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CAW Past

What is the Church of All Worlds (An Historical Perspective)

 

by Iacchus, CAW Priest (retired)

An article by one of our retired Priests, written during the 2nd Phoenix Incarnation of CAW, this treatise on "What is the Church of All Worlds" speaks to the identity which CAW developed over it's first 40 years. So while some of what is stated in this article may have changed during the 3rd Phoenix Resurrection of CAW, as we have grown and evolved as an organization, the majority of this article is still relevant, because our history forms the foundation of our identity, and informs the unique attributes which are "CAW Culture." ~ CatDeville

The Church of All Worlds (CAW) is one of the oldest incorporated Neo-Pagan churches in the United States, and among its members are people of various faiths including Abrahamic traditions. It has an international membership, board of directors, an ordained priesthood of women and men, a consecrated membership dedicated to the service of the church called Scions, a process of personal development of 9 circles (stages) and various subsidiary organizations and Nests. CAW promotes lifestyles that support personal freedom and responsibility, environmental stewardship, progressive and cooperative social order and pluralistic democracy.

CAW evolved from a group of friends and lovers who were in part inspired by the science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein back in 1962. This book suggested a spiritual and social way of life and was a metaphor expressing the awakening social consciousness of the times. Inspired by this awakening of consciousness and the book, Stranger in a Strange Land, this group grew, evolved, became “water-kin” and created a religious organization that was recognized as a church by the federal government of the United States on March 4th 1968. They named this religious organization the Church of All Worlds after the church founded by the hero in the book. The Church’s organizing spiritual and social concepts and values include; a belief in immanent Divinity, a pluralistic perspective towards religion, living in harmony with Nature, self-actualization, deep friendship and positive sexuality. In time the church’s spiritual and social concepts and values became recognized as Neo-Pagan. As CAW continued to develop, it both influenced and was affected by the Neo-Pagan movement.

CAW believes that the nature of our universe and planet is a manifestation of Divine being. As such the nature of human being is an expression of Divine being. In recognition of this we greet and honor one another with the phrase “ Thou art God” or “Thou art Goddess”.

A fundamental rite of CAW is a communion of souls called Water-sharing. In this rite one shares water with at least one other and recognizes within another the Divine Being with the phrase “ Thou art God” or “Thou art Goddess” and “May you never thirst”. This similar to the Hindu greeting of “Namaste” which means the “Divine in me greets the Divine in you.” Since water is essential to all known life on this planet and so is seen as very precious, CAW envisions Water-sharing as a way of honoring this preciousness in a symbolic act that also recognizes one believes Divine Being is a living experience in all Humanity. The phrase “never thirst” serves as a reminder of one’s conscious connection with living as an experience of Divine being.

CAW's vision is rooted in a shared value system whose core values are accepted by its members regardless of belief. CAW does not ask or require members to give up their religious affiliation or beliefs, as long as they share CAW's common values. One of these core values is a pluralistic attitude toward life and religion. A pluralistic attitude is essential to CAW's identity as a Church. CAW sees this attitude as reflecting a valuing of diversity with harmony in Humanity and nature as expressions of Divinity. It believes a pluralistic acceptance of a diversity of belief systems fosters religious freedom and peace within humanity. As a result the religious/spiritual orientations of CAW members may include animistic, polytheistic, monotheistic and monastic concepts.

CAW’s diversity of beliefs about Divinity is expressed through a variety of religious practices or worship. These various religious practices seek to bring humanity into conscious harmony with Nature and Divinity within it. Many within CAW follow the Neo-Pagan ritual observance of what is commonly called the “Wheel of the Year”. It has 8 Holy days, the solstices and equinoxes days and the cross quarter days. Many members ritually observe each month, the Full and/or New Moon. CAW believes 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. Some believers see in the changing seasons, the waxing and waning of darkness and light, an expression of the life cycle of Divinity that includes birth, love, death and rebirth.

CAW encourages its members to create and re-create rituals and myths that attune their life with Nature, bring honor to and communion with Divinity, reflect its values and build community. One such myth is the vision that our planet is an individual living system, a Goddess, variously named Mother Earth or Gaia. Many members believe themselves to be children of this Goddess. This myth expresses the basic CAW tenets that our planet and life on it are sacred, and responsible stewardship of life and its environment is an act of worship.

CAW believes that humanity needs to be in harmony with its Self, for the Self is seen as a manifestation of Divine immanence in Nature. It sees the human Self as the seed pattern and potential of the human Soul. As such the Soul is a system of becoming that seeks to actualize its potential – the Self. The human Self is a potential wholeness where there is a unity of behaviors and experiences, such as mind with body, consciousness with unconsciousness, spirit with nature, instinct with culture, self with other, community with individuality, humanity with environment and being with becoming. CAW sees conscious actualization of human wholeness and the gaining of experiential knowledge of the nature of Self as an essential religious endeavor. Self-knowledge and actualization make it possible for the Self-conscious creation of harmony between humanity and Nature. This harmony is part of the human potential and is a primary religious goal and quest for CAW.

CAW envisions the religious and psychological development of the Soul as embryonic. In recognition of this, CAW members will often refer to themselves as “Eggs”. CAW seeks to foster, through contemplation, ritual, integrative behavior and lifestyle, this embryonic journey of self-knowledge and actualization. CAW recognizes that altered states of consciousness can be ways of becoming aware of and knowing unconscious aspects of the Self. Altered states of consciousness are enthusiastic, ecstatic and celebratory aspects of this embryonic journey and include such techniques as drumming, fasting, chanting and magic.

