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


"The spiritual revolution will be manifest and proven. In unity we shall shower the country with waves of ecstasy and purification. Fear will be washed away; ignorance will be exposed to sunlight; profits and empire will lie drying on deserted beaches . . . "

--San Francisco Oracle, Haight-Ashbury's underground newspaper, announcing the "Human Be-In" in Golden Gate Park 1967

Variously the Six of Wands has been described as victory, glory, and triumph, perhaps the arrival of good news. Certainly after licking the wounds of strife, a win seems timely. But how is this possible? What can be taken from resistance or defeat that looks like triumph? A horse and its rider in the old Tarot decks seem to portray a victor's arrival. But the spoils of experience are not conceit, arrogance, or temerity. Symbolically the horse is a messenger more than a platform. And the message carries much more meaning than just the news of an outcome. Wand inspiration, for all its lucidity, is not entirely balanced. Living with contradictions, and tolerating them, can be challenging. "Hippie politics are very simple, some would call naïve," wrote Sixties hippie radio personality Wes "Scoop" Nisker. "We had no economic analysis or five-year plan: we simply wanted a transformation of consciousness and a world of peace, love, and good vibes." In a word (one with a wide currency in the 60s), we wanted to be cool.

To be cool was to be graceful, contained, and confident. Cool distinguished a high level of personal awareness from the prevailing ennui of presumably mindless social conventions. According to art historian Robert Farris Thompson, "cool" comes to us via the Yoruba and Ibo civilizations of West Africa, embodied in a 15th century word (Itutu) that contained meanings of conciliation and quiet strength. "Control, stability, and composure under the African rubric of the cool seem to constitute elements of an all-embracing aesthetic," writes Thompson. "African cool is more complicated and more variously expressed than Western notions of sang-froid (literally, "cold blood"), cooling off, or even icy determination." A concept of cool has flourished in the zeitgeists of western bohemias for many decades, arriving finally in English as an adjectival acclamation of the American black jazz scene. From there, notions of cool as a state of inner contentment and outward calm spread to the Beats who, in turn, handed it (along with everything else) to the Counterculture. It is not possible to separate the historical roots of "cool" in America from the experience of African-Americans. There is no culture the Counterculture regarded more, unless it was a romanticized remembrance of Native American civilization. Cool, like so much of the suit's fiery ideation cannot be borrowed or owned; only experienced. When anarchists pin their hopes on a civilization without laws, they seem to assume that everyone within it will be "cool."

Cool sustained the hypnotic mass affiliation of thousands at Counterculture festivals and celebrations. The Six of Wands conveys the astrological configuration of Jupiter in Leo, a generous dose of confidence added to a mellow and leonine hospitality. The Summer of Love in 1967 occurred while Jupiter was in Leo. Cool prevailed outdoors under an open, azure sky. Woodstock was such a gathering, perhaps the most famous. But there were many others. So many came: hippies, utopians, political radicals, cultists, as well as motorcycle gangs. All outlaws were welcome as long as they were cool, that is capable of co-existing in peace and love and willing to be showered in waves of "ecstasy and purification." Drugs aided the pursuit of ecstasy. Rock music amplified its rhythms. Bathing together in rivers or ponds provided purification. The paradigm, always, was full acceptance of everyone by everyone.