San Francisco Oracle
The Oracle of the City of San Francisco, also known as the San Francisco Oracle, was an underground newspaper published in 12 issues from September 20, 1966, to February 1968 in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of that city. Allen Cohen (1940–2004), the editor during the paper’s most vibrant period, and Michael Bowen, the art director, were among the founders of the publication. The Oracle was an early member of the Underground Press Syndicate.
The Oracle combined poetry, spirituality, and multicultural interests with psychedelic design, reflecting and shaping the countercultural community as it developed in the Haight-Ashbury. It was arguably the outstanding example of psychedelia within the countercultural “underground” press, noted for experimental multicolored design. Oracle contributors included many significant San Francisco–area artists of the time, including Bruce Conner and Rick Griffin. It featured such beat writers as Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Michael McClure.
Every movement creates its own primary sources, and the hippies of 1967 San Francisco had a psychedelic one: The San Francisco Oracle. Published in 12 fantastic issues from 1966 to 1968, the Oracle is a fascinating artifact of the times.
With theme issues like “Youth Quake,” “The Aquarian Age,” “Psychedelics, Flowers, and War,” and “The Politics of Ecstasy,” the newspaper spoke directly to young people’s imaginations and concerns. Whimsical, hand-drawn ads touted bookstores, concerts, health food stores, coffeehouses, shops selling hippie fashions, and music sellers. And the publication’s wild page layouts, drawings, photo-collages and other graphics became icons of hippie culture.
Hippies sold the Oracle on Bay Area streets to support themselves, and the newspaper made its way around the world by subscription. Print runs grew to nearly 125,000 by issue #7. The editors estimated their circulation topped half a million when taking into account the number of people who shared each copy.
The Oracle’s articles, interviews, letters, commentary, and poems explored hippie consciousness in a variety of ways. For example, in issue #6, Tom Law wrote a piece called “The Community of the Tribe” that obliquely referred to Fifties consumer culture, the Cold War and the war in Vietnam, contexts in which hippie attitudes had emerged:
“We are all — squares and the psychedelically enlightened alike — involved in our world of now. To take up the call, to respond to the cosmic forces, we must be the hard-working, harmonious, respectful, honest, diligent, co-operative family of man. Our words are inspired. Our feeling is deep and complete. Our devotion is strong. The precious revelations which have come through us with increasing magnitude must be fathomed until we are one with each other and can extend our awareness beyond the tribe to our entire planet.
What is the natural karmic duty of a generation whose brothers, neighbors, and childhood friends now promote hate by killing innocent human beings around the world? It is to balance their jive and immature actions with the light of intelligent goodness; fearlessly to deal with the money-mad machine in order to release its hold on our bowels — the bowels of mankind.
Practically, this means that all excess profit is turned back into the community. That means all money, material things, food, etc., which are beyond the basic necessities of a happy, healthy, human existence…”
Read this reminiscience by Oracle co-founder Allen Cohen about how he first imagined a “rainbow newspaper,” or go to Regent Press to learn more about the Oracle (both links are to pages not on PBS.org).
Many thanks to Regent Press for the use of some of the original Oracle graphics on this Web site. Others provided by Ana Christy.