It is a little-known fact that an actual doctrine lies at the heart of the counterculture of the Haight Ashbury in San Francisco that emerged in 1967.
This doctrine expresses a new consciousness – One Consciousness – illustrated by 22 new (or reversed) tarot images. These 22 “Books” – the Books of T – were communicated through the Ouija board in 1962 and 1963 by an entity naming itself “ONE”.
This is the story of that doctrine which, like a buried talisman, has remained concealed since those times. It is also the story of “the great crippled wizard” (as Timothy Leary termed him), who not only was instrumental in bringing these images through the Ouija board and painting them, but also in publishing them during the fabled Summer of Love .
John Starr Cooke, the Great Crippled Wizard
On 17 August 1962, four people met at John Starr Cooke’s cliff top home in Carmel, California. They had been meditating regularly since 5 February, when a seven-planet conjunction in Aquarius had occurred. The group was expecting this conjunction would bring some kind of a consciousness shift which would affect all of mankind.
Discussion this night turned to John Cooke’s use of the Ouija board for the last twenty-three years and as a result, an impromptu Ouija session was held. Cooke drew the letters of the alphabet on a large piece of paper, and for a planchette (the moveable pointer), used a silver dollar. He tried one person, then another as co-operators, without success, until he teamed up with Bill Eaton, whereupon the planchette moved swiftly around the board. They were in communication with an entity that later identified itself as “ONE”.
The group conducted another session twelve days later, and continued to do so every week or two for the next fifteen months, totalling over one hundred sessions.
During the seventh session, Cooke asked a question about the tarot. The response was that revisions would be forthcoming, and in that session, new names were given for the Fool (Nameless One) and Hanged Man (Hanging Man).
Between October 1962 and May 1963, the ONE described the complete 22 New Tarot cards and John Cooke painted the images as the instructions came through. Here are the 22 new Books of T with the old Tarot trump names in the order in which they were received:
The Nameless One (The Fool)
The Hanging Man (The Hanged Man)
The Mother (The High Priestess)
The Virgin (The World)
Unity (The Lovers)
The Victorious One (The Chariot)
The Wayshower (The Star)
The Doer (The Sun)
The Thinker (The Devil)
The Citadel (The Tower)
The Seeker (The Hermit)
The Actor (The Emperor)
The Feeler (The Empress)
The Royal Maze (The Wheel of Fortune)
The Deliverer (Strength)
The Changer (The Magician)
The Renewer (Death)
The Reacter (The Moon)
The Donor (Justice)
The Speaker (The Hierophant)
The Reverser (Temperance)
The Knower (Judgement)
The sessions stopped altogether in November 1963, when Cooke moved to Mexico. He was soon followed by his chief disciple Michael Bowen. They had already discussed staging a great event aimed at reversing society’s thought processes, as outlined by ONE, an event which would be historically recorded and serve as a reference point for the future. In Mexico, they continued to formulate what would become “Reversal USA”.
In the midst of the reception of the Books of T, John Cooke and the group had held an LSD session. LSD was at that time a legal substance, but there was no certainty as to its proper place – whether it was in the church, the psychoanalyst’s office or to be freely available.
Cooke understood the Books of T (also known as the New Tarot, or the Reverse Tarot) to represent a change in man’s unconscious in the present time-period. His recent experience with LSD showed him how this consciousness could be experienced; how unity could be known. He saw LSD, like the Books of T, as a tool for understanding love as the basis of reality, for understanding the unity of all things as the ultimate truth. To this end, Cooke was in favour of the sacramental use of LSD.
Professor Timothy Leary was in the news at that time, achieving his initial infamy, alongside his colleague Richard Alpert. His LSD experiments led to his being sacked by Harvard and deported from Mexico, where he had established an LSD colony. By late 1963, however, Leary, with Dr Richard Alpert and Dr Ralph Metzner had been offered a large estate near Millbrook in upstate New York, where they continued their work.
