The long perspective, from Oberon Zell
Last month I wrote about the influence of science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein on the gestation and growth of today's polyamory movement.
Another crucial figure from that same time — one of the first and most important people inspired by Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land — was Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, who was then using his birth name, Tim Zell. That was in 1962. He went on to help create and define the Neo-Pagan religious movement, in particular by founding the Church of All Worlds and Green Egg magazine (quite outside Heinlein's hard-science interests, though Heinlein always had a mystical side since young childhood and his second wife, Leslyn, practiced white magic for many years).
Oberon and his life partner Morning Glory have been public exemplars of polyamory for decades — and in 1990 she became the first of the two independent inventors of the word polyamory, giving the concept and the movement a clear name for itself for the first time, and thereby unblocking the way for its growth.
Oberon and Morning Glory are alive and active today despite near-death encounters with cancer. Oberon's main focus for a long time now has been the teaching of practical magic — something that I consider a dead end, a classic delusion arising from the human brain's hardwiring to overinterpret and see connections that, on testing, don't exist. But never mind. I can't wait for his memoirs to be published; they're due out in 2011.
We get a foretaste in an interview that recently went up on a magickal site:
Many people hear about polyamory but really have no clear cut understanding of it. Can you explain what polyamory is to you? Where do you see the polyamory movement going? What may be the positive and the negative aspects of polyamory. Is it for everyone?
Polyamory (a term coined by Morning Glory in 1990) simply means “The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.”... As for numbers, we recently saw a short documentary on the History Channel which claimed that there are currently more than 500,000 people in the US practicing polyamory, so it looks like MG started a real movement with that term!
As for the positive aspects, these are legion: always having backup when one partner isn’t available for some reason; a mediator when any two people get at loggerheads; a team to handle larger projects; companionship; never having to be lonely. With multiple partners, more needs can be met than one person can possibly fulfill, so one can explore and develop more aspects of one’s potential.
As for the negative aspects... well, try as I might, I just can’t think of any! But I do think the worst thing about monoamory is that no one ever gets to sleep in the middle.
But polyamory definitely isn’t for everyone! One has to be truly inclined in that orientation (as with being gay) to make it work — and also, of course, one has to find partners who share that essential nature. MG and I have come to believe that the most common natural relationship pattern for most people may very well be serial monogamy: exclusive devotion to one person at a time — for several years, perhaps — and then moving on to another. This is not polyamory, which is about having several significant relationships simultaneously.
As to the future of polyamory, I believe that the first syllable of the word polyamory, “poly,” is a post-modern paradigm of great value; and that “polyamory” is one expression of it. We live in a POLYmorphous POLYverse, in which even many scientists seem to understand that our world emerges out of chaos and the order we perceive feeds and thrives on the chaos that is beyond our understanding. Where one linear idea once lived in human culture, a diversity of notions have grown.
I believe that polyamory is a very important new relationship option whose time seems to have arrived. Where once we thought every family should consist of a monogamous man and woman with their 2.5 kids, we now consider a family to be any small group of bonded people who claim that connection with one another. Most families no longer fit the conventional description. The much-lamented “breakdown of the American family,” and the need to reclaim “traditional family values,” are manifestations of the 20th Century’s transition from village life and extended families to the modern “nuclear family” units, which often reduce down to a single mother trying to raise and support children she hardly even interacts with.
With each generation of the last century, we have become increasingly isolated and alienated.... But deep within each of us is our genetic ancestral memory of the Tribe, the Clan, the extended Family. Such rich relationships nurtured and sustained our ancestors from the dawn of time, and it was within that context that we became fully human....
And for an increasing number of us, we are learning how to create such complex and deep bonding relationships through extended networks of multiple lovers and expanded families. “Polyamory,” implying multiple lovers, is both a new paradigm for relationships and a vision for healing the pathological alienation of individuals in modern society.
We now know that the biodiversity we value in nature, as the biologist Bruce Bagemihl points out, is valuable in sexual and bonding behavior also. And although Dr. Bagamihl is talking about animals, we are also animals and this applies equally to us. Polyamory is not “the answer.” Diversity and choice are the answers — and polyamory is one of the strands in the decentralized network of diversity and choice with regard to human bonding, intimacy, and family.
Read the whole interview (Sept. 4, 2010). The part about poly is near the end.
Incidentally, Oberon and Morning Glory are facing a killing move from their 10-acre homestead unless they can raise the money to buy it or find a new landlord to buy it. "This (or someplace even better) would also provide a physical campus for the Grey School of Wizardry, where Morning Glory’s and my life, work, library, and museum collections would find a permanent home and become a legacy to future generations." If there's a sympatico angel out there, you are being tapped on the shoulder.