by Tim Gilmore, 8/25/2018
The “Psychic Center” of the City
The spirits first spoke through Ethel Tunks in the little blue house at 712 Ralph Street where the Tunkses had lived since Ethel became a U.S. citizen in 1955. They were raising their first four children there when the spirits told the Tunkses to open their home as the Cosmic Church of Truth and WHVH Bookstore.
Ethel sat one night, pencil ready, “acting as a human conductor,” and watched the spirits dictate instructions through her handwriting.
In August 1971, Jo Anna Moore, writing for The Florida Times-Union and Journal, compared the Tunkses’ home to Hill House in Shirley Jackson’s most famous novel.
“Like the cold spot of Hill House,” Moore wrote, the house on Ralph Street was “the psychic center for area students of the occult. Palmists, astrologists, numerologists, psychometrists, clairvoyants, mediums, mystics, white and black witches, spiritualists, members of the Theosophical Society, graphologists and followers of Edgar Cayce or Paul Twitchell make regular visits to collect reading material, meditation records, incense burners, crystal balls, astrological supplies, tarot cards, Ouija boards or other carefully selected paraphernalia. Some come to WHVH for fellowship or learning lessons.”
That same year, the Tunkses had moved to a tall clapboard Park Street house, elsewhere in Riverside, and the woodframe 1945 house in the subdistrict platted as “Rose of Riverside” became home solely to WHVH and the Cosmic Church of Truth.
The T-U’s subheader told readers, “Take a tour of the city’s nether world from séances to a visit to a haunted house.”
Many Masters, One Source
The Cosmic Church of Truth, which has always considered itself more of a teaching and sharing institution, brought together all Jimmy and Mary Cox’s spiritual interests.
As they sit amidst drawers of gems and minerals, bookshelves, and computers in their office at 1637 Hamilton Street, the low commercial building home to the church since the early 2000s, the two of them emphasize “spirituality” over “religion” repeatedly.
The church, they stress, is “interfaith,” and though its membership today hovers between 60 and 90 adherents, it contains several Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Wiccans and, they both laugh, “lapsed Catholics.”
In much the same way as Unitarian Universalist churches, Mary Cox says, the Cosmic Church honors Jesus, Mohammad and the Buddha, and Jimmy says, “We honor many masters, many teachers, but one source.”
Jimmy Cox’s grandparents were Spiritualists. They helped found the Spiritual Lighthouse Church in Jacksonville in 1942, which joined the circuit of Spiritualist communities connecting the living to the dead in Chicago, in Lily Dale, New York, and in Cassadaga, Florida.
Jimmy and Mary began attending the Cosmic Church of Truth in 1988, when it was located at 1212 King Street, with the bookshop next door at 1237, in central Riverside, but still attended the Spiritual Lighthouse as well. They were ordained together as ministers at the Cosmic Church in 2004.
Though Harold and Ethel Tunks are both gone, Jimmy says, they were never the center of the church. Neither, he says, are he and Mary.
“The Tunkses founded the church,” he says, “but they immediately created a board that runs it, so the church doesn’t revolve around any one person or couple.”
Be that as it may, people claim to hear Harold’s footsteps walking through the church’s current building. Jimmy says Harold, who died in June 2013, checks the doors at night and makes sure nothing is amiss on the altar.
Tuning in to the Past Replaying
When Jo Ann Dunaway first visited a palmist, she did so skeptically. “Anyone who believed in that,” she told Jo Anna Moore in 1971, “had either cricked their crock or was ready for the funny farm.”
Within a year, Jo Ann was reading palms, a regular on Ralph Street, a member of the Cosmic Church of Truth.
“The most important quality for being a good palmist,” Jo Ann said, “is having an empathy for people.” All psychics and mediums were empaths, she said, most of whom came from “stormy childhoods,” adding, “You have to suffer in order to appreciate someone else’s problems.”
Jo Ann didn’t just read palms. She also read the backs of people’s hands, studying them with a magnifying glass. In the webs of lines and pores, she saw images of children, of marriage, of money.
“She sees in black and white,” Jo Anna Moore wrote, but “feels in color.” Echoing the radio-frequency analogy Spiritualists had used since the 1800s, Jo Ann said, “Every human alive is a walking transmitter.”
Sifting through old photographs, Jimmy Cox pauses at an image of Jo Ann Dunaway. She stands behind a small table, lifts food from a plate and smiles, wearing a black dress, the image blurred.
“She was a very powerful person,” Jimmy says, tapping the photo with a fingertip. “Her connection was strong.”
Moore wrote, “Since psychics cannot adequately read for themselves, Jo Ann Dunaway extends much gratitude to her sister psychics,” most notably in 1971, Evy Irwin, whom Moore described as “speak[ing] softly with a deliberate formation of words. Her hair is long and dark and frames a heart-shaped face. She is tall and moves quietly.”
What Evy saw at an unidentified Riverside house, Moore quoted:
“There’s a man carrying a woman up the stairs of the house. They just got out of a car and he puts her in a wheelchair. I’d say it’s about 1929.”
