1942: Timothy Zell was born in St. Louis, Missouri.
1948: Diana Moore was born in Long Beach, CA.
1962 (April 7): After reading the novel Stranger in a Strange Land, Zell and Lance Christie “shared water” at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, and formed the Water-Brotherhood, “Atl.”
1963: Zell married Martha McCance. The couple subsequently had a son.
1967: Zell and his wife moved to St. Louis. The group evolved into the Church of All Worlds (CAW).
1968: CAW incorporated and began publishing the newsletter, Green Egg.
1970 (June): CAW was granted 501(c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service.
1970 (September 6): Zell reports having a “ Vision of the Living Earth” that ultimately developed into “The Gaea Thesis.”
1974: After meeting and falling in love with Diana Moore (Morning Glory Ravenheart) in 1973, the two married.
1976: Zell and his new wife moved to the West Coast, and the Green Egg suffered financial collapse.
1988: Zell re-established the Green Egg, with Diane Darling as editor.
1994: Zell adopted the name “Oberon.”
1996: Morning Glory became the High Priestess of CAW.
1996-1997: Wolf Dean Stiles, Morning Glory, and Oberon handfasted as a triad and then adopted the name Ravenheart as their family name.
1996-1998: Internal disputes within CAW led to Zell losing control over Green Egg, and he then was challenged as Primate of CAW. Zell took a sabbatical as leader for one year.
1998: Zell-Ravenheart took a sabbatical as CAW Primate.
2002: Zell-Ravenheart disaffiliated from CAW.
2004: Financial and legal issues resulted in CAW's being dissolved.
2004: Zell-Ravenheart founded the Grey School of Wizardry.
2006: CAW was re-established under the Zells' leadership after a two-year hiatus.2007: Green Egg was revamped and resumed publication in an online format.
Timothy Zell, who later adopted the names Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Otter Zell, was born on November 30, 1942 in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child, Zell read the Greek myths and fairy tales, which instilled in him an affinity for myth and magic. He also had paranormal experiences, such as experiencing visions from his grandfather's life. Zell enrolled in Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri in 1961 and was married for the first time in 1963. Timothy and Martha (McCance) Zell had a son that same year. Zell went on to receive his undergraduate degree in psychology from Westminster in 1965, enrolled as a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis for a short time, and then enrolled in Life Science College in Rolling Meadows, Illinois. Two years later was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree.
It was at Westminster that he met and became friends with Richard Lance Christie. Together they read and were influenced by Robert A. Heinlein's science fiction cult classic, Stranger in a Strange Land. Based on this experience, Zell and Christie “shared water” and formed a water-brotherhood called Atl , the Aztec word for water. This was a loosely organized coterie of friends and lovers, which grew to about 100 participants, sharing such interests as “educational experiments, studying the Montessori system and the works of A.S. Neill,” as well as “ ‘speedreading, memory training, karate, yoga, autosuggestion, set theory, logic, survival training and telepathy'” (Adler 1975:291).
The Church of All Worlds (CAW), named after the church formed by the hero in Heinlein's novel, arose from the Atl water-brotherhood formed between Zell and Christie in 1967. In establishing CAW, Zell moved from a loose-knit brotherhood format to a religious format. When CAW incorporated the following year, it identified itself as Pagan, opened a coffee house, and began publishing a Neo-pagan newsletter, the Green Egg. In 1970, CAW established a storefront temple and was awarded 501(c)(3) status by the Internal Revenue Service. In that same year Zell reports having had a “Vision of the Living Earth,” which was initially written as “TheaGenesis” and later as “The Gaea Thesis.” Zell has been the single most significant source of continuity in CAW but has adopted several different identities (“Oberon” in 1994, the family name “Ravenheart” in 1996).
