Oberon Zell & the Church of All Worlds

Morning Glory and Oberon Zell

Morning Glory and Oberon Zell

Oberon (a.k.a. Tim a.k.a. Otter) Zell is the founder of the Church of All Worlds, one of the most influential Neo-Pagan traditions. In 1962, Oberon (who then went by “Tim”) founded the Church of All Worlds in Missouri. The organization was modeled after the fictional church in Robert Heinlein’s novel, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). Its practices and beliefs included polyamory, sacraments (“Never Thirst”; water-sharing), immanent divinity (“Thou art God”), and pantheism (“all that groks* is God”). The group originally derived its ideas from Ayn Rand, as well as Heinlein, but later became more Neo-Pagan.

In 1967, Zell filed for incorporation of the Church of All Worlds as a legal church. Official status was granted in 1968, mak­ing it the first Neo-Pagan state-recognized church. Zell in­tended to create a new religion, in contrast to Wicca, which was considered by many at the time to be a “craft” or a magical sys­tem, not a religion.

Zell is credited with coining the term, “Neo-Pagan,” for the newly emerging family of alternative religions. In 1968, the Church of All Worlds began publishing the Green Egg newslet­ter, which became the most important Neo-Pagan forum for many years, and was instrumental in the formation of the emerg­ing identity around the name, “Neo-Pagan” (and later just “Pagan”). When Zell adopted the term, “Neo-Pagan,” he in­tended it to stand in contrast to so-called “revealed religions,” especially Christianity. For Zell, “Neo-Paganism” was, by defini­tion, a nature religion. In 1971, Zell published his essay, “Thea­genesis: The Birth of the Goddess,” in which he described a vision of the Mother Earth Goddess that resembled the Gaia Hy­pothesis popularized by James Lovelock several years later.

In 1972, Zell and his then-partner, Julie Carter, took a tour of Californian Neo-Pagan groups, meeting Ed Fitch, Fred and Svet­lana Adams, Isaac Bonewits, Aidan Kelly, Victor and Cora Ander­son, and other leaders in the emerging Neo-Pagan commu­nity. The trip was key to connecting these various Pagan groups. Zell and the Church of All Worlds subsequently played a prominent role in various efforts to create Pagan ecumenical organizations, including the Council of Themis in 1972, the Coun­cil of Earth Religions in 1973, and the First Ecumenical Pa­gan Council in 1974, although ultimately these efforts failed. Zell met Morning Glory in 1973, and the two were married in a pub­lic Pagan handfasting in Minneapolis. Isaac Bonewits and Car­olyn Clark officiated and Margot Adler sang Gwydion Pendder­wen’s songs.

* “Grok” is a neologism coined by Robert Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). It means to understand on a deep, empathetic level.

Updated 2019

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