Saturday, May 26, 2018


By Peter Bebergal 

At a slim 228 pages (plus 20 page introduction), presented in fairly large and generously spaced type, Peter Bebergal’s Season of the Witch was never going to live up to its dust jacket marketing hype, which declares: “This epic cultural and historical odyssey unearths the full influence of occult traditions on rock and roll—from the Beatles to Black Sabbath—and shows how the marriage between mysticism and music changed our world.”

It does, however, serve as a very good introduction and overview, offering a much-needed sober take on subject matter that has heretofore been the domain of evangelical “educational videos” and sub-moronic, anti-Semitic Youtube documentaries by conspiracy hobbyists who have yet to realize that if Lady Gaga and Beyoncé are in the Illuminati, then we truly have nothing to fear from the Illuminati.

I’ve been an admirer of Bebergal’s writing for The New Yorker for a while now—with his extended appreciation of the psychedelic sci-fi maverick Michael Moorcock and his think piece on Thomas Ligotti being particular standouts—so it brings me no pleasure to report that, for such a slim book, Season of the Witch suffers from a touch of undergraduate bloat. It’s almost as though Bebergal was occasionally stretching to meet a mandatory word count. This is particularly true in the early chapters, where he spends far too long leading the reader down already well-trodden paths.

For instance, there is simply no excuse for the amount of space Bebergal devotes to that hoary old blues/rock Ur-myth, the Bargain at the Crossroads, nor to the extended exegeses on the deep anthropological roots of rhythm and blues. This all merits mention, surely, but I can hardly think of anything less “occult” (a synonym for “hidden”) than the fact that rock music is African/African American music. There are literally hundreds of high quality works, for both layman and scholar, exploring these particular subjects. A few pages of summary, directing interested readers to pertinent sources, would have sufficed. Instead, Bebergal’s history lesson drones on for 30 pages; and they’re the first 30 pages of his book, not including the (thankfully, excellent) introduction. It’s a painful, dragging slog that all but dares the reader to continue.

Season of the Witch could also have used at least one more editorial pass, preferably by someone coming in fresh. This would have spared Bebergal the embarrassment of having the phrases “still wading in a bayou of voodoo and Christianity” and “still part of a culture knee-deep in a swamp of superstition” appear in the same paragraph, straddling pages 2 and 3 of his very first chapter.

There are a number of such uncomfortable echoes, all the way to pages 224 and 225, where you find the phrase “this sinister metal, one embracing decay and darkness as an essential part of the human condition” literally rubbing up against the phrase “a new mythology of metal, one that embraced decay and darkness as an essential part of the human condition” on the facing page. Ouch.

Despite these caveats, Season of the Witch serves as an excellent primer on the subject of how multiple strands of the Western Esoteric Tradition have manifested (and continue to manifest) in rock music at every level, from obscure one-hit wonders and niche acts catering to specialist audiences, all the way up to those stadium-straddling demi-gods who have forged the so-called “Classic Rock” legacy that seems destined to be at least as long-lived as those of such immortals as Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Stravinsky, et al. As such, Bebergal’s tome makes a worthy companion to Gary Lachman’s excellent A Dark Muse: A History of the Occult, which is, in actuality, a chronological roll call of significant individuals in the literary, artistic, and (to a lesser extent) political realms, all of whom were deeply influenced by, or were esteemed practitioners of, Western occultism.

And that, dear friends, is why I’ve decided to produce a mini-concordance for Bebergal’s book (with one for Lachman’s coming at some point in the near future). This project will be of a more limited scope compared to what I put together for Eugene Thacker’s In The Dust of This Planet, for which I went way overboard. But I will endeavor to provide a plethora of intriguing multimedia links relating to the acts and artists that Bebergal writes about, as well as to other writings that will help to promote and occasionally flesh out Bebergal’s various theses. These will include links to some intriguing music that I have to assume will be new to you, because I’ve made it one of my life goals to sniff out the most obscure Prog Rock ever created, and Bebergal managed to hip me to some stuff that I’d never even heard of, much less listened to.

So, let us begin at the beginning, with the…

INTRODUCTION – We Are All Initiates Now


After an amusing and relevant epigraph from Euripides’s The Bacchae (“My hair is holy. I grow it long for the God.”), Bebergal regales the reader with a tale that should be familiar to most readers of a certain vintage. It’s the story of how his big brother, upon leaving for college in 1978, gave him access to “the mysteries” of his room. A record collection that was like a lexicon of the Gods (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Arthur Brown, King Crimson, Hawkwind, Yes, Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd). A damn fine musical starter kit for a precocious 11-year-old seeker already steeping in the wonders of Tolkien reprints, Dungeons & Dragons, Heavy Metal Magazine, horror comics and the animated films of Ralph Bakshi!

Bebergal was the kind of kid who was obsessed with finding clues as to whether or not Paul was really dead, sought out secret messages like the “Do what thou will” motto etched into the living vinyl of Led Zeppelin III, wondered what exactly David Bowie’s deal was anyway, and lost himself as he gazed into album covers painted by prog rock’s premiere visual fantasist, Roger Dean.
Those days sitting cross-legged on my brother’s floor were an initiation into a mystery cult, where I would become a disciple of rock and roll. Throughout my teenage years, rock was the musical narrative of my inner life. There was always an album that spoke perfectly to whatever inscrutable feelings I was negotiating at the time. Rock’s often sphinxlike truths were the key to not only my own inner life; they could open the door into other mysterious realms. Eventually I stopped searching for esoteric riddles on album covers and in song lyrics, but I never ceased being aware of where the occult imagination was at play. It’s a plot I’ve been following ever since I first opened the gatefold cover to David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album to the grotesquely erotic painting of a caninesque Bowie, half man, half dog. I came to realize that magic cannot exist without a conduit, a means of expression. And even if it can, I am not interested in the metaphysics of the occult. I believe in those horned gods only when I hear them speaking from out of the grooves in the vinyl… And in those moments, they are as real as the music itself. I don’t need the magic to be anywhere else. 


The second part of Bebergal’s introduction asks an intriguing series of questions:
What is it about rock, more than any other art form of the modern age, that makes it such a perfect vehicle for this ancient and often unconscious drive to penetrate the veil between the phenomenal world and the numinous realm of the spirit? Why have so many musicians staged their rock concerts to appear as moments of shamanic and religious rites and created personas simulating magicians, demons, the gods Pan and Dionysus, even appearing as people possessed by gods of devils or worse? Why have they covered their album covers with images of the occult, conjured their lyrics out of the stuff of legend and myth, and even in their personal lives sought their own mystical and magical experiences? Why have they performed shows in front of ancient relics? 
These are the questions that he will spend the entire book attempting to answer… or, at least, these are the types of events, incidents and motifs that he will spend the rest of his book cataloging. He does make a pretty solid argument (and it’s one that has been made before) that, more than any other cultural tradition in a very long time, the rock concert comes closest to approximating the organized ecstatic revelry of Ancient Pagan times. This is something rock shares with Christian revival tent meetings of 19th century America and Fascist/Nazi political rallies of the 1920’s and 30’s. Anyone who’s ever attended a significantly attended hard rock concert knows that, at some points, the performers are playing with potentially dangerous forces.

Bebergal elaborates somewhat on the relationship between rock music, religious celebrations and their shared pagan roots. He then refers to fear being oddly paradoxical, in that far from repelling us, it often piques our curiosity and leaves us wanting to experience more… to go where we fear to tread. So adding a frisson of danger to the mix is a recipe for increasing appeal. “Rumors of the occult, particularly stories of deals with the Devil, both attract and repel.”

Racism rears its ugly head. “Rock’s earliest manifestations drew directly from the blues, gospel and even African American spirituals, all of these seen as incarnations of the perceived barbarism and ungodliness of black Americans, many of whom it was believed had sinister intentions regarding the white daughters of America.”

Then came the 60’s, and “sexual liberation, antiwar protests, and other social movements collided. In this climate, musicians and fans alike would blow their music and their minds with LSD, opening up a cultural third eye exposing them to alternative religious and occult practice. It was a shot heard round the world in song, such as the spirituality of The Beatles’ "Tomorrow Never Knows", one of the first great mystical moments in popular music.

And here it that song, still capable of sending goosebumps rippling the shorthairs up and down your arms, for your listening pleasure: 

All the essential rock genres, from heavy metal to progressive, from glam to goth, gathered their wool from the occult’s harvest. Magic and mysticism gave rock its sure footing even as it took the greatest leap of faith and plunged into the abyss. It could have gone another way and become merely a fusion of American blues and folk without its own real identity. Instead, the biggest names in popular music willingly participated in this spiritual rebellion and in so doing crafted rock’s mythic soul. … [They] not only transformed rock with their musical innovations, but saved rock from becoming a series of radio-friendly 45's spinning endless redundant chords. 
Who were the shamans of rock? Jim Morrison was in the running, what with his Native American thing. And in the 70’s William Burroughs dubbed Patti Smith “someone in touch with other levels of reality”. Even Sting and Daryl Hall (whose album Sacred Songs was, he claims, inspired by Aleister Crowley) threw their hats into the ring! Among today’s bands, Tool has incorporated ritual magic, sacred geometry and other esoteric practices into their albums and shows. Of course, this should come as no surprise to fans of Tool. Hall and Oates fans, on the other hand, might be nonplussed to learn of Daryl's, let's say "extracurricular" interests. In recognition of this fact, and the challenge that it poses to him as a chronicler of such things, Bebergal writes:

It would be futile to list every album employing a pentagram, a devil’s visage, a sigil, or some other mystical or occult symbol, to name every song that references wizards and warlocks, devils and demons, tarot cards and fortune-tellers, karma, past lives, alien saviors, or Aleister Crowley; to examine every musician that has ever dabbled in the occult. What I have opted for instead is a narrative history, drawing on key moments in the development of rock and roll, from its origins in African American slave songs up until the ascendancy of electronic instruments in the 1980’s.


In the spirit of defining one’s terms, here Bebergal attempts to come to grips with the very concept of the occult.
There is no satisfactory definition of the occult… Believers in certain occult ideas will often claim there is a direct transmission from the ancients in the way of coded writings, mediums, and even aliens. The Corpus Hermeticum, for example, is an Egyptian collection of texts dating to around the 2nd or 3rd century, a synthesis of Gnostic Christianity, Neoplatonism, and Greek and Roman cultic myths. The texts contain alchemical, magical, and astrological teachings, but at their heart, they describe a universe where human beings are divine and unity with God is the true destiny of creation.
From the Corpus, attributed during the Renaissance to the mythical Hermes Trismegistus, we get such occult truisms as “As Above, So Below.”

Many modern-day adherents of the Corpus claim , despite all the evidence to the contrary, that these texts were written by one sage belonging to a single ancient-Egyptian mystery cult. Others have tried to prove witchcraft was part of an actual religious lineage that began in the ancient world and spread through Europe, eventually landing in modern-day Wiccan and neo-pagan communities.  Unfortunately, there is no direct path for the occult as a belief. It twisted and turned throughout the ages, seemingly disappearing entirely, only to spring up when people once again sought something – some meaning or experience – that the Church or other religious authorities could not provide.

On the other side are the detractors who claim the occult is not to be taken seriously, especially in an age when science and reason have all but made religion and any beliefs in the supernatural, irrelevant. … The occult is even more of a fool’s game than religion.

A more balanced definition is one that takes into account the remarkable influence occult beliefs have had on culture while also recognizing that these beliefs are themselves a conglomerate of bits of mythology, religion, and actual experience, which often take the form of mystical or other states of altered consciousness.
Bebergal states that “more often than not, occult practices are in direct response to traditional religious practice and derive their language and beliefs from those practices. In this respect then, the occult is a spectrum of beliefs and actions seeking to understand God, nature, or the cosmos in a way at odds with normative or mainstream religious communities. These practices attempt to place some measure of control into human hands.”

He then glosses the Occult Revival of the 1800’s, when people of the stature of the great poet W.B. Yeats and the writer Arthur Machen joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. And the Symbolist art movement that was deeply inspired by the occult symbolism of Renaissance-era alchemy. Sigil Magician and influential visual artist Austin Osman Spare was an early 20th century exemplar.

Musicians’ obsession with the occult didn’t begin with rock, either. “The composer friends Erik Satie and Claude Debussy both joined the Kabbalistic Order of the Rose-Cross, a mystical fraternity. This would extend into the mid-century, particularly with experimental composers. Pierre Schaeffer, the father of musique concrete, was a devotee of the Armenian mystic Gurdjieff. The electronic music vanguard Karlheinz Stockhausen studied Eastern mysticism and once claimed he received his musical education in the Sirius star system.”

