|Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot|
ACE OF PENTACLES
“The 1960s were the period of my life during which I experienced the most profound and most radical personal transformation. For those of us who identify with the cultural and political movements of the sixties, that period represents not so much a decade as a state of consciousness, characterized by ‘transpersonal’ expansion, the questioning of authority, a sense of empowerment, and the experience of sensuous beauty and community.”
--Fritjof Capra, author of “The Tao of Physics,” writing in December 2002
Experience, born of Wand inspiration, visualized in Cup dreams, and hewed by Swords, now finds its enduring form in the earthly Pentacles. The coin cards give us what remains: those surviving and identifiable artifacts fixed in living’s synchronous momentum. What did the Sixties do? What did the Sixties leave? The Pentacles embody the ideas, the qualities, the innovations, the tools, and the products that emerged from the Counterculture and that, in different and ever evolving expressions, have outlived it.
The Ace of Pentacles bears the bounty of material realization and it is here we make an inventory of a decade’s impacts on subsequent history. Cobbled from the thoughts of a number of historians and critics is the following list of what might be termed significant developments of the Sixties. “Significant developments” is the term used by the most authoritative of these historians, Arthur Marwick whose 903-page history The Sixties is by far the most detailed and researched. Marwick set out 16 such significant developments. I have grouped many of these under seven categories to which has been added an eighth.
The exploration and expression of personal values and desires - Beginning with new ways of self-presentation and the celebration of the body and sexuality, the Sixties was a time to wear whatever you wished, to love whomever you desired, to accept diversity in the evaluation of beauty, and to assert one’s human rights in defense of freedom, whether that be for free speech or the liberation of oppressed minorities. Entwined with the assertion of the individual was the freedom of association, allowing for the creation of new subcultures, living arrangements, and lifestyles.
The appearance of powerful new technologies, especially those associated with communication, and the growth of a values-based entrepreneurial spirit - Technological advances including television, communications satellites, the silicon transistor, electronic music processing, and vinyl long-playing records spread the era’s youth revolt and its music to every corner of the globe. Affordable jet travel took the nation’s largest ever classes of college students across the country and around the world. In the fledgling field of computer research scientists like Douglas Engelbart sought to apply the promise of computer power to achieving world peace.
Youth culture and rock n roll music - Young people, in the exercise of an unprecedented new leisure, became a dominant cultural and economic force, often setting fashion trends for the entire society and subsidizing a powerful music industry that projected anthems of sensual and social rebellion. Youthfulness emerged as a value and, as Marwick writes, was imitated by people of increasingly advanced ages so that spectacle, whether on TV or at Woodstock, became an integral interface between life and leisure for the entire society.
Widely spread wealth - The 50s are often considered the decade of consumerism but, in fact, far more personal wealth was accrued and spent during the Sixties. Post-World War II improvements in Western standards of living meant cars and suburban homes for Americans, but it also meant the arrival of electricity and indoor plumbing to rural families in France and Italy.
New ideas and the expansion of consciousness - Capra, whose book The Tao of Physics explores links between science and spirit, recalls the Counterculture’s embrace of mystical traditions, notably those of the East. Since the beginning of the Industrial Age in the late 18th century, western Romantic uprisings have nearly always featured an interest in ancient Eastern thought. But in the Sixties, this interest was focused on the expansion of an individual’s consciousness toward experiences that involved, in Capra’s words, “non-ordinary modes of awareness” traditionally achieved through meditation but now also accessible-or so it seemed-through psychedelic drugs. The pursuit of inner realities boosted psychology’s humanist and transpersonal therapies that sought to enhance experiences of magic, awe, and wonder.
Political conflict between an increasingly cloven Left and a rapidly ascending Right - Liberal governments were in authority in the West when the Counterculture revolt began in the 60s. And while radical New Leftists opposed them, the prevailing liberal tolerance permitted the subcultures of the 60s to spread and flourish. As well, social welfare programs supported by liberal governments were influential in the expansion of civil rights for minorities and women. Yet the division between liberals and Leftists, especially in America, assisted a reaction by conservative political forces centered in religious organizations, business groups, the still segregated South, and the police and military.
Emergence of multiculturalism in the West and in the world - Improvements in transportation and communication produced unprecedented cultural exchange across borders and across nations. The British rock n roll invasion of 1964 brought to the United States a new sound that itself was heavily influenced by American rhythm and blues. Italian coffee, French fashions, Indonesian batiks, even the thoughts of China’s Chairman Mao (packaged in its characteristic little red book), were just some of the products to cross the oceans, offering consumers the vicarious experience of cultural exchange.
Rising awareness of the Earth’s natural environment and the need to protect it - Days before the first Earth Day in 1970 the New York Times editorialized that “rising concern about the environmental crisis is sweeping the nation’s campuses with an intensity that may soon be on its way to eclipsing student discontent over the war in Vietnam…” Rooted in the country’s 19th century conservation movement, environmentalism sprung up in the Sixties and was embraced in a spreading awareness of the home planet’s fragile ecology and finite resources.