or how St Louis spawned Paganism.
Great fictional wizards often have a magical staff. Gandalf brandished his at orcs and monsters, Maleficent used hers as a source of power and wizards of the fantasy worlds are easily identified by their long enchanted walking sticks. The utilitarian staff is actually just a bigger, more useful magic wand, but this isn’t a story about fantasy worlds. This is a story of real magic and a real magical Wizard.
Oberon Zell-Ravenheart has a staff that was created for him. The tall wooden object is highly unique and embedded with crystals and feathers. His Magical Staff is indeed a “power object” and has certain uses that remain a mystery to the uninitiated and non-believers. Oberon’s beard and hair are long silver locks that flow over his Hawaiian shirt. It is his smile that speaks to one, and the twinkle in his eye as the memories and knowledge of a lifetime pour out of the mouth of this natural orator. Sitting in front of a mesmerized audience at Pathways Metaphysical store in South St Louis, Oberon sits perched at the edge of a giant chair speaking to his young readers with humor and zest, the elder Pagans laugh at his old jokes and get emotional at the musing of a man enduring emotional healing. Oberon magically becomes a wise sage for every generation.
Oberon’s wife and Pagan Icon, Morning Glory passed away not too long ago, so he has been on a spiritual walk-about, wandering the land like Gandalf the Grey. This epic journey comes late into his life and is taking the Magician across America in a Honda Civic Hybrid doing bits of magic and exploring the modern pagan landscape. This real Wizard wanders with his magic staff, paid for by self published book sales and crashing wherever he can. Oberon also services a community and people with natural magic like his fantasy counterparts, doing rituals, teaching important skills and paving the future for humanity.
The Wizard was born Timothy Zell in late 1940s St Louis and was one of those intelligent nature obsessed boys who was nicknamed Otter. In his youth, Oberon read a science fiction book that changed his life. Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange land, became his personal Bible as he joined forces with two other young men and formed the world’s first experimental “water brotherhood” as outlined in the book. It basically became the framework for a magical religious exploration and epic spiritual journey.
This church proclaimed a return to a more natural/primal type of philosophy, one that had been a underground phenomenon for some time in certain Revolutionary circles. While most Magical practitioners maintain ancient ideas and unique ways of seeing Reality… many update to the modern world and adapt to new technology. Few Modern magical lineages have actual direct ancestral knowledge and often recreate magic ways with slight variations. Oberon and his friends didn’t have the old world roots, they had mythology, science fiction and a sense that shared ritual and communal living had a richer lifestyle potential. In 1963 they formed the Church of the All Worlds.
Oberon has multiple degrees in Psychology, Divinity, Education,and several other…..odd subjects, spending most of the decade in higher education but as the 1960s got weirder for America, so did Otter Zell. By 1968, his hippie type magical community rented an old Victorian mansion in Gaslight Square and practiced their own brand of thriving. Let’s just say…they got a lot of attention on the local scene, influencing the young outsiders of the St Louis. At the time, the city had a large Spiritualist community which slowly was merging into the hippie creations surrounding a return to Nature Based Magic. While “old school” Spiritualists still exist to this day, the modern pagans also practice a version of the Psychic Sciences in combination.
The Church of the All World’s was inclusive in many ways, including Feminist, Naturalist, Wiccan, Druid, and Egyptian influences.. So with great purpose, money and energy as of 1968, the State of Missouri recognized the Church as a non-profit religious organization. One of many “firsts” Oberon would magically create in the last days of the 60s, being the first use the term Pagan to legally describe the hodgepodge of religions surrounding his church.
Now there are a few things to explain about Paganism. For thousands of years…Pagan was the “other guys.. or gals” as in other than Christian. A specific derogatory term for all other multi cultural, magical or spiritual practices that ran counter to Christianity. In Ireland, people still practice old ways even if the Druids roots are mostly forgotten, the Danish still practice solstice celebrations and the Greeks had their super secret magical rites for a thousand years. In fact…the psychic, herbalist, shaman, spiritualist, and astrologer have operated in underground circuits for most of human history. There is nothing new in Otter Zell using the term, however his Revolution was that he got protection for his faith under our Freedom of Religion principle that Americans can claim but rarely tested outside the Christian faiths previous to the 1960s.