“It makes more sense, then, to talk about the occult imagination rather than the occult purely as a belief system.” 


Bebergal underscores the sexual dynamic at work in both rock and the occult via a brisk but elegant re-telling of the myth of Dionysus’ gruesome revenge on the mortal priest Pentheus for his insults, as explored in the ancient Greek play The Bacchae, by Euripides (and source of this tome’s epigraph).
Theater is where gender easily becomes fluid, and like Pentheus, who eagerly masquerades in drag to witness the gods’ beautiful frenzy, rock musicians warped and weaved their sexuality. It can be seen in Robert Plant’s masculine gracefulness, David Bowie’s hermaphroditic aliens, Mick Jagger’s tumescent lips, and Patti Smith’s binary swagger. ... Rock also taps into the Dionysian principle in its tragic forms. Pentheus secretly wants to participate in the secret rites, but he is not properly initiated. He wants the thrill without the sacrifice, but the god demands it, and so Pentheus is destroyed. This is rock’s perpetual misfortune, where the lure of the ecstatic – often by way of intoxication – resulted in various forms of tragedy, including madness and death. 
So rock, at its best (argues Bebergal, and I agree) is as pagan as it gets. It channels the old gods (Dionysus, Pan, Hecate) of the mystery cults, where excess is used as a tool for transcendence.

But these gods can be dangerous. They can make demands on you that you might not be able to meet. But if you’re going to dance, why not dance on the edge? The view from there can be awe-inspiring.
That was one hell of an introduction by Mr. Bebergal! Now, we’ll be shifting into more of a point-form format as we move on to… 

CHAPTER 1 – (You Make Me Wanna) Shout 
  • Rock’s Ur-myth is the "Deal with the Devil at the Crossroads". 
  • The legend goes, if you want to learn to play guitar, you find the right crossroads and wait until midnight, when a large black man will appear. 
  • It might be the Haitian Vodou Loa Papa Legba, who might grant you favor from the orisha spirits if you treat him with the proper respect. 
  • It might be Eshu, West African Yoruba messenger/trickster god, guardian of pathways. 
  • Over time, this story mutated into the idea of the Faustian deal, selling one’s immortal soul for an extraordinary (but worldly, and thus temporary) gift. 
  • Most often associated with seminal blues guitarist Robert Johnson, who also happens to be the very first member of the tragic and genuinely witchy “27 Club” of rockers who died at that ridiculously premature age. 
  • In fact, the original Crossroads story was most likely about Mississippi falsetto Tommy Johnson selling his voice for singing prowess (a rumor started by his brother). 
  • Bebergal goes into great detail about the development of the belief system through the early 1800’s, via the work of Samuel Ajayi Crowther, a rescued Yoruban slave who became a Christian minister and created the first Yoruban translation of the Bible, slipping in the name of trickster entity Eshu for Satan. 
  • The consequences of this switcheroo… 
  • Eshu appears outside of Africa for the first time as Papa Legba in Haiti, in Vodou. 
  • Vodou was a blend of West African Vodun and French Catholicism. 
  • Vodun and the Yoruba religion share features, including the existence of a trickster who acts as an intermediary between the human world and the spirit world. 
  • During and after the Haitian revolution, many blacks fled to Louisiana, where “the complex aspects of Vodou intermingled with the stew of other beliefs and practices, including Evangelical Christianity, occult practices molded out of the Yoruba religion, and European superstition. Together these elements would come to be popularly known as Voodoo
  • Whatever name you give it, it all looked like Devil stuff to the average white person in the American south at that time. “Like all occult phenomena, tracing what was actually practiced as opposed to what was rumored can be difficult.” 
  • Further reading: Slave Religion: The Invisible Institution in the Antebellum South, by Albert J. Raboteau. Full text available online in multiple formats. 
  • “Not only was conjure a theory for explaining the mystery of evil, but it was also a practice for doing something about it.” 
  • Then came the blues, seen as the devil’s music from day one. 
  • It was a perfect storm, challenging the notion that the American black identity had to be bound up with the church. 
  • Lucille Bogan’s 1935 song “Shave ‘em Dry” was a case in point, with its lyrics that would eventually get checked by none other than The Rolling Stones: “I got nipples on my titties, big as the end of my thumb / I got somethin’ between my legs’ll make a dead man cum” 
  • The Mojo (aka gris-gris, conjure bag, Mojo hand, luck bag, etc) was originally a sachet with the root of a particular orchid species that looked like a withered hand. 
  • So Papa Legba (Eshu) lives on, through the music. “It was as if the spirit of Papa Legba knew it was about to be lost forever, and so embraced its new identity as Satan, if only to ensure it would continue to find expression in rock and roll. Better to be accused of being the devil than to be forgotten completely.” 

  • Everybody remembers, or at least knows about, Elvis Presley on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, when the cameraman had to shoot him high to avoid filming his gyrating hips. 
  • Elvis was raised Pentecostal
  • Pentecostal religion places an emphasis on entering into communion with the holy spirit through music, dance, speaking in tongues and other ecstatic rapture states. 
  • This, they learned from African American churches. 
  • “The devil should not be allowed to keep all this good rhythm!” 
  • “White churches saw pagan Africa in black churches, black churches saw the devil in blues music, and everyone thought the Pentecostals were possessed by the devil.” 
  • Elvis was well aware of these apparent contradictions, and made some surprisingly astute comments on the situation. 
  • Another early link in the chain of rock and roll’s occult origins is the Ring Shout
  • The Ring Shout involves making a circle and moving in a circle, shuffling one’s feet while the rest of the body, arms, hands and head release a joyous ecstasy. 
  • The hardships of slavery led to slaves finding solace and a means of self-expression by creating incredible music. But white masters didn’t allow drums, because they could lead to calls for rebellion, and the religious saw the fiddle as a lure to dance, and thus the devil’s instrument. Blacks who were Christian converts were among those most opposed to music and dance. Some burned their fiddles. This repression led to hush harbors and ring shouts (and its essential, still familiar element, the call-and-response). 
  • And always, whether Christian or pagan, there is this idea of being “possessed”. 
  • One long-surviving ring shout song is "Adam in the Garden", which you can see part of in this video:
  • “While enacted by Africans adopting Christian behaviors, these ancient songs and musical signatures, rituals to connect with the gods, are pre-Christian in their very expression because they endeavor to employ methods of magic—trance, divination, spirit possession, dance—in order to have a direct encounter with the deities. This is the oldest form of religious worship, when magic and religion were inseparable, where myth was communicated through a colorful and often wild blending of costume, song, and dance.” 
  • From these work songs and ring shouts came the spiritual, possibly the single most influential form of American music. 
  • Shouting and other ecstatic practices were claimed by Pentecostalism as an authentic response to being filled with the spirit of God. But mainstream churches did not approve… even when it was white folks doing it. Which brings us back to Elvis. And racism. 
  • Elvis brought to bear much of what they were afraid of: Sex by way of the devil’s lust. Rock was tribal, pagan at its core, would seduce white teens. Rock was sex. 
  • In the 1957 book Close That Bedroom Door! by Lambert and Patricia Schuyler, the authors claim a government conspiracy to get black men copulating with white women. Yes, this is a real book, and the cover art has to be seen to be believed. Anyway, according to the Schuylers, blacks have taken to inculcating the youth into loving rock and roll merely a means to a nefarious end: “Teens have been taught to love it and never does it cross their minds that this incessant emphasis upon the Negro with his repulsive love songs and vulgar rhythms is but the psychological preliminary to close body contact between the races.” The horror! The horror!
  • Speaking of the "Negro Menace", Little Richard embodied the basic conflict within rock’s relationship with church music, with those very same churches calling it the devil’s music.” He started out playing piano for his local church, but he had a talent and an energy that simply could not be contained or relegated to a commercial ghetto like "colored music".  
  • With his 1955 version of Tutti Frutti, originally a sexually explicit blues song, Little Richard exploded onto the scene as an instant force to be reckoned with. Everybody wanted in on that crazy action. 
  • In 1957, after a streak of hits and at the height of his popularity, Little Richard had an apocalyptic vision and turned his back on rock, denouncing it for years afterward. 
  • Upon his return to rock, he declared: “I think that rock and roll is getting ready to shake the world again. That rock and roll, with them wild names and that thing that makes you dance yourself to glory, I think that’s what’s getting ready to happen to the music.” 

  • In 1956, psychiatrist Jules Wasserman compared it to “the Dionysian revels in Greece, where the god of sex (Priapus) and the god of drink (Bacchus) were feted in the same two beat rhythms.” 
  • If rock’s detractors hadn’t been so sensitive to the music’s occult wellspring, the occult imagination wouldn’t have become such a big part of rock’s subsequent self-identity and progression. Thus, attempts to stifle the flame at the heart of this music only fanned it to blazing life and longevity. 
  • Then came the Beats, for whom Eastern religion and occultism were becoming important tools of inspiration, claiming the Satanic poet Baudelaire and the visionary artist William Blake (who was creating Prog Rock album art a century before Prog Rock existed... see above) as kindred spirits. 
  • In 1957, Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg went on trial over the publication of the “obscene” free verse poem, Howl. When they won, it presaged a growing acceptance of earthier expression and opened up all manner of expressive avenues to those willing to chance walking them.  
  • “Bebop provided the soundtrack” as jazz musicians kicked against the restraints of swing and big band to show that technical prowess and spontaneity could go hand in hand. Improvisation emerged as an important mode of musical expression, with musicians playing off each other. It also exposed the Beats to African American culture and lingo. 
  • Harry Smith’s collection of music from 1927 to 1932 formed the foundation of the legendary Anthology of American Folk Music (1952), but the packaging was covered in occult symbols. 
  • Smith was an occultist, a student of the Kabbalah, magic, and peyote mysticism
  • The cover of the anthology features the "Celestial Monochord", by Robert Fludd (an instrument Fludd used as the basis of his magical practice based on the idea of “like as to like”). 
  • The collection was divided into Red, Blue, and Green, for Fire, Water, and Air. 
  • “Many of the songs in the anthology are echoes of the music played and sung in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains, an area settled as early as the 1700’s by British, Welsh and Scottish immigrants, who brought with them their own folk music.” 
  • This collection would influence the mid-century folk revival (and Bob Dylan), which would go on to influence rock music. 
  • Bebergal ends this chapter with a meditation on Plutarch’s Moralia and its tale of a messenger bringing news to Tiberius Caesar Augustus that the old god Pan had died. Of course, Pan can never die. He simply pops up with new names, spreading the same old panic. So even as rock was going through its Pat Boone-era neutering in the late 50’s, a phantom lay dormant on the edges of the mainstream, “being driven by the fiery poetry and prose of the Beats as well as by experimental composers and artists.” 

