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


" . . . people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
never glimpse the truth, then it's far too late
when they pass away . . . with our love we could save the world . . .
try to realize it's all within yourself
no-one else can make you change . . . "

--George Harrison, "Within you Without you"

The Moon is a disquieting change from the Star's shimmering sense of recovered balance. But it characterizes the Counterculture's compelling plunge into the inchoate depths of personal experience. Out of this exploration grew a consequent spirituality that, with a near Orphic furor, expressed the generation's reputed regard for peace, love, mysticism and nature.

The Moon pushes and pulls the tides, enough evidence for many to presume its capacity to sway emotions and move the psyche sometimes to extremes. The Moon is the mistress of madness and the guardian of its primordial secrets. It is a naturally Romantic symbol both with a capital and a small "R." It raises rebellions as easily as it breaks hearts.

Certainly the Counterculture was as romantic a Romantic movement as there ever was. In the history of Romantic movements, the Counterculture of the 1960s takes its place alongside others. If by Romantic we mean a flowering of new thought, an anti-authoritarian resistance, and a flourishing of art, then the Renaissance may have been the first Romantic Movement. But the ones most closely tied to the Sixties date to the 18th and early 19th centuries, rebellions led by authors and composers, and not soldiers, against an emerging industrialism that harnessed natural forces in an unprecedented service to the creation of wealth. Modern capitalism's incendiary abundance and rapacious captains of industry, as well as modern poverty and its transient and underfed masses, grew out of this period. So also did a profound spiritual reaction. William Blake perhaps best characterizes this movement with his visionary poetry rich with the imagery of nature and an obsession with mysticism evident, and now greatly appreciated, in his unique relief etchings. But there were others: Shelley, Keats, and Wordsworth among the poets; Mozart, Brahms, and Schubert among the musicians, Constable and Turner among the painters. They all still speak eloquently to the modern soul about Nature's overarching grandeur and humankind's puzzling but divine presence within its mystery. They were as anti-religious as they were deeply spiritual, and responded to what they saw as the machine's material debasement of humanity with a broad interest in pre-Christian beliefs including those of Greeks, Druids and pagans. Their response to the new and alienating shadows was to explore more deeply the old ones.

The Counterculture's large gatherings of hippie faithful, the Human Be-In and Summer of Love in San Francisco, Woodstock in New York, and the hundreds of others that drew suppliants by the tens of thousands, resembled religious camp meetings of the early 1800s. More than 20,000 gathered at an 1801 spiritual revival in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, spending days dancing, singing, and shouting in an exhilarating celebration of reformed Protestant theology, one built around what has been described as the individualized Gnosticism of American spirituality. This is the idea that the subject and object of worship is not God as such, but God as experienced by the self. American Gnosticism embraces a remarkable spiritual personalism that now extends across a wide spectrum from the declaration of Jesus as a personal savior to the worship of the Goddess. In the celebration of "doing your own thing," the Counterculture acknowledged the widest possible tolerance for spiritual quest. Infinite mirrors reflect back infinite realities.

These values extended spiritual exploration much farther into personal experience, attaching it to sexuality, emotional lives, the quality of relationships, to psychological and physical health; and to a wider pantheon of godheads that included numerous pre-Christian deities, both gods and goddesses. And so the Counterculture's revivals were a novel blending of the bacchanal and beatitude, celebrations of the body and the spirit, as generous with excess as revelation. The Moon glow that reshapes feelings and brings new tides of experience dwells within. This was so different from the political Marxist's desire to apply a socioeconomic template to presumably malleable human hearts and thereby change the world. No, the Moon inside casts shadows of rich emotional complexity that compel personal attention to the deep roots of individual experience which in turn tap eternal archetypes. And the more each individual explores these inner depths the farther they seem to extend. The Counterculture Moon offers each of us a personal universe, yet linked with all others in an infinite cosmos. Why impose order from without when love connects us all from within? Why separate the body from the mind?