I talked by phone with Oberon Zell-Ravenheart about his upcoming appearance at Paganicon, and his new book about to be released.
Where: Doubletree Park Place in St. Louis Park, MN
When: March 14-16, 2014
NOTE: Deadline for programming submissions is January 31st!
Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is a multi-talented and active force of nature, pursuing many interests at any one time. I inquired about the health of lifemate Morning Glory who has been undergoing treatment for cancer for some time. Oberon splits most days to spend time with her in this current hospitalization, and a funding site has been established for donations for her ongoing care. Don’t be fooled by the funding goal displayed, the need is real and ongoing!
Are you excited to come to Minnesota?
Yes, I have not been to Minneapolis for a long time. My father used to live up there and I visited him frequently before he died a few years ago. But my major connection to the area is the old Llewellyn Gnosticons back in the early 70’s, which is where I met Morning Glory. We met at the fourth Gnosticon festival in 1973 at the fall equinox, and were handfasted there on April 14, 1974. We’re coming up on our 40th wedding anniversary! We have just completed and published our life story, and that period is an important part of it. Llewellyn is publishing it and Carl Weschcke wrote the introduction to the book, so it is all coming around full circle. The book will be released in early February.
Tell me about your keynote address at Paganicon.
I am sharing the keynote with guest Deborah Lipp, and we are offering a talk on the legacy of the whole Neo-Pagan movement. The two of us will be bouncing back and forth about the emergence of the Neo-Pagan movement and what it has contributed that will be of lasting significance in the world. I think it is quite a lot. We will also talk about where we go from here as Paganism becomes more recognized as a mainstream religion. One of the puzzles we have all experienced is why don’t people don’t seem to know about us, because they ought to!
There have been more books published by and about the Pagan movement that just about any other religion you could find. Vast numbers of people are involved, interviews, television shows are aired about us. People seem to have a much greater awareness about a few truly obscure and off the wall spiritual groups than us.
You have always had a very public face as a Pagan, how has that experience been for you?
I always get a good reception. I have done lots of interviews and never had a bad one. I have done many public appearances, speaking, book signings, and festivals, and they have all been positively received. I can afford to be out there in the public in a way that many people can’t. I don’t have to worry about losing my job, or losing my kids in a child custody suit, or many of the things that have caused some of our people to feel the need to stay “in the broom closet.” Because of my freedom to move in the wider world without repercussions, I feel a responsibility to do so, because of all the people who cannot afford to.
What will you be offering at Paganicon?
The theme of the conference is about Embracing the Elements, and now that we have just stepped over the threshold of the age of Aquarius, there is interest in knowing what all this will mean. I want to talk about this, as Aquarius is an Air sign, signifying communication, wisdom, and travel through the air and sky. The internet and how that will continue evolving in the years to come, and space travel and colonization, these are totally Aquarian types of issues. Then there is the spiritual, and Aquarius also involves the mind and consciousness. The “New Age” is very Aquarian in its entire vision. This is truly a time of global awakening, of our planetary being, of Gaea herself. Her awakening to full consciousness and the implications of that for us. I have been thinking about these things for decades and I think it will make a great subject to talk about. We are here!
Where do you put most your effort now?
With each of the projects I have worked on I have tried to create what I want to see. If it is not out there, then I feel I have a mission to create it. I started off back in college with finding two major things lacking. I wanted to create a new religion because I was into religion but was not satisfied with what was out there and available. I took that as an assignment, and created the Church of All Worlds in 1962.
Ultimately I had a lot to do with the creation of the whole modern Pagan movement. I feel good about that, I don’t feel the need to keep at that, it is sustaining and I just keep my finger in the pie with my ideas. The most recent involvement has been a campaign to get journalists and press style books to capitalize the name of our religions. Everything from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, to Christianity in all its forms are capitalized. Why not Paganism? There is no other religion that I can think of that is ordinarily and routinely not capitalized by journalists. It is really annoying and frustrating. We have been hammering at this trend for decades. It is insulting and demeaning .Lately I pulled together an international coalition of scholars in Pagan studies and we submitted a petition to the AP and Chicago Stylebooks to capitalize the name of our religion. Your readers may view and sign the petition .