CHAPTER 2 – Relax and Float Downstream 

  • In terms of popular music, it was in the UK that rock and roll first began to find its balls again, in the early 1960’s. As would later be recognized, kids in garages across the USA were banging away at it all the while, as well. 
  • While the British Invasion helped breathe new life into rock by looking back at its blues roots, it was the injection of LSD that would utterly transfigure the way rock sounded and looked and, most importantly, the way it made the listener feel. And the inspired genius behind The Pink Floyd, singer/guitarist Syd Barrett, was one who willingly embraced being the messenger for this New Way... at a great cost to himself and his sanity. 
  • Barrett’s music was tremendously influenced by his obsession with mysticism, as well as with the popular fascinations of the era, such as Tolkien and the I Ching
  • Rob Young’s essential tome Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music describes Barrett as being “strangely pushed and pulled between nostalgia for the secret garden of a child’s imagination and the space-age futurism of interstellar overdrive.” 
  • With Pink Floyd, the work was designed to be accentuated by the light show, which was as much a part of the gestalt as the music from the get-go, creating a complete, compelling, abstract psycho-drama, inducing trance-like states and altering consciousness. “The method is new, but the intention is ancient.” Witness one such display at the legendary, short-lived UFO (pronounced YOU-foe) Club in downtown London:
  • The story of how it all went tragically wrong for Barrett—how overuse of powerful psychedelic drugs combined with a family predilection towards serious mental illness and the incredible pressures that come with being an overnight sensation—has been told so many times that I won’t be rehashing it here. Bebergal’s retelling of it does include a bit of knowledge of which I, a major Floyd freak, was previously unaware, that being Barrett’s involvement with a group that practiced Sant Mat, a strange synthesis of Sikhism, Hinduism, and Sufism. 
  • "The Sant Mat philosophy requires initiation into its teachings, and Barrett was not considered spiritually fit. Sant Mat emphasizes chastity, abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and a commitment to meditation practice, not something a young up-and-coming rock and roll star in the mid-sixties was likely to find easy. Barrett was saddened by the esoteric order’s rejection of him, but there were distractions to take his mind off it: Pink Floyd and LSD."
  • Bebergal calls the Floyd’s first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, a Wunderkammer, or cabinet of curiosities containing relics from Barrett’s psyche and served as “a construct mirroring the counterculture’s spiritual yearning.” It is a masterpiece, ahead of its time to this very day.
  • The title comes from Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 children’s book, The Wind in the Willows, in which animals find themselves in the company of Pan. 
  • “The music of the 1960’s would prove to be a grove in which to worship Pan.” 
  • For a taste of the tradition from which this movement emerged, read the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Hymn of Pan”, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”
  • 1960’s rock and roll culture revived the Romantic tradition of suspicion against reason and industry, preferring direct, immediate communion with nature and the universe. 
  • The Piper at the Gates of Dawn “shines forth from Syd Barrett’s psyche as if he’s a prism of the collective unconscious of the generation.” 
  • Album opener "Astronomy Domine (An Astral Chant)" is a powerful musical statement (see embedded video, above). 
  • "Chapter 24" is taken literally from the aforementioned I Ching, referencing the 24th hexagram of that system, named “fu”. 
  • The Piper at the Gates of Dawn “is the dream of one man, made audible through a group consciousness”, perhaps an egregore, a magical essence where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts, to the point where it’s almost an independent living thing, not entirely unlike a tulpa. When you think of it that way, the question “Which one’s Pink?” is even more fraught than it is in the context in which it’s presented. 
  • LSD as a drug has many resonances with Eastern religions. 
  • “The feeling of ego dissolution, for example, corresponds nicely to the Buddhist notion of ego transcendence. A sense of unity, of becoming one with the universe.” Furthermore, “Eastern mysticism and occultism are well suited to make sense of an otherwise inexplicable occurrence.” 
  • The 1966 book The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, by academic-turned-notorious-LSD-slinging-failed-revolutionary, Timothy Leary
  • In the same tradition, we have novelist and public intellectual Aldous Huxley’s 1954 tome The Doors of Perception, which extolled the psycho-therapeutic benefits of the religious peyote rituals of North American First Nations tribes, and from which Jim Morrison's band got their name. 
  • “The wave breaking on the shore of the counterculture was too strong. It was not enough to change the social and political system. One had to change one’s very being and relationship to the universe. Only a direct experience with the divine governed by an individual’s desire would suffice. This spiritual rebellion would need a soundtrack, so two of the editors of the influential London underground magazine International Times (IT), Joe Boyd and John “Hoppy” Hopkins, ran the UFO Club on Totenham Court Road from December 1966 to October 1967.” 
  • Here is where Pink Floyd (and other bands) perfected their co-mingling of sound and vision, trip and trance.  
  • But it was the Poster Art that really ratcheted up the occult aesthetic, cooking up a potent brew of multiple 19th century art movements, including Romanticism, Art Nouveau, Symbolism, all infused with esoteric signs and sigils. 
  • The Romantic movement of the late 19th century was the last “enchanted time” for artists and musicians until the 1960’s. This coincided with the “Occult Revival”, which saw many writers and thinkers (Arthur Conan Doyle, William James, etc) devoting their attention to formerly taboo topics. Artists began making more extensive use of mystical symbols. 
  • The Symbolists tried to undermine the dominant realism/naturalism of the day via their Symbolist Manifesto, written by poet Jean Moreas in 1886 as a response to the failure of Romanticism to usher in a New Age and as an attack on the purely scientific worldview. 
  • Composers Claude Debussy, Erik Satie and novelist Peladan attended Symbolist salons structured like Rosicrucian lodges (Rosy+Cross Lodge they called it). 
  • The Decadent movement was closely related, attacking the upper class and making use of explicit taboos of sex and violence and intoxication. 
  • Aubrey Beardsley’s work on Oscar Wilde’s Salome, for instance, and Lysistrata. Paganism and mythology. 
  • Hashish and Opium (and dreams) helped spread the idea of individuality and the value of inwardness, something literary Modernism would later run with and build on. It also echoes the 60’s use of marijuana and LSD. 
  • UFO club gig posters were also influenced by Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (Art Nouveau), Spiritualist and Freemason. He believed art should transmit hidden spiritual truths
  • UFO club bands – Soft Machine, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Pink Floyd, - played in front of images projected by The Boyle Family (Mark Boyle and Joan Hills). They used blood, semen, vomit, etc. Also acid on zinc, fabrics and paint. 
  • David Thompson saw this work as “a kind of mysticism” seeking unity where others look to isolate as a precursor for categorization… a Romantic concept versus a materialistic, Modern one. 
  • Music, visuals and LSD crashed together creating a counterculture that, against all odds, led to mainstream “commercial” success. This caused elements of said counterculture to "bleed" into “square” culture. Witness this Peter Max ad for 7-Up:
  • And this commercial for Brim Coffee is pure commodified psychedelia:
  • Change was not just in the air, it was the very look and sound of the time. There was tension about whether the “revolution” should be social, political, or spiritual. IT editorials angrily chides hippies w/mystic inclination to remember the real goal. They didn’t want their political goals weakened or ignored, derailed by drugs.
  • Even in 1967, people were witnessing the dark side of mixing acid and the occult. 
  • Pink Floyd were growing in popularity, but Syd was breaking down. They ultimately replaced him with the more-than-worthy guitarist David Gilmour, who was a childhood friend of Syd's. The rest of the band even tried to help Syd release his solo material, some of which is wonderful, visionary, and still original sounding today. But he just kept slipping deeper and deeper into himself. 
  • Eventually, the Syd Barrett chapter of the Pink Floyd story slammed shut during the recording sessions for the Wish You Were Here album, in an infamous incident wherein Syd, after seven years of no communication, just happened to pop by the study as the band was laying down tracks for "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", a song that is quite explicitly about Syd slipping through the cracks and becoming unrecognizable. It took a while for his formerly close friends to even realize it was him.
  • Madness and the visionary experience are difficult to tell apart sometimes. 

  • In fairly short order in late 60's London, occultism merged with Eastern mysticism, causing the "hip" set to seek out gurus and others to show them how to turn their bodies into "tools of the revolution". 
  • Beatles guitarist George Harrison was leaving TM (Transcendental Meditation, which promised an easier, softer path to enlightenment) and when he learned the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was coming to London, he got the other Beatles to go, too. 
  • The idea the Westerners needed to seek out wisdom and wise men from the East was a variation on Helena Petrovna Blavatsky’s ideas. 
  • HPB’s Theosophical Society essentially believes that all religions are different “expressions” of the same idea. Christianity or Islam are NOT the only way. This she was told by “ascended masters” (originally from Egypt, but then she said Tibet). HPB also called the ascended masters “Mahatmas”. 
  • The Vedanta movement brought Hindu teachers like Swami Vivekananda to the states around 1900, and by the 40’s and 50’s, this became the religion of choice for many intellectuals and writers (Aldous Huxley, Christopher Isherwood).
  • In the 50’s, the Beats grooved to Zen and mystic hedonist Alan Watts turned Eastern mysticism into pop psychology. 
  • Wouter J. Hanegraaff said it was theosophy’s “force of religious innovation” that brought occult fascination to the West, using teachers from the East to give a form and function.

“Mixing magic and LSD… made everybody’s head crack 
like Humpty Dumpty.”

  • The Beatles had access to the Maharishi, just as they had access to many things thanks to their fame and wealth, so fans who wished to explore these topics could do so vicariously via their favorite band(s). In fact, for most, it was almost the ONLY way to explore such alternative religious and theological beliefs. 
  • The 1966 Evening Standard “We’re more popular than Jesus” comment was prescient and accurate in many ways. For many, “the Beatles were precisely that, in softly theological terms: a mediator between heaven and Earth, a bridge from the drudgery of middle-class culture to the dream of something greater: cosmic awareness, inner peace and the eternal high.” 
  • 60’s anxieties revolved around sex, war, race, religion. The Beatles week with the Maharishi seemed to make them go a little loopy and a little “True Believer”. McCartney in particular jumping from enthusiastically promoting LSD to bemoaning it when compared to TM, is embarrassing. The suicide of Brian Epstein knocked all the Beatles off kilter, sending even the band's sole doubting Thomas, George Harrison, into a lifelong devotion. 
  • Harrison’s relationship to Ravi Shankar was important for his development, both spiritually and musically. 
  • June 1967, Monterey California, East and West came together to great acclaim and a weighty influence at the Monterey Pop Festival
A familiar face pops up: PAN!
  • Hendrix, Joplin, Otis Redding, Simon and Garfunkle, Mamas and the Papas, the Who, the Byrds and others. It was an incredible show, with an amazing set list. Some of the most iconic performances in rock history. 
  • It's where Hendrix set his guitar on fire in an approximation of a pagan ritual sacrifice. 
  • Eric Burdon, of the Animals, declared: “It wasn’t a music festival at all, really. It was a religious festival. It was a love festival.” 
  • Shankar brought the sitar to the 1960’s and it caught fire, a sound that would become synonymous with psychedelic music and the movement, as this Serge Gainsbourg composition from 1968 can attest: 
  • Also in 1968, the Beatles (and Donovan and Mike Love of the Beach Boys) visit the Maharishi at his ashram in India, where they promptly get bored, become annoyed at the guru coming on to their girlfriends, and come home angry and confused. 
  • In retrospect, the Vedanta guru tradition (very disciplined, authoritarian) and the ‘anything goes’ magickal stew of the 1960’s made poor bedfellows, which is probably why the Eastern mysticism phase didn’t last very long, despite the fascination with the occult in general continuing to blossom. 
  • The Beatles album covers were revolutionary. Think of the collage jumble of Sgt Pepper’s with its saints and sinners, followed by the white album, a total blank, an invitation to draw your OWN cover (or find yourself inside). 
  • And then, there was Abbey Road. Four guys crossing the street… and an almost infinite number of interpretations, some dark and fearsome, erupted from it. 
  • It all started with the first clue in the “Paul is Dead” urban myth, which emerged when a Detroit area DJ, spurred on by a caller who said he’d found something relevant to the rumor that Paul had died in an auto accident in 1966 only to be replaced by a doppelganger, played "Revolution Number 9" from the white album backwards on the air, revealing the refrain “Turn me on, dead man” repeated over and over. 
  • After that, the floodgates were opened. “The obsessive looking for clues in album covers inspired what would become a regular part of the activity of listening to rock and roll: searching for hidden meaning in every album cover.”  
  • The band always denied hiding messages in their music OR their album art, but they sure did evoke images from the late 1900’s occult revival, as well as the emblems popular during the Renaissance. 
  • Working on these mysteries definitely served to deepen the psychic bond between fan and artist… to share not only a language, but a mystical iconography… that’s powerful stuff. 
  • Design guru Paula Scher: “Everyone I knew stared at the cover for hours on end, unlocking special, secret clues to its meaning … and we debated our obscure findings forever. Nothing before or since affected me as strongly. I doubt anything ever will.” 
  • There is a negative side to this, which is very much in evidence these days, during the crisis of Late Capitalist Decline and the onrushing Long Emergency: “Those with enough time and inclination could read the Beatles album covers as an occult terrorist’s handbook, a step-by-inscrutable step guide to helping Satan and his legions take over the world.” Think of all those Youtube videos about the Illuminati, or the website Vigilant Citizen, for whom every Super Bowl halftime show is the breaking of yet another End Times seal. 
  • Drug use, gurus, “more popular than Jesus”… The Beatles pushed every Christian Fundamentalist button. Usually, this is the domain of harmless cooks and cranks, but occasionally, it can turn dark. 
  • Need we really go over the Tate/LaBianca murders? Beatles fan and Beach Boy bud Charlie Manson Helter Skelter'ing his way through the Love Generation like some kind of vicious human malware? No wonder the Beatles broke up when they did. I doubt they had a choice. They’d become too big to carry on. 
  • John Lennon’s 1971 interview with Rolling Stone was harsh in his assessment of what he himself had become: “I’m sick of it. I’m sick of them, they frighten me, a lot of uptight maniacs going around wearing fuckin’ peace symbols.” 
  • Harrison’s mystical quest only deepened. 
  • “It took the Beatles to drive home the idea that a new spiritual age truly was dawning, but they were also the band to show that you could only take it so far.” 

