An Outline of the WORD of ONE Tarot by Ralph Metzner

An Outline of the WORD of ONE Tarot by Ralph Metzner

In the late 1960s, Ralph Metzner (1936–2019) was involved with John Starr Cooke’s group. As part of his early efforts to formulate an understanding of consciousness – an attempt to map its territory – a young Ralph delved headlong into a study of Tarot. As well as exploring psychedelics during this period, Ralph was drawn to the imagery of the New Tarot for the Aquarian Age. He said this new Tarot “represents a kind of consciousness map. A series of markings to guide the spirit in its quest for the light.”

He was duly impressed by the power of the WORD of ONE Tarot to include an extensive description of it in his 1971 book Maps of Consciousness: I Ching, Tantra, Tarot, Alchemy, Astrology, Actualism (Collier Books).

The following are the relevant excerpts from the book’s chapter on Tarot:

In the Aquarian Tarot each of the twenty-two cards, with a new image and new name, is regarded as a progression from a corresponding card of the old deck. The reason for the progression is said to be first, to rescue the Tarot symbols from their degenerate use as fortune-telling cards, and secondly, because we are entering a new phase, the Aquarian phase, of the cycle of human evolution-in-consciousness and new symbols are called for. It does seem that, in some instances, the cards of the Aquarian Tarot represent a kind of unfoldment of the concealed meaning of the old. 

Nameless One

He [The Fool] becomes the Nameless One of the Aquarian Tarot. Here he is shown naked, leaving a dark hole with bones behind. He has emerged from the precipice, given up his gaudy clothes, and is proceeding along, reading a scroll which he is carrying. He is studying ancient maps of consciousness, just as you are, dear reader. Over his head hangs a spider: he has become aware of the web of thoughts and images, which we spin and in which we live, and he is determined to find his way out, to resolve his tangled fate. For this reason he is also called “the resolver.” He has made a beginning, perhaps it was a rude awakening, but he is on the path. “By asking the question ‘Whom am I?’ he commences the journey…”


In the Aquarian Tarot, the transmuted Magician, now called the Changer, is standing upon a rolling sphere. His arms are stretched out from his sides, as if to indicate he is balancing on the neutral point, the flexible position of the impartial observer. In one hand he holds a flower, from the other flows running water. In his flowing mutability he evokes the myth of Proteus, the prophetic sea god, who lived among the seals by the shore, and who would evade questioners by changing in rapid succession into lion, serpent, panther, bear, running water, leafy tree. If one could hold him fast, one could get him to prophesy. We might translate this, if one can maintain steady awareness through the shifting flux of images, then the Immortal Self will vouchsafe revelation. In the alchemical symbolism, the Magician-Changer is related to mercury, the “philosophic substance,” the elusive essence that enters into all forms, but, like quicksilver, cannot be grasped by the mind.

Richard Alpert, Timothy Leary and Ralph Metzner, 1960s. The three started the Harvard Psilocybin Project.


In the Aquarian Tarot she [High Priestess] is called simply Mother and the veils of Isis, the images that veil the truth from our understanding, have been removed: she stands pregnant, with open robe, but eyes closed, on the pillars instead of between them. The cross of light on her breast has become a blazing star. As Isis she is man’s mediator with the hidden truth which she conceals from the uninitiated. As Mother, akin to the Hindu Sakti, she is creative energy, inwardly absorbed in the process of generation.


In the Aquarian deck she [Empress] becomes the Feeler, who stands with arms stretched out to embrace, her golden hair encircling naked breasts. She is called “prime mover,” and it is indeed emotions [e is in italics] that stimulate us to movement and activity. The Sign of Cancer, a watery, emotional, maternal sign, is over her head linking her back again to the moon goddess, sea mother.


In the Aquarian deck he [Heirophant or High Priest] is shown as the Speaker. From his mouth shoot forth birds (winged thoughts) and lightning bolts (inspiring sparks of energy); volcanoes erupt, the land shakes, waters spout. The words of power which he speaks are dislodging structures, bringing forth fire from earth-form, activating emotional torrents. His heart is blazing with light, like that of the Mother; like her, he is naked, unadorned.


In the Aquarian deck, he [Emperor] still has defenses, but he takes them on or off at will: he becomes the Actor, the mind that performs acts. He is depicted holding a mask in front of his face. He has quit his throne, his seat of authority, he is less concerned with maintaining or defending power. He is now on a stage, consciously participating in the tragedies and comedies of life. He knows that his personality is but his persona, his mask used for relating externally (per-sonare, “for sounding”).

Hanging Man

And in the new Tarot, the significance of the Hanging Man [Hanged Man] is said to be “redemption.” This Hanging Man stands spread out with his feet on two separate buildings, with a man and a woman hanging from his wrists, the woman upside down. Tears are streaming down his face with grief at the separation of the male and female aspects of his own nature. When he unifies them, he will be redeemed; and then he will be free to engage in creative activity, instead of having his hands tied.

Victorious One

In the card of the Victorious One, the Aquarian Tarot’s version of [The Chariot], the self has overcome this disorganization. The chariot, which now has both harness and reins is in the background; the man is walking with right foot sandaled, earth-grounded, and left foot winged, ready to fly. He is leading the black and white lions by a leash. A brilliant sun over his head guides him, and an eagle protects him. Birds are holding up a transparent veil, behind which wolves are snarling and fighting. That is, though the conflict of passions and instincts continues, it no longer affects him or deviates him from his path; he is not in it. One can sometimes see one’s own psychic components with this kind of translucent detachment under psychedelic chemicals.