Through his life, Zell has continued to travel the globe extensively, hold a variety of jobs, and experiment with relationships and organizations. He separated from and divorced his first wife, and had brief relationships with other women before marrying Diana Moore (Morning Glory Ravenheart) at a public Pagan handfasting. Moore, who was born in 1948 in Long Beach, had attended Methodist and Pentecostal churches during her childhood, but broke with Christianity as a teen. She began practicing witchcraft at seventeen and changed her name to Morning Glory at twenty. She was married for a short time before meeting and soon marrying Zell in 1973. The couple sustained a lifelong, but sexually open (polyamorous), marital relationship. Among these relationships were the formation of a triad with Diane Darling, who became editor of Green Egg in 1988, and a triad with Wolf Dean Stiles, which led to the adoption of Ravenheart as a family name for all three partners.
CAW and Green Egg were the long-term focus of Zell's organizational interests, but they both experienced instability through their organizational histories. The Green Egg, which was founded in 1968, financially collapsed in 1976; The publication was revived in 1988 and moved to an online format in 2007. Internal disputes within CAW led to Zell's losing control over Green Egg and then faced a challenge to his position as Primate of CAW. Zell took a sabbatical as leader for one year in 1998. As the tensions continued, Zell disaffiliated entirely from CAW in 2002. In 2004, the Board of Directors dissolved CAW but subsequently resigned; the organization was re-established in 2006 under Zell's leadership.
Zell also was involved in the founding of several other organizations (Council of Themis, Nemeton, Holy Order of Mother Earth, Ecosophical Research Association, Universal Federation of Pagans, Grey School of Wizardry). The Ecosophical Research Association offered a source of income for a time as the Zells produced unicorns by breeding and surgically altering white goats, four of which were sold to Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1984. The following year the organization, which aims to “explore the territory of the archetype, the basis of legends and the boundaries between the sacred and the secular” and specializes in crypozoology, undertook a search for mermaids in the South Seas (Adler 1975:317). The Grey School of Wizardry, founded in 2004, is a magickal education system that is organized online.
It was about the same time that Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning Glory-Ravenheart reassumed control of CAW in 2006 that Morning Glory was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, and two years later Oberon was diagnosed with colon cancer. Morning Glory received treatment but ultimately succumbed to cancer in 2014 (Blumberg 2014). Oberon recovered from cancer following surgery and has continued to lead CAW. Lance Christie, a co-founder of the original Water-Brotherhood, died in 2010.
Zell was influenced by a number of thinkers of the time, such as Ayn Rand and Abraham Maslow, whose work focused on protest against the repressive nature of contemporary society and the struggle for authentic selfhood. However, CAW's thought system is most directly rooted in Heinlein's novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, the title of which is taken from the Bible passage Exodus 2:22
(Cusack 2009:89). The setting for the novel is a post-World War III United States. By this time, there is extensive space travel, and the moon has been colonized. The novel revolves around Valentine Michael Smith, the human son of astronaut parents, who is orphaned on Mars and raised by Martians. Smith spoke the Martian language, exhibited superhuman intelligence, possessed special psychokinetic abilities, and exhibited the active sexuality characteristic of Martian culture (in which each individual is both male and female), but he also behaved with a childlike naïveté. As an adult, Smith returned to Earth as a messianic figure, acquainting humankind with Martian rites, such as water-sharing (which assumed great significance on Mars given its hot, dry climate) and grokking. Smith eventually founded the Church of All Worlds, which instructed its congregants in psychic abilities, especially the capacity to grok or “understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed – to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience” (Heinlein 1961:206). All humans were believed to be capable of acquiring Smith's powers once they had learned to speak Martian and internalized its logic. Members of the Church of All Worlds expected that those who did not learn Smith's methods would ultimately die out, leaving only “Homo superior.” However, Smith was killed by a violent mob and accepted his death without using his psychokinetic powers to ward off his attackers.
Stranger in a Strange Land animated the thought of a variety of groups ranging from the Merry Pranksters to the Kerista Commune to the Manson Family. During the tumultuous 1960s, when a range of central social institutions were under attack by disenchanted young adults who populated a broad range of political protest groups and new religious movements. In this environment Heinlein's ideas came to be regarded as visionary and Heinlein himself an “inspirational spiritual leader.” As Cusack observed, “College students across America spoke to their teachers of the life-changing significance of Stranger in a Strange Land” (Cusack 2009:83-84). List (2009:44) describes his spiritual genius as having been able to construct:
…the figure of the messiah to fit within a non-theistic philosophical framework and provide an alternative value system for the modern world that does not rely on reference to a personal, omnipotent deity… ‘salvation' is translated into success in the temporal world, in which hard work and an emphasis on family and friendship (rather than guidance from God) become the keys to combating flaws in human nature.
