddess,” his ideas about Oneness with Earth. In the audience was morning Glory Ferns (see mornIng glory rAVenheArt-zell).
In a dramatic moment, the two recognized each other as soulmates and experienced a profound, telepathic intimacy. Oberon took morning Glory back to his home in St Louis. Six months later, they were legally married in a spectacular Pagan handfasting ceremony at the 1974 Gnosticon festival at Easter. In 1976, Tim and morning Glory left St. Louis and the central nest of the Church of All Worlds.
They bought an old school bus and drove it to Illinois, where they converted it into a mobile home. They visited Coeden Brith in mendocino County, California, land belonging to Alison Harlow, a cofounder of the Pagan organization Nemeton (see Gwydion Pendderwen). They then went to Eugene, Oregon, where they taught classes on Witchcraft and shamanism and third world religions at a local community college.
In the fall of 1976, Zell underwent a profound mystical vision quest that proved to be a watershed in his life. For two weeks, he fasted alone in the wilderness near a hot spring by the mackenzie river, with no clothes and only a knife and a sleeping bag. He learned to be completely in tune with nature, meditated, kept a journal and smoked marijuana.
He emerged from the experience completely transformed: his old identity as an urban social psychologist had been obliterated, and he was now a mountain man, ready to embark on new paths, live in the woods and become a priest of Gaea. With morning Glory, he performed a ritual baptism, and initiated himself into the Eighth Circle of the Church of All Worlds. For the next eight years, Zell did little public work.
In 1977, he and morning Glory returned to Coeden Brith and shared with Harlow their secret: that they had discovered how to create unicorns from baby goats. Harlow offered them a contract to live on the land as caretakers. They created a monastic homestead and a Pagan retreat, conducted seminars in the community, raised wild animals and ran the Church of All Worlds as an umbrella organization for several Pagan subsidiaries. Through one subsidiary, the Ecosophical research Association, they embarked on various projects, including the breeding of unicorns and a hunt for mermaids off Papua New Guinea.
In 1979, Zell decided to change his name from Tim. He had been dissatisfied with it since leaving St. Louis, for everywhere he went, he seemed to find a prominent person named Tim, and it made him feel awkward. He tried to forge new names without success. In march of that year, he and morning Glory sat by the banks of the river that flows through Coeden Brith and discussed Oberon’s identity crisis. morning Glory suggested his nickname, Otter.
Zell rejected it, saying he wanted a name with more “flash” that would be taken seriously by urban folk, with whom they planned to do business with the unicorns. morning Glory then suggested asking the mother for a sign, which Zell did. At that moment, an otter popped up out of the water, climbed on a rock, looked at them, twirled around and dove back into the water. Zell had never before seen an otter in the wild and has not seen
one since. “I hear and obey,” he said.
He changed his last name to G’Zell, a contraction of “Glory” and “Zell,” a style borrowed from science fiction. For a time, the couple were known as Otter G’Zell and morning G’Zell. From the beginning, the Zells had formed an open marriage. Indeed, it was morning Glory who later coined the term polyamory.
In 1984, they included a third primary partner, Diane Darling, in their relationship. In 1985, Harlow asked the couple to leave Coeden Brith to make way for other plans; they moved to Ukiah, where they lived for the next 11 years with their animals and extended family near a bend in the russian river.
Family members include Oberon’s son, Bryan, and Darling and her son, Zack. Oberon emerged from retreat to resume public appearances, including lectures, workshops and classes. He and morning Glory began to reactivate the Church of All Worlds, which had shrunk to a small, mostly California, base. morning Glory and Diane resurrected the Green Egg at Beltane in 1988.
Otter also worked as a freelance graphic artist and computer operator. He is a prolific writer and artist. Since the late 1960s, he has illustrated fantasy and science fiction magazines and books and has designed posters, record album covers and T-shirts.
He illustrated AnodeA JudIth’s book Wheels of Life, and drew a Darkovan Bestiary for mArIon ZImmer BrAdley’s science fiction series. In the ’80s, Otter began sculpting museum-quality replicas of Goddess figurines, and in In 1990, the Zell formed mythic Images, a business offering goddess and gods, jewelry, and other mythology products.
The business is now run as a ravenheart family enterprise, Theagenesis, LLC. Otter officially changed his first name to Oberon in the fall of 1994, following ritual and personal experiences in which he understood that he had to come to terms with his inner underworld, the shadow side. The new name was taken in a river baptism.
The triad marriage with Diane Darling ended in the summer of 1994, and three new persons joined the family: Wolf Stiles, Liza Gabriel, and Wynter rose. They adopted Ravenheart as the extended family name, and all moved in together in a succession of two large homes.
In 1997, the ravenhearts were featured in a television show, Strange Universe, and in a documentary in 2000, The Love Chronicles: Love in the ’60s. In 1999, the ravenheart family moved to Sonoma County, California. There, Oberon began a new career as a book author. His first book, Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard, was published in 2004.
As a contributing and advisory counsel for this remarkable work, Oberon gathers together many of the most respected and well-known leaders, founders, elders and teachers in the worldwide Pagan community into The Grey Council. The instant success of the Grimoire inspired Oberon to create his most ambitious project to date: the online Grey SChool oF WIzArdry, which opened its virtual doors in
August of 2004.
With dozens of faculty members and hundreds of classes—in 16 departments, at seven “yearlevels”—the Grey School offers the most comprehensive apprenticeship in magickal practice and arcane lore that has ever been offered in one place. Graduates are certified Journeyman Wizards. Since 2005, Oberon has been supportive of morning Glory’s recovery from cancer and has continued his work with CAW, the Grey School, and other projects.
Following the Grimoire, he has published Companion for the Apprentice Wizard (2006), Creating Circles & Ceremonies (with morning Glory; 2006), and A Wizard’s Bestiary (with Ash Dekirk; 2007).
FURTHER READING :
- Church of All Worlds. Available online. UrL: hrrp://www. caw.org. Downloaded October 12, 2007.
- Green Egg magazine. Available online. UrL: http://www. GreenEggzine.com. Downloaded October 12, 2007.
- The Grey School of Wizardry. Available online. UrL: http:// www.GreySchool.com. Downloaded October 12, 2007.
- The mythic Images Collection. Available online. UrL: http:// www.mythicImages.com. Downloaded October 12, 2007.
- Oberon Zell Web site. Available online. UrL: http://www. OberonZell.com. Downloaded October 12, 2007.
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