Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot     index     <prev     next>


"I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution-thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ‘em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and all living creatures."

--Jack Kerouac from his novel "The Dharma Bums" 1958

As a step in the Tarot journey The Star might represent the parabolic calm after the storm, or the welcome peace after war. In broad terms her balmy joy might symbolize the mid-20th century recovery following World War II, a subsequent surge of prosperity that created unparalleled post-war affluence. Yet that recovery was anything but calm, driven as it was by America's frenetic obsession with global hegemony and a near paranoid hunger for complete and eternal protection. Still, our Counterculture Star explores her cove with a seemingly rash and playful spirit. There is room for contemplation and space for growth. Her countering response is not to her species' most destructive conflict, a quarter century past, but to the fearful control and rigidifying anxieties of her parents who were raised out of a great depression only to be thrust into an equally great war. Now they devote their middle years to largely middle class comfort, conforming in their new wealth to seemingly corrosive commonalities embedded in what appears to her to be a spiritual malaise.

But spirit is what the Star is all about. It begins with her body, the platform of an embryonic expression. At the pubescent gate of her life it swayed to throbbing, ecstatic rhythms. She surrendered, as if taken by a Hellenistic cult into an out-of-body trance. Rock n roll music gave her celebrity demigods to worship and her peers gave her a tribe of connected initiates. Conversion was sudden and it went to the core of her emerging sexuality. It opened her mind to fantasy and her heart to love and its riveting promise wound through her feelings and assured spiritual survival beyond the first stinging deaths of adolescence. Rock's new and powerful amplification - electrified in a thunderous beat - quieted the mind and impelled the body. She fell into a Dionysian immersion. It was like flipping a switch that sent current flowing. It "turned her on." And her first cult leaders, her stars, were Adonis boy-men with feminine features like Paul McCartney who expressed budding anima with long hair and androgynously soft eyes and who teased her dreams with the tantalizing promise of a friendly, uplifting embrace.

This was a religious experience. And for the Counterculture these experiences of the body were as informative of the source of the divine as any creed or scripture. There were other influences. The Beats had introduced Eastern faiths, notably Buddhism, into the Western conversation, challenging traditional Judeo-Christian notions of good and evil with conceptualizations of a "cosmic consciousness," an apprehension of eternity available to anyone through meditation - or perhaps drugs. The Buddhism dated back a hundred years to the interests of the American Transcendentalists. But the drugs - mind-altering psychogenic substances that included LSD, mescaline, psylocibin, marijuana - were new. From Europe came Existentialism, the World War's philosophic epilogue declaring life to be absurd, and asserting that to be human was to exercise free will, even if it meant bearing always an agonizing personal responsibility.

Peak experiences induced by orgasms or drugs seemed to provide quick access to a timeless mysticism that reinforced the consequential religiosity of each single human being. Body and soul were united. Sex averred the presence of one and sensory awareness the existence of the other. Ecstasy affirmed their eternal dance. The Star brings this home by integrating spirit with action, by making the personal political, by forever revising her visions and honoring the individual's capacity to change. One's own life becomes the most important statement about living and its direction is provided by what is nurtured deep within.