Church of All Worlds One of the first and most influential contemporary Pagan churches. The key founder was Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (formerly Tim Zell, Otter G’Zell, Otter Zell and Oberon Zell), president, and his wife, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. The headquarters are in Cotati, California.
The Church of All Worlds (CAW) espouses pantheism but is not a belief-based religion. Rather, it is a religion of experience, in which members called Waterkin experience Divinity and honor the experiences and perspectives of others. Divinity is defined as “the highest level of aware consciousness accessible to each living being, manifesting itself in the self-actualization of that Being.” The mission of CAW “is to evolve a network of information, mythology and experience that provides a context and stimulus for re-awakening Gaia, and re-uniting her children through tribal community dedicated to responsible stewardship and evolving consciousness.”
CAW recognizes the Earth Mother Goddess as well as the Green Goddess and the Horned God, who represent the plant and animal kingdoms, respectively. In CAW, many forms and levels of Divinity are honored — from the universal and cosmic (“The Great Spirit,” “Mother Nature”), to the polytheistic pantheons of various peoples and cultures, to the immanent divinity within each and every one. It is dedicated to the “celebration of life, the maximum actualization of human potential and the realization of ultimate individual freedom and personal responsibility in harmonious eco-psychic relationship with the total Biosphere of Holy Mother Earth.” It celebrates the eight seasonal festivals of Paganism and the Craft (see Wheel of the Year).
CAW may be the first religion to draw as much of its inspiration from the future as from the past. Its mythology includes science fiction, which played a significant role in the church’s beginnings.
Formation of the Church
CAW began in 1961 with a group of high school friends, led by Richard Lance Christie of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who became immersed in the ideas of Ayn Rand and the self- actualization concepts of Abraham Maslow. After enroll- ing at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Christie met fellow student Tim Zell; together, they began experiments in extrasensory perception. The Christie group, which Zell joined, read Robert A. Heinlein’s science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), which became a catalyst and inspiration for CAW.
In the novel, Valentine Michael Smith is an Earthman born on Mars and raised by Martians. He eventually re- turns to Earth, where he finds that his upbringing renders him literally a “stranger in a strange land.” Smith forms the Church of All Worlds, organized in nests. The church teaches “grokking,” or the intuiting of the “fullness” of all things and beings, and joyful, coequal love between the sexes. God is immanent in all things; church members greet each other with “Thou art God.” In a ceremony called the “waterbrotherhood,” members share water and “grok,” the divine that exists in each other.
Heinlein’s book had a profound impact on the Christie- Zell group. They related it to Maslow’s self-actualizers, whom Maslow described as being alienated from their own culture. In 1962, following a watersharing between Zell and Christie, the group formed a waterbrotherhood called Atl, a term derived from an Aztec word for “water” and also meaning “home of our ancestors.” Atl remained a loose organization dedicated to innovative political and social change and attracted up to 100 members. ATL (now standing for Association for the Tree of Life) is still in existence and remains under the direction of Christie. Headquarters are in Moab, Utah.
From Atl, Zell founded CAW, and it evolved under his leadership. The church filed for incorporation in 1967 and was formally chartered on March 4, 1968, making it the first of the Pagan earth religions in the United States to obtain full federal recognition as a church. Zell coined the term Neo-Pagan to apply to the emerging, ecology- conscious Earth religions of the 1960s.
In 1968, CAW began publishing Green Egg under the editorship of Zell. The journal, one of three membership newsletters (the other two, Scarlet Flame and Violet Void, were short-lived), gained a reputation as one of the leading Pagan periodicals, providing a thought-provoking fo- rum for the exchange of ideas in the Pagan community.
CAW initially was refused recognition as a church by the state of Missouri because of its lack of dogma concerning God, the hereafter, the fate of souls, heaven and hell, and sin and its punishment, among other matters. That decision was reversed in 1971.
Early Organization and Beliefs
Like Heinlein’s fictional church, the early CAW was organized around nests. The church had nine circles of advancement, each named after a planet. One advanced by fulfilling reading and writing requirements and participating in psychic training systems such as a martial arts discipline. The process was intended to be continuous.
The basic dogma of the CAW was that there was no dogma; the basic belief was the lack of belief. The only sin was hypocrisy, and the only crime in the eyes of the church was interfering with another. The unofficial goal of CAW was to achieve union with all consciousness.
By 1970, CAW was placing greater emphasis on ecology and nature. The term Pagan was used less to identify non-Christians than to identify nature lovers of all religious persuasions. In 1970, Zell formulated and published what he called “the thealogy [sic] of deep ecology,” concerning the interconnection of all living things to each other and to Mother Earth, a sentient being in her own right. Humankind’s reconnection with nature is critical to the survival of the planet as a whole. Four years later, James Lovelock popularized this idea with his independent publication of the Gaia hypothesis.
Zell expresses impatience with contemporary religions because the sole interest of their followers is personal salvation, something he feels to be unworthy of primary attention in the greater context of the evolution of humanity — and all life — toward universal sentience. In Zell’s own words:
Religion means relinking. It should be about connecting one with everything else, integrating the individual into the greater scheme of things, the life flow, the universe, the cosmic vision. The connectedness of each individual with the whole of everything is in essence the religious quest, and this is what a religion should be about.
This is what the Church of All Worlds is about.
Rather than personal salvation, people should be concerned with salvation of the planet and endangered species.
Evolution of the Church
The move toward nature-consciousness eventually led to a dissolution of the relationship between CAW and Atl. A brief collaboration followed with another early Pagan organization, Feraferia. CAW then remained on its own. By 1974, it had nests in more than a dozen states around the country.