But the other thing I have always felt a need for was an entirely new approach to education—what I call “esoteric education.” That is, once upon a time getting an education was universally regarded as a very special privilege. But this view has been severely diluted by our laudable goal of universal education. But I was always inspired by more visionary models, such as Montessori, Waldorf schools, Summerhill, Walden Two—and perhaps most of all, “Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters” in “The X-Men.”
For decades I have written and lectured about the need I perceived in our Pagan community to create schools of magick and Wizardry that would be open to youths as well as adults. With the incredible popularity of the Harry Potter novels and movies, centering around a fictional school of “Witchcraft and Wizardry,” I felt that the time had finally come for me to actualize my long-standing vision, and create such a school in the real world. And so it is, with my Grey School of Wizardry , which is ten years old this year!
Have we not attained a capital P in Pagan by not having a commonly accepted definition?
That idea frustrates me, because we do have a commonly accepted definition, and we have had it for decades. I don’t understand why there are people who resist that. Some people just seem to be contrary-wise and don’t want to get with the program. This is not something that we haven’t done or talked about. We have had whole conferences of Pagan leaders, like the Pagan Leaders Summit in 2001, that I attended over ten years ago that addressed this question. These things have been settled and used worldwide for decades now. I don’t understand why new people coming into the Pagan movement can say we don’t really know who we are.
Yes we do; we have known for decades! It is who we are and have been very clear about our definitions. Simply put, Paganism is Nature Worship. That is pretty fundamental. On a broader scale it is the “Old Religion” the original religion of ancient peoples everywhere, indigenous traditions that existed before being taken over by prophet-based religions. It is about the Earth, the seasons, natural cycles and the ways of Nature; that is the core of it. I particularly like the definition of Paganism I overheard in the ‘90’s as “Green Religion.”
Are you actively involved in the School of Wizardry?
These days most of my activity with the School isn’t so much on the internal level. That is all being handled really well. We have a phenomenal faculty and staff, a couple dozen people, who are doing a great job with all that. What I do is just keeping the oversight of the long term vision. I tend to handle the outside public relations, and speaking about it. I try to bring the school to a wider public consciousness and help in shaping the whole thing. Writing the textbooks, trying to encapsulate the obsessive learning I have done all my life, consumes much of my time. To get that together coherently in a literary format so people can have it, and so it will remain, is important to me.
Are you excited about your new book coming out?
I look forward a great deal to seeing how people react to it. The initial manuscript was twice as long as the edited book! A great deal had to be trimmed. What we have now should be tight and fun, and move right along and hopefully people will find it enjoyable. That is really what is comes down to when producing a book. There are two aspects. Most writers think of what they want to give to people. People who are buying the books are looking at what they are receiving. If they don’t like the book it doesn’t matter how well the author has articulated his or her thoughts, it falls flat. If people think it is a great story, and they like it a lot, well cool! If not, then, oh well. You drop a pebble in the pond and watch the ripples spread…
What was your experience of the Midwest?
I grew up out there, what I consider to be “Pleasantville”. I was in high school in the 50’s, the world of Archie and Jughead, Happy Days, Father Knows Best, all that was created after World War II to offer to returning GI’s. To emerge out of that into the sixties was a major cultural revolution. Every sixty years, like clockwork , there has been a major cultural renaissance, the last one being in the 1960’s. Out of that came the Pagan movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the anti -war movement, and the sexual revolution; it was huge.
The next one of these will be in the 2020’s. I am excited to look forward to that. Each time the people who came of age in one revolutionary era then become the elders, teachers, and wise ones for the young people in the next generation. We have this cycle in our mythology, of wizards and young heroes. Wizards are the mentors for the heroes as they leave on their adventures. Connecting all this from the myths into the reality, the history of past, present, and future is a large part of what I am thinking about and working with these days.
This is the ultimate conspiracy of Pagans. By the time you know enough to know what we are really all about, it too late, you are already one of us.