One of CAW's core mythic precepts derived from a moment in Zell's life that occurred on September 6, 1970. He describes it as a “dramatic visionary and mystical experience that altered completely the course of my life and work” (Zell 2010):
While a few hours went by on the clock, I experienced through my own body, the entire history and consciousness of the living Earth. It was an experience of projecting myself back to the first cell that ever was and dividing and dividing until I felt my own presence, through the DNA molecule, in all life and an awareness of the presence of all life within me. An immense amount of information and the organic wisdom of Gaea flooded through me. I felt irrevocably bonded to the Earth and blessed by Her. Since then, Gaea's living presence has never left me. I have devoted myself to the people, places, and groups that, to me, best express Gaea's being and needs as I experience it; one biosphere, one organism, one Being.
The following year Zell penned an article conceptualized around Gaea (the primal Greek goddess of Earth), “Theagenesis: The Birthof the Goddess,” which was later developed into “The Gaea Thesis.” It posits that “the entire Biosphere of the Earth comprises a single living organism” and is composed of all living life-forms (Cusack 2010:65; Adler 1975:298). Zell (2010) traces the evolution of the Biosphere of the Earth back to a single living cell:
Nearly four billion years ago, life on Earth began with a single living cell containing a replicating molecule of DNA. From that point on, that original cell, the first to develop the capacity for reproduction, divided, redivided, and subdivided its protoplasm into the myriad plants and animals, including ourselves. That same protoplasm shared by all, now makes up all life on Earth.
As Atl co-founder Lance Christie captured this perspective (2006:121-22):
We perceive that the 22 billion year process of evolution of life on Earth may be recognised as the developmental process of maturation of a single vast living entity; the planetary biosphere itself… We perceive the human race to be the “nerve cells” of this planetary Being…” This oneness creates the potential for “the telepathic unity of consciousness between all parts of the nervous system, between all human beings, and ultimately all living creatures.”
As “nerve cells” of the planetary Being, each individual is capable of personal development. And, “Divinity is the highest level of aware consciousness accessible to each living being, manifesting itself in the self-actualization of that being…. Collective Divinity emerges when a number of people (a culture or society) share enough values, beliefs and aspects of a common life-style that they conceptualize a tribal God or Goddess, which takes on the character (and the gender) of the dominant elements of that culture” (G'Zell n.d.). This capacity to understand and empathize so completely that observer and observed merge is groking, and all of us have the ability to grok. Since all that groks is God, then “Thou art God, and I am God.” The larger implication is that humans are inextricably connected as elements of a larger whole. Rather than exercise “dominion,” as in the Christian tradition, humans must occupy a complementary niche within the living organism of which they are part.
Another implication of groking for CAW members is open sexuality (MoonOak n.d.; Linde 2012). Morning Glory Zell is widely credited with inventing the concept of polyamory in “A Bouquet of Lovers.” As she describes polyamorous relationships, “The goal of a responsible Open Relationship is to cultivate ongoing, long-term, complex relationships which are rooted in deep mutual friendships.” Polyamory is thus one of the expressions of human interconnectedness and protests against divisive exclusivity. Open relationships are sustained by honesty, transparency, mutual agreement. A further provision is that unprotected sexual relationships may by practiced only within the group, which is the “Condom Compact” (Morning Glory Zell n.d.).
CAW's commitment to spiritual pluralism, immanent divinity, the sacredness of nature, harmonious relationships with nature and other sentient life forms, self-actualization of all individuals, deep friendships, and open sexual expression is reflected in its opposition to traditional religious values, mostly Christian (Zell n.d.):
While CAW expects acceptance of its underlying value system, specific beliefs and affiliations are individual choices. Indeed, CAW insists that it “has only one real dogma – its belief that it has no beliefs” and that “the only sin is hypocrisy…and the only crime is ‘that which infringes against another'” (Adler 1975:304, 310). The church's only creed is "The Church of All Worlds is dedicated to the celebration of life, the maximal 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" (“The Church of All Worlds” n.d.).