The same year, Zell remarried, to Morning Glory (nee Diana Moore). In 1976, he and Morning Glory left St. Louis, eventually settling in Eugene, Oregon, and then at the Coeden Brith land in northern California, adjacent to Gwydion Pendderwen‘s Annwfn. With Zell gone from the central leadership, CAW suffered internal conflict and in large part dissolved. The Green Egg ceased publication in 1976, after 80 issues over nine years. The nine-circle structure was revamped. By 1978, CAW was significantly changed. The focus of the organization shifted with the Zells to California, where for several years CAW served primarily as an umbrella organization for subsidiaries.
In 1977, Morning Glory founded the Ecosophical Research Association (ERA) to research arcane lore and legends. The premise of the ERA is that all life on the planet originated from a single cell and is thus integrated, and that human archetypes are often reflected in mate- rial things, animals or places. Morning Glory coined the term ecosophy, meaning “wisdom of the home,” to define research aimed at relating such archetypes to Earth.
The first project of note for the ERA was the creation of living unicorns in 1980. In their research, the Zells noted that in early art, unicorns resembled goats more than horses. They discovered the work of W. Franklin Dove, a biologist at the University of Maine who researched horn development in the 1930s and created a “taurine,” or bull unicorn.
The Zells reconstructed what they said was an ancient unicorning procedure and ap- plied it to baby goats. During the first week of life, the horn buds of kids are not attached yet to the skull but are loose tissue beneath the skin. The tissue may be manipulated surgically so that the two buds become fused together and grow out as a single massive horn perpendicular to the forehead. The procedure is performed with local anesthetic. The Zells created several unicorns, including pets Lancelot and Bedivere, and made appearances at Pagan festivals and medieval fairs.
In 1984, they signed a contract to lease four unicorns to Ringling Brothers/Barnum and Bailey Circus. The animals caused a great deal of controversy and were denounced by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), an accusation some consider ironic, as the Zells are animal lovers and volunteers for a wildlife rescue organization.
Under the terms of their contract, the Zells were prohibited from publicly discussing the unicorns for a number of years. Another ERA project was an expedition in 1985 to search for ri, unknown sea creatures associated with leg- ends of the mermaids off the coast of Papua New Guinea. They discovered ri is the local term for dugong, a type of marine mammal, and concluded that the mermaid legends relate to dugongs.
In 1978, CAW merged with Nemeton, the Pagan orga- nization founded by Pendderwen and Alison Harlow, and Nemeton became CAW’s publishing arm. In 1987, CAW also absorbed Forever Forests, another of Pendderwen’s organizations. Annwfn, Pendderwen’s 55-acre land in Mendocino County, was deeded to CAW, which operates it as a wilderness retreat. Lifeways, a teaching order founded and directed by Anodea Judith (past president of CAW), is no longer active. It was an outgrowth of Forever Forests and focused on healing, bodywork, magic, psychic development, dance, ritual, music and religion.
Another subsidiary is the Holy Order of Mother Earth (HOME), a group of individuals dedicated to magical living and working with the land. CAWmunity, located in Brushwood, New York, is a campsite in Fairy Woods for CAW members and friends who are attending the Starwood and Sirius Rising Pagan festivals.
Renaissance of CAW
By 1988, CAW had all but ceased to exist outside of Uki- ah, California, where the Zells had relocated in 1985. The structure of the organization was revamped and plans were launched for more nest meetings, training courses, new rituals and new publications. The Green Egg resumed publication in 1988 and became an award-winning Pagan periodical.
In 1992, CAW became legally incorporated in Australia. By the late 1990s, CAW had increased membership internationally and was particularly strong in Australia. In 1996, there was a hostile takeover of Green Egg, with deep animosities between longtime water brothers. Ober- on continued to contribute to the magazine, but was no longer editor. In 1998, profoundly disheartened, he took a sabbatical from his role as Primate in order to pursue his own creative projects — particularly Mythic Images, producing and marketing his series of God and Goddess altar statuary. At the same time, the church headquarters moved to Toledo, Ohio.
In 2004, CAW underwent a serious shake-up as a result of growing antagonism toward Zell from the president, Jim Looman, and the Ohio board of directors. In August 2004, the entire board of directors resigned en masse and issued a resolution to disband the church as of June 1, 2005. Looman died on October 3, 2004.
In May 2005, Zell revived the California corporate status of CAW and reinstated himself as president, with Morning Glory as secretary. Lance Christie, still director of ATL, took on a more active role. Taking advantage of the unique opportunity provided by the complete dissolution of the former structure, old and new members rallied to begin a complete evaluation and overhaul of the entire church, rebuilding it carefully from the ground up and incorporating lessons learned from decades of experience, triumphs and mistakes. Zell calls this “The 3rd Phoenix Resurrection of the CAW” — the first having been in St. Louis and the second in Ukiah, California.
During this same period, Oberon finally began writing books and created the online Grey School of Wizardry — possibly his most ambitious and far-reaching venture.
- Church of All Worlds. Available online. URL: https://www. caw.org. Downloaded October 12, 2007.
- Green Egg magazine. Available online. URL: https://www. GreenEggzine.com. Downloaded October 12, 2007.
- The Grey School of Wizardry. Available online. URL: https:// www.GreySchool.com. Downloaded October 12, 2007.
- The Mythic Images Collection. Available online. URL: https:// www.MythicImages.com. Downloaded October 12, 2007.
- Oberon Zell website. Available online. URL: https://www. OberonZell.com. Downloaded October 12, 2007.