The Church of All Worlds originated at Westminster College in Fulton, MO, on April 7, 1962, when Lance Christie and I—having read Heinlein's sci-fi novel, Stranger in a Strange Land—first shared water and pledged our lives to the actualization of the precepts and principles found in that book, and in Abraham Maslow's concepts of self-actualization. We soon added many others to our growing water-brotherhood, which we called "Atl" (the Aztec word for "water", with the esoteric meaning of "ancient home of our ancestors").
During the first five years, Atl was an underground secret society, but we debated continually over becoming public so we could reach other potential people like us. In 1967, we decided to have it both ways, and diverge into two branches—one private and one public. Lance was selected to head up the continuing private branch—initially the Atlan Foundation, which much later incorporated as the Association for the Tree of Life (ATL).
Now living in St Louis, I was chosen to lead the public branch as the Church of All Worlds, which presented itself to the world over Labor Day of 1967, defining ourselves for the first time as "Pagan". This began what we have come to call the 2nd Phase of CAW, during which we incorporated the Church (March 4, 1968), started our flagship magazine Green Egg (Ostara 1968), opened our first public Temples, developed our 9-circle program of self-actualization, and ordained our first Priests (myself and Don Wildgrube) and Priestesses (Carolyn Clark and Morning Glory). We thus became the first church in modern history to legally ordain women as Priestesses!
The 2nd Phase lasted until 1978, at which time, with many of the key personnel having moved to California, CAW Central in St Louis folded, and Green Egg ceased publication. For several years CAW languished in Limbo, functioning only through several subsidiaries in NorCalifia, such as Forever Forests, the Holy Order of Mother Earth (HOME), and the Ecosophical Research Association (ERA).
In 1985 we began the 3rd Phase of CAW, holding Board Meetings, electing officers, and ordaining a whole new slate of Clergy, including the incomparable Anodea Judith (ordained at Beltaine of 1985), who served as both High Priestess and BoD President for seven years, during which time she became known as our "Presitess". Green Egg was revived in 1988, and CAW went on to become a major force in the worldwide Pagan community. This phase lasted until 2002, when a hostile takeover by our Ohio-based Board of Directors led to a complete collapse and attempted dissolution of the Church.
In March of 2005, Jack Cain, one of the caretakers at Annwfn, showed up at our house and asked me: "How would you like to have your Church back?" In updating the insurance for our upcoming Beltane, he had discovered that despite the perfidious Ohio BoD supposedly discorporating the Church of All Worlds the previous year, they had failed to notify the IRS, and had overlooked the fact that our California incorporation was still extant. All we needed to do was file a change of address for our primary office from Toledo to Cotati, and we were back in business!
There has been much to do as we've set about rebuilding our beloved Church from the ground up. The people in Ohio told us that all the CAW records had been stored in boxes in Jim Looman's garage, and were destroyed by water due to a leaky roof. That pretty much cleared the deck for us to recreate the next incarnation of CAW any way we wanted, without any unwanted baggage from the past.
We adopted a metaphor for the history of CAW as a Phoenix, periodically immolating itself only to rise again from the ashes. This would be the third resurrection, the previous phases being in St Louis 1967-1976, and Mendocino County, NorCalifia 1985-2004.
We called a special meeting of all surviving CAW Waterkin at Beltane, and elected a new Board of Directors, with me as President and Morning Glory as Vice President. And we began a process of examination of every aspect of CAW spanning more than 40 years, to determine what had worked, and what hadn't. There were many important lessons embedded in those four decades, and it was important to assimilate them and apply them to the new structure we would be creating out of the wreckage.
I finally understood that I didn't have to put up with antagonists in the Church, and, as Primate, I could just kick 'em out. We concluded that the process of Circle advancement leading automatically to Clergy ordination at the 7th Circle—as we had done in the Mendocino era—was a mistake; and decided to return to the concept we'd had in Missouri of Circle advancement as a process of self-actualization. We decided to retain the labels of "Seekers" and "Scions" for the first two Rings, but change the third (Circles 7-9) to "Beacons", to better reflect our new Vision of such folks as exemplars and Elders.
