Do you remember this iconic image from the 60s? The ‘Flower Power’ photograph by Bernie Boston, taken during the ‘March on The Pentagon’, October 21, 1967. There is a fascinating backstory – John Starr Cooke planted ‘seeds’ that bloomed into the counterculture and spurred the antiwar movement.
“The March on the Pentagon… is remembered as one of the most significant political demonstrations of the era,” writes Peter Manseau, curator for the National Museum of American History, in an article for Smithsonian Magazine.
“[A] look back at the gathering of a few of its organizers nine months earlier provides a window on a forgotten… influence behind its success,” continues Manseau.
That “forgotten influence” was none other than John Starr Cooke. He choreographed events from behind the scenes to plant the seeds of a new consciousness into the minds and hearts of a generation of seekers. And indeed, the March on the Pentagon to end the Vietnam War “began a turning point in public opinion,” notes Manseau.
Long before the countercultural and psychedelic revolutions of the 60s, John had spent much of his life pursuing a variety of spiritual and knowledge-focused disciplines and practices, as well as meeting and supporting important spiritual figures.
His homes in California’s Carmel Highlands and Tepoztlan, Mexico, became hubs for spiritual and counterculture activists. Ultimately, it was his influence that drove the vision for the Human Be-In in San Francisco in 1967, an event widely recognized as the catalyst that led to the Summer of Love later that year.
It is a little-known fact that an actual doctrine lies at the heart of the 60s counterculture. That doctrine – emanating from the emerging ONE Consciousness – is now starting to take form in the minds and actions of new generations.
John Cooke and the visionary artist Michael Bowen worked together for several years, with Cooke directing events from Mexico. Their work involved quietly fomenting the counterculture and grappling with the 22 revelatory images of the Word of ONE Tarot.
Michael Bowen underwent a spiritual initiation under John’s guidance that propelled him into an activist role.
In San Francisco, Bowen joined Allen Cohen to co-found The Oracle, the main counterculture newspaper of the Haight Ashbury district. Haight Ashbury had grown into a hip center aided by the availability of LSD on the streets since early 1965.
However, LSD was to become illegal on October 6, 1966. Bowen and Cohen understood the futility of angry protest and instead organized “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 October 6, the Prophecy was read out at the Love Pageant Rally, and those hundreds assembled broke a brand-new law in unison. The point was that Americans were free under their Bill of Rights and Constitution to alter their consciousness. It is a personal matter and not the province of government.
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 January 14, 1967.
The Be-In was a blossom. It was a flower. It was out in the weather. It didn’t have all its petals. There were worms in the rose. It was perfect in its imperfections. It was what it was – and there had never been anything like it before.
– Michael McClure
Bowen had taken the newly delivered images of the Word of ONE Tarot to Timothy Leary, Richard Alpert (who later became Ram Dass) and an enthusiastic Ralph Metzner at Millbrook, New York.
While at Millbrook, Bowen stood on a bridge over the lake. He thought 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 a big splash was required for the ripples to reach the furthest shore. With some effort, he dropped a boulder into the lake – watching, satisfied as the ripples reached the far shores.
The big splash event was the Human Be-In.
When it became apparent the Haight Ashbury was where the event should take place, John Starr Cooke sent Michael Bowen to San Francisco. Ultimately, Bowen was able to draw together many notable people to make this event a reality. The Human Be-In took its name from a remark Bowen made at the conclusion of the Love Pageant Rally.
As he walked away from that magical gathering, in response to an observation that the rally was people just “being,” he described the day as a “Be-In.” This is a humorous observation comparing the Love Pageant Rally to the Civil Rights Sit-In protests of the late Fifties and early Sixties.
Bowen asserted: “For ten years a new nation has grown inside the robot flesh of the old. Before your eyes, a new free vital soul is reconnecting the living centers of the American body.”
