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At least they don't follow Lazarus Long's philosophy
April 2, 2014 4:03 AM   Subscribe

"The Church of All Worlds, registered as a religion in the United Statesin 1968 and now a significant presence in the contemporary Pagan revival,takes its name from the fictional church in Heinlein’s novel. Tim Zell, now Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, is one of the most influential of contemporary Paganleaders, and his church has developed a revolutionary programme for thetransformation of Western society. CAW core doctrines (‘Thou art God’), rituals (water-sharing), and church organizations (nests) are based on those of Heinlein’s fictional church." -- Carole M. Cusack examines how Heinlein's most famous novel gave rise to a pagan religion that still exists today. (Warning: you may get a pdf download popup, depending on your browser's settings.)
posted by MartinWisse (35 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Huh. That's really interesting. I wonder if they secretly do battle with scientologists or something.
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 4:11 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Despite this apparently ‘conservative’ position, he was an avid photographer of nudes and a naturist, and espoused sexual exploration and polyamory in his novels.

To be fair, "social conservatives" aren't against doing these things, they are against other people doing these things, and "fiscal conservatives" aren't against them as long as they can be sufficiently monetized.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:00 AM on April 2 [17 favorites]


Wow.

If Orange Catholicism is also real, I'm going to be really upset. And maybe need some time off.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 5:15 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


I have to say, the whole philosophy of "thou art god" was pretty mind-blowing when I was 13. I know any conversation about RAH is fraught with grar, but reading him as a pre-teen did indeed make me a little more circumspect when it came to questioning those with different life choices than my own. So that's okay.

Also, I remember seeing the whole Hubbard (scientology) stuff as supremely weird, and hard to believe. Until I got older.

And I kinda disregard the stuff about Manson brought up in the article... I mean, c'mon, I think Charlie just picked up whatever hippie stuff that was lying around and used it for his own purposes rather than being honestly influenced by it.
posted by valkane at 5:20 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


I had a good time skulking around the outskirts of CAW parties/religious festivals as a teenager, lots of good drugs and interesting people.

I hung out with Oberon (He mostly went by Otter) a bit, and have plenty of second hand stories, but I should try to page my friend Nibbly Fang to the thread rather then try to tell any myself.
posted by St. Sorryass at 5:27 AM on April 2


Slightly less snippily, a problem with the "open sexuality" presented in Heinlein, Robert Anton Wilson, and others of the time is that it stopped part way down it's logical course. It develops the idea that women may desire sex and that sex is, at least much of the time, a good thing that should be celebrated rather than shamed, but it stopped far short of the idea that women are autonomous people who may want sex but not with you (or maybe with you but not on your terms or any of many expansive scenarios).

It's easy to gloss over this distinction in novels, where the female characters can conveniently be on board with the desires and agendas of the male characters, but it becomes problematic when readers of these novels try to put the idea into practice in the messier real world. This seems to be the origin of much of the problems women (and GLBT people) found with the initial social movements of the 60s, and how we find ourselves today with the gender- and sexuality-messes in the atheist community (which also grew out of ideas floating around in the same communities)
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:29 AM on April 2 [32 favorites]


Oberon was actually invited to my school by the Pagan club on campus. The advertisement billed him as a "wizard" and included a picture wherein he wore a cloak and pointy hat.
My friends and I all thought this was a great laugh and decided to go. We imagined somebody dressed as Dumbledore throwing glitter around and shouting "MAGIC!"

In actuality, Oberon was a perfectly nice man, probably in his early 50's and sporting a bushy beard. Instead of talking about how to levitate, he told us about his beliefs regarding the respect of nature, the history of the term 'wizard,' and the situation the world is in now.

I never once heard him say anything about a religion, nor did I feel he pushed anyone to follow his system of beliefs. He really only talked about his thoughts and handed out a few pamphlets on his wizard school where you could learn all the different types of magic [There's black, white, green I think, red, etc.]

I didn't agree with some of his views [I remember him mentioning that history was cyclical and limited to something like 150 year cycles, that all water on earth came from asteroids], though all in all he just seemed like an interesting person I'd enjoy going camping with.
posted by lalunamel at 5:33 AM on April 2 [5 favorites]


Heinleins's poshumous biography, "Grumblings From the Grave", talks about this. It explains that Heinlein was always careful about never giving groups like this his official sanction (even though many wrote to him asking for it).

I've enjoyed a lot of Heinlein's writing and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't influential on a lot of my thinking. I just wish that he thought women were people - even unattractive women.
posted by DWRoelands at 5:45 AM on April 2 [10 favorites]


I will just quickly mention the unicorn goats.

They were an interesting novelty of my childhood, and a few of them toured the world with the Ringling Bros Circus.

He would make them by surgically moving the horn buds of a young goat together in the center of it's forehead before they had fused to the skull.

Here is the patent.

One of his collaborators on the goat project was our terrifying local serial killer Leonard Lake, as seen on this Merzbow album cover.
posted by St. Sorryass at 5:52 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]


I hung out with Oberon (He mostly went by Otter) a bit, and have plenty of second hand stories, but I should try to page my friend Nibbly Fang to the thread rather then try to tell any myself.