Henceforth, we would develop separate criteria, qualifications and application processes for Clergy, which would take two forms: licensed Ministers and ordained Priests/Priestesses.
And long-time Scion Cat DeVille proposed an entirely new model for our organizational Bylaws, which the Ohio BoD had abolished and replaced with a so-called "Constitution". Cat proposed a brilliant structure of "Canons", following the traditional model and terminology for Church law and governance. (After several years of work, the new Canons were adopted at the General Curia on June 27, 2010.)
I spent much of 2005 writing, editing, and formatting our CAW liturgy, developed through the Holy Order of Mother Earth, into a book form:Creating Circles & Ceremonies: Rituals for All Seasons & Reasons (New Page, 2006). I included everything I'd originally compiled in HOME Cooking, and added the additional two books I'd planned.
The Ohio BoD had ceased publication of Green Egg after the Nov.-Dec. 2000 Millennial issue (No. 136). In 2007, our dear friends and lovers Ariel Monserrat and Tom Donohue proposed resurrecting GE as an online e-zine, with the motto: "Legends Never Die!" Now a beautiful full-color downloadable PDF, as well as a print edition, it is available at: www.GreenEggZine.com.
Feb. 13-16, 2009, we were back at Pantheacon, pulling out all the stops. We had just received the first prototype of a 30" tall Garden Goddess of my Millennial Gaia statue, and we set Her up in front of our Mythic Images booth. Everyone loved Her, and it was a real delight to see small children come up and hug Her—even give Her a kiss. We hoped to have these statues available for purchase later in the summer. Unfortunately, problems with the factory have delayed production; as of this date (12/24/14) this project is still in process.
We offered our usual Grey School panel presentation—with more faculty members and students than ever. The room was packed; the Grey School seems to be developing quite a positive reputation!
This year we got a two-room hospitality on the second floor, with large sliding doors leading onto a patio that connected us with all the other hospitality rooms on the floor—including the very popular "Green Fairy" (absinthe) suite right next door. We scheduled a book-signing party for my newly-released Green Egg Omelette, inviting authors of included pieces to autograph books for purchasers, and giving them free contributors' copies. This was a big hit with everyone, and we sold a lot of books.
Our biggest offering that year was a spectacular "Phoenix Rising" ritual to dramatize the resurrection of the Church of All Worlds, the healing of MG and me personally, and the new sense of hope engendered by Obama's election, in these darkest of times. We spent months writing and rehearsing the script, casting all the parts, and making props, masks and costumes, including a spectacular feathered Phoenix headdress/mask that I would wear over fiery-feathered winged robes, and replicating full-size the elaborate wig of leaves and critters of the Millennial Gaia for Morning Glory to wear. I also had to create a little electrical "hearth" which could be turned up to look like coals igniting into flames. Four quarter altars and other room decorations also had to be designed, as well as masks and costumes for the five Elemental dancers.
At Pantheacon, on Valentine's Day, the room was packed, and the ritual was a tremendous success. It began in near-darkness, with fog machines filling the center of the circle with mist. Participants became passengers on a "ship of fools", guided by a Navigator (Eric), and arriving at a forgotten island, where the last Priestess (Wynter) tended the hearth in the temple of Gaia. But the sacred fires had gone out, and all that remained was a large mound of ashes. Helios (Cougar), the Sun-God, crossed from East to West, bringing a bit of illumination, as Gaia (MG) entered, reciting Algernon Swinburne's evocative poem, "Hertha". The Priestess told her sad tale, of how all her hopes, dreams, and work had turned to ashes, and invited the "passengers" to identify with their own lives, tossing their ashes onto the heap, and fanning the coals. As they caught fire, a Phoenix (me) emerged from under the grey ashen blanket and rose to full height, wings outstretched. And this is what the Phoenix said:
I arise. I arise from the ashes, reborn yet again. I am the Phoenix, ever-dying, ever-resurrecting. I am the hope in every heart, never dying, however wounded. I am the dream in every head, never forgotten, however diminished its grandeur in coming true. I am the light in every eye, still burning, however dimmed by remaining open through the darkest times. I am you.