Stranger in a Strange Land was the inspiration for several of CAW's rituals and practices, including sharing water, open sexual relationships and non-traditional family forms, and ritualistic greetings (Cusack 2010:53). A number of other rituals derive from Wicca.
Rituals are important to CAW as mainstream society is viewed as ritually impoverished. Morning Glory Zell, who claims Choctaw heritage, decries the absence of meaningful ritual in American culture:
…we are “bastard mongrel children in a beautiful land that isn't really ours…One of the reasons for CAW's success is that everyone identifies with being a Stranger in a Strange Land. The only people who have a real tradition here are the Native American people. There is much to identify with them. But it is not our tradition. We were never chanted the chants and rocked in the cradle and told the working rhythms and rhymes. Most of us were raised in concrete and steel, totally removed from the seasons around us…Some of us are attuned to the same rhythms as indigenous people, but we have no traditions. We live in an impoverished culture” (Adler 1975:312).
Nest meetings and worship services typically are held in the homes of waterkin at least monthly. The core ritual at worship services is the sharing of a chalice of water. The ritual greeting, “May you never thirst,” is indicative of the sacredness of water within CAW, which derives both from the importance of water on the hot, dry planet Mars and from an understanding that life originated in a water-environment and therefore is the source of life.
Zell's encounters with pagan groups, such as Feraferia, led to CAW's adoption of Wiccan rituals, such as the eight holy days commonly referred to as the “Wheel of the Year.” These include days of the solstices and equinoxes and the cross quarter days. Many members ritually observe the Full and/or New Moon monthly. Waterkin typically believe that the ritual observation of the “Wheel of the Year” and cycles of the Moon can bring about a communion with Divinity through attunement of one's life with the waxing and waning of Nature. The changing seasons, the waxing and waning of darkness and light, are understood as an expression of the life cycle of Divinity that includes birth, love, death and rebirth. CAW also holds initiation, handfastings, vision quests, retreats and workshops of various kinds.
CAW describes its mission as “to evolve a network of information, mythology and experience to awaken the Divine within and to provide a context and stimulus for reawakening Gaea and reuniting Her children through tribal community dedicated to responsible stewardship and the evolution of consciousness” (Zell n.d.). Overall leadership of CAW consists of the Primate (Timothy Zell), ordained clergy and a board of directors, which administers business affairs and organizational policy. CAW headquarters are located in Cotati, California. CAW's California sanctuary, Annfn, houses a two-story temple, cabins, a garden/orchard situated on a fifty-five acre tract of land.
CAW membership (waterkin), which together constitutes a “tribe” (a Council of the Whole or Curia) is organized as three “Rings,” each of which contains three concentric Circles. The Rings are described as “ an initiatory path leading ever inward , towards the consciousness of the Goddess/God Within, with a threefold purpose of a) self actualization, b) connection / tribal involvement and c) service” (Maureen n.d.; “The Church of All Worlds n.d.).
First Ring (Seekers): Members who are included in the Curia but offer no financial support to CAW and have limited training.
Second Ring (Scion Council): Active, supporting members who are described as “the body and backbone of CAW” and serve as congregational leaders.
Third Ring (Beacon Council): The most experienced and sage CAW members, who are also ordained priests and priestesses, form its advisory body.
In order to move inward within the Ring system, members must become more knowledgeable by reading selected books, participating in psychic and encounter group training and writing a paper. The local, largely autonomous congregational units of CAW are called “Nests.” Formation of a nest requires at least three members. Nests are further grouped into Branches and Regional Councils. Some, but not all, Nests are communal. Nests serve as the locus for learning and practice of church values, with the objective of facilitating a connection with Divinity and self-actualization by individual members. Organization membership has fluctuated through CAW history given its organizational vicissitudes and internal conflicts. Membership has been as high as several hundred during the 1990s. A more recent estimate describes international membership as “small and limited to the United States, Australia and parts of Europe including Germany, Switzerland and Austria” (Cusack 2010:80).