And so it was. The Be-In is universally recognized as a watershed moment, an ineradicable historical marker not just in the counterculture but in wider society itself.
On January 14, 1967, 30,000 people came to the Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. It 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 being with each other. This allowed for an authentic sense of ONE-ness.
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 that manifested a mass mystical experience of unity.
According to Michael Bowen and many others, the sense of ONE-ness persisted in Haight Ashbury for about six months after the Be-In. There was a psychic harmony, a telepathic connection at a day-to-day level.
These events – inspired and magically-initiated by John Starr Cooke – were about creating a future humanity firmly established upon ONE Consciousness. The Hippie movement and psychedelic revolution had had its day and faded (it was also derailed by the ever-present forces of Control). 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. That transition is underway as you read these words.
The success of the Be-In inspired people all over the country. On Easter Sunday, 1967, more than 10,000 people participated in a Be-In in New York’s Central Park.
“Multiple ‘Be-Ins’ and ‘Love-Ins’ followed all over the country,” writes Jeremy Guida (‘Remembering the Human Be-In’). “Underground papers were central actors in organizing, advertising, and documenting what happened at these gatherings.”
“Be-ins and love-ins became one of the central ways for participants in the counterculture to get to know one another, to create culture together,” notes Guida. “They were also central for making the political presence of the counterculture felt in cities and towns with much smaller countercultural communities than San Francisco’s or New York’s.”
John Starr Cooke and Michael Bowen initiated this wave of public gatherings that reached multiple cities all over the United States.
A sense of the pervading energy of the times is reflected in Hunter S. Thompson’s famous “wave speech” – from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – which Thompson often cited and chose when asked to read aloud from the novel:
“There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…. And that, I think, was the handle – that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting – on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.” (It is worth reading the extended quote here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_and_Loathing_in_Las_Vegas)
March on the Pentagon
The political mobilization of the Be-Ins peaked on October 21, 1967, at the ‘Exorcism of the Pentagon’ – a metaphysical demonstration of power and ritual.
“Following the Be-In,” writes Peter Manseau for Smithsonian Magazine, “Bowen returned to Mexico to be with his teacher. They worked on extrasensory perception, ancient Mayan shamanic rituals, and the metaphysical symbology that informed the artist’s paintings.”
John organized Bowen to return to the United States, “arming him this time with an outlandish idea that found a surprisingly receptive audience.”
Bowen and Allen Cohen proposed the “outlandish idea” to Jerry Rubin and Max Scherr during a planning meeting for the Human Be-In. Cohen writes that they had intended to “overcome [the Pentagon’s] impregnability as both the symbol and seat of evil” by “directing magical and conscious energy” towards it. (‘The San Francisco Oracle: A Brief History’).
An expert rabble-rouser and antiwar activist, Rubin was invited to help organize the March on the Pentagon. He agreed to incorporate John and Michael’s idea into the program – “the performance of an exorcism in which thousands of people would circle the Pentagon and through the collective power of their minds, cause the building to levitate three hundred feet into the air, turn orange, and vibrate. The event was billed as the ‘Exorcism of the Pentagon’.” (‘Metaphysical Underground’)
Another voice from the original Be-In, poet Gary Snyder, backed the plan. A formidable combination of political activists and spiritual revolutionaries started devising their own individual strategies for rituals to harness magical power against the war machine and the madness of the Vietnam War.
The East Village Other, the San Francisco Oracle, and the Fifth Estate advertised the Exorcism of the Pentagon, appealing to their readers’ metaphysical sensibilities while also promoting the event as a new kind of political demonstration.
The protest and rituals conducted at the Pentagon on October 21, 1967, was all that and more. (You can read the full story in the references below).
The Pentagon never did get off the ground. In truth, this was an outer spectacle that planted the event in the annals of history. As it remains today, the real intention in political and metaphysical terms was anti-war. (Click here to read John’s last letter to Michael Bowen)
First, each one must eradicate war – it is a futile excuse, a Self-deception. Nothing will/can evolve any longer when the past concept of war exists. Let those dead bury their dead and peace be unto them.
