|Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot|
TEN OF WANDS
"You know, it's not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself."
--James Baldwin, author of “Another Country,” 1962
Oppression was the target of Counterculture resistance. And the Wands fought hard against it, drawing together youthful strength, physical power, and mental brilliance to oppose racism, sexism, war, homophobia and all other branches of oppression that subdivided American class and culture. “Together the oppressive power of big government, big corporations and big religion forged a rebellion,” wrote journalist Sarah J. McCarthy in 1999 as part of a millennial look back at the Sixties. “We had learned firsthand about the arrogance of power. Just as in physics, in cultural life every action leads to a reaction. Our generation wanted more from life than the culturally prescribed path of conformity and war, stagnation and misery.”
But oppression is also a force within the Wands, amplified in the tenth card as what happens when the Wands do too much work and do it too well. Drawn to a fight, Wands can reach a point where constant movement and action invite constant problems. Too many commitments weigh down the suit’s gluttonous idealism, a consequence of fire energy that frequently acts without thinking. An arc of resistance brought the New Left to a juncture with its own oppressive tendencies: an obsession with short term consequences, a battle strategy that increasingly foundered in the streets, a devotion to collectivist structures of history that did not match well with facts on the ground, and naïve confidence in the political impact of large revolutionary ideas even as they were projected by an ever smaller core of advocates. Internal burdens stalled the New Left revolution as much as Nixon’s election and the rise of a formidable right wing reaction. Models of Third World revolutions, with their romantically satisfying scenarios of violent overthrow of U.S.-supported dictators, were increasingly popular with New Left ideologues but had little direct application to the multi-layered political structures of Western democracies. Posters of Che Guevara and Mao Tse Tung shared dormitory wall space with those of Jean Paul Belmondo and James Dean. They were notable cultural celebrities but ill defined, and nearly useless, as political icons.
Journalist and anti-war activist Elinor Langer wrote in a 1973 essay that the student movement’s turn toward revolution was a “curiously apolitical” decision. “Because revolution was effectively impossible one did not have to dirty one’s hands with compromise…and it was also ahistorical and smug, since it mistook revolution, a rare historical event, for a moral choice.”
Wand energy is prone to justifying its ceaseless movement on the grounds of moral choice. But too often a moral choice, if not well made, becomes an oppressive burden. As Crowley suggests about this card, oppression is what happens when force, force and nothing but force is used all the time. Symbolically, Saturn’s harsh discipline coerces the otherwise limitless vision and undaunted enthusiasm of Sagittarius. As the shirtless protestor here is pushed off the streets by police batons, so the New Left—oppressed by unwavering moral certainty--was driven off its myopic political course.