CAW began in 1961 with a group of high school friends, led by Richard Lance Christie of Tulsa, Oklahoma, who became immersed in the ideas of Ayn Rand and the self-actualization concepts of Abraham Maslow. After enrolling at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Christie met fellow student Tim Zell; together, they began experiments in extrasensory perception. The Christie group, which Zell joined, read Robert A. Heinlein's science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), which became a catalyst and inspiration for CAW.
In the novel, Valentine Michael Smith is an Earthman born on Mars and raised by Martians. He eventually returns to Earth, where he finds that his upbringing renders him literally a "stranger in a strange land." Smith forms the Church of All Worlds, organized in nests. The church teaches "grokking," or the intuiting of the "fullness" of all things and beings, and joyful, coequal love between the sexes. God is immanent in all things; church mem bers greet each other with "Thou art God." In a ceremony called the "waterbrotherhood," members share water and "grok," the divine that exists in each other.
Heinlein's book had a profound impact on the ChristieZell group. They related it to Maslow's self-actualizers, whom Maslow described as being alienated from their own culture. In 1962, following a watersharing between Zell and Christie, the group formed a waterbrotherhood called Atl, a term derived from an Aztec word for "water" and also meaning "home of our ancestors." Atl remained a loose organization dedicated to innovative political and social change and attracted up to 100 members. ATL (now standing for Association for the Tree of Life) is still in existence and remains under the direction of Christie. Headquarters are in Moab, Utah.
From Atl, Zell founded CAW, and it evolved under his leadership. The church filed for incorporation in 1967 and was formally chartered on March 4, 1968, making it the first of the Pagan earth religions in the United States to obtain full federal recognition as a church. Zell coined the term Neo-Pagan to apply to the emerging, ecology-conscious Earth religions of the 1960s.
In 1968, CAW began publishing Green Egg under the editorship of Zell. The journal, one of three membership newsletters (the other two, Scarlet Flame and Violet Void, were short-lived), gained a reputation as one of the leading Pagan periodicals, providing a thought-provoking forum for the exchange of ideas in the Pagan community.
CAW initially was refused recognition as a church by the state of Missouri because of its lack of dogma concerning God, the hereafter, the fate of souls, heaven and hell, and sin and its punishment, among other matters. That decision was reversed in 1971.
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