  • January 1967 issue of the San Francisco Oracle, a full page ad announced the Human Be-In, a “Gathering of Tribes”, combining politics and spirituality. Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane would be there. The aim was nothing less than to make rock music the primary means of delivering the message of the spiritual revolution made possible by LSD. 
  • Third Eye imagery evoked the powers of LSD.
  • Brian Wilson said LSD (which was first made illegal in California in 1966) would turn pop music into “White spirituals… songs of faith.”
  • The Human Be-In was the creation of counterculture occult artists John Starr Cooke and Michael Bowen (both of whom worked at the Oracle).
  • Cooke had a background in Scientology, Sufism and Subud.
  • Subud is an esoteric spiritual practice using a technique called laithan (a sort of trance or channeling state).
  • Using a Ouija board and channeling an entity called One, Cooke and Bowen did all sorts of stuff, including design a new “Aquarian” Tarot deck.
  • The Human Be-In took place on January 14, 1967 in Golden Gate Park. 30+ thousand hippies and counterculture elites took part. It was here that Leary first said: “Turn on, tune in, drop out” (which he later claimed was his version of Crowley’s “Do What You Will”).
  • The music was well received and helped the revolutionary politics (and Ginsberg’s poetry) go down easier. “The idea of a spiritual revolution underlying the political one would transform the counterculture through the rest of the 60’s.”
  • In October 67, Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman and others aped occult practices by trying to levitate the Pentagon (they didn’t really believe they could do it… they were just freaking out the normies). The occult still served to spook people.
  • Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” (67) is a must-read for anyone serious about learning the whole story of the 60’s, which includes hard drugs, poverty and crime. But just as the actual hippie movement was winding down (or falling apart), the mainstream was catching on, and rock’s mystic spiritual rebellion took off.
  • There was the rock musical HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, which was a huge hit, infused with astrology and occult traditions such as the evolution of ages (such as the Aquarian Age that they sing about).
  • Rock began using more directly mystical imagery and lyrics, like when The Amboy Dukes invited you to take a "Journey to the Center of the Mind". And of course, there's the lesser known work of H.P. Lovecraft (the band, not the writer). Check out this wonderful song:
  • Rock’s burgeoning experimental twitches became more ambitious, as psychedelic music evoked strange scenes with odd sounds (Green Tambourine, Incense and Peppermints). And American culture was forever changed.


  • Donovan, the Scottish troubadour came up with a riff that hypnotized him… the song would become "The Season of the Witch". It suggested that the new age wouldn’t be all smiles and sunshine. He described the song as “ritualistic”. 
  • Later, the same year the song came out, Donovan was arrested for pot possession and became the UK media’s poster boy for the "evils" of pop music. 
  • Donovan had no interest in becoming a political voice, preferring to concentrate on his music, which was influenced by Bob Dylan and Eastern ragas, among others. His bailiwick was what you might call “heavy whimsy”. Think of J.R.R. Tolkien, Arthurian legends, wizards, fantasy, superheroes, etc. His music was pantheistic… pagan. 
  • “Maybe it is the first kind of Celtic-rock thing I was doing, a rediscovery of our roots in Britain, which of course became the British sound.” 
  • Which brings us to witchcraft. 
  • Following in the footsteps of researcher Margaret Murray (of The Witch Cult infamy), anthropologist Gerald Gardner wrote about the existence of a pre-Christian, religious cult that worshiped a horned god, claiming that the religion spread to most of Western Europe and survived Christian attempts to destroy it to this very day (he claims he was initiated into the cult in the late 1930’s). 
  • In 1951, England’s Witchcraft Act was repealed (it had been on the books since 1542). Gardner immediately published two nonfiction books (Witchcraft Today and The Meaning of Witchcraft) supporting Murray’s notions and more. These were largely debunked by party-pooper scholars, but they still make for interesting reading. 
  • With a bit of help from Aleister Crowley (a longtime friend) Gardner established the idea of witchcraft as religion (now known as Wicca), bringing a bit of pre-Christian spirituality into the mix. 
  • In the 1960’s, witches and witchery exploded in the popular culture. From print ads to commercials to movies and hit TV shows (like Bewitched) and of course in the popular press, with books aplenty being published on witchcraft and related subjects (spell books, encyclopedias of witchcraft, candle magic books, gem magic books, etc, etc). 
  • This, of course, led to the inevitable backlash by the staid defenders of the spiritual/religious status quo, nearly all of whom failed to grasp the point that it was precisely run of the mill Christianity having nothing to offer that caused this explosion in people seeking out alternatives. The mainline churches’ thoughtless, reflexive conservatism (no major church opposed the Vietnam war until far, far too late) was not just evidence of their irrelevancy, but of a serious moral rot and decay within them. 
  • “There had to be meaning beyond the mundane, the artificial, and the dogmatic. But it had to be new, even if by way of the very old.” 
  • “Even more so than the Occult Revival of the fin de siècle, the 1960’s performed a powerful conjuration of a spirit that was all but banished when Christianity quieted its song and put it in a cage to stop its rutting.” 
  • Pan/Eshu/Dionysus could not be locked up. And with rock music, he (they) came roaring back to the fore.
  • In the broadest sense, the occult is a set of spiritual practices designed to provide direct communion with the divine, a phenomenon sometimes called "gnosis". 
  • “It is also an ancient human drive through which the spirit of the dancing gods, the noisy gods, the trickster gods, and the gods of intoxication, madness and ecstasy manifest themselves through history.” 
  • As the 60’s moved into the 70’s, in the wake of the Manson murders and the disaster of Altamont, burnout began to set in, and along with it, cocaine and disco.  

CHAPTER 3 – The Devil Rides Out

  • In 1968, the Rolling Stones recorded a television special, complete with multiple guests including The Who (who badly upstaged their hosts), members of the Beatles, and Jethro Tull, and called it The Rock and Roll Circus. They had just released a groundbreaking album, Beggar’s Banquet, which had the hugely successful “Sympathy For the Devil” as its lead cut, and the Circus, slated to air on the BBC, was to be the next step in the Stones' path to world domination. Unfortunately, Brian Jones died during the editing process, and the rest of the band grew increasingly dissatisfied with their performance during the show, so they withheld it... until 1996. 
  • The Stones were NOT hippies, and they attempted to recover what they felt were rock’s true roots, in the Blues. 
  • Rock and Roll Circus’ version of Sympathy is an important document, even though nobody saw the complete show for decades. It shows us a side of Jagger that is striking in its diabolism. 
  • Washington Post in the late 60’s. “Jagger is the closest thing to an incarnation of evil that rock music has.” 
  • An artist showing serious interest in the occult was as – if not more – controversial than one who experimented with LSD or went on drunken rampages and banged tons of hot models and groupies. 
  • The Devil was ascendant in pop culture at the time Jagger chose to embrace him… or, at least, to have sympathy for him. 
  • The Devil Rides Out (1968, Hammer) stars Christopher Lee as the aristocratic adventurer and occultist the Duke de Richleau. It’s based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley (the man writer Phil Baker credits with inventing the public image of the devil worshiper). And when the Devil does appear, he looks like no one so much as our old friend Pan.
  • Sex, occultism and Satan became synonyms in certain segments of pop culture. 
  • The Wicker Man (1973), once again starring Christopher Lee, this time as Lord Summerisle, a very different character than the Duke de Richleau. Summerisle is the leader of a pagan cult of agriculturists (not Satanists, per se, but hedonistic, hypersexual and malevolent to the point of being quick to kill for the flimsiest of reasons (at least by modern, contemporary mores). 
  • Films, being fictional, were less likely to be seen as dangerously subversive than music was, allowing filmmakers far more extreme experimentation and implied horror than musicians were allowed to use to promote and/or enhance their work for over a generation. Some bands did give a lot of play to the whole Hammer Horror version of Satanism, but trying to determine how much of this was sincere and how much a put-on was sometimes difficult. 
  • Along came legendary occultist and avant-garde artist Kenneth Anger, fresh off the success of his scandal book Hollywood Babylon (in Europe… lawsuits kept it off shelves in the US until 1975), who vowed to make a movie that would work as a literal magic ritual and to insinuate himself into the Rolling Stones’ whole scene and gain access to their celebrity. For a time, he succeeded. 
  • Scorpio Rising (1963) as another important document of postwar occultism, and Anger’s first big success. A string of successes and newfound fame led Anger to begin work on his lifetime passion project, Lucifer Rising, which would touch so many lives in the rock world and beyond, in so many ways, over the years. 
  • Anger decided to stage a ritual at Haight Ashbury called The Equinox of the Gods. September 21, 1967 at the Straight Theater. Future Manson Family member Bobby Beausoleil, Anger’s muse, and his band, the Magick Powerhouse of Oz, headlined. 
  • After the show, Beausoleil stole the gate receipts AND the film and audio recordings Anger had made of the event (which were to form the core of Lucifer Rising). Beausoleil would not reappear in public until he was arrested for killing his music teacher, Gary Hinman, on orders from Charlie Manson. 
  • Anger saw Mick Jagger as the perfect replacement for his AWOL wild child Beausoleil… the perfect acolyte for his lead in Lucifer Rising. Jagger and his circle were flattered and intrigued. Anita Pallenberg, formerly Brian Jones’ girl, now Keith Richards’, became particularly enthralled with Anger. 
  • The friendship with Keith and Anita fell through when they woke up one morning to find that Anger had completely redecorated their bedroom in preparation for filming an occult ritual… while they were sleeping
  • Eventually, Jagger felt too pressured by Anger, and thought he took this whole magick mumbo-jumbo too seriously, so they also had a falling out. Stones biographer Tony Sanchez later said: “It was power that fascinated Jagger, the ability to control individuals, audiences, even societies – and he knew Satan wasn’t to thank for his strength in that direction.” 
  • 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request was less an occult statement than a direct response to The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper, which had seen the convergence of art and rock in a way previously thought impossible. The acclaim caused the Stones to abandon the Blues and use the same bag of tricks the Beatles were using – sitars, strings, horns, etc. It did not work as well for them. Dark though the title seems, the songs are candy-colored confections with the occasional standout ("She’s a Rainbow"). "The Lantern" is the only truly occult song on the album. 
  • It’s long been said the 60’s ended with Altamont in 1969, but one thing it certainly ended was Jagger’s appropriation of Devil imagery. 
  • "Sympathy for the Devil" – what’s the deal? What influenced it? Anger takes credit. Jagger has said it was a combination of his reading of Beaudelaire (the Satanic poet of 19th century France) and Mikhail Bulgakov’s incredible 20th century Russian classic novel, The Master and Margarita
  • Nevertheless, it’s obvious there was SOMETHING in the darkness present in Anger’s work that appealed to Jagger and other rock luminaries. But why? With fame, money and more at their fingers, what hold does this have on people? 
  • People and the press continued to connect Jagger to dark forces. He even made the cover of the infamous Process Church of the Final Judgement’s magazine! 
  • The Process Church of the Final Judgement was formed by Robert and Mary Ann DeGrimston (two ex Scientologists) developed an apocalyptic vision that promised a time when Satan and Christ would join hands and usher in a new world order. 
  • Their magazine was filled with forbidding Fascist imagery, but otherwise looked like a typical underground magazine of the time, complete with funny cartoons. 
  • Satan represented to the Process not anti-Christ, but sex, power, ecstasy. But it is simultaneously Antichrist, the destroyer, come to seduce your children. 
  • Musicians would find in Satan a mighty force for transgressive rebellion (hanging an upside down pentagram or crucifix on your wall to freak out your parents) , but also unleashes ferocious sexual and ecstatic energies via the music. 
  • And so we see that the occult is indefinable. It becomes a projection of whatever doesn’t fit in the mainstream (Christian) context. It didn’t matter that Anger’s Lucifer was not the Satan of Milton. For the Stones, the association was enough to prove to most that they walked in darkness. 
  • The irony is that, aside from faddish interest, the Stones had no abiding spiritual motivation beyond that of making music (which is big enough!). Nevertheless, the Stones were important in showing that the psychedelic garden of the hippies had snakes in it, and that the “power of love” proved pathetic indeed when compared with the Pentagon war machine and other pandemic ills plaguing the West at the time. With the Stones’ help, rock became an important gauge of the culture’s hopes and fears. 