What's up? Here I am. I grew up in the Church of All Worlds and was a member until I was 19. I would say the actual practices of CAW hewed closer to the Wiccan side of things--invoking Gods and Goddesses, calling the four elements, what-have-you. But yeah, water-sharing and the organizational stuff is out of Stranger, and you had to read it to join the clergy. (It wasn't required, just recommended, for regular members.) I would describe Heinlein as benevolently amused by the whole thing--he liked Oberon, and I think came to a CAW event at an SF convention in the 70s or 80s sometime.

Oberon is a really interesting dude, and was like my cool wizard uncle when I was a kid. He definitely handled a lot of the philosophy and press, but this article glosses over a lot of other people's contributions, particularly (Oberon's wife) Morning Glory's. Morning Glory was involved in almost everything he produced after their marriage, and had a religious career of her own (She's an expert on historical depictions of goddess figures and an artist.) There was a core of 7 or 8 clergy-people when I was growing up (who I won't name here because I don't know how they'd feel about that), who did a lot of the actual work.

Also, there was a big schism in the late 90s, and about half the people who'd been involved in CAW up to that point bailed, including most or all of the clergy besides Oberon. So CAW may be doing well now, but with a mostly different group at the core of it, which isn't mentioned in Cusack's article at all.

CAW membership was a fairly low-key affair ($40-ish a year dues, which also got you a subscription to the official magazine, Green Egg), and while members were encouraged to volunteer with environmental groups, you didn't have to do anything or pay money beyond the dues. So it wasn't much like Scientology, despite also being based on an SF book from the 60s.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:10 AM on April 2 [25 favorites]


Maybe Heinlein is finally going to win that (apocryphal) bet with Elron Hubbard.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:14 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


Until then, each group had existed on its own, cominginto contact with others only at rare events like the Renaissance fairsin California or science fiction conventions.

yessss this ruuuuuuules
posted by Greg Nog at 6:17 AM on April 2


It's a little weird for the article to assert that Stranger was not a foundational text for the Manson Family on the grounds that Manson seems to have misunderstood the book. If understanding a text is a requirement for it to be foundational to a your religion, philosophy, knitting circle, or murder-cult, there are hardly any foundational texts in the history of the world....

That's not to suggest that Heinlein is in any way responsible for the Manson Family any more than the "unicorn goat" patent holder is responsible for Leonard Lake.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


Oh, and I got to hang out with the goat-icorns. The horn-grafting process is a bit cruel (though not worse than the other things people do to farm animals), but they didn't seem bothered by it as adults. I remember three unicorns: Bedivere, who was fat and snuggly, Lancelot, who toured with Ringling Brothers, and Percival, who was too grouchy to train, and went to live on a farm and guard the sheep. There were a few others, and also a pygmy goat unicorn, which was just as cute as you'd imagine. Here's an interview with Oberon Zell about it, with lots of awesome vintage photos of a wizard chilling with a unicorn.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 6:28 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]


Maybe Heinlein is finally going to win that (apocryphal) bet with Elron Hubbard.

Heinlein as the Trystero to Hubbard's Thurn & Taxis perhaps?
posted by tyllwin at 6:35 AM on April 2


Zell and wife and a unicorn goat are pictured in the first edition of Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler.
posted by bukvich at 7:32 AM on April 2


I couldn't finish the article, so not sure if this is addressed, but as I recall, the main female character in SIASL, who is a nurse, says something like most women who are raped are asking for it. So if this text is being used as the foundation of a religion that is being based on open sexuality, I can see a lot of room for abuse here.
posted by Mchelly at 7:43 AM on April 2


Metafilter: Lots of awesome vintage photos of a wizard chilling with a unicorn.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:07 AM on April 2 [3 favorites]


Fuck this shit. I'm starting up a Church of The Starry Wisdom from Lovecraft's Haunter Of The Dark. Who's in? Also, does anybody happen to have a Shining Trapezohedron laying around?
posted by KingEdRa at 8:10 AM on April 2 [5 favorites]


when I first read Stranger in a Strange Land, I was also very drawn to the concept of "thou art god". It expressed so clearly what I felt should be the true meaning of "humanism" - not atheism but veneration of the divine and amazingness of other human beings.

It has stuck with me for two decades now. And the other day in a synagogue, I heard the rabbi say something that basically could be summed up as "thou art god".
posted by jb at 8:20 AM on April 2


I couldn't finish the article, so not sure if this is addressed, but as I recall, the main female character in SIASL, who is a nurse, says something like most women who are raped are asking for it. So if this text is being used as the foundation of a religion that is being based on open sexuality, I can see a lot of room for abuse here.

As much as that is true, that is before Jill meets Michael and is transformed (literally and figuratively) into an enlightened being. It hardly bolsters your point to quote things that characters are meant to recant later in the novel.

