Oberon Zell and Francesca De Grandis Interview
Who is Oberon Zell?
A founding father of modern Paganism, Oberon Zell is one of its most respected Elders. In 1967 he was first to claim the identity of “Pagan,” incorporating Church of All Worlds and publishing Green Egg. His seminal work on the Gaea Thesis in the early ‘70s helped foster a global awareness of Earth as living Mother. He is Headmaster of the Grey School of Wizardry. More about him is at www.OberonZell.com
Who is Francesca De Grandis?
Francesca De Grandis, best-selling author of Be a Goddess! is a full-time community shaman—classes, psychic readings, and healings. Trained from birth in a European shamanic family tradition of Celtic and Italian witchcraft, she has lived this lesser known Faerie shamanism for 72 years. Her Goddess mysticism is combined with practical magic and a down-to-earth philosophy. Nickname: Outlaw Bunny.
Francesca De Grandis 2021
Francesca De Grandis: I wanted to interview Oberon because we confront many of the same challenges, share a similar genius, and are remarkably alike in other ways—so many that the list would get boring to read. But, over the decades, I’ve seen a similar unflinching commitment to high standards. Our common traits are ones that help us serve the Pagan community so I want to support anyone who has them.
Fun story about that: Oberon, like me, spends much of his day serving community, Gaia, and Gods. After our interview ended, Oberon wrote me, “It just occurred to me that I needed to have said something about Service, which is really what my life and work is all about. I’m on Her Majesty’s Sacred Service! Can you add in something along those lines?” I cracked up since his unending service is obvious in the interview. The amount of work he has done, his insistence on taking responsibility, and his joy are clear earmarks.
The Ecstatic Path and Pagan Spiritual Practices
Francesca asks Oberon: Mainstream religions tend to suppress joy and self-expression. As someone who walks an ecstatic path, I reject that and admire your commitment to spreading joy and providing venues for folks to express themselves. What spiritual or mundane practices help you maintain those commitments?
Oberon Zell: Well, I’m still researching the question: “Is it possible to have too much fun?” I continue to be very active in the Pagan community—as I have been for more than half a century. I attend several large festivals a year as a guest presenter; I create and participate in many rituals, both small and large; and I do many Zoom talks, conferences and meetings. I am Primate of the Church of All Worlds, Headmaster of the Grey School of Wizardry, and Publisher Emeritus of Green Egg—all of which entail extensive involvement: communications, teaching classes, doing workshops, etc. I read a lot of sci-fi, fantasy, history and science, and I’m constantly writing books—about a dozen published so far—and doing illustrations, etc. I post regularly on Facebook. I recently did a two-year Walkabout, personally visiting hundreds of people around the country. And I maintain an active sex life, with several cherished lovers. We have dinner and movie/TV dates, as well as adventures and travel (I’ve been all over the world with my longtime consort, Dona).
Magic, Pagan Books and Other Writing,
and Visual Art
Francesca De Grandis: Like me, you’re a magician, writer, and visual artist. The three pursuits weave together for me magically, enriching my spiritual experiences and adding to the depth of lessons I give. For one thing, the Fairy Queen—Great Mother Goddess—becomes a more tangible presence in all Her love, kindness, and beauty.
To help create experiential Fairy witch lessons in my books and classes, I add my paintings to book pages or classes’ handouts, much the way medieval manuscripts had illuminations in the borders. Of course, mine are my style because I’m not a repressed monk in the Middle Ages but a feisty Fey Pagan. The art supplements the enchantments of the text.
Is there a way being a magician, writer, and visual artist weave together for you?
Oberon Zell: “Magician, writer, and visual artist” sorta sums up my work as a Wizard. Everything I am and do is suffused with those three pursuits. My visual art generally supplements my writing, illustrating my books and articles—as well as my Zoom talks. And my writings and art are all expressions of my magick and wizardry. I’m never bored, and I’ve never had “writer’s block,” as I always have more ideas clamoring to be expressed than I have time to express them! I have to tell ‘em to take a number and get in line…
Plagiarism Versus Attribution of Pagan Innovations
Francesca De Grandis: Your artwork is featured in the television series, The Handmaid’s Tale. Would you like to tell my readers how that came about?
Oberon Zell: The art director for the show came upon my representation of “Astra, the Star Goddess,” which I’d drawn for Morning Glory as a personal logo—and a logo for our family business, “Mythic Images”—back in 1990. Erroneously thinking (as many others have) that it was an ancient design and in the public domain, they appropriated it as a logo for the “Red Center” facility where fertile women are beaten into submission to become enslaved breeders for the elite rulers of the “Republic of Gilead.”
When MG’s daughter saw her late mom’s symbol on the show in that context, she contacted me, and I got hold of an attorney to pursue a case of copyright violation. This went nowhere until one of our students reached the author of the book, Margaret Atwood. Margaret went straight to the CEO of MGM, and insisted that they treat me right. Shortly we were able to work out a mutually satisfactory licensing contract. And the 2nd season featured flashbacks to a time before the coup, where my design is shown on a poster in a women’s support center (which is true in reality—as it is a representation of women’s empowerment).
We’ll see where this goes in future seasons. I’d love to see it become a symbol of the resistance!
Francesca De Grandis: What a story, and I relate to it! For one thing, pieces of my writing have often been called “traditional lore” or a “traditional expression” and made their way into the cultures of earth traditions uncredited. Ditto my innovative magical techniques and shamanic theories.
