Oberon Zell is the founder of the Church of All Worlds (CAW), 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. Its practices and beliefs included including 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, Oberon filed for incorporation of the Church of All Worlds as a “church”. Official status was granted in 1968, making it the first Neo-Pagan state-recognized “church”. The CAW eventually adopted Ed Fitch’s Pagan Way liturgy, which contributed to the conflation of Wicca and Neo-Paganism.
Zell very consciously 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. When Zell adopted the term “Neo-Pagan”, he intended it to stand in contrast to Christianity and monotheism. For Zell, “Neo-Pagan” came to mean earth religion or “green religion”.
Zell is credited with coining the term “Neo-Pagan” for the newly emerging family of alternative religions. In 1968, the CAW began publishing the Green Egg newsletter, which became the most important Neo-Pagan forum for many years, and was instrumental in the formation of a emerging identity around the name “Neo-Pagan” (later “Pagan”). In 1972, Zell and his 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 in connecting these various Pagan groups. Zell and the Church of All Worlds subsequently played a prominent role in efforts to create a Pagan ecumenical organization, 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 in 1973. Isaac Bonewits and Carolyn Clark officiated and Margot Adler sang Gwydion Pendderwen’s songs.
In 1971, Oberon published his article, “Theagenesis: The Birth of the Goddess” in the Green Egg. The article described a vision of the Mother Earth Goddess which resembled the Gaia Hypothesis popularized by James Lovelock several years later. Zell wrote: “It is a biological fact that all life on Earth comprises one single living organism! Literally, we are all ‘One.’ The blue whale and the redwood tree are not the largest living organisms on Earth; the entire planetary biosphere is.” The current application for membership in the Church of All Worlds includes a pledge which reflects its earth-centered orientation. It begins:
“In dedication to the celebration of Life in its many forms, I hereby declare my commitment to a way of life that is ethical, benevolent, humanistic, life-affirming, ecstatic and ecologically sane. I subscribe to means and methods that are creative rather than destructive, tolerant rather than authoritarian, gentle rather than violent, inclusive rather than exclusive. I pledge myself to harmonious eco-psychic awareness with the total biosphere of Holy Mother Earth. …”