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The Neo-Pagan Legacy

Oberon and Lance

By Oberon Zell

Back in the mid-1960s, the nascent Church of All Worlds existed in the form of a “secret” water-brotherhood known as Atl, with about 100 members, which had been founded on April 7, 1962, when Lance Christie and I (then Tim Zell) first shared water. In 1966 we began a significant discussion around whether to go public or to remain underground.

Not wanting to limit ourselves to one path or the other, we decided to do both, and so the Church of All Worlds went public as the first self-identified Pagan church on Labor Day of 1967; while the Atlan Foundation continued to operate behind the scenes, eventually morphing into the present-day Association for the Tree of Life (ATL). Lance was chosen to head up the Atlan branch, and I was chosen to lead the CAW…which we did for the rest of our lives. (Lance died of pancreatic cancer at Samhain of 2010.) Our relationship over nearly 50 years was that of Kirk and Spock (Lance being Spock).

When we decided to go public with the Church of All Worlds, Lance and I were keenly aware of the profound responsibility we were taking on in the founding of a new religion. We had both been avid students of comparative religion, and the history of Christianity. Nearly 2,000 years before our time, a gentle rabbi of Nazareth had preached a reformist doctrine of love, inclusiveness, and non-judgementalism; railing against hypocrites and exhorting the rich to give to the poor. A thousand years later, intent on world dominion, his followers were waging brutal holy wars (an oxymoron…) and burning people at the stake for heresy—all in his name.

We debated this matter at great length: what had gone wrong? And more to the point, what foundations could we lay in our lifetimes to ensure that a thousand years from now, our descendants would not be doing the same in our name?

In our analysis, we concluded that Jesus’ teachings (and those of the early Church) had several fatal flaws which eventually and inevitably led to the Spanish Inquisition (bet he didn’t expect that!). These were:

  1. “Monothesisism:” the idea that there is but One-True-Right-and-Only-Way (OTROW);
  2. Monotheism (God): Divinity as not only singular, but solely masculine
  3. Exclusivity: the idea of “the Chosen People” as a righteous elect to rule over all others;
  4. Missionaryism, proselytizing, and conversion;
  5. Uniformity: that all should believe and behave the same;
  6. Heaven and Hell as eternal reward or punishment in the Afterlife;
  7. Patriarchalism: disempowerment of women; clergy could only be men (Priests);
  8. Sex and “unsanctioned” sexual relationships as vile, profane, and “sinful;”
  9. Body shame and modesty (“They knew they were naked, and they were ashamed.”)
  10. Monogamy (one man and one woman) as the only allowable form of marriage;
  11. Regarding Nature as inanimate, a “creation” to be exploited;
  12. “Original sin” as disobedience and insubordination;
  13. “Heresy” to be punished as disbelief in the proclaimed doctrines;
  14. “The Holy Roman Empire;” a goal of universal empire holding dominion over all peoples.

We conceived of “antidotal” memes to each of these, as follows:

  1. “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” (IDIC): different strokes for different folks;
  2. Polytheism, Pantheism, and Panentheism; Goddesses as well as Gods;
  3. Inclusivity: “We have a place set for you at our table;” all are welcome who choose to be here;
  4. No missionaries or proselytution: those who would join us must seek us out on their own;
  5. Uniqueness: embracing and cherishing diversity;
  6. Reincarnation as an option for those who want to return;
  7. Feminism: empowerment of women; ordination of Priestesses (only Pagan religions have Priestesses);
  8. Sacred sexuality in “all acts of love and pleasure;”
  9. Holy nakedness: ritual and social nudity;
  10. Polyamory: sanctioning all loving relationships, regardless of gender or number;
  11. “The Gaea Thesis,” “Mother Earth,” animism: Nature as sacred, alive, and sentient;
  12. “Harm none” and “Be excellent to each other” as our only Commandments;
  13. Question everything;
  14. “The United Federation of Planets” (Star Trek); Alliances of free and sovereign peoples.

And thus began what we came to call “The Ultimate Conspiracy” (because by the time you know enough to know what we are all about, it’s too late—you’re already one of us!).

CAW became the first fully-incorporated church in modern times to claim the identity of “Pagan;” to legally ordain women as Priestesses; to sanction and perform gay and multiple marriages; to adopt ritual nudity; and to restore and revive the ancient Cthonic Mysteries of Beltaine, Samhain, and Eleusis. We were also the first to articulate and develop the “Gaea Thesis” as our foundational theology, reconciling science and religion.

“The Sacred Mission of the Church of All Worlds is 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.”

Half a century later, and into a new Millennium, I am proud to see that these powerful memes are firmly rooted in the world-wide Pagan movement and community that has grown up like a global forest from the seeds we planted so long ago. This is the Neo-Pagan legacy!

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