Church of All Worlds

PaganGreen Pagan Witches

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 selfactualization
concepts of Abraham Maslow. After enrolling
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 returns
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 mem62
Church of All Worlds
bers 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 ChristieZell
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, ecologyconscious
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 forum
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
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 (née
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.
CAW 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 material
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 applied
it to baby goats. During the first week of life, the
horn buds of kids are not attached yet to the skull but
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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 legends
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 organization
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
Renaissance of CAW
By 1988, CAW had all but ceased to exist outside of Ukiah,
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
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. Oberon
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.
Phoenix Resurrection
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,
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.