|Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot|
TWO OF PENTACLES
“Along with the possibility of the extinction of mankind by nuclear war, the central problem of our age has therefore become the contamination of man’s total environment with such substances of incredible potential for harm-substances that accumulate in the tissues of plants and animals and even penetrate germ cells to shatter or alter the very material of heredity upon which the shape of the future depends…All this has been risked -for what? Future historians may well be amazed by our distorted sense of proportion. How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”
--Rachel Carson, “Silent Spring” 1962
The Two of Pentacles carries us along the path of physical transformation, modeling the ebb and flow of a constantly shifting balance. As the juggler pictured on the Rider Waite card that seeks to keep two balls in the air, or Crowley’s slithering snake forming a lemniscate among the circular symbols of yang and yin, the Two expresses the grounded impacts of cause and effect, the consequences of action and reaction within an ever-shifting equilibrium. As an anthropocentric system of experience, the Tarot depicts ways humanity influences the balance of all things. It was the stark visualization of imbalance that brought 20 million Americans into parks, streets, auditoriums, and government buildings on April 22, 1970, for the first international Earth Day.
Market forces suppressed by the Great Depression and World War II were finally unleashed in an unprecedented post-war boom of world production and consumption. But by the Sixties collateral environmental damage became increasingly apparent. Japanese fishermen were exposed to radioactive fallout from nuclear arms tests in the South Pacific. Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire and fish began to die in Lake Erie. Oil tankers ran aground leaving huge spills in England and California. And the proliferation of pesticides like DDT inspired Rachel Carson to write Silent Spring, a 1962 bestseller that raised alarming questions about chemical pollution of the environment and its effects on all living things. The specter of a spring season without the sound of birds was the kind of projection that could frighten people into action. Photos taken by astronauts showing our living planet alone in the black vacuum of space emphasized that humans shared their tenuous existence on a celestial island inventor Buckminster Fuller called “Spaceship Earth.” It was an expression capable of generating a near claustrophobic urgency to keep our little vessel clean, a vessel that was, in fact, not the planet on which we walked but a gossamer-like biosphere a few miles thick that lingered lightly over the surface of an otherwise lifeless, molten rock.
An irresistible model for the ethical questions raised by environmental activists arose from the era’s civil rights and liberation movements. It was not hard to see Nature as a victim of oppression by the technological arrogance of governments and corporations just as minorities and women were oppressed by racism and patriarchy. Many environmentalists espoused an ecological “egalitarianism” that saw animals, trees, plants, and eventually the rocks and sky, included as beings and entities with inherent rights to be considered and respected. A pre-industrial view of Nature as wild and untamed and subject to dominion and productivity was contrasted with a view of the biosphere as sustaining, fragile, and nurturing. Thus, the issue of how to fix the environment seemed to rest on a question of balance and relationship. The couple in our card takes a walk in the woods in1969, the man symbolically juggling the terms of their relationship-a new balance between them-inflicted by the literal weight of his partner as they navigate along a country road the path of their own transformation. This idea of restructuring the relationship between humans and Nature was too seemingly appropriate not to be adopted as a metaphor for the concerns aroused by Earth’s own transformation.
Environmentalism and its ethics-tied with gravity to the question of human survival-permeated the fields of philosophy, science and religion. One thread of this discussion produced the concept of ecofeminism, the application of a feminist perspective to the metaphor of Nature/human relations. In this metaphor, the biosphere is a woman-a mother of creation named Gaia (after the ancient Greek Earth Goddess)-who is also a victim of prevailing patriarchy that has sought to dominate her and thereby pervert the balance essential to sustaining life.
While some scientists are critical of the Gaia theory, a modified version of the hypothesis is now considered by ecologists to be basically consistent with the view of the biosphere as an ecosystem. Gaia theory turns away from a simple cause-effect paradigm and instead looks at the web of links within the ecosystem that tends to encourage or disrupt a balance of relationships optimal for life. Gaia offers a scientific model for the reassertion of eternal balance, an argument for its occurrence in Nature, as well as a description of its vulnerability to threats from the presumably “unnatural” impacts of human consciousness.