I am born of the dance of the Earth and the Sun—as are all of you. You are my people, and I am your avatar. We are one.
We are Pagans and magickal folk—bound to the endless cycles of the Spiral Dance, from the vast wheeling galaxies to the double helix within your every cell. We know that there are cycles of destruction and creation; times of despair and times of hope; darkness and returning light; death and rebirth—all reflected in the Mystery of the Phoenix. We know that what goes around comes around, and Darkness must always yield to Light.
Black holes turn inside out to become brilliant quasars, filling the universe with energy. The bitterest winter rolls around to balmy spring, when Life springs forth anew. Out of every Dark Age is born a glorious Renaissance, in which all good things flower and flourish. Death eternally comes 'round to rebirth. And the deepest, darkest, longest night inexorably yields to the blazing sun of a New Dawn.
We have lived through rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. And we have lived amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. Our spirit remains strong, and cannot be broken. We will not turn back; nor will we falter.
There may come a day, billions of years hence, when Light fails, Entropy triumphs, and Darkness falls forever over all the worlds. But this is not that day! For this day, dedicated for millennia to Love, heralds a New Dawn, and a new Rebirth. On this day, we choose hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. We choose rebirth!
In the glory of the rising Phoenix, Hope shall be rekindled in every heart; forgotten Dreams shall be reawakened in every mind; and the light of Love shall burn in every eye. This is the way of things, and it shall not be denied! Thus shall it be in our personal lives, in our Religion, in our Nation, and on our Planet. And thus the long tragedy of human history brings us inevitably toward the Awakening of Gaea!
They thought us dead, along with our hopes and dreams for a better world. But they were wrong. We live! We Are Alive!
The non-fictional Church of All Worlds has evolved far beyond Heinlein's original fable, to which we may be considered the sequel. The Nest is still the basic unit, and there are still nine concentric Circles of member involvement, named after the planets and grouped into three Rings. Each Circle's activity includes study, writings, magical training, and wilderness experience, as well as active participation in the life of the Church.
In the Old Days of CAW (i.e. 1967-2002), progress through the RINGS led to automatic ordination into the Priesthood at 7th Circle. We aren't doing that in this current 3rd Phase. While we still expect much of the criteria of attaining 7th Circle to apply to potential Priests and Priestesses, this is no longer a direct correlation. Some of this training may come from elsewhere—such as the programs of other Traditions and Schools. And that will count.
And most important—attaining 7th Circle in CAW is now associated more with the original concept of self-actualization, and CAW members of the 3rd Ring (i.e. Circles 7-9) are now known as "Beacons" rather than "Clergy". They may or may not also be ordained, but that is no longer a given just because they've attained the 3rd Ring. Consider the role and title of "Beacons" to be non-clerical, reflecting rather that such folks have come a long way in their personal evolution towards self-actualization, and will hopefully be a shining example to others. Beacons are elders, mentors, exemplars, inspirational visionaries, leaders (as in "on the leading edge"), authorities (as in "authoritative", NOT "authoritarian"), sages, mages, etc.
But CAW Priests and Priestesses are those who have a specific calling towards religious service to the CAW community and beyond. They are expected to have a firm grasp of CAW liturgy (as presented in our book, Creating Circles & Ceremonies), and be able to design and conduct rites and rituals as called upon: handfastings, baby blessings, rites of passage, initiations, funerals, Nest meetings, Sabbat rites, Mysteries, etc.