Oberon practiced very real and ancient magic, practiced Paganism out in the open and used the System to protect his “Great Work”. The Church of the All World’s became one of the first to adopt a Pagan Moniker.
CAW and their passionate Publications truly helped create the future. CAW began making zines and called them, the Green Egg Pagan Journal, printing out of their Gaslight Square home for years. They also proudly proclaimed themselves to be Pagan, stealing back the derogatory term for personal use, which was also something other groups and minorities were doing in 1968. Otter Zell was a very good at networking and after the Feraferia of California, a Wiccan group called the Coven of the Cat and the Egyptian Church of Eternal Source joined forces..the term Pagan was now Canon…reborn in St Louis, Missouri.
Every year in the Modern age of Tower Grove Park, the local pagans hold an annual St Louis Pagan Picnic. In the decade of my attendance, it has gone from a small regional event to a massive affair with over 40,000 visitors. Our city is host to 6 metaphysical stores, each with it’s own kingdom of psychics, tarot readers and spiritual leaders. Midwestern Hippie communities from Eureka Springs, Arkansas throughout the Ozarks and up to the Illinois river towns are filled with “other” faiths and ritual practices. Magic as practiced in a traditional manner, are most often communal and seasonal affairs with vast differences in styles and Deities. The man who has been at the forefront of Pagan growth in our region, wanders this vast Kingdom doing magic and saving gas with his hybrid electric.
Otter Zell became Oberon with age, and married the love of his life…. Morning Glory, both taking the name Ravenheart. He talks to the small group at Pathways about ritual magic and leaves his personal wisdom in each question. I ask him about the Greek Mystery Rites and his experiences in the modern recreations. He gives me a brilliant answer with his long beard moving in unison with his magical fingers.
“It’s like Babylonian beer” he said. “We have the ancient recipes, but certain translations of words are unknown, so one fills in the blanks with our beer knowledge.”
In other words, even if we have lost the true Ancient Druid knowledge and even if a Magical rite is missing parts or untranslatable, we can still fill in the blanks from our collective universal knowledge. The Greek Mysteries are still shrouded in darkness as the Shinto of Japan, pray to forest spirits in secret, despite the mystery, each has left an imprint on modern experience that is often ignored. The inspiration behind our magical practices can still be discovered by filling in what we don’t know, with what feels right and good and looking to the core for that Cosmic Mechanic. This is of course modern paganism, and an exploration of our own connection with Mother Earth, nature and the cycles of the universe in ritual and magical focus.
The old Wizard is still sharp and remembers everything. He rambles on about subjects, but from a place of knowledge. He has fought cancer, he is healing from his wife’s death, and still battles the monetary needs of living in 2020. His influence on modern magic goes back in 1968, with an impressive knowledge base and deep academic mythology skills. After all, what is a Wizard in real life? He can marry, perform rituals, he knows spells, Deities, Pagan History and carries a magical staff. His hair is wild and beard majestic, if anyone can lay claim to the title Wizard..it must surely be Oberon Zell-Ravenheart.
Another big impact Oberon has had on history is that little Green Egg pamphlet. In the age before the internet, message boards, fan conventions and pagan gatherings, it was that zine that brought people together. The writers that added their own pagan view points on the faiths are a literal Who’s Who of paganism and esoteric philosophy.
One shouldn’t give him all the credit, which is obvious in the faces of the elders that were at Pathways that day and in the opinions of the old-school Pagans who talk about Oberon with love. He had his own dreams and some shared in those dreams and some did not, however he was never alone in the Dream of a Modern Pagan Community. Powerful magic mages are actually not uncommon, as I personally know dozens in my area. Oberon was after all part of a growing community of people who all were looking in the same direction, backwards in order to see forward.