That said, the article points out that a feminist scholar categorizes Heinlein as "almost feminist". Both SIASL and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress have ideas which empower women, but still have tons of gender-essentialism, still only include as major characters women who are hyper-capable and beautiful, etc. So Heinlein isn't a modern feminist text by any means, but he was close, I think.
posted by TypographicalError at 8:23 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


I couldn't finish the article, so not sure if this is addressed, but as I recall, the main female character in SIASL, who is a nurse, says something like most women who are raped are asking for it. So if this text is being used as the foundation of a religion that is being based on open sexuality, I can see a lot of room for abuse here.


Definitely not a part of CAW philosophy (like I said above, I was there); neither was Heinlein's rather unfortunate stance on gay people (he thought they were misguided or damaged in some way). A lot of people there were pretty critical of the book's, shall we say, very 60s attitudes to certain things, and most CAW members identified as feminists. There were a lot of women in leadership roles when I was growing up.

However. There also were a fair number of creepy dudes who were allowed to continue creeping. (Not Oberon Zell, I hasten to add, though he wasn't super proactive in dealing with them either.) I don't think this is unique to CAW or Paganism in general--it's related to similar issues in the science fiction/fantasy/geek community, where excluding anyone is seen as the worst thing ever; you know, a way worse offense than making tons of people really uncomfortable. I don't think that came from Heinlein so much as it did a) the culture at large and b) the Geek Social Fallacies. It's definitely an issue in the Pagan scene, which is like 97% geeks (seriously, the overlap with Trekkies is huge). The creepers were the reason I left; it's why a lot of people left. There were some decent attempts to address it in the late 90s, but it was too little, too late for me. I don't know how things stand with it now.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 8:57 AM on April 2 [12 favorites]


Nibbly Fang: " Also, there was a big schism in the late 90s, and about half the people who'd been involved in CAW up to that point bailed, including most or all of the clergy besides Oberon. So CAW may be doing well now, but with a mostly different group at the core of it, which isn't mentioned in Cusack's article at all."

Out of curiosity, what was the schism over?
posted by zarq at 9:20 AM on April 2


Wow, the guy could have changed his name to anything, and he picked one that makes him sound like an NPR reporter. "Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, NPR news, Stonehenge."
posted by Flexagon at 9:39 AM on April 2 [4 favorites]


Next season on Broadway; The Book of Heinlein, a musical about 2 CAW adherents who go to a Sci-Fi con & have a crisis of faith.

With those chart toppers "I Grok", "Geek Up", and "Making Things Up Again".
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:54 AM on April 2 [1 favorite]


jb: I heard the rabbi say something that basically could be summed up as "thou art god".

Hmmm. The English version of Martin Buber's book I and Thou was first published in 1937. Maybe Heinlein was channeling one or more rabbis?
posted by sneebler at 10:06 AM on April 2 [2 favorites]


More likely that noted israelite, Aleister Crowley.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:24 AM on April 2


> I heard the rabbi say something that basically could be summed up as "thou art god".

It's totally true! And you didn't hear it from me first.

It is, however (and I think this is less commonly pointed so I may actually have gotten to it first) one of those damned mixed blessings.
posted by jfuller at 12:27 PM on April 2


I've briefly met Oberon and Morning Glory a few times over the years. They are kinda adorable. Oberon in particular comes off as an American Dumbledore (hence the Grey School, I suspect, he was Dumbledore before Dumbledore existed when I first met him in the 90's) and has the outfit, as well as a Mustrum Ridcully from Discworld outfit (I went to a presentation on Discworld he did last month).

There's a biography of the two of them out now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:39 PM on April 2 [1 favorite]


This reminded me to check on the status of the Heinlein biography being worked on by William H. Patterson -- looks like volume 2 will finally be coming out in June. Woot!
posted by Blackanvil at 1:43 PM on April 2


Okay so I might be extraordinalrily problematic regarding issues of gender, race, military, religion and so on, but I do occasionally give good advice. Like what to take with you when you are going to pioneer a frontier and stuff? Golden.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:22 PM on April 2


I mean, c'mon, I think Charlie just picked up whatever hippie stuff that was lying around and used it for his own purposes rather than being honestly influenced by it.

Valentine Michael Manson would beg to differ.
posted by jonp72 at 6:53 PM on April 2


I think it's Morning Glory's advice that an essential priestess skill is to "Smile wisely and say nothing". Of course, it has a Jewish parallel...
posted by Dreidl at 1:51 AM on April 3


Darling, you're getting your pagan priestesses mixed up.

I think you got that line from me, but it was Starhawk at Mendocino Witchcamp in 1997 who said it: "An essential skill for a priestess is to smile wisely and say nothing."
posted by ottereroticist at 12:39 PM on April 3


Valentine Michael Manson would beg to differ.

Maybe? I mean, he coulda named the kid Malcolm X John Lennon, but I think he would have still kinda ignored the underlying philosophy of those guys, or bent it to match his own uses.

Or maybe not, who knows?

Anyway, thanks for the link!
posted by valkane at 3:11 PM on April 3


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