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.