The Green Egg Pagan Journal remains one of the most influential aspects of Oberon’s community, a group of wonderful writers and passionate Pagans who influenced the pagan faiths to the embrace the modern age and never forget the past. Information is a big key in the building of new and old magical practice.
The magic of Oberon can best be summed up by one of his oddest moments, the day he created a unicorn. On historical and mythological, Unicorns were literal cows in Ancient India and goats throughout the middle east. Unicorns were a sort of mutant, scientifically proven but also magically living a slightly different life because of the abnormality. Oberon discovered that a doctor performed a rare surgery to create a cow unicorn in the 1950s and he decided to make his own.
After securing some long haired Angora Goats, the Ravenheart family breed them in preparation for a quick surgery after the birth of a baby goat. You see, a horn isn’t there yet, it takes enzymes on the skin to produce the bone growth to support the horns. By moving the process to the center, it creates one horn. The magic is what comes next. The behavior of the goat has been changed by the process and with a little trimmings, grooming, and human performers, one can take the ”unicorn” on tour and cause thousands of children to believe in unicorns and magic.
Magic can often be an after effect. After all the rituals, mythological musings, costumed fun, one can not help but come away changed and isn’t that the point of magic….. “changes”. If we share the same dream and come out metaphorical shifted…it on of the the essences of magic. Oberon understands Trans-psychology, Metaphysics and Social cohesion, so how much of his work is simply “Dream Weaving”?
Is there extra magical weirdness underneath the surface?
Why does magic have to be one thing? A Unicorn is just that…an animal with one horn, and the mythology/power of such an animal…is exactly the realm in which Oberon thrives. One foot in Science and one foot in the Magical potentiality of Collective Dreaming. Naturally he has the patent, a sort of magical grimorie that states for the historical record….that he thought of it first.
Oberon has lived a fascinating life, sometimes in communes, sometimes with family, always surrounded by nature and living exactly within the freedom he desired. People came and went, he performed Solstice rituals, created a Living Unicorn, sought magical creatures, studied and translated ancient texts, coined the term Polyamory with Morning Glory and lived simply with great passion. If living a long magical life is the purpose of being Pagan and being able to do the “Great work” in peace, then perhaps Oberon is one of the most successful that has graced the modern age.
At the end of his speech, the shy teenagers who read his Harry Potter style book of real magic, get autographs, the slackers who’ve followed him 3 plus decades shake his hand and the elderly hug him. The older people in wheel chairs who have known him forever, smile at his showboating. This is exactly what a real Wizard looks like in both appearance and community.
The idea that this planet is one huge living organism that is called Gaea, is often at the core of many of the Pagan lifestyles. Oberon was there at the beginning of the resurgence of our Archaic Revival, a reworking of our lifestyle toward holistic overtones of survival and inter-connectivity. “Pagan” is something that is deep within our DNA and Oberon simply helped create the framework for Modern Humans to reconnect to it. Hopefully future generations will see Gaea/Gaia as the Mother of us all.
The old Wizard walks out of Pathways to grab some more of his books, often written by other people using his teachings or cumulative collections. He’s a man who isn’t afraid of new technologies, building his legacy via online gaming (Second life), websites and social media, yet he’s also the kind of guy who will leave it all behind to hang out in a forest and talk to trees.
Magic is a complex subject and any overview would be lengthy. One couldn’t begin to explain the depths with words, you could also find the same meaning in the Magical Taoist philosophy, encapsulated with the opening verse of the Tao Te Ching.
The Tao that can be toldTao Te Ching
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal name.
Whatever magic is, a Wizard who has studied the subject for 5 decades, has to know…and for Oberon Zell-Ravenheart…he’s been attempting to explain what’s he’s learned for a long time and it’s up to the general public to simply listen. Oberon maybe the last Wizard or maybe simply a modern First.