In the Aquarian Tarot, Strength becomes the Deliverer: lion and woman have become very close, he stands tamed behind her, in front of them is a vat of fire. It was said of this: “She is not the Deliverer—nor is he. The flame is.” But this fire is not the fire of earth—it is electric fire. It is the inner fire in its consuming aspect, purifying and eliminating unnecessary debris, as taught in Agni Yoga.

Fire as purification, with the purpose and goal of liberation from obstructions and psychic wholeness, is purgatory; fire which merely burns, unwanted and without promise of end, is hell. In the former case we have destructuring, for the purpose of change and the creation of new form, for trans-formation; in the latter we have senseless destruction seeking only to exercise and increase its own power.

Thinker & Unity

In the Aquarian Tarot, this card [Devil] is named the Thinker, and shows a cross-legged figure with a chain around his head; a heart is hanging from one end of the chain, a male-female pair is pulling on the other end. “The man and woman bind his thoughts to thoughts about duality, passion and sensuality. The bleeding heart weights these thoughts by thoughts about compassion. The Thinker is not passionate, nor compassionate.” He is in error. The solution to the conflict is shown in the Aquarian Tarot’s version of the Lovers card, now called Unity. On it, there is a circle with two winged fish swimming-flying in ocean-air inside: the Piscean image of the union of male and female within, the alchemists’ conjunctio oppositorum. Around the outside of the circle are a naked man and woman, not touching but not apart, facing in the same direction. That is, unity between two individuals must be based on and proceed from unity within. Then they will no longer be opposed to each other in the constant seesaw of attraction-repulsion. They share the same goal, and “by this understanding of alignment, there exists only constant merging and emerging.”


The corresponding figure [Hermit] in the Aquarian deck, the Seeker, is shown naked with a blindfold, reaching out. A huge fire is blazing on top of the mountain toward which he is groping his way. As Goethe said: “The most difficult thing of all is to see what lies before your eyes.”


In the Aquarian deck a man looks down from the heavens, double rays of light shine from his eyes, a star is behind his head; there is a glittering city, a waterfall, a rainbow, an inverted cup from which many hued streams are flowing down. They are all aspects of the inner work of transformation-illumination. He is called the Way-Shower. A cock crows, announcing the dawn of the new age, and the arrival of the Light. “That which is above is showering down, golden, upon that which is below; and the way is being shown.” One might say this is a breakthrough.


In the Aquarian deck’s corresponding Reverser, the metasexual consciousness being with a blazing sun over his head is similarly engaged in bringing water down on his right side and grounding fire through his left. He is able to “correctly channel flow.” He is the offspring of the Unity, the “son who has become his own father and mother, and who is also the Sun.” Like the tantric Siva Ardhanarisvara, he is horizontally balancing sexual polarity, and vertically integrating with respect to his several bodies. Astrologically, he is the centaur-archer Sagittarius, who unites man and creature within himself and aims at the perfect center. This is another aspect of the connecting done by the Victorious One and his Chariot. And it is also the bringing down of energy done by the Star who is the Way-Shower. Man as a cosmic being acts like a “step-down transformer,” who brings higher frequency energy to lower frequency systems in order to enlighten them and lift them up. This activity is anti-entropic, regenerative; it counteracts the running down of energies, the degeneration which occurs in closed systems. The great planetary closed system of reciprocal feeding known to the ancients as the Wheel of Life keeps us chained to the alternating ebb-and-flow of its changing seasons and fortunes. But if we become an open system with the awareness of the Magician tuned to both higher and lower levels, and a finely tempered instrument which channels and transmutes cosmic energies, we can liberate ourselves from the Wheel and fulfill our function as gods.


The Aquarian version [Moon] is called the Reacter, who is “not the Actor.” In this card a naked babe with two keys is coming through seven gates; behind in the distance is the moon. He is moving away from the moon, he has opened the gates of awareness with the keys of love and understanding. In ancient times the way of liberation was often called “escape from the power of the moon.”


The Aquarian version [of the Sun] shows a seven-year-old child standing in a sun-filled garden of flowers and endless vistas. With one hand he holds a meek, black horse by a loose tie; on his other side a white horse is rearing up high, standing on a skull. Death is overcome, darkness is tamed. The child holds a book, open to the viewer. “Each reader of the book sees his needed sign.” The card is the Doer of “right activity.” “There is only one thing to do: be as you are… be it openly, and let the sun shine.” And, it should be noted that the Sun is not the sun in the sky, but the eye of lighted consciousness. Thus it was said in the uncanonical gospels: “If thine ‘I’ be single, thy whole body will be full of light.” 

It is worth relating that two of the individuals who were the medium for bringing through the Aquarian Tarot once gave me a reading. The card which came up as the significator, the basic current trend of probability, was the Doer. This was a helpful, inspiring clue and guide for inner development. But the reading also included a definite prediction that I would be writing. Now this was over a year ago, when I had no thoughts of a book of this nature. So here was a rather literal, explicit indication even of the kind of writing (though I did not see this at the time): I am holding up a book, a set of ancient books, for you, friend reader. “Each reader of the book sees his needed sign.”

Ralph Metzner, circa early 70s.