For a long time, I didn’t care when my work was used without my name on it. I didn’t want my ego to get out of hand. Ultimately, everything comes from the Gods. But I learned that lack of attribution is not healthy for anyone involved.
It is spiritual, emotional, and financial oppression, even if unintended.
Divinity and Nature—our ultimate sources of power, beauty, and all other things—are accessible to everyone. (And Nature is surely as divine as anything else, if not more so.) When intermediaries—painters, ritualists, teachers, poets, parents, etc.—empower us to access the Divine and Nature directly, those individuals are sources too.
We diminish our connection to Nature and the Divine unless we try to honor all the sources we draw on, because the cosmos is a connect-the-dots picture in which all the dots connect to all the other dots.
So you’re an important role model—a healthy example of someone who insists on taking credit for their work.
Note to reader:
I sent this interview’s questions to Oberon in 2021, possibly in August, which would be a year ago. He quickly gave his answers, but then I moved and then suffered a bad injury (I’m fine now and expect to fully recover).
Had we done the interview later, I would’ve asked Oberon to discuss Roe versus Wade in relation to his symbol and the tv show. But I didn’t want to further delay publishing an important interview.
Equally important, though we do not directly address the Roe versus Wade ruling, Oberon owning his work instead of letting it be used unacknowledged and without payment inspires me in the ongoing necessity to fight for sovereignty over my life and my work.
Someone might respond, “It’s easy for a white man to stand up for his rights.” It might be easier compared to what someone else might go through, but any innovative genius focusing more on service than on using their skills to climb up into an oppressive hierarchy has known the heartache and struggle that occurs when their work is ripped off. We creative geniuses committed to service are in this fight together. End of note.
Pagan Gossip Is Often Untrue
Francesca De Grandis: My experiences as a public figure taught me that widely-spread tales of well-known individuals are often incorrect. Is there a story or “fact” about you that you’d like to set straight?
Oberon Zell: Hard to think of any. I’d hate to squash any scandalous rumors if they enhance my reputation. “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story!” However, if any claim that I hold prejudice against any category of people other than assholes, I would like to set that straight—I am as socially inclusive as you can get, embracing and cherishing good people across all spectra—race, gender, nationality, culture, sexual orientation and proclivities, education, status, skills and talents…even beliefs. But malicious jerks who hurt people, (i.e. bullies, abusers, victimizers, pedophiles, white supremacists, misogynists, rapists, thieves, con artists, mass murderers, tweakers, Fundamentalist Xians & Muslims, Nazis, Trump Republicans, etc.) not so much.
Pagan Practices during Challenging Times
Francesca De Grandis: How does your particular Pagan path help you through these crazy times?
Oberon Zell: Well, my Gaean vision keeps me focused on the larger picture. I view all events and goings-on in the context of Gaea—our living planet, in whose vast body we are all cells. For example, I see viral pandemics as Gaea’s immune system, marshaling antibodies to attack cancer… Also, I rather welcome the degree of isolation brought on by COVID as an extended “writer’s retreat,” during which I’ve been able to devote time to my writing and art. I’ve gotten six books out in just the past year!
(Note to reader: This interview took place 2021. That information gives you a time frame for the “past year” Oberon mentions.)
A Lifelong Mission
Francesca De Grandis:I admire you for striving toward a high moral standard. What helps you keep working toward your ideals?
Oberon Zell: Well, I just keep on keeping on. I have a lifelong Mission: “to be a catalyst for the coalescence of consciousness.” Everything I’ve done in my life over the past 60-odd years has been in furtherance of that Mission. Moreover, Morning Glory’s dying words were: “Don’t let it die!” My code is simply “Do as you would be done by.” I also believe in the 3 Rules of Wizardry: 1. Always take credit/responsibility; 2. Reputation is Power; 3. With great power comes great responsibility. True wisdom (i.e. wizardry) is all about considering the consequences. And, of course, being a hero means doing the right thing no matter how difficult.
Genius, Multifaceted Individuals, Productivity, and Service
Francesca De Grandis: You summed up a lot in very few words.
Can you name one of your role models, Pagan or not, who inspires you to keep at your goals?
Oberon Zell: Leonardo da Vinci—the greatest Wizard of all history.
Francesca De Grandis: Why is that individual inspirational for you?
Oberon Zell: He was the quintessential “Renaissance Man” I can only aspire to emulate. Brilliant, creative, artistic, multi-talented, multi-skilled, learnéd, curious, wise, competent, productive, and all the other virtues I hold dear and strive to actualize. However, Leo wasn’t much of a ladies’ man, so that’s a whole dimension of my own life that doesn’t reflect his…
Francesca De Grandis: One of the reasons I interviewed you is my investment in supporting individuals who express their many aspects in service to community. I was once called One of Those Multi-Hyphenated Types. Trained from birth as a shaman, my many abilities were drawn forth, and I came to shamanism in my adult years as a mystic, healer, poet, humorist, trained dancer, etc., etc. More important, I believe multifaceted individuals would be the norm, but most people aren’t given the chance to recognize let alone develop their many abilities. One of my life missions is to help a person express themselves in many forms. My shamanism wakes up the cells, drawing forth the innate talents of my students, clients, and readers.
Is there anything else on your mind you want to share?
Oberon Zell: If you don’t like it, you can’t have any!
Francesca De Grandis: I like it!