CAW has generated relatively little external controversy. The group was initially denied tax-exempt status, but in 1971 became the first neo-Pagan group to be awarded that status. The main challenges facing the church have been internal. Leadership has been inconsistent. During one period the Zells moved into complete seclusion for several years; during another period Oberon Zell was displaced as Primate, and CAW was actually dissolved for several years. CAW often faced financial exigency through its history. The Zells generated some revenue through the sale of unicorns as well as statuary and images, for example. For the most part, however, the Zells supported themselves with various forms of nominal employment. Their inability to support publication of Green Egg compounded organizational problems by negatively affecting internal communication and attraction of new members.
CAW has survived its organizational problems and has experienced another resurgence in recent years, the Third Phoenix Resurrection (Zell Ravenheart 2006). The more significant challenge to CAW may be its future leadership. Morning Glory Zell and Lance Christie have both died. Oberon Zell survived colon cancer and appears to have regained his health. However, Zell has been the face of CAW for several decades. How the organization will meet the challenge of his passing remains to be determined.
Adler, Margot. 1979. "A Religion from the Future -- The Church of All Worlds." Pp. 283-318 in Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston: Beacon Press.
Christie, Lance. 2006. “Neo-Paganism: An Alternative Reality. Pp. 120-21 in Green Egg Omelette: An Anthology of Art and Articles from the Legendary Pagan Journal, edited by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books.
Cusack, Carole M. 2010. “The Church of All Worlds: Science Fiction, Environmentalism and a Holistic Pagan Vision.” Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith. Surrey, England: Ashgate.
Cusack, Carole. 2009. “ Science Fiction as Scripture: Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and the Church of All Worlds.” Literature & Aesthetics 19:72-91.
G'Zell, Otter. n.d. “ THEAGENESIS: The Birth of the Goddess.” Accessed from http://caw.org/content/?q=theagenesis on 20 July 2015.
Heinlein, Robert A. 1961. Stranger in a Strange Land. New York: Berkley.
Linde, Nels. 2012. “Pagan and Poly – A Poly Couple, and Friends – an Interview Series.”
Accessed from http://pncminnesota.com/2012/01/10/pagan-and-poly-a-poly-couple-and-friends-an-interview-series/ on 20 July 2015.
List, Julia. 2009. “'Call Mme a Protestant'”: Liberal Christianity, Individualism, and the Messiah in Stranger in a Strange Land, Dune, and Lord of Light. Science Fiction Studies. Accessed from http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/107/list107.htm on 20 July 2015.
Maureen, Mama. n.d. “CAW Rings.” Accessed from http://caw.org/content/?q=cawrings on 20 July 2015.
MoonOak, Rev. Luke. n.d. “Polyamory in CAW : A Heuristic Literature Review.” Accessed from http://caw.org/content/?q=polyincaw on 20 July 2015.
“The Church of All Worlds, A Brief History.” n.d. Accessed from http://www.sacred-texts.com/bos/bos572.htm on 20 July 2015.
Zell, Morning Glory. n.d. “A Bouquet of Lovers: Strategies for Responsible Open Relationships.” Accessed from http://caw.org/content/?q=bouquet on 20 July 2015.
Zell, Morning Glory. n.d. “ Condom Compact.” Accessed from http://caw.org/content/?q=condom on 20 July 2015.
Zell, Oberon. 2010. “GaeaGenesis: Life and Birth of the Living Earth.” Accessed from
http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/GaeaGenesis-Life-and-Birth-of-the-Living-Earth.html?showAll=1 on 20 July 2015.
Zell, Oberon. n.d. “The Neo-Pagan Legacy.” Accessed from http://caw.org/content/?q=legacy on 20 July 2015.
Zell Ravenheart, Oberon. 2006. “ Oberon's Report to Waterkin: The 3rd Phoenix Resurrection of CAW,” February 21. Accessed from http://caw.org/content/?q=waterkinltr on 20 July 2015.
David G. Bromley
7 August 2015