Evy saw people, dead, once frequent visitors to the house, heard weeping, “knew there were graves beneath her footsteps.”
In the little blue house on Ralph Street, Evy Irwin told Moore her biggest problem was getting too involved with her subjects. The difference between her kind of mediumship and witchcraft, Evy said, was that “A witch is not involved. I get so involved with my subjects I can’t see what their message is. I get my own messages confused with others. I often can’t get perception because I can’t get an open perspective. And it’s impossible for me to put up the periscope for myself.”
Replaying old Spiritualist analogies, she said, “What happens in a haunted house is like tuning in on an old film that’s being replayed.” So is writing history. And psychogeography.
“Flowing Outward through the Jacksonville Community”
Ethel Tunks had grown up in England, studied Spiritualism at Stansted Hall, in the seat of the Earls of Essex during the reign of Henry VIII, its grand manor built in 1871, purchased by Scottish-born Essex magistrate and Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire Arthur Findlay in 1923, administered, per his wishes, by the Spiritualists’ National Union, where Arthur Findlay College (for Spiritualism and Psychic Sciences) was founded, upon his death at age 81, in 1964.
Harold Tunks grew up on a farm in Central Illinois, one of three sons whose mother brought her boys devotedly to their “small countryside Christian church,” according to an early Cosmic Church biography.
Both Harold and Ethel were born in the early 1920s. An aunt of Ethel’s, “on her mother’s side,” the biography attests, “was very in tune with spiritual teachings and positive thinking which exposed [Ethel] at an early age to the wisdom and teachings of God’s spiritual truths.”
Two decades later, the “Rev. H. Tunks,” stationed in England during World War II, met his war bride, “who always knew, while growing up, that someday she would go to America.”
In the mid-1950s, having come from England to Illinois to Jacksonville, the couple formed a “small group to work with the guides that were channeled through Rev. Harold Tunks.”
Jimmy and Mary Cox turn pages in an old album the size of a bistro table, showing hand-drawn foot-reflexology maps, palmistry charts, numerology compasses, and pages upon pages of handwritten testimonials.
Through all those pages, beneath drawings and explanations of the strange symbol unique to the Cosmic Church of Truth, a simple statement of the Tunkses’ original purpose presents itself.
“Various members presented questions to be answered. From time to time, the older children were allowed to sit in during these sessions. And so, step by step the knowledge grew and a need was born in both Reverends to start the knowledge flowing outward through the Jacksonville community.”
In the symbol, some people see the shape of a heart over a lemniscate, the sideways eight that represents infinity. Official church symbology says, “Serpents face to face” equal knowledge in the form of “Compassion (Willing Energy of Inner-Self).”
Jimmy and Mary acknowledge the church has stayed small, though certain times have been better for the Cosmic Church of Truth than others. The late 1960s and early ’70s were strong years for “alternative spirituality” in America. Throughout the nation’s history, cycles of mysticism and spirituality have peaked in new movements and churches.
Little Women author Louisa May Alcott grew up hearing the radical Transcendentalist preaching of her father Amos Bronson Alcott. Across the Northeast, at different times, movements flourished like the Quakers and the Shakers, Theosophy and the free-love Oneida Community. A boy named Joseph Smith moved, 12 years old, with his family to New York State’s “Burned Over District,” where an angel showed him buried books of golden plates he later published as The Book of Mormon.
The early 1970s were good to the CCOT, as was 1987, the year of the world’s “first globally synchronized meditation,” the so-called Harmonic Convergence, organized by José Argüelles, a writer with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, who founded the Planet Art Network and the Foundation for the Law of Time.
Mary Cox describes the event as “the beginning of the last day and night of the ancient Mayan calendar,” and says Ethel and Harold Tunks organized the Jacksonville celebration of the Harmonic Convergence in 1987.
In 1983, Jennifer Londrico dedicated some verses to the day she’d first met Ethel Tunks in 1976.
“My emotions were broken, my heart had its scars, / She looked at my name and said my God at the R’s. / The friend that was with me she had problems to. / Mrs. Tunks said do not worry theres things you can do.” [multiple sics]
When Jennifer and her friend came to a church meeting the next Wednesday night, they found a circle of chairs with attendees sitting quietly.
“Then out of the quite [sic] there came a sound, / A voice straight from old China Town.” Jenny “froze,” frightened, as the woman beside her claimed to see “a blue light.”
“It was dark in there, as dark as could be / But yet everybody in there, said they could see. / Then my imagination started to run high / Before I knew it I’d flown in the sky / I had strang [sic] feelings I could not explain. / But I realized I was one of them just the same.”
So, Jenny said, went her “first time at CCOT, / And now I’m a part of it, as it’s a part of me.”
When Jenny Londrico died in March 2015, her obituary called her “the family historian,” and said, “She was creative and intuitive, had a gift of making others laugh and loved fishing and animals. Her great storytelling would keep you spellbound.”
Circles and Ripples
“I’m remembering back during the year 1971, I opened my Times Union Morning Paper to a 2 page spread about the book shop,” Barbara Bomar wrote on a yellow legal pad in 1983.