They must be able to provide pastoral counseling, and have a firm grasp of clergy confidentiality. In essence, CAW Priests and Priestesses should be able (like 19-century Christian missionaries) to go to some far-off place and establish a full CAW religious presence and create a local CAW community in accord with the premises and principles of the CAW Tradition. Clergy applications ask for experience, credentials, references, essays on vocational calling and why one wants to serve in this capacity; as well as supportive petitioning and testimonials from the congregation that wants them to be so recognized.
Training for CAW Priests and Priestesses should reflect and be at least somewhat equivalent to the kind of training offered in seminaries for the Clergy of other faiths. We wish to utilize other available programs, such as those offered by Earth Traditions Ministry, Solantis Institute, Cherry Hill Seminary, Star King Divinity School, Grey School of Wizardry, Witch School, etc. This will enable our Clergy and Clergy candidates to pick up additional training and experience they may not already have.
Separate from the issue of CAW Priesthood, however, we now also offer simple Ministerial licensing. The criteria for this are far less extensive than those for CAW Priests and Priestesses, as Ministers are not be expected to provide a full range of Clergy services to the CAW community. A Ministerial License from CAW entitles the bearer to perform weddings (and sign the certificate), visit people in prisons or hospitals, serve as Chaplains in prisons and military, etc.—wherever a legal Ministerial License would be useful.
In the business arena, the Church is governed by the Board of Directors, which determines policy and business matters, and the Council of Elders and Clergy Council, which address spiritual concerns. There is an annual General Curia to which all Waterkin are invited to discuss matter of interest and import, and Clergy ordinations are conducted. Anodea's "Golden Age" Presidency (1985-1991) was succeeded by that of Tom Williams (1991-94). When Aeona Silversong became President in 1994, CAW became possibly the first international church to elect an all-women Executive Council. Orion Stormcrow was elected President in 1996, followed by Starwhite in 1998, and LaSara Firefox in 1999. Jim Looman in Ohio held the Presidential reins from 2001-2004, terminating the 2nd phase. I was elected President in 2005, and I still hold that position.
Tragically, my cherished lifemate of 40 years and CAW's beloved High Priestess Morning Glory died of multiple myeloma (blood and bone cancer) on May 13, 2014, leaving a vast hole in my life and heart, and in the heart of our community. She died at home, in our Temple, surrounded by family, friends, lovers, and more than 350 Goddess images She had collected from around the world. We all had a sense that they were welcoming Her into the Pantheon. Her body was laid into the Earth at Annwfn, with an apple tree planted over her heart; to rest in the bosom of Mother Gaea until she may return again in new flesh. Her grave overlooks the campfire circle where we have held our rites of Beltane (and Walpurgisnacht) for the past 30 years.
Arranging all the legalities for MG's green burial has now secured Annwfn as an officially-recognized cemetery for full body burials—something MG herself had tried to do decades earlier without success. This is a final legacy to the Pagan community from one of our eldest and most revered Priestesses. And over the years to come, I expect that many other Pagans will want to have their green burials at Annwfn.
CAW honors Sacred Royalty in the form of our annual May Queen and King (with their May Princess and Prince), and our Underworld King Hades and Queen Persephone. These roles pass to different people each year, and are selected rather than elected. Our Queens and Kings have no temporal authority, but lead by example and serve the community as avatars, holding court at various festivals. We treat them as we ourselves would wish to be treated, for "as these vessels fare, so fares the Tribe".
Worship in the Church involves weekly or monthly meetings which are usually held in the homes of Nest members on a rotational basis. A chalice of water is always shared around the Circle either as the opening or closing of the ceremony.
We have created a new Tribalism, where we relate to each other as members of a tribe, with interconnecting clans and families. And our Tribe, in turn, is one of the Nations of Earth religions, bound together by our love and reverence for our Mother, the Living Earth. We welcome all who wish to join with us honorably. The most common statement we hear from new members is "I feel like I've come home to my people at last!"