– John Starr Cooke to Michael Bowen
Don’t be fooled by news reports that poke fun or downplay the significance of the levitate ritual and the intention behind it. It was an energetic magical strike against what Bowen labeled “the symbol and seat of evil” – the Pentagon.
According to Jeremy Guida (‘Metaphysical Underground’): “The event provided the context for the iconic image of protestors placing daisies in military rifles, an image that Daniel Ellsberg reports ‘dissolved’ the authority of the Pentagon. Allen Ginsberg reported that the event helped turned popular sentiment against the war in Vietnam.”
Which takes us back to the start and the Flower Power photo by Bernie Boston.
Apparently, the original plan devised by Bowen was to drop thousands of daisies from a plane into the interior space of the Pentagon. This was thwarted by FBI agents who prevented Bowen from flying over the Pentagon. Instead, Bowen organized for the “200 pounds of flowers” to be distributed to the protesters.
The crowd grew and suddenly the authorities of Control realized the Pentagon was seriously threatened. Soldiers with rifles were marched in to defend the building and formed a semicircle around the demonstrators to prevent them from climbing the Pentagon steps.
Washington Star newspaper photographer Bernie Boston had been assigned by his editor to cover the protest. Boston was sitting on a wall at the Mall Entrance, which allowed him to see the events unfold. In a 2005 interview, he said: “When I saw the sea of demonstrators, I knew something had to happen. I saw the troops march down into the sea of people and I was ready for it.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flower_Power_(photograph)
A young man emerged from the crowd of demonstrators and started placing daisies into the barrels of the soldier’s rifles. Boston captured the moment in what would become an iconic image and his signature photograph. Flower Power was nominated for the 1967 Pulitzer Prize. Flower Power continues to be used as an epochal image of the 1960s.
These events of the 1960s are one tick on the cosmic clock of Destiny from where we are today. In essence, the principles and vision espoused by the event participants – and ONE Consciousness – is ever-present and awaiting activation. Your task – if you choose wisely at this critical juncture – is to play a role in that unfoldment.
There is One only. You are that One. One is being. One is in motion. That motion – that being – is love. (From the ONE Sessions)
Thanks to Mark Walker for his research and background material.
References, credits & further reading
‘ONE: The New Tarot & the Secret Doctrine that Launched the Counterculture’ by Mark Walker, https://www.newdawnmagazine.com/articles/one-the-new-tarot-the-secret-doctrine-that-launched-the-counterculture
‘Fifty Years Ago, a Rag-Tag Group of Acid-Dropping Activists Tried to “Levitate” the Pentagon’ by Peter Manseau, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-rag-tag-group-acid-dropping-activists-tried-levitate-pentagon-180965338/
‘Remembering the Human Be-In’ by Jeremy Guida, https://daily.jstor.org/remembering-the-human-be-in/
Metaphysical Underground: The Underground Press and the Transformation of Metaphysical Religion, 1964-1973 by Jeremy Bernard Guida, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/7t3852ks
Allen Cohen, “The San Francisco Oracle: A Brief History,” San Francisco Oracle, Facsimile Edition: The Psychedelic Newspaper of the Haight-Ashbury, 1966-1968 (Berkeley, CA: Regent, 1991), xxvi.
Header photo credit: Anti-Vietnam demonstration, Arlington, Virginia, USA. Date 21 October 1967. Source: National Archives and Records Administration. Author: S.Sgt. Albert R. Simpson. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_on_the_Pentagon#/media/File:Vietnam-protest-flower-mp.jpg
Image credit for Michael McClure: Taken at Gough St. San Francisco by Diane di Prima, 1960s. https://www.centerforthehumanities.org/lost-and-found/publications/in-memory-of-michael-mcclure-broadside-by-diane-di-prima