Cooke wanted to find out whether Leary and his colleagues were for good or ill in the psychedelic movement, and he wanted to bring the Books of T to their attention.
John Starr Cooke had put his fortune to spiritual ends several times already. Meher Baba, the Naqshbandi Sufi order and Subud had all been recipients of his generosity. Now, once again he bankrolled a new spiritual philosophy – only this time it was his own doctrine of One Consciousness. Michael Bowen was his means of achieving this.
After some months in Mexico, and after Bowen had been initiated under Cooke’s supervision, Cooke sent Bowen on his way. For the next few years, he provided Bowen with funds and guidance from time to time. Bowen’s mission was to find, befriend and evaluate Leary. The aim was for Leary to join them in their work on the reversal of society.
Bowen and certain others became known as Psychedelic Rangers, roaming protagonists for LSD. The Rangers were loosely under Cooke’s control and undertook various psychedelic revolutionary activities.
Michael Bowen and John Cooke (retouched by John Cooke)
“And Bowen is going on. He has no choice. The forces behind his symbols are relentless. He is a pawn as well as an artist and would be overtaken if he slowed. So, by observing his work we may glimpse our own energies. It is a breathtaking trip. Look, reflect, and see yourself.”
John Starr Cooke, letter to Rosalind Sharpe
Michael Bowen moved to New York and in 1965 made his way to Millbrook to meet Leary and his associates for the first of several visits. Bowen had brought with him reproductions of the paintings Cooke had made of the Books of T. Ralph Metzner was impressed with the images, later writing:
“When I first encountered the images of the “Reverse tarot” here described and presented I was immediately struck by their evocative force. Unlike the images of the old Tarot deck, which (to me) had appeared lifeless, these had a kind of direct electric-emotional “charge”, and some of them were strongly reminiscent of images found in dreams or under the effects of certain chemicals.”
However, these “certain chemicals” were under legislative attack. In April 1966 Millbrook was raided by the FBI. Michael Bowen, who was present at the raid, soon left for San Francisco, at John Cooke’s suggestion.
Bowen’s five sojourns at Millbrook saw him influence Leary such that Leary re-branded his psychedelic group (which was in 1962 called the International Federation for Internal Freedom, changed in 1964 to the Castalia Foundation) as a religion – the League for Spiritual Discovery.
“That (the League for Spiritual Discovery) was an idea that was created by Michael Bowen, as far as I know. It wasn’t created by Tim at all. It makes a major difference, because Tim never had the plan, because Tim is against institutions and he didn’t want to be a party to the starting of a big new institution…And his (Bowen’s) idea was how could it revert most to the small community individual and be a statement made by all of us personally…” Richard Alpert, Interview, SF Oracle January 1967.
Michael Bowen and Timothy Leary, pictured in 1990.
Psychedelic Prayers by Timothy Leary 1965, cover art by Michael Bowen.
The League was to be cellular, with no central management. The central tenet was that the sacrament, LSD, taken in private, on private property was a private concern. It had been obvious for some time that it was only a matter of time before LSD became illegal. The League was an attempt to provide an appropriate setting for the drug before such legislation was enacted. Leary announced the formation of the League in September 1966.
In San Francisco, Bowen joined Allen Cohen on the staff of the Oracle, the main counter-culture newspaper of the Haight Ashbury. For the past couple of years, the Haight Ashbury had grown as a hip centre, aided by the availability of LSD on the streets since early 1965.
However, LSD was to become illegal on 6 October, 1966. Bowen and Cohen had understood the futility of angry protest, and instead organised “a celebration to demonstrate opposition to legislative repression of chemical mysticism”. The Love Pageant Rally, as it was named, was promoted in the first issue of the Oracle in late September 1966.
Bowen wrote a Prophecy of a Declaration of Independence, which posited the expansion of consciousness as an inalienable right, and this was also included in the Oracle’s first issue.
