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


"With pot and psychedelics it was a society of inclusion-hey man, have a hit. By the late Sixties, one was hard-pressed to find someone who wasn't a dope smoker, even in the sacred anti-drug bastions of Texas and the Midwest . . . Cocaine was still the hidden, secret thing, and it was a society of exclusion-hey man, let's go to the bathroom, but don't tell anyone. All of a sudden you're cutting off your friends. So what began to happen-rather than drugs drawing people together in this sanctum sanctorum, the drug started blowing them apart, isolating them . . . One consciousness brought about sharing; the other brought about greed."

---Paul Rothchild, producer for The Doors and Janis Joplin, recalling the high times of the Sixties

The Five of Pentacles presents the brewing grief of physical troubles. It languishes in worry, darkness, and alienation and struggles with deprivation, insecurity, and exclusion. Hopes founder on the cruel, immovable rocks of surprising disorder. How did I not see this, and what do I do now? Crowley called this Five-another Tarot five of dispatch and despair-the Lord of Worry. It is Mercury in Taurus-the ruthless presence of instability in the very foundation of matter. The appetite for pleasure is seduced by the hunger for survival.

Waite's card shows beggars in the snow in front of a church, a nod to medieval Catholicism's rejection of mercy. As Barbara Walker points out, clergymen were the richest people in the Europe of that time and beggars, commanded by the Pope, were barred from entering into the presence of a priest's wealthy parishioners. So the poor waited outside churches, hopeful that a departing worshipper might offer charity since, as Jesus had said, it was easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich man to pass into heaven. The sacrament of the 60s Counterculture was the drug experience, at first the beneficent, if not always comfortable, passage or "trip" offered by marijuana and LSD. In a field of dreams in 1968 a lame dope dealer leans on a cane to support his broken leg, offering half-ounce "lids" of pot for $20. He begs for business, advertising his joyous pipeline to sacramental communion through a dark and worried countenance of survival. Drugs are his "hustle," a term for work outside the mainstream that keeps a hipster, or hippie, from having to take a regular job.

Drugs and poverty, usually identified as the infectious debasements of crime-ridden and alienated ghettos were, initially at least, the glamorous pillars of San Francisco's hippie Haight-Ashbury community. Before 1967's Summer of Love the vision of a universal and voluntary poverty represented a communal ideal intended to free its followers from the slavish pursuit of their dominant society's prolific materialism. By "dropping out," hippies reprised the values of their Beatnik predecessors who similarly rejected the marketed consumer fantasies of the prevailing American dream. But unlike the small Beat cabals that clustered furtively in 50s cafes, the hippies congregated en mass, creating-as they did in the Haight-a formidable and flamboyant bulge. The Haight was to be a free community for a free people that identified strongly with the "noble" black and hipster minorities that had moved their first (and like them was harassed by local authorities who saw in the hippies' clownish clothes, theatrical poverty, and drug use a threatening deviance).

But by the fall of that year, change was in the air. Drug users appeared who were described by their peers as "freaks" or "heads" and who poured drugs into their systems in quantities that went well beyond what was needed to get high. Acid freaks were known to take multiple doses of LSD, spurred by acid guru Timothy Leary, not stopping until they wandered off in delusional states. But it was the "speed freaks," those captured by the powerful, cheap and compulsive high of methedrine who ruptured the delicate bonds of the Haight's free community. Many of speed's purveyors were bikers, members of motorcycle gangs like the Hell's Angels who took from speed a fountain of furious, aggressive energy, who produced and sold the drug, and who found in the Haight's seraphic children perfect marks for its consumption.

Within a year speed, the poor man's cocaine, had turned the Haight back into a ghetto. Its pioneering services (a Free Clinic, shelters for runaways, and a drug treatment center) remained to assist denizens in need, but the Diggers no longer served free food, and crime was on the rise. It was this emerging Haight that shocked Beatle George Harrison on a surprise visit in 1967. Expecting to see something akin to London's swinging King's Row, Harrison was put off by panhandlers, drug addicts and what he called "hideous, spotty, little teenagers." A spirit of love and cooperation had seemed to vanish as quickly as it had arrived. Haight residents who predated the hippies could have told them about the travails of substance abuse within a poor community; how it could take command of idleness and spread fear and disorder and how chaos and bad drugs could reduce any human tribe to squabbling over what little remained. Very shortly an exodus began from the Haight as young, white hippies left, some to join suburban or rural communes where personal freedoms were happily exchanged for communal law and order. Even the Diggers left, finding a bucolic retreat across the Golden Gate in the hills of West Marin County. Communes produced little wealth and their members still lived for the most part in voluntary poverty. But they were safe.