The Counterculture

Fred and Svetlana Adams

Fred and Svetlana Adams, founders of the Neo-Pagan group Feraferia

By the 1960s, several significant influences of American cultural life converged, creating the conditions for what came to be called the “Counterculture.” These included an unprecedented level of American affluence, the expansion of higher education with the GI Bill, the spread of televisions in American homes (which brought the Vietnam War and civil rights protesters into people’s living rooms), and a rising anxiety in the general popu­lace about the possibility of nuclear war. According to historian, Theodore Roszak, the Counterculture was a response to a sense of deep-seated alienation and disillusionment felt by many Ameri­cans, brought on by modernity, secularization, industrializa­tion, bureaucratization, and capitalism. The Counter­culture blossomed in the 1960s and faded away in the 1970s, but many Hippies continued to pursue their social and spiritual ideals under the umbrella of Paganism.

In 1968, at the height of the Counterculture, Theodore Roszak published The Making of a Counter Culture. Roszak saw the Counterculture as a challenge to deep-seated assumptions about the nature of humankind, society, and the natural world that had dominated the Western mind since the Enlightenment. “The youthful disaffiliation of our time,” Roszak wrote, “strikes beyond ideology to the level of consciousness, seeking to trans­form our deepest sense of the self, the other, and the environ­ment.” The Counterculture, then, was an attempt to change the world by changing the prevailing mode of consciousness. This transformation of consciousness is also the goal of Neo-Pagan­ism. When the Neo-Pagan Church of All Worlds was organized in 1967, for example, its stated goal was nothing less than the to­tal transformation of Western society, through the resacralization of nature and the re-enchantment of the world.

California Cosmology

“California Cosmology” is a phrase coined by Alston Chase to describe the belief that everything in the universe is both sacred and interconnected, found in the writings of Californian au­thors in the 1970s, like Theodore Roszak, Alan Watts, Gary Snyder, Paul Shepherd and others. It was the continuation of a line of thought that can be traced to naturalist, John Muir, in the early 20th century and, before him, to the Transcendentalists. The Californian Cosmologists believed that humans in the devel­oped world had become tragically disconnected from the cosmos as a result of the desacralization of nature. They believed that reconnection or resacralization was possible only through a change of consciousness. It was out of this cultural milieu that Neo-Paganism would emerge, led by other Californian Cosmolo­gists like Fred Adams, Oberon Zell, and Starhawk.

Updated 2019

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