At 2 PM on 6 October, the Prophesy was read out at the Love Pageant Rally and those hundreds assembled broke a brand-new law in unison. The point being made was that Americans were free under their Bill of Rights and their Constitution to alter their consciousness. It is a personal matter, and not the province of government.
Big Bother and the Holding Company at the Love Pageant Rally. Photo by Michael Bowen.
The Love Pageant Rally was such a success that it led to the creation of a similar event, but on a much larger scale. This was the Human Be-In on 14 January 1967.
Poster for the First BHuman Be-In by Michael Bowen, Casey Sonnabend and Stanley Mouse.
When Bowen was at Millbrook, he had stood on a bridge over the lake, thinking about the great event he and Cooke had discussed as he dropped pebbles into the lake and watched the ripples spread. It occurred to him that for the ripples to reach the furthest shore, a big splash was required. With some effort, he dropped a boulder into the lake, watching – satisfied – as the ripples reached the far shores.
Allen Ginsberg, Lenore Kandell, Gary Snyder and Michael Bowen at the Be- In.
The big-splash event which Bowen had envisaged was the First Human Be-In. Many people contributed to the creation of this grand event, but Bowen was the driving force behind it. 30 000 people came to the Be-In in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. The Be-In was designed with no particular stars of the show, the speakers all limited to three minutes each. There were bands, but none were promoted. It was an event designed specifically for people – even the people on the stage – to just be with each other. This allowed an authentic sense of One-ness to occur.
The poster by Michael Bowen for the Human Be-In is a snapshot of a moment in American spiritual history. It marks the moment when the first apostles of One Consciousness created an American spiritual event which allowed a mass mystical experience of unity.
According to Michael Bowen and many others, for about six months after the Be-In, the sense of One-ness persisted in the Haight Ashbury. There was a psychic harmony, a telepathic connection at a day-to-day level.
Michael Bowen was actively involved in the Haight Ashbury community. At the press conference for the Council for a Summer of Love in April 1967, alongside the other forces in the community, he was the representative of the Church of One.
Press release, Council for a Summer of Love
Michael Bowen, centre, at the press conference of the Council for a Summer of Love
History records that the Summer of Love came to pass. Estimates of the numbers of young people who descended on the Haight Ashbury in the summer of 1967 usually begin at 100 000 and go up to about 300 000. It was a significant time in history, and the whole world seemed to suddenly switch from black and white to colour.
Bowen had some of the images of the Books of T reproduced as large meditation posters, published by East Totem West in the Haight Ashbury early in 1967, and then in August, 1967 came what John Starr Cooke termed “the perfect jewel in its perfect setting”.
Page 7, Oracle Issue 8, August 1967
The Books of T
To Cooke, the Books of T were the perfect jewel; the perfect setting was the Oracle in the Haight Ashbury during the Summer of Love.
This publication of the Books of T stands, in a way, as an acknowledgement that One Consciousness had thrived in the Haight Ashbury since the Be-In.
However, the pageant was now over and a mass exodus from the Haight began.
The magical act had been accomplished. The new doctrine had been documented at a particular point in history, that point itself influenced by the said doctrine. Michael Bowen now left the Haight Ashbury and joined John Cooke in Mexico.
In October 1967 Bowen wrote a letter to the Oracle, exhorting the V-for-Victory hand signal to be adopted by “ALL” as the next step of Reversal USA. It was swiftly taken up and became known as the hippie peace sign.
In 1968, John Cooke and Rosalind Sharpe published T: The New Tarot. In early 1969, Ralph Metzner added an introduction. Preparations were made to finally release the Books of T as a deck of cards.
At this time, Cooke mailed William S Burroughs the new edition of T: The New Tarot, of which Burroughs did a cut-up, and they began a correspondence which lasted about three years. Burroughs ordered a set of the cards, although he was mainly seeking Scientology secrets, which John, never being a Scientologist, did not have.
A final ONE Ouija session took place, which included Ralph Metzner.
