The New Counterculture Tarot

The Moon
Hexen 2.0 (c) Suzanne Treister

There’s a rising spirit of rebellion in the air – and the whiff of repression – that seems very much like the sixties.  The parallels were driven home when I visited the excellent  ‘You Say You Want a Revolution?’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  It examines how a range of cultural activities combined with political activism across the globe to try to bring about epochal change near fifty years ago, but also, tellingly, links those times to today.

One aspect examined the resurgence of occult thinking during that time – as much a metaphor for spiritual transformation and advancement as it was magical thinking.

A key part of this section was the tarot designed by conceptual artist Suzanne Treister, a redesign of the traditional tarot deck and one that echoes other historic re-imaginings, say Aleister Crowley’s Thoth tarot deck.  It’s a fantastic piece of work that fully understands the psychological dimension of the tarot and links it to a very contemporary drive for change.

At the top you can see The Moon card from my own deck – the card for intuition, dreams and the unconscious – which here summon up transhumanism, techno-gaianism, futurology and more aspects of radical change thinking.

The Hanged Man
Hexen 2.0 (c) Suzanne Treister

The Hexen 2.0 deck’s alchemical drawings pick up the interconnected histories of the computer and internet, cybernetics and counterculture, science fiction and futurism, ideas of the control society, as well as philosophical, literary and political responses to advancing technology.

Here you can see Stewart Brand as The Hanged Man, creator of the Whole Earth Catalogue in the sixties and an associate of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in the tarot’s traditional archetype of the spiritual thinker who accepts sacrifice for the greater good.  Treister recognises Brand’s key role in today’s digital culture.

Other cards feature The Control Society as The Devil, Aldous Huxley as The Fool, the wisest card in the deck, Timothy Leary as The Magician, Ada Lovelace as the Queen of Chalices, Quantum Computing and A.I. as The Star, and many more fascinating pieces that are well worth reflection in the true tarot spirit.

I’ve found this deck is actually influencing a lot of my thinking about this new world that we’re all moving into, and particularly the kind of response it needs.  Hexen 2.0 is available online in the V & A shop.

The Third World War Is Beginning In The Background

vladimir_putin_and_barack_obama_2015-09-29_01

Away from the clown show that is Trump’s presidential bid, the ludicrousness of post-Brexit debate and the self-immolation of the Labour Party, an important event slipped by.

It wasn’t flashy – that’s the key for traction in modern media – but the US’ public accusation that Russia was trying to interfere in the coming election was unprecedented.  In years past, the intelligence services would never have openly flagged up Russian involvement in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee servers to sow chaos and try to get a win for Trump, an ‘admirer’ of Putin.  That they now feel forced to do so shows how much things have escalated.

The key to understanding Russia under Putin is not to see it as a country in the democratic tradition with which we’re all familiar.  Imagine it more as that part of New Jersey ruled over by Tony Soprano and the mob.  Thanks to Wikileaks, we know the US has long considered Russia a Mafia state, where the rule of law does not apply to people at the top.  If you fail, or offend, or break the code, you’re more likely to get rubbed out Soprano-style than sacked.

This is the calculation Vladimir Putin continually has to make.  He can’t be seen to fail.  Nor can he be seen to back down.  Both paths will result in defenestration with extreme prejudice.  His invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine was designed to draw attention away from major economic failings.  It only made things worse.  Western sanctions hobbled the economy further.  But he can’t pull out his backing for the Ukraine resistance to put things right.  That would be failure.

The only way forward is something bigger, to distract attention from the economy *and* Ukraine.  And so: Syria.  Russia jumping with both feet into the barrel of dynamite that is the Syrian civil war was supposed to be a mark of prestige.  They can still ‘get things done’, unlike the US.  They’re not a failing power that can’t make anything the world needs – they have a sphere of influence.  They talk, very loudly, people listen.

Russia came in on the side of the beleaguered President Assad, a long time ally, and took a stance in direct opposition to the West’s strategic aims.  By saying one thing and doing another, it has disrupted the plans of the US and its allies.  It’s behind the bombing of aid convoys, most western intelligence services believe, and now it’s about to move in a battery of S300 air defence missiles, which could cause carnage when the skies are thick with US planes.

There is no plan, only the illusion of a plan for the consumption of his domestic critics.  Look over here!  No, look over there!  Ukraine!  Syria!  The US elections!  Misdirection as a strategy is not sustainable.  The only way Putin can maintain his position – and perhaps even his life – is escalation, each newer, bigger outrage wiping out memories of the last failure.

But like the noise made by a mouthy drunk in a bar, there’s a point where everyone decides they’re not going to sit back and take it any more.  NATO has to step up or lose the potency it needs to keep Russia contained.  What will trigger a confrontation?  A Russian attack on Estonia and the Baltic States?  A ‘skirmish’ on the Polish border?

US-Russia relations are worse than at any time since the Cold War, and some analysts believe that this is absolutely the start of Cold War mk II.  But that concept of a frozen conflict only works if both sides make rational, strategic calculations. If it’s personal, if one of the players only wants to keep his job/head on his neck, than no other outcome matters, even if it’s destruction on a grand scale.

Now: who do you want in the White House?

Giving LSD To Housewives

Domestic Goddess tip: how to get through a day of kitchen drudgery. *

(*not officially sanctioned by Nigella)

This is an interesting documentary clip from the heyday of psychedelics research in the late 50s. Take a look at the interview with the acid-keen psychologist near the end: “That’s what death will be like. And oh what fun it will be.”

Also worth checking out: Don Lattin’s book The Harvard Psychedelic Club: How Timothy Leary, RAM Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America.

Sandbrook on the Summer of Love

There’s a review of Dominic Sandbrook’s White Heat: A History of Britain in the Swinging Sixties in today’s Sunday Times culture section.

It’s part political history – looking at the coming to power of Howard Harold Wilson – part cultural history of the era. The reviewer, Peter Clarke, concludes that it’s a “lively narrative” with the central concept that the ‘cultural revolution’ of the ’60s maybe wasn’t so revolutionary after all…

You can read the review in full on the Sunday Times website.

–Ariel–

It’s A Love Thing

It’s 29 years since the ‘Summer of Love’ (now trade-marked, apparently, fact fans).  Thirty years would have made a nice, round figure, but I went and published the book a year early.

What’s this got to do with Jack of Ravens?  Read the book…

The whole hippie experience has developed its own mythology.  It has its own gods.  Its own Otherworldly home of these magical beings.  Its own mystical language.

If you’re looking for a good bit of background reading on the spiritual home of True Thomas, try here.  These things have shaped our future in a profound way, though many still try to confine them to fashion.

To some, hippies are a joke, but they’re the ones still fighting the Void, ‘sticking it to the man’ (thank you Jack Black)…through politics or just refusing to give up ideals in the face of bulldozer commercialism.  Or else they’re just getting stoned and admiring the pretty colours…