Some members of CAW envision the human Self as the image or archetypal pattern of Divinity that is immanent in Nature. For them the phrase “ Thou Art Goddess” or “Thou Art God” and the actualization of Self has additional religious emphasis. For them, the individuation and actualization of Self is a process that grows out of instinctively determined life and ethics into a more comprehensive way of being. This state being is envisioned as a microcosmic Deity where instincts are in harmony with the self- conscious wholeness of soul.

In order to achieve the unity of instinct with culture, self with other, community with individuality, CAW believes friendship is essential. Friendship begins for a CAW member with the recognition that each human being, as a sovereign expression of Divinity, has the same rights as one’s Self. This equality is seen as a sacred bond with all humanity and a fundamental quality of the relational interdependence of Self-actualization. CAW members are to give due respect and civility to the relationship of friendship. Members of CAW are friends or “dear ones” who love themselves but not only themselves, treating others with the same regard and respect that they would have others treat them with. Through friendship celebrated by the rite of Water-sharing the membership of CAW creates and grows what is termed as “Water-kin”. This friendship is the value that weaves CAW members into a network of relational interdependence envisioned as a neo-pagan and post-modern tribe. Public Water-sharing by members expresses this friendship and is a rite of tribal confirmation.

CAW encourages deepening or increasing intimacy in friendship called “growing closer”. Part of growing closer is the increasing ability to act interdependently with others and achieving or approximating “win-win” interpersonal outcomes. CAW believes that development of such interdependence is fundamental to the psychology of Self-actualization and increasing social good. When two or more people feel they have established a level of interdependence and a bond of trust that expresses kinship, then another stage of water sharing may occur. This stage is a rite of confirmation that a spiritual kinship, similar to the tribal feeling of being cousins, exists between the people sharing water. It is a stage that initiates openness to further ‘growing closer’. Continued ‘growing closer’ is characterized by increasing affection, affiliation and intimacy.

When a state of being is established between Water-kin where those involved recognize that the other’s happiness is essential to one’s own, then another stage in growing closer may be acknowledged. Water sharing at this stage recognizes that communion of souls called love. In CAW, the water rituals that recognize the ‘growing closer’ stages of kinship or love may be intuitively given or experientially earned. CAW believes that the process of growing closer leads increasingly to a fuller understanding of, and communion with, immanent Divinity. Such understanding is connoted by the term “grok” and is also symbolized by the sharing of water.

To foster growing closer and the development of water-kin and tribe, CAW has religious communities called Nests. The Nest is the basic local organizational and congregational unit of CAW. A Nest is a group of 3 or more members who come together to learn, discuss, and creatively practice the values and purposes of the church. Just as a nest in nature provides life with a means and context for growth, so too is a CAW Nest to provide an individual member with a community and culture to foster self-actualization and communion with the Divine.

As a part of integrating instinct with culture, CAW believes our reproductive instinct needs to be stewarded as to maintain a sustainable human population upon our planet. CAW encourages responsible reproductive strategies and choices. Men and Women share the responsibility for pregnancy prevention and child rearing equally in CAW. Further, CAW supports the ancient tradition of mother right that women have the right to choose to give birth or not.

CAW believes that sexuality is an expression of the Divine. To honor this belief CAW values and encourages positive sexuality. Positive sexuality is the ethical affirmation of sexual behavior and the pleasure seeking instinct for the fostering of social bonding and communion with each other and Divine Being. Consent and peer-ship are the basis for ethical sexual behavior and positive sexuality. The expression of positive regard in human sexual behavior is essential for positive sexuality.

Positive sexuality includes sacred sexual behavior. For CAW, sacred sexuality requires an attitude wherein individuals affirm their essential worth, confirm the equality and essential self worth of others, and seek to act interdependently to mutually fulfill sexual desire and affection and affiliation needs. Sexual behavior that expresses or reflects this attitude is believed to be sacred by CAW in that such behavior honors and expresses immanent Divinity. The practice of sacred sexuality and sacred sexual rituals are encouraged by CAW. CAW believes that homoerotic and hetero-erotic sexuality can be expressions of sacred sexual behavior.

When nudity is a symbolic act that reflects an individual’s affirmation of self worth, the beauty of sexuality, basic trust in others and a peaceful heart, then CAW believes nudity is a sacred sex practice that is an expression of Divinity within. CAW encourages nudity as a sacred sex practice for those who are called to do so, within the privacy of a nest, in a secluded natural environment or at ‘clothing optional’ gatherings, as an expression of sacred sexuality and a fostering of growing closer with others. Further, CAW believes if one chooses to be naked in one of its private rituals, it can be a sign that one is free.

CAW recognizes and blesses a variety of committed sacred sexual relationships as marriages. These marriages may or may not be sexually exclusive and may be monogamous, polygamous or polyamorous. This variety of committed relationships not only reflects the ethical freedoms that CAW supports, but also reflects the historical and anthropological facts showing that humanity has practiced a wide variety of committed sexual relationships called ‘marriage’. CAW believes multiple forms of marriage are, in part, a reflection of humanity’s diverse nature, which desires both social stability and sexual variety, and that there are many ways to satisfy these desires. The pluralistic approach of CAW to marriage is envisioned as an expression of the diversity of nature and Divinity within it. This approach, for CAW, is an essential religious concept and custom, in that it fosters humanity’s harmony with nature and immanent Divinity through integration of instinct with culture.

CAW as a religion is a system of values, customs and ideas organized in an organic fashion. It will grow, develop and evolve in a way that brings about the best in humanity and honors Divinity.
 

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