  • On Jimmy Page’s orders, Terry Manning engraved "Do What Thou Wilt" onto the master pressing of Led Zeppelin III. Every copy in every record store now carried Crowley’s message engraved in the vinyl, visible to anyone who cared to look. “This single moment serves as a microcosm of the entirety of the influence the occult would have on rock and roll. It would spread out into rock’s atmosphere in ways neither Manning nor Page and the band could have anticipated or created on their own. The timing was perfect.”
  • Page was obsessed with Crowley at the time, and felt compelled to help spread Crowley’s “prime directive”. 
  • 20 years later, Manning caught a televangelist on TV showing his audience the "devil-worship" engraving, and thought to himself: “I did that!” 
  • In terms of his cultural influence, "Crowley the radical" was at least as important as "Crowley the mystic". At some point, he stopped being a person and became a symbol (as in on the cover of Sgt Pepper) of the Devil's best human advocate. 
  • Today, Page plays down his interest in Crowley and occasionally even seems embarrassed by it. But Page’s romance with the occult is an important aspect of the Led Zeppelin story/legend. Hammer of the Gods, an early popular history of Led Zeppelin, focused a great deal of attention on the subject. In the linked article, Page talks candidly about his fascination with Crowley, but says he didn’t want to do what, say, George Harrison and did, name-checking their heroes in their songs. 
  • Over the course of a few years, Guitar World’s Brad Tolinski struck up a friendship with Page and learned more about his fascination with the occult in general, and not just with Crowley. “Eastern and Western and Magick and Tantra.” 
  • But the connection between rock and the occult is not made in interviews… it’s made in culture. 
  • “I was living it. That’s all there is to it. It was my life – that fusion of music and magic.” – JP 
  • Page first encountered Crowley at the tender age of 11. Needless to say, this is way too early, for many reasons. 
  • Page began collecting Crowley artifacts, and in 1970, he purchased Boleskine House on the shores of Loch Ness. Crowley bought it in 1899, at which point it had already developed a reputation as a dwelling of ill repute and focal point of devilish activities. Crowley believed the area was ideal for conducting magical workings. One such ritual that he conducted was the one designed to put you in communication with your Holy Guardian Angel… a year-long operation and ridiculously difficult to boot. See the Book of the Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage for these directions. 
  • Page sold the place and opened up an occult shop in London called The Equinox Bookstore (Page named it after Crowley’s literary journal for the occult set, which was also called Equinox). The store was designed to resemble a 19th century occult lodge, complete with Egypt motifs. 
  • J.R.R. Tolkien was Robert Plant’s obsession. Plant, from West Bromwich, was into the folkways. Mythology, the occult and fantasy merged. 
  • Comics, fantasy novel cover art, fantastic art, Heavy Metal Magazine, Dungeons & Dragons RPGs, Wizard crystal tchotchkes, Ralph Bakshi’s cartoons (Wizards, the first, animated, Lord of the Rings) all formed a heady stew of fantasy. Zeppelin gave these fantasies the weight of the real, amplifying them all via the sinister vibe they imparted to these otherwise spacey subjects. 
  • The Ghost of the Crossroads Bargain got attached to Zeppelin due to their borrowing from (theft of? evolution of? celebration of?) the Blues at its darkest and most otherworldly. Like a Blues distillate, or a fortified Blues. Power and atmosphere. Plant says Page created atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a knife. “Our goal was to make music that was spine-tingling.” This atmosphere gave Led Zeppelin its “dark mystique” and cemented the uncanny synergy between rock and the occult. 
  • The 1976 concert film The Song Remains the Same mixes sword and sorcery, Celtic mythology, etc. It is interspersed with fantasy sequences and live segments. Plant the adventurer and Page the desperate mystic seeker (then the Hermit from Zeppelin IV and the tarot deck). 
  • Page plays a hurdy gurdy, and then his eyes glow red on the shores of Loch Ness. 
  • “Zep IV represents one of the most perfect magical moments in rock history.” 
  • Paul is Dead set the stage. Manson’s White Album exegesis/analysis gave song lyrics a potentially sinister edge. But Zep IV was rock’s first full-blown grimoire… a magical text, each song a spell, the vinyl a magic circle, the artwork clues to secret, deeper meaning on and off the album… the record player was like a sacred altar of sacrifice. 
  • It was with Zep IV that backwards masking became “a thing” again, after mostly going away for being silly after people accused the Beatles of it with "Number 9". 
  • “Stairway to Heaven” got a reputation as being the ultimate back-masked occult song in rock… a love song to “My Sweet Satan”. 
  • The cover art for Houses of the Holy didn’t help squash occult rumbling. Naked kids crawling across the Giant’s Causeway (the photo shoot makes for a great story in and of itself) and the inner gatefold of child sacrifice. 
  • Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis (who also did Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon) says he was inspired by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End
  • Author Keith Shadwick: “The images gave the strongest suggestion yet that Page and Plant’s interest in legend, mythology and esoterica was beginning to help form their overall notion of what the band and their music was about.” 
Exterior album art, unfolded
Interior album art, unfolded
  • Zep pushed the Beatles out of the top spot in readers' polls starting in 1970. No more giggling maharishi. “Rock’s soul would need to be newly forged on Surtur’s anvil. Led Zepplin was the hammer.” 
  • Religious leaders continued to see rock as the apotheosis of hedonism. 
  • Adding to Zep’s devilish aura was Page connecting with Kenneth Anger (after the latter’s falling out with the Rolling Stones) when Page outbid Anger on some Crowley memorabilia at a Sotheby’s auction in 1973, Anger asked Page to write/perform the soundtrack for the long-languishing Lucifer Rising
  • Unfortunately, Page was addicted to heroin and by 1976 had only produced 23 minutes of usable music. Anger got Beausoleil to complete the soundtrack from jail. 
  • For most, Lucifer is equivalent to Satan, but even according to many Christians, the reality is far, far more complicated than that. According to Anger: “Lucifer is the hero. He shouldn’t be confused with the Christian devil. Lucifer is another name for the Morning Star, Bringer of Light. He is the one who helps Man in his search for truth and enlightenment.” 
  • When combined with his Crowley obsession, Page’s association with Anger (and thus Lucifer) is what cemented Zep’s reputation as bedeviled. 
  • And then, calamity befell the band, over and over again, like they were being chased by the Hounds of Hell. So much death and tragedy struck them all at once that even their most atheistic fans had to stop and wonder WTF?! Plant almost died in a car crash, and his son died of a rare viral infection. Page’s heroin addiction almost killed him a number of times. Then Bonzo died of a drug overdose in Page’s house. 
  • In 1982, at a meeting of the California State Assembly’s Consumer Protection and Toxic Materials Committee, amateur scientist William Yarroll played Stairway backwards, claiming that the band had used nefarious means to insert messages into their music designed to drive fans into the arms of Antichrist.
  • The true patron deity of Zep was not Satan, but “the god that comes” aka Dionysus, accompanied by his frequent buddy, leader of the satyrs, Pan. Pan was there to remind us of the things we need: “sex, libation, a romp with a nymph through the woods. This is where REAL magic is.” And so now we know why Pan’s image has been associated by The Powers That Be with the Horned One, the Green Man, Baphomet… and is thus the symbolic god of magicians. 
  • Zep exists halfway between Dionysus and Pan. Their concerts are communal, tribal. And cocky, the way of the pelvic thrust and the upturned guitar.

  • Why did Ozzy Osbourne choose the cross to be the symbol to represent him? 
  • In concert, use of the cross in a Gothic manner, in the context of a musical horror movie performance became a staple device. Almost cliché. 
  • The story of Ozzy’s embrace of the dark side for effect in his music and concerts is well known, as is his peculiar ambiguity re: religion itself. Many Black Sabbath songs seem downright Biblical, with Satan cast not as Usurper, but as Deliverer of God’s Almighty Justice. "War Pigs" is a particularly potent case in point which, in the context of the Vietnam war that was raging at the time, feels downright righteous.
  • In some respects, it’s difficult to divorce many aspects of “the occult” in rock from the wider “horror culture” or “monster culture” that had grown alongside the mainstream culture throughout the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. 
  • EC Comics (and other pre-code horror comics), Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine (Forry Ackerman and Warren Publications), the Universal Horror TV boom, monster models, etc… Monsters were even used to market EVERYTHING to kids, even vitamins. So why not rock and roll? 
  • Even the Marvel superheroes were changing. The 60’s saw Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and Avengers. The 70’s saw Dracula, Werewolf by Night, The Son of Satan, Morbius Living Vampire, Brother Voodoo and an assortment of black and white magazine sized books with more lurid violence and implications of diabolism. 
  • Cable TV packages began playing darker, more esoteric horror flicks, going from Frankenstein, The Wolfman and The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon to weirded out stuff like The Abominable Dr Phibes, The House that Dripped Blood, etc. 
  • Ozzy and Black Sabbath embraced that morbid, grisly aesthetic. Their name even comes from a Boris Karloff movie, Black Sabbath, and not from the witch’s sabbath or a black mass. 
  • Nevertheless, their name preceded them, and for better or worse, Sabbath became the new high water mark for doomy, Gothic, occult rock and roll. 
  • Some critics noted the put-on and called them out for it… but to their credit, Black Sabbath seldom, if ever, pretended to be practicing warlocks. 
  • One exception, perhaps, is Geezer’s tale of how the idea for their eponymous, band-name-birthing tune first came about. In said tale, he describes how he’d read a grimoire one day, then woke up from a nightmare to find a dark figure standing at his bed, and he paralyzed in terror. They did occasionally change their story when it came to how much interest they had in the occult, particularly in early days. Not Ozzy though. 
  • It's also true that they made frequent use of the Devil’s Interval (a.k.a. the tritone). 
  • Michael Moynihan’s Lords of Chaos says Sabbath lyrics “denote almost a Christian fear of demons and sorcery.” According to Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman’s “Louder Than Hell”, their remarkable narrative history of Heavy Metal, the members of Black Sabbath were working class yobs from the North. Rock provided a material escape. The occult, via Crowley, provided a spiritual way to defy convention and rebel. 
  • In 1966, Anton LaVey incorporated the Church of Satan. He wore a devil costume and chanted black mass to whoever wanted to pay to become a member. For a while people thought he was kind of funny, but the Manson Murders changed everything, both for the Church of Satan and for the Process Church of Final Judgement. 
  • The Church of Satan is about as non-occult as it gets, claiming their Satan to be a stand-in for “the spirit of discovery, freethinking and rebelliousness.” They are an organization that has more in common with the writing of Ayn Rand than of medieval heretics. 
  • Altamont was “perhaps rock and roll’s all time worst day” and represented “the corpse of Woodstock Nation” according to right-wing idiot William Buckley Jr
  • The first ever on purpose devil-worship albums in rock history were by Coven and Black Widow respectively. They represented a real malevolent edge creeping into pop music. 
  • Coven’s Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls (1969) is considered a pretty good record, even though they mix up a lot of things, spirituality-wise, getting a lot wrong (Crowley was no Satanist, for instance). 
  • Black Widow’s Sacrifice (1970) was similar, but the band’s obsession with staging sort of limited their output. “Come to the Sabbat” is a standout track. 
  • Black Widow became associated with English witch Alex Sanders
  • The idea of the witch’s sabbath is one still to this day mired in medieval and early Renaissance imagery (this carried over into the US for the Salem witch trials, via the old books most town rulers had on hand – Compendium Maleficarum, and maybe the Corpus Hermeticum for reference). 
  • By the late 70’s, early 80’s, no rock act was immune from accusations of Satanic dalliance. Heart, the Eagles, etc, were all suspected of engaging in dark, diabolical shenanigans, and all on the flimsiest of pretexts. 
  • Then, heavy metal bands finally decided... why the Hell not? They went all in with the Satanic and sacrilegious imagery. Bands like Venom, Slayer and even The Misfits. None were subtle. 
  • Slayer’s Satanism, which they swiftly abandoned in favor of more worldly evil topics like fascism, violence, anarchy and other horrors, was never meant to be taken seriously, no matter how extreme it seemed at the time. 

  • Early to mid-80’s brings us to the time of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) 
  • Ostensibly concerned with explicit sexual lyrics, wanted to label records based on their lyrical content, thusly: X (sex), V (violence), D/A (drugs/alcohol), O (occult). Yes, really. 
  • This all took place during the middle of one of the most intense Satanic Panics in American history. 
  • Dungeons & Dragons, the aforementioned table-top role-playing game, made the mistake of including devils and demons in their monsters handbooks, something that would lead to role playing being looked upon with almost as much suspicion as rock for a period of time. 
  • But the Devil isn’t the only path open to those willing to veer away from the mainstream. The Devil would give rock its sneer, but MAGICK would dress it in a fantastic wardrobe, then give musicians the tools to transform the rock performance into ritual and shamanistic ceremony. 

