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


"We knew we wanted to do something outrageous and we knew we wanted to do it with other people, because it was more exciting to be with a group than to be just one or two or three people. There was this kind of heady arrogance - talk about arrogance! - that we could just do something so outrageous and so far out, that we could pull it off even though none of us had many resources . . . It was full of vitality, and it was extremely exciting and wonderful."

--Jo Ann Bernofsky, artist and co-founder of the Drop City commune in Colorado, 1965

The gracious Three of Cups completes the romantic Two. The naked Graces aligned in classic Greek statues were found also in the statuary of ancient Hindu temples. And as Barbara Walker writes in The Secrets of the Tarot the traditional interpretations of this card suggest the ancient gifts of grace that include celebration, fruition, joy, satisfaction, healing, solace, and the fulfillment of hopes. In the Rider-Waite Card three women dance with raised cups. The Counterculture card replaces one of the womanly Graces with a man, appropriately symbolic of the era's attempted and idealistic integration of male and female into a new community. To pour the waters of two cups into three (or more) is to change the dyad of relationship into the dynamic of affinity, to propose a community spurred by the Three's suggestion of good times, good luck, and inevitable sublimity. Large Sixties gatherings like the Human Be-In and Woodstock, the Knotting Hill Faire and the Monterey Pop Festival, brought together tens of thousands for a few hours or a few days of communal experience. But for some the pursuit of grace involved creation of smaller, intentional and permanent communities. More than at any other time in history, a generation seemed widely attracted to the idea of living together in new social and familial configurations.

Motivations for communal living were many: to build small societies based on shared values, to create free spaces outside the control of authority, to have a larger family and to experience emotional rewards from community that might be richer and more interesting than those limited to binary love. Some joined together to share resources and reduce their dependence on capitalist consumerism. As Peter Coyote said later of his days in the Digger commune, "We were broke but we weren't poor." Sexual orientation and lifestyle drew men and women, together and apart. Many anticipated communal experiences rooted in abiding loyalty and emotional attachments that extended love beyond the nuclear limits, that could give women community and children together, that might allay men's fears of smothering domestication as they bent with others to build new worlds.

There were many kinds of intentional communities - anarchistic, artistic, amorous, political, criminal, lesbian, gay, cultural, mystical - and while large numbers sought to build their communities on cheap, rural land, cities held them as well. From Morningstar Ranch to MOVE, from Black Bear to the artists of Drop City, intentional communities or "communes" as they came to be called, were the fervidly emotive neighborhoods and subdivisions of the Counterculture. Some survived for days, some years. Some still exist. "Anarchism and mysticism seem to have been the two most striking intellectual tendencies in the counter-culture of the 1960s," wrote scholar Laurence Veysey in The Communal Experience, a 1973 study of new Counterculture communities and their roots in an American history rich with communal experiments. The nation was settled by groups and individuals who with nearly manic zeal pushed ever farther into the wilderness to experience the Three of Cups grace all to themselves. And in anarchism and mysticism Veysey finds the two poles of communal experience. "Anarchism always promotes a loose, voluntaristic, unstructured pattern of living," says Veysey. "Mysticism, on the other hand, usually implies the presence of a guru, and therefore a much more leader-oriented and well-defined plan of everyday existence." Anarchistic tendencies offered more freedom at the price of stability. Mystic tendencies offered more stability for the price of freedom. Only weeks into their 1968 rural communal experience in Vermont, members of the anarchist Motherfuckers of New York abandoned their effort as fall brought dropping temperatures and their farming neighbors ostracized them for plowing fields in the nude. The Farm in Tennessee, founded by Stephen Gaskin in 1971, still survives and is still led by Gaskin (now in his 70s). Between the two poles are scattered a jumble of non-nuclear communal societies, an assortment of factious tribes that, with varying success, carved themselves into existence or eventually disappeared.