In May 1969, The Process was published, by John’s old friend in Tangier, Brion Gysin. The novel was based upon a series of adventures Gysin and Cooke had shared in the mid-1950s. Cooke is characterised as Thay Himmer, “Bishop of the Far-Out Isles”. On page 122 he enters the narrative: “He was funny, hilarious even, to look at but he looked, also, very very rich in his regulation threads of camel, cashmere, vicuna and Thai silk.”
Many of the incidents in The Process are taken from real life and give a real sense of what Cooke was like. In a letter to Burroughs, Cooke says he wished Gysin had included more real events, like the time he was chased by wolves while skiing in Norway!
By the end of 1969 the Books of T had been published as a tarot deck – the New Tarot for the Aquarian Age. As well as Burroughs, Ken Kesey was another underground luminary who ordered a set. However, the Books of T were and remained an obscurity to all but a devoted few.
Jordan Rivers, John Starr Cooke, Brita Corrae and Pablo, Tepotzlan, 1972
Jordan Rivers corresponded with John Cooke after buying the New Tarot, and visited him in Mexico in 1972. Rivers says: “John told me that the Hippie/Love movement started in his living room in 1962. I didn’t understand what he meant by that for many years”.
In 1975, John and Rosalind Wall published The Word of One, the edited transcripts of the One Ouija sessions.
In 1976, John appeared in the short film Prophecy of the Royal Maze, before dying In August 1976.
A new edition of the cards was released in 1992, and these are once again available.
“The Books of T do not proclaim a new way. Rather, they indicate the breakthrough of the way in our time, and the time to come.” – John Starr Cooke
Cooke and Bowen worked to their program of “Reversal USA”, to bring the Books of T into the light of day. It was a magical working, the intention being to embed this new mystical doctrine deep in the heart of a new society, a doctrine which reflected that society at that transformational time.
Blavatsky is said to have predicted in the Theosophical Society magazine Lucifer that new tarot cards for a new era would manifest in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Aleister Crowley, Prophet of the Aeon of Horus, predicted that 1965 would be an important year in the development of the child Horus. In 1965, the Haight Ashbury was on the path to a psychedelic renaissance which flowered a couple of years later.
The Haight Ashbury is still with us. Right now you could get the latest Rolling Stone magazine, or drop in to Govinda’s for a vegetarian meal, or pick up some produce at the organic food cooperative, or at the health food store, or maybe something to read at the new age bookshop on your way to Yoga class after which you might go to a psychedelic rock show. All of this stuff flourished for the first time in the Haight.
According to Michael Bowen, it was all about creating a future humanity firmly established upon the consciousness of One.
The hippie movement had its day and faded; however, the Word of ONE remains. It is a foundation stone of the new Aeon and a foretaste of the zodiacal precession from Pisces into Aquarius.
“There is One only. You are that One. One is being. One is in motion. That motion – that being – is love”.
The Process by Brion Gysin is still in print
The Word of One tarot is available at www.wordofonetarot.com
See royalmaze.com for more information.
SEEKER (The Hermit)
The Seeker is that in everyman which causes him to seek – and sense – the light. Blazing upon the mountain-top, the Shiva fire of the One light shines like a mighty jewel. This is the Crown chakra of the Citadel. The mountain is the Self upon which the One light jewel blazes.
FEELER (The Empress)
The Feeler is life’s longing for itself in manifestation. She is that which moves in the unconscious consciously, that which stirs it – the Prime Mover, the source. All outward actions are prompted by the Feeler.
Fire is the Deliverer; fire is the result of love; fire is what the Seeker sought. Deliverance comes to all through the electric fire of Spirit.
The hawk of Horus the Son in front of the Sun oversees the androgynous Reverser correctly channeling the flow of celestial water and electric fire.
THE KNOWER (Judgement)
The Nameless One has arrived at the Self to stand in water and fire. The Knower says “I am One. I am the Self. I am that which you are. I am the goal. I know and I know that I know”.