To her surprise, she says, the bookstore and church on Ralph Street “was a quaint little cottage.”
Barbara’s interest was piqued “when Mrs Tunks mentioned about the Wednesday night physic [psychic] awareness classes.”
Then, “just before we were ready to leave, I turned to look at Mrs. Tunks. She was standing sort of leaning against the counter with her arms in a folded position. I thought to myself (as I began to size her up like I do others I meet), this lady is very deep. She appears to be a lady of mystery and full of Knowledge of the Unknown.”
Barbara knew she’d be back, that 712 Ralph had carved out psychic space in her heart.
“I’m remembering one of our dark circle classes,” Barbara writes, “during the early 70’s [sic]. As [Harold] led us into meditation, a young lady screamed out several times and of course this gave the group a little jolt because everything was so quite [sic], besides being in the dark.”
Circle members seated nearby tried to quiet the woman, but Harold demanded they let her speak her mind.
“She said the group were surrounded by little ‘demons’ that were running in and out between us trying to get into the circle, but they could not get in to her.”
This incident, Barbara believed, verified God’s protection around the circle, through which only truth and wisdom were allowed to enter; the faith of the circle actively shielded it from negative forces.
In early April, 1983, Kathryn Milkey wrote, “For Bob and I, you opened up Ethel—astrology, and Harold—Numerology, and on to the Kabala, Hypnosis, healing & Lama Sing. From this we started our own group The Church of the Master’s Way, for several years until that group of people was ready to move on and start their own groups—and the ripples of light continue to flow.”
Over the previous decade, Kathryn writes, “You opened the doors to books that marched through our lives.” Kathryn and Bob Milkey’s bookshelves were “like a mini WHVH that is available for those around us to use.”
Shapes on Maps, Syndromes of Cities
In the 1960s, Ethel and Harold had visited several “occult” meetings around Jacksonville, noting a need, a hunger, a desperation expressed as eagerness to understand Extra Sensory Perception, divination, psychic understandings of the future.
The Tunkses, according to an early church typescript history, “recognized the need to have a focal point where these interested minds could come and relate experiences and identify Self.”
The Tunkses saw each religion as a “pearl on a string.” They saw the string as “the cord of life,” the truth that connects all mankind.
They’d create a church focused on “deeper wisdom which would mean teaching the Ancient Teaching of Spiritual Occultism that was taught by Master Teachers throughout the ages.”
Centered on this teaching of Teaching taught by Teachers, the Reverends Tunks formed a board, on April 11, 1970, to establish the Cosmic Church of Truth. The church’s original charter defines “occult” as “that which is hidden,” adding, “Our name, Cosmic Church of Truth is saying—God’s Truth Overall.”
Jimmy Cox says it’s fallacious to presume certain religious tendencies only positive or negative, light or dark. Recently the church hosted a Haitian voodoo priest, explaining voodoo as a European infusion of Catholicism into colonized indigenous African religions, ministering to the fact that all religions are used for both positive and negative means.
If voodoo is best mimicked in the States as “black magic,” Jimmy notes, its destructive power falls far short of Christianity’s thousand-plus years of Crusades. Practitioners of any faith can use their religion for negative means, but have a responsibility to exercise their faith constructively.
Nevertheless, the church still receives the occasional pious letter telling them they’re “doing the devil’s work,” just as angry zealots once denounced a chakra rainbow in the church’s late-1990s Murray Hill location at 590 South Edgewood, assuming it to be “the gay rainbow.”
“Not that we minded,” laughs Mary Cox. “We’ve performed gay marriages.”
Jimmy says, “Detractors have always called us the Weird Little Church. We don’t mind. We’ve lovingly adapted the name ourselves. We always try to proceed with positivity.”
He says the Tunkses talked about the history of the church in 25 year intervals, picturing 50 years, imagining 75.
“At the same time,” Jimmy says, “They always said, ‘If the church doesn’t make it, that’s okay,’” and Mary adds, “As long as people continue to need us, the Cosmic Church of Truth will be here.”
Running my fingers along the spines of books in the church library, I think of Jerusalem Syndrome, any of an infinite set of psychological phenomena including religious obsessions, delusions or psychoses generated suddenly upon visiting Jerusalem, that one city the source of the world’s three dominant monotheistic religions.
Sufferers of Jerusalem Syndrome disappear in the desert, set themselves on fire, or believe themselves the newest incarnation of the Messiah.
What agnostic, what scientific pantheist, can discount someone else’s religious need without having shared it? Of course, the object of a need is no proof of itself.
When Christ was born, only 300 million people lived on the planet. Today’s population is 28 times that. How many varieties of religious experience exist? William James cannot say.
What of the Jewish notion of the Tzadikim Nistarim, the 36 hidden “righteous ones,” the idea that the world contains always 36 holy individuals, that none of them can know who they are, that if at any time human population loses one righteous individual who’s not replaced, the world will come to an end?
I’ve never been good at math. I dot the shape on the city’s map of the four locations of the Cosmic Church of Truth. I wait for the revelation.