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


"Now in the evolving generation of American young the humanization of the American man and woman can begin in joy and embrace without fear, dogma, suspicion or dialectical righteousness. A new concert of human relations being developed within the youthful underground must emerge, become conscious, and be shared so that a revolution of form can be filled with a Renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love in the Revelation of the unity of mankind."

--Press release for the Human Be-In in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park January 14, 1967

As Wands are the triumph of wit, so Cups are the triumph of feeling. Fire may spark the life of the cosmos, but water is the love that flows through it. Water in a river changes always, but the river retains its constant presence. The subject of the Ace card stands immersed, fluid and radiant. She steadies herself against the current and welcomes the journey of the heart. The Sixties inflamed feelings that coursed through categorical upheavals. Minds, responses, values and vocations throbbed with the ache and splendor of every yearning potential. Certainly the first emotions - expressed by poets like Allen Ginsberg in his anguished poem Howl - were painful. But the Ace is not the young woman in 1951 whose budding sexuality kept her hidden, who sought a back alley abortion and struggled against a reigning opprobrium to open even a small space between her phenotypic desire and her genotypic shame. Rather she is the joy that is embraced "without fear, dogma, suspicion or dialectical righteousness" and lovingly herself without separation from the natural world that birthed her.

Cup capacities developed out of the Counterculture generation's first family experiences. Post-war labor economics produced smaller primary families. The prominent paradigm was a unit of two parents and two children that could relocate if a new job necessitated (and in the expanding organizational world of corporate America it frequently did). Between 1900 and 1950 the size of the average American family shrunk by more than 40 percent. In 1900, the most common household contained seven or more people. Beginning in 1940 the average household increasingly contained only two people. Left behind were the extended family and its intergenerational tendrils of authority and influence. The smaller "nuclear" family of the 50s, more evenly divided between children and adults, promoted a casual, intimate interface that accommodated, even encouraged, the flouting of authority. When Sixties teenagers turned outward to create webs of friendship or to fall in love, they often found a corresponding emotional resonance among their friends. They accepted sexual stirrings as a familiar and appropriate adult response to love, found in rock n roll music the scripts by which to live that experience, and held together a large extended family of unrelated "brothers and sisters" who shared and supported it. Dr. Benjamin Spock's best-selling guide Baby and Child Care, first published in 1946, gets wide credit from conservatives for creating a permissive child-rearing culture that nurtured rebellious baby-boomers. But without the era's large numbers of smaller families headed by very young parents, Spock's psychology-inspired theories might have been widely dismissed. Surely they would have been more skeptically considered if forced to compete with the intruding "wisdom" of a generation of experienced and intimidating on-the-scene grandparents.

Instead, members of the Counterculture generation, relatively unsupervised as children, grew up to become living subjects of change. They derived from gratifying body awareness and its welcome sensations the first new patterns of feelings and their riveting, if sometimes terrifying, associations within relationships. Waiting beyond this experience were pipelines to the exploration of consciousness (and the unconscious) that intersected conveniently with the era's philosophical existentialism and psychotherapeutic revolutions.

It wasn't just hippies who found in the body a destination for the romance of experience, one distinctly and intentionally different from that managed by the corporate structures - employer to church - that had organized their parents' destinations during the Depression and World War II. Those structures had forced on the previous generation a conforming "agreeableness" with the status quo that would be resented and resisted by their aroused, connected and hostile children. Freed from the gravity of a large, extended family, the Counterculture generation gave voice to its feelings and applied new languages (derived from its music, slang, media) to the poetry of experience. Passionate feelings drove the dramatic cultural revisions that took place in the Sixties, ones that re-invented the body and re-mapped human potential, that freed women's sexuality and opened previously closed discussions about gender and relationship, that found in nature the roots of spiritual attachment, and that used new tools of investigation (including drugs) to convert the perception of consciousness from a smoothly running mechanism into a vast and transient mystery. This was a new ideology of emotion and where it intersected politics, where water met fire, it activated alchemical transformations that shifted laws and policies. Where it did not, it acted more like the alchemical process of solutio, dissipating with its remarkably heartfelt solvency the culture's resistance to change.