CHAPTER 4 – The Tree of Life

  • 1968, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s “Fire” hits number one in the UK. 
  • Brown believed he was ushering in a new age for rock, one in which the musicians were literal shamans, leading the audience to self-revelation and more. His American tour frightened the wags.
  • Brown was introduced to TM as a teen by his dad. 
  • Alongside music, his interests included African spiritual traditions, shamanism, and experimental theater. The flaming helmet, the flowing robes, the light show, the spectacle, the occasional nudity all were parts of the whole. 
  • American reviewers didn’t know what to make of him. But he found many fans, and followers. At first, he enjoyed this, but later it spurred him into genuinely seeking out what he knew he had yet to find. His journeys would lead him to what his biographer, Polly Marshall, called “a truly theatrical paganism.” 
  • UFO Club was the perfect spot for Brown (where Pink Floyd and Soft Machine were included among his cohort). 
  • “Brown’s first album, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, is a musical book of shadows, each song a spell intending to invoke a different entity inhabiting his mind and soul.” Similar to what artists and poets of the late 19th century were doing with the magical fraternities like Golden Dawn and Rosicrucian orders. 
  • Brown’s idea to have the light show and stage show correspond to the moods of the music was borrowed from Scriabin, and there is even an echo of Bainbridge Bishop’s 1877 invention, the color organ
  • Scriabin’s obsession with synaesthesia (hearing sights and seeing sounds) is a point to ponder. Do notes have corresponding colors? This was in line with Scriabin’s other interest: our old friend, Theosophy! 
  • James Leggio points out that Blavatsky taught that humans have physical and astral bodies and auras. The person’s mood or level of spiritual wisdom can be understood in the color of the aura. 
  • Scriabin's piece, Prometheus: The Poem of Fire, incorporates both sound and vision, and this version contains an explanation of the composer's mystical, occult intentions:
  • Crowley defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will.” This was amened by a later Golden Dawn member, Dion Fortune, who wrote that “Magic is the Science and Art of causing change in consciousness to occur in conformity with the will.” 
  • After a horrifying vision of a warrior angel at a Tibetan monastery during a serious mescaline trip, Brown decided to start a new band, Kingdom Come with the theatrics turned up to 11. Giant pyramid set, flaming crosses, druid dancers in the audience, robes makeup, a clown… but the music was mediocre. 
  • After Kingdom Come broke up, Brown studied Sufism in Turkey, then became a music therapist in Texas. 
  • Brown’s method of therapy is not unlike hypnotherapy (Mesmer). Hypnosis, suggestion, even more powerful than LSD in the long run. 
  • Brown’s descendants include Alice Cooper and KISS… more easily digestible versions of what Brown was cooking up. 
  • Alice Cooper Group claimed the name came from a Ouija board, and that she was the spirit of a seventeenth century witch (another time, he told that the name came from a fortune teller at a carnival). 
  • Cooper turned rock into a theater of the macabre, the Grand Guignol, complete with bloody baby dolls, guillotines, electric chairs, mock hangings, a boa constrictor, etc. 
  • Cooper did NOT see himself as a shaman, but as a rock and roll scapegoat, a gathering and expression of the darkness all people have inside them. 
  • KISS ("Knights in Satan’s Service"? Yeah, right.) were visually terrifying. They were four Alice Coopers with archetypal identities (the cat, the demon, the space man, the star child). 
  • KISS and Cooper turned what Brown was doing into pure entertainment. 

  • When David Bowie was interviewed by Cameron Crowe in 1975, he was coked out, was vibrating a strange darkness, and had lit black candles to protect himself from unseen forces outside his window. 
  • From the start, Bowie’s lyrics often referred to occultism, filtered through Nietzsche, Fascism, and alien messiahs. 
  • Bowie’s role in the larger rock/occult narrative is more subtle, but also the most far-reaching, and maybe the most powerful/important. Bowie may be the most complete and complex mystic of rock and roll in its history. There is no truer rock magician than David Bowie. 
  • Despite his occasional darkness and the almost tragic end to his remarkable career, Bowie’s cosmic and magickal personas lifted rock onto a new stage. Bowie used “glamour – both in the fashion and magical senses – to convert rock audiences into accepting a bisexual and binary sense of self. This was not simply the androgyny of a Jagger. This was something truly transgressive and illuminating." 
  • Bebergal compares Bowie to Tiresias, the prophet in ancient Greek myth and theater who was punished by the Gods by being forced to be a woman for seven years. 
  • Bowie outfitted his transgendered themes with cutting edge fashion – aliens, magic and mysticism – but his tones were somewhat bleak. Apocalyptic. Messianic. Was he warning us about the end? Or celebrating its arrival? 
  • It was with his second album, 1969’s Space Oddity, that Bowie came into his own. He piggybacked simultaneously on the real-world moon-shot fascination and the Kubrickean, highly spiritualized and mystically focused anticipation of it all from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (Major Tom could well have been one of Dave’s co-astronauts on the Discovery). 
  • The Man Who Sold the World (1970) is heavyweight, with an eerie decadence and hints of secret societies and initiations. 
  • Hunky Dory (1971) shows Bowie’s magical obsessions becoming more distinct and focused. The song "Quicksand" being one of his most blatantly occult. 
  • On the "Oh You Pretty Things" song, he even references Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race (a favorite of Blavatsky and others) and their use of Vril energy to perform wondrous feats, controlling everything from weather to emotions. 
  • The Morning of the Magicians, by Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier (1960) is an incredibly important work, originally published in French, and one of the most important works of the postwar Occult Revival, period. From the Nazi obsession with the occult, to alien astronauts and a host of other topics and tropes, this is the book that asked many questions that we’re still trying to answer today. Anyone who wishes to understand the occult as it currently exists needs to contend with The Morning of the Magicians at some point.
  • Charles Hoy Fort was a direct influence on Pauwels and Bergier (who went on to produce the groundbreaking French magazine PLANETE, which itself was a direct inspiration for the influential and popular magazine OMNI). 
  • “Using Fort’s method, Pauwels and Bergier outlined a secret history in which important historical figures intuited their own role in shaping a cosmic destiny for mankind, aliens had visited mankind during the first days of Western civilization, and alchemy and modern physics were not in opposition.” 
  • “The 70’s also needed a messenger who could personify astronomical dreams and occult permutations, a figure of decadence and wisdom who could deliver a rock and roll testament to what it’s like to fall between the worlds. Only Bowie could imagine such a creature.” 
  • The occult decadence of Man Who Sold the World returned with Diamond Dogs (one of the most frightening albums of the 70’s). The Apocalyptic vibe is very strong on this one. It may be fiction, but Diamond Dogs reflects Bowie’s increasing cocaine use and obsession with the darker aspects of the occult. It was at this time that he began saving his urine in jars, and believing that he was in a "psychic war" against Jimmy Page.  
  • During the Crowe interview, Bowie spoke of an apocalyptic future where rock’s pretense of evil and darkness would become reality and give Bowie a kind of dictatorial power. “I believe that rock and roll is dangerous. It could well bring about a very evil feeling in the West. I do want to rule the world.” He didn’t tell Crowe, but at the time he believed witches were out to steal his semen, thus thwarting his plans. 
  • Bowie and wife Angie bought the home of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee a few months later. They discovered that Gypsy had painted a hexagram on the floor of one of the rooms in the house. Bowie freaked, believing the devil was living in the mansion’s pool. The only way to stay in the house was to perform an exorcism. He gathered all the necessary equipment and he and Angela performed their own private ritual. Angie, a non-believer, claims the water steamed and roiled, and that an odd stain appeared at the bottom of the pool. The Bowies left a few weeks later. 
  • Later on, Bowie admits the cocaine he was consuming led to him “hallucinating 24 hours a day.” 
  • The occult in the seventies was dominated by the Devil (The Omen, Exorcist, Devil Dog: Hound of Hell, Psychomania, etc) and magic instruction manuals, the two most popular of which were Israel Regardie’s The Golden Dawn and Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense
  • Bowie initially appreciated Crowley somewhat, but didn’t exploit him the way, say, Ozzy did, and he eventually allowed his disdain for / fear of Jimmy Page to sour his view of Crowley. 
  • Bowie’s main occult interest was in the notion of “perfectible man”, a notion he’d been toying with since “Oh! You Pretty Things”, and he saw Crowley as a figure of Luciferian grace. 
  • This is easy to conflate with the Aryan myth, hence Bowie’s flirtation with fascism. 
  • Blatavsky’s Secret Doctrine lays out the idea of root races. 
  • The first is ethereal, without form. 
  • The races evolve over time. 
  • Her next races were Hyperborreans, Lemurians, Atlanteans (fantasy writers LOVED this stuff). 
  • Fifth root race? Aryans, peak of humanity at that time
  • A sixth race would rise above the Aryan, and then the seventh would see the final and perfect human being. 
  • Gary Lachman in his biography of Blavatsky explains how race was a deeply important topic during Blavatsky’s time, and while we find some of her ideas troubling, they were part of a larger cultural milieu. More disturbing is how racists used her ideas to further their own bigoted occult ideas. The Thule Society, for example. 
  • It’s because of Thule that an entire publishing industry surrounding the notion of Nazis seeking occult treasures even exists. Pauwels and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians was the first book to bring the Nazi obsession with the occult to popular attention. 
  • Bowie was also fascinated by Ravenscroft’s Spear of Destiny
  • Considering the above, it’s not difficult to see how Bowie might be seduced into believing, then espousing, some dangerously stupid things in those days. He eventually regretted his dalliance, explicitly in an interview with ARENA in 1993. Fascism, for Bowie, was more fashion than philosophy. 
  • If not for Marc Bolan, of T.Rex infamy, Bowie said he would not have known "which stage door to walk through". Bolan was Glam 1.0, evolved away from pop, according to Bowie.
  • Tyranosaurus Rex fans initially thought Bolan a sellout, but he had invented something steamy, sexy, mystical and new: simple pop with the psychedelic excess excised. Bowie loved it. Glam would provide a template for a new occult imagining… secret identities, pop star as monster or alien. 
  • In 1974, Brian De Palma satirized this world with The Phantom of the Paradise (a masterpiece beloved mostly in Winnipeg MB, Canada). 
  • Mercyful Fate (King Diamond's band) in the 80s, and Marilyn Manson in the 90’s both carried forth this idea of the rock and roll alter ego as herald for arcane revelation. Manson cited Bowie as a crucial and indispensable influence on his own project. 
  • “The last song on Diamond Dogs is "Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family", and it mimics a locked groove on an album, when the needle gets stuck and repeats the same groove over and over. It’s a frightening bit of macabre whimsy but musically is the perfect metaphor for the risky nature of occult pursuits. More so than exaggerated and often false rumors of devil worship, the true dark side of the occult is the ever-circling loop of meaning.” 
  • "Because the occult is not a system, but rather a messy accumulation of bits of tradition, synthetic beliefs, and even pure fictions in the service of commercialism, there is no final word no final wisdom. And even for some, it becomes the ruthlessness of seeking signs, where everyday things begin to take on occult connotations, each one a reference to some deeper meaning. Which again only points to some other possible inference." 
  • "What makes Bowie the great magician is that, even as his psyche fractured under the strain of this self-imposed mission, he was able to cause change to occur in conformity with the will. Bowie’s personas were rarely that of a magus. Instead, they were otherworldly characters from beyond space and time.” 
  • Major Tom, kind of like Valentine Michael Smith from the novel Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. 
  • Aladdin Sane, future glam beast. 
  • The Diamond Dog, grotesque mutant. 

  • And finally, the Thin White Duke from Station to Station (1976). A husk, the burned out shell of a man who’d tried to touch the sun. The title track is perhaps Bowie’s most unabashedly occult since "Quicksand"… and even an admission that the drugs got in the way. 
  • "The Thin White Duke as destitute and craven lich-king, necromancer whose soul was the last thing he sacrificed in pursuit of secret knowledge. The Decadent Magician, Faust-like, would breed two more rock movements, one that embraced the darkness as a means of psychological and spiritual surbversion (Industrial), and another that saw walking in the shadows a kind of authenticity, dressing it up in leather, lace, and beautiful silver crosses (Goth)." 

  • “Milk and urine enemas, live intercourse, masturbating with chicken heads – all to the soundtrack of Charles Manson’s singing, and interspersed with the roar of trains. This was a typical performance of COUM, the artist and musician Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s London-based performance art collective. 
  • Founded in 1969 as a hippie avant-garde band making noise with violins and drums. They basically tricked the government into giving them money by calling themselves performance artists instead of musicians. 
  • Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter and Peter Christopherson were Genesis’ mates. Carter was a lighting engineer for progressive rock titans YES, who became interested in experiential performance using homemade synths. Christopherson was an artist at Hipgnosis, where he created the cover art for Peter Gabriel’s first three post-Genesis albums. 
  • COUM was an early attempt at cultural transfiguration by way of transgression. Richard Metzger (Dangerous Minds, says COUM was about freeing themselves and the spectators of their own taboos by performing benign exorcisms of a sick society’s malignancies.” 
  • Throbbing Gristle, the first Industrial band, was soon born, influencing so many people, from Nine Inch Nails to Godflesh, and even, in his own turn, Bowie’s 90’s work. 
  • Throbbing Gristle used the cut-up technique favored by outre cultural gadfly Brion Gysin and the aforementioned Beat-figure-cum-warlock William Burroughs, but with music and sound. The cut-up could be crossed over to any media technology.
  • All members of Throbbing Gristle were interested in the occult, and in Crowley and Burroughs. They did not use occult or Satanic symbols, however, feeling that this would be overstating the case. 
  • Burroughs tells of a magical working he did using the cut-up. A restaurant had given him poor service. So he took a photo of the block where the restaurant was located, developed the film and cut out the restaurant, taping the two pieces back together. Then he recorded the ambient sounds of the diner’s neighborhood and cut in recorded sounds of guns firing, sirens blaring, and explosions. A few weeks later, without warning, the restaurant closed. 
  • Gysin and Burroughs had been influenced by (and were trying to re-energize) notions of the DADA movement, particularly in the sense of the experience of consciousness. 
  •  P-Orridge and Gysin first met through Burroughs in 1980, and P-Orridge became convinced that Gysin’s techniques were powerful occult tools for messing with the status quo. It wasn’t the first time Gysin had crossed paths with the rock world. In 1967, the Rolling Stones went to Morocco in search of spiritual cleansing. There, Brian Jones had a vision quest at Gysin’s restaurant, 1001 Nights, when he saw the house band, the Master Musicians of Joujouka, highly trained Sufi musical mystics who’s trance-inducing music was a revelation to Jones, who would go on to record them for a record: Brian Jones presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka
  • Gysin also created the Dreamachine
  • After Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge and Christopherson started Psychic TV. The spark was seeing Bowie arrive at a train station and get into a "Nazi car", which made it seem to P-Orridge like Bowie was on the verge of launching a Fascist take-over of some sort. He saw Psychic TV as a platform for radical ideas. 
  • They called upon their fans to create an occult magical collective, a virtual secret society with its own language, passcodes and rituals. Instead of a traditional fan club, Psychic TV wanted to call this group Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth (TOPY). 
  • They used sigil magic, borrowed from late British artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare
  • Sigil magic had been used for centuries, popularized by MacGregor Mathers/Golden Dawn upon translation of The Key of Solomon the King as a key element in conjuring and controlling the 72 demons of the Goetia. 
  • Spare’s take on such systems is more personal and customizable, the religious aspect all but removed. This appealed to Psychic TV. 
  • Psychic TV urged fans to create their own sigils, then smear them with body fluids and send them to the band, who kept them on file at a central location to be used in mass magickal workings. 
  • Magic needed to be demystified according to P-Orridge. Anything could be a magic battery, stuffed animals, a Hershey chocolate bar, whatever. 
  • Christopherson left Psychic TV to form Coil with John Balance. They combined heavy electronic sound with cut-ups, percussion, and powerful voculs to produce some great work in the 80s and 90s (Scatology, Horse Rotorvator, Love’s Secret Domain). 
  • They used the I Ching and lots of drugs to create states of altered consciousness. 
  • Balance wanted to follow even closer in Spare’s example as someone whose occult practice was solitary, the path of the shaman. He claimed Coil’s patron deity… was Pan. He called Marilyn Manson (and LaVey) “showbiz Satanism”. 
  • Coil’s first single – “How to Destroy Angels” – was described as “ritual music for the accumulation of male sexual energy”. 
  • This choice of first single unfortunately linked them to “sun energy” (aggressive, Apolonian male energy), as did their use of the Nazi Black Sun symbol (Wewelsberg Castle floor tile pattern). 
  • Coil collaborated with Boyd Rice, underground noise musician and unapologetic Fascist. Coil cut off ties with Rice and devoted themselves to exploring untrod areas of magic and consciousness exploration. 
  • During a Killing Joke concert in Ireland, 1982, Jaz Coleman didn’t show up. He’d fled to Iceland, fearing an apocalypse, believing a magical order lived there that could help him survive. He eventually convinced a bunch of his bandmates and friends to join him up there. 
  • Killing Joke came to see themselves as a magical fellowship. Their intense interest in the occult began as teens. They then joined the Golden Dawn. They staged magic rituals with the help of Barry Gibb’s wife, Dwina Murphy Gibb. They wanted to be more than a rock band. They wanted to be an oppositional force, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden. 
  • Industrial rock’s dalliance with Fascism is sort of understandable when you see it as a Phallic, sun-based, Apollonian style of music and magic. All this male-focused energy is very much akin to Fascism. 
  • Industrial’s effeminate, moon-based sister genre, Goth, is intriguing. Egalitarian and gentle, it saw itself as a direct contrast. 
  • Some key bands and figures include Bauhaus, led by Peter Murphy. From Australia, The Birthday Party, produced a particularly aggressive form of Goth, and were led by Nick Cave, who would go on to create the influential Bad Seeds. And while Siouxsie and the Banshees were originally punk, it was after they softened into Goth that they achieved their greatest success and level of influence. 
  • Goth rock inhabits a mood, just as the Gothic literary genre did. Its aesthetic is that of the Victorian Era’s memento mori. The embrace of death is not about gore, but about the melancholy loneliness of the graveyard, crumbling ancient tombstones. And of course, vampires! Vampires represent the perfect antihero for the Goth subculture.
  • "The past is a ghost that haunts the present."
  • Contemporary Goth culture mirrors contemporary occult culture in that both are largely “fashion statements”, an affect. But while Goth didn’t use magic as a weapon, like some of the Industrial rockers did, "it still recognized that the occult imagination is powerful all on its own. The mere intimation of a hidden, mysterious reality can set the heart afire, ignite the creative spirit and transform culture, and popular music, forever.” 

CHAPTER 5 – Space Ritual

  • During the Isle of Wight Festival, two bands from the UK underground, Pink Fairies and Hawkwind, decided to set up their own tent and offer free concerts close by. Space Rock was born, and the Hawkwind revolution in consciousness that would go on for decades began in earnest. 
  • 1970’s Isle of Wight Fest featured The Who, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, The Doors and more. A half million people showed up to the pricey five day festival. During Joni’s set, a hippie named Yogi Joe rushed the stage to congratulate the peaceful anarchy of Desolation Row, where those who refused to pay to enter had set themselves up. 
  • Yogi Joe turned out to be a prophet. Rock was selling out. 
  • Hawkwind, the first “space rock” band, thought they could see a new rebellion which could supplant the hippie thing and to keep rock’s spirituality intact.” 
  • They understood that the very electric currents discharged through their music could function as a kind of mesmeric device. 
  • After the Isle of Wight Fest, where the band had generated what Jerry Gilbert for Sounds Magazine described as “arcs of sound” using electronic noise generators, lead vocals and guitarist David Brock knew something important had taken place. He spoke of responsibility: “You can force people to go into trances and tell them what to do, it’s mass hypnotism, and you’re really setting yourself up as God.” 
  • Their first, eponymous album was an intoxicating brew of psychedelic and hard rock, with a nod toward the guiding interest of their careers – science fiction, sf mysticism, both sincere and tongue-in-cheek. 
  • The 70’s space rock movement was the point where the “ancient astronaut” theories of Dutch conman Erich von Daniken (et al) encountered rock music, with pyramid theories (“People couldn’t build that!”), Easter Island, Stonehenge, etc. Von Daniken’s book (and the subsequent films, see below), Chariots of the Gods? (1968) has been debunked, but its influence was vast, maybe even more so now than ever before. His work was instrumental in changing our view of potential space visitors from conquering Martians of H.G. Wells to the generous Space Gods who helped us evolve at key points in our pre-history, and may one day come back to claim us as Space Brothers! 
  • Another such work was Robert Temple’s The Sirius Mystery (1976), which concluded that Africa’s Dogon people had communicated with aliens from the Dogstar, Sirius. 
  • Obviously Bowie – with a little help from Stanley Kubrick and his transcendent epic tone sci-fi tone poem 2001: A Space Odyssey – was an important first iteration of the Space Messiah motif. The pop culture imagination looked upward (Star Trek, and to a lesser degree Star Wars) for a way to save humanity from itself. 
  • An important precursor to all this in a musical vein was Sun Ra, the jazz musician (or nutter, depending on who you asked) who’s Solar Arkestra pulled off the cosmic thing all the way back in the 1950’s! 
  • “My music is about a better place for people, not to have a place where they have to die to get there.” He developed “myth science” to help people understand his music. “I hate the idea of being on this planet. It’s a terrible place, and I always knew when I first arrived here. But what can I do about it?” He used Kabbalah, numerology, science fiction and a complex theological construct of his own design, but he said you could understand it all intuitively just by listening to his music. 
  • Space is the Place linked his projects specifically to the emancipation of Black people. 
  • His band (the Arkestra) was a true collective, what John Sinclair, writing for Creem in 1972, described as “the supreme example of dedication and commitment to a common purpose that can be found in the whole music world.” 
  • Hawkwind saw their own spaceship and musical mythology (one part sci-fi, one part occultism) in a similar way as Sun Ra did his Arkestra. Perhaps the premiere expression of their project is 1972’s Space Ritual
  • They also had a modern patron saint of sorts in noted fantasy/sf author Michael Moorcock, the sort of anti-Tolkien inventor of Jerry Cornelius and Elric of Melnibone, two of the most famous (and fascinating!) fictional creations of the 1970’s. The writer struck up a friendship with the band after seeing them live and being blown away by their act and music. The band, he said “seemed like the mad crew of a long-distance spaceship who had forgotten the purpose of their mission, which had turned to art during the passage of time.” 
  • “Moorcock believes, like Arthur Brown, that when art takes on the function of myth, it can actually transform consciousness.” Artist as shaman. The idea that science fiction could serve to help understand aspects of humanity would have a profound effect not only on the music of Hawkwind… but also on the popular consciousness as it related to outer space. 
  • Robert Moog. At an early 1960’s Acoustical Society conference, Moog showed off his new development, a strange new instrument… a collection of electronic filters and oscillators that could be controlled to make sounds not previously heard by the human ear. A journalist/critic present for the demo asked: “Don’t you feel guilty about what you’ve done?” 
  • Many musicians saw the synthesizer as an affront, but Moog’s understanding of music as something that exists separate from the instrument, and that it needs to be channeled into a prepared receptacle, is interesting, and has some Platonic resonances (the notion of ideal forms). 
  • Moog and his device opened up a radical new pathway for music, just as the wider culture was experiencing radical shifts at every level, from the political to the spiritual. “Rock and almost every one of its extended genres would become invigorated by electronic possibilities, and they would all be underscored by Moog’s spiritual vision, one that had been a consistent part of experimental music long before him.” 
  • Moog’s synthesizer isn’t just a legitimate musical instrument, it’s a special one, in that it is uniquely equipped to “reveal the real essence of music, how it rises out of consciousness and becomes real.” 
  • Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, remarked how the conflict over the role of technology could be seen in the difference between Berkeley hippies and Standford hippies, with the Stanford hippies being far less Luddite or technophobic than their Berkeley cousins (despite the fact that they were all doing the same LSD). 
  • Regarding technology, Brand expressed what would come to be known as “the California philosophy” when he declared: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”
  • Transhumanism and technofetishism – including some incredibly dark iterations of those worldviews (known as Neoreaction, or Dark Enlightenment Philosophy) – were the end result, which we’re still dealing with. 
  • Check out the The Net (2003) the Lutz Dammbeck doc about the Unabomber (and my concordance for same) for more information. 
  • A precursor to Moog’s device was Musique Concrete, Pierre Schaeffer, founder of La Jeune France in 1940 during the Nazi occupation to play it. Andre Jolivet was involved in an early version of the group. Schaeffer was influenced by Pythagoras, and believed new musicians should eschew classical formalism and draw inspiration for composition from authentic, original sources: ritual and magic. 
  • The Nazis forced the group to disbanded in 1942. 
  • Moog started out selling theremin kits (science fiction instrument also used on Beach Boys’ "Good Vibrations").
  • Herbert Deutsch was Moog’s co-inventor. They met in 1963 and talked of creating “a small and affordable music synthesizer”. Of course, the first Moogs were huge and pricey. 
  • In 1970, they released the Minimoog, which made its first public debut on tour with Emerson Lake and Palmer during their Pictures at an Exhibition tour. 
  • The Moog is analog, not digital, and therefore analogous to instruments made of wood, string, metal, etc. VIBRATION is the phenomenon that allows music to take place, which once again resonates (no pun intended) with its mystical origins. This perhaps helps explain why some of the first Moog composers packaged their albums in occultism. 
  • The Zodiac: Cosmic Sounds (Paul Beaver and Mort Garson, 1967) 
  • Black Mass, by Lucifer (Mort Garson again, 1971) 
  • Ataraxia: The Unexplained (Electronic Musical Impressions of the Occult, 1975) 
  • And of course, there's the Dr Who theme! (1963)
  • One of the first books about electronic music was Electronic Music and Musique Concrete (1961), by Neville Armostrong of Neville Spearman Ltd, who released books on a wide range of topics, including UFOs, the paranormal, and the fiction of Conan creator Robert E. Howard. He also published the aforementioned Spear of Destiny, by Trevor Ravenscroft, and put out a so-called “authentic” version of H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon in 1978. 
  • In 1972, Karlheinz Stockhausen, the composer, responds to the accusation that electronic music is “inhuman” and doesn’t appeal to human beings: “There are other kinds of human beings. We are in a situation where the first so-called human being came out of the non-human kingdom. We are at the threshold of a new terrestrial mutation.” His opinions were influenced by Indian mystic Sri Aurobindo, who taught that the physical evolution of man is but one step towards the greater spiritual evolution that is our divine right. 
  • It’s part psychedelic, part prog, part experimental, and all German! It’s Krautrock! 
  • They loved Velvet Underground. They loved Frank Zappa. And they loved Stockhausen. 
  • Out of this stew came the likes of CAN (Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay), whose albums Monster Movie, Tago Mago and more combined avant-garde, jazz, and psychedelic rock, definitely and consciously mixed music and magic. I mean, just listen to this stuff:
  • Popol Vuh, perhaps the most religious of all the krautrock bands, combined myth, mysticism and Eastern philosophy in their music. 
  • The name Popol Vuh relates to the creation myth of the Mayan people, and how the creator Heart-of-Sky, had tried to make man but made something more monkey-like by accident. Band leader Florian Fricke, in an interview, stated that he believed we were evolving towards “no longer monkey”. 
  • Manuel Gottsching's Ash Ra Tempel featured a blues based mysticism (harsh, rockier). There was also an electronic, soft-rock version of this band, called Ashra. 
  • Tangerine Dream is one of the most important and successful krautrock bands of all time. Their early stuff was incredible. Their debut, 1970’s Electronic Meditation, sounds like a night at the UFO Club with Pink Floyd. Their next three albums, Zeit, Alpha Centauri, and Atem, represented the sounds of interplanetary excursions, but the live show was still awesome. By the late 70’s, they were producing lush progressive rock, including the incredible album, Phaedra. By the 80’s, their output had devolved into New Age balm… the synth had become its applicator. 
  • “At the 2004 Moogfest in New York City, Rick Wakeman of the progressive rock band YES, and Bernie Worrell, the keyboard virtuoso who was a founding member of Parliament-Funkadelic, stood around Moog, trading stories after the show. Worrell described how playing a Moog synthesizer was like making love. More than once Wakeman said that Moog “changed the face of music.” After the conversation expanded into deeper territory, the three men admitted there was also something numinous about the instrument. Wakeman pointed a finger at Moog and said, “It comes from inside this man.” Moog, ever humble, waved at the air above him and said, “It comes from out there, it comes through me into the instrument, and then the music comes through you guys and the instrument.” 

  • Ladies and gentlemen, Mister Roger Dean! 
  • Dean was the semi-official artist for the progressive rock band YES, and a key visionary for progressive rock. 
  • Progressive rock, or "prog", was an important movement in rock, one that steered rock away from the trad/rock of The Eagles, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Band, and the Blues purism of Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, and countless American acts, in favor of more English/European traditions of classical and folk, of instrumental virtuosity and the epic drama of troubadour storytelling. Of course, progressive rock often used occult imagery and ideas, sometimes to great effect (and sometimes, not). 
  • Progressive rock grew out of psychedelic rock, but looked beyond the drugginess of it all. Prog used the music of the past to look for possible futures, including instruments of both the past and the future (Moog synths) to create something new. 
  • Progressive rock saw no reason to limit themselves to four minute songs. Soon, they were giving us side-long songs and album-spanning suites, complete with repeating and varying themes. 
  • Roger Dean’s art, with its empty, unpopulated landscapes, perfected the merging of science fiction and mysticism, invoking the imagination of prog rock listeners who were convinced that there was some story or greater truth behind it all, and spent hours pouring over the album covers. 
  • Sgt Pepper had proved experimentation could be successful and popular. Nevertheless, people were still resistant to change, especially on the business end. 
  • Until that point, the biggest crowd Crimson had played to was 500 people. At the Hyde Park concert, a half-million people were in attendance. And they were terrified. King Crimson left them mouths gaping, eyes agog. 
  • King Crimson was led by Robert Fripp (or, at least, that’s how it shook out over the band’s first couple years existence). Fripp was a virtuoso guitarist who was interested in the esoteric teachings of the Armenian mystic Gurdjieff, among other things. 
  • In an interview with NME in 1973, Fripp explained that music was a kind of magic, and not in the colloquial sense. Music could actually alter reality: “If you’re in front of half a million people and you draw together the energies of that half million and you attract angelic powers – which you can also do if you’re smart enough – and bind the two together in a cone of power and then direct it, you can make the world spin backwards.” This implies a deep reading of the Western esoteric tradition and occult texts, by way of the Golden Dawn and Crowley/OTO. 
  • Lark’s Tongues in Aspic is mostly made up of selections from extended improvisational exercises, which yield occasionally downright incredible results. “When group improvisations of this sort really clicked, it was nothing short of bona fide white magic. ... Amazing things would happen – I mean, telepathy, qualities of energy, things that I had never experienced before with music. My own sense of it was that music reached over and played this group of four uptight young men who didn’t really know what they were doing.” 
  • Prog Rockers liked to present themselves as being purveyors of the strange and paranormal. 
  • Emerson Lake and Palmer’s first album featured "The Three Fates", a suite comprised of three pieces which sound like contemporary classical music. Not the kind of thing you find on most rock albums. Smacks of intellectualism. 
  • Greg Lake, who left King Crimson to form Emerson Lake and Palmer, felt that no matter the subject matter, it was all still “pop music”. 
  • 1973’s Brain Salad Surgery brought with it two new things – a memorable science-fiction suite in "Karn Evil 9", and that amazing album cover by none other than Swiss fantastic artist/surrealist H.R. Giger. Lake described the combination of cover art and music as “a cocktail. ... You can put certain elements into a glass and nothing happens. If you put one extra element in, the whole thing becomes effervescent.” 
  • Bebergal writes: “The alchemy of rock and roll, where songs, lyrics, art and even the band’s logo can become a whole experience that you can hold in your hand when you hold an album.” 
  • Like the Romantics, progressive rock bands wanted music to capture emotion and subjectivity. The composer and pianist Franz Liszt’s rapturous performances caused audience members to swoon, and his flamboyant style influenced the keyboardists of progressive rock, such as Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman (capes, baby!). 
  • “The mythopoeia tradition, popularized by J.R.R. Tolkien through using the term as the title of a poem, later came to describe a modern form of mythology, one that utilizes tropes from ancient myth to craft contemporary stories. The court of the Crimson King could easily be found on Middle Earth, but transcends it through rock’s uncanny ability to give even the most fantastical ideas a sense of realness. This is the occult’s greatest impact on rock and roll. Over time, by incorporating mystical and magical elements into its music and presentation, rock created a mythos around itself suggesting it was somehow heir to secret wisdom. Sometimes malevolent, sometimes mystical, this special perception of things unseen would drive both its fans and detractors to obsess over possible esoteric meanings.”
  • Tales from Topographic Oceans was a watershed moment. Two albums. Four sides. Four songs. 83 minutes of music. All based on a conversation between Yes singer Jon Anderson and King Crimson percussionist Jaimie Muir about a footnote on a single page of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi (1946). In this footnote, four types of shastra, or holy books, are described. Anderson wanted each of the four sides to express a shastra type. 
  • Excess was beginning to take a toll and wear down listeners' patience.
  • Nik Turner, founding member of Hawkwind, journeyed to Egypt in 1977 and recorded four hours of flute music at the Great Pyramid, trying to channel cosmic forces to turn back towards his fans. Christian Vander, of MAGMA, invented a musical language called Kobaian and developed a mythos of the planet Kobaia, the band members’ true homeland. 
  • All of which brings us to one of the true lost treasures of 70’s prog rock... the band Ramases
  • Space Hymns came out in 1971, and its album cover (seen up top, with the church spire taking off like a rocket) was the biggest ever produced by Roger Dean (8 gates!). Their second album, Glass Top Coffin (1974) is another cracked artifact of rock, mythology and occult belief. Band leader Burrington Frost claimed to have been contacted by an Egyptian pharaoh who told him to change his name to Ramases and spread the news that a new age was dawning. Godley and Crème were members of his band. 
  • Sadly, Frost killed himself in 1976. 
  • Fripp was among the first to see that prog was going to collapse under its own weight. He began to experiment in a bunch of other directions. 
  • Eric Tamm said of "Starless", the outstanding track on Red, the final album of the first iteration of King Crimson, was the moment when “the door slams shut … on the early era of progressive rock as a whole.” 
  • Facing personal turmoil, Fripp became a student at the International Academy for Continuous Education at Sherboure House in Britain’s Cotswold countryside, where the mathematician John Bennet attempted to synthesize the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff.  
  • Two of Gurdjieff's most important books are Meetings with Remarkable Men, and Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandsons
  • “Gurdjieff taught that human beings are automatons, asleep to life, less reacting to than being reacted upon by sensations that run through them. Through various physical and mental exercises, such as ritual dance, music and what he called 'dividing one’s attention', a process whereby the student is instructed to become aware of both inner and outer states of awareness, man can awake.” 
  • Fripp found his residency daunting. The house was freezing cold and apparently haunted. Other students fled. But Fripp thrived. 
  • What followed in the immediate wake of Prog Rock? 
  • Punk Rock and New Age music. 
  • Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (1973) is one album that sits at the border between prog and New Age, and is often considered one of the first ever New Age albums. 
  • “Eventually, the undemanding sounds of synthesizers, acoustic guitars, and flutes captured an entire spiritual movement that would come to characterize American alternative religion.” 
  • Paul Stump wrote: “New Age is pop music that a superior intelligence from another planet might make, musically adept… but utterly missing the point.” 
  • “If you make enough noise, no matter your instrument, you can keep the old gods alive forever.” – Peter Bebergal

CHAPTER 6 – The Golden Dawn

  • How dangerous is the occult influence on rock and roll? It’s far more dangerous to the young fan. Just ask Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr, and Jason Baldwin, widely known as the West Memphis Three, young Arkansas boys who were railroaded for the murders of three little boys because they listened to Metallica and had a vague interest in the occult and alternative religions. 
  • Henry Rollins: “I’d find myself up at 3:30 AM, thinking about Damien. He could have been me. I had those records. I was sullen as a teenager.” 
  • “The point at which the artist and the surrounding culture meet is often fraught. … Even pop music, rock’s stepchild, carries the legacy, and continues to inspire exaggerated responses to its associations, intentional or not, to occultism.” 

  • The album art, concert performances and videos that came out of Jay Z’s On to the Next One (2009) are all rife with symbolism. Skulls, Illuminati, NWO, etc. The hidden secret of Jay Z’s success? Help from “the inside.” 
  • Baphomet, claim some "researchers", is not just any old devil. 
  • Historically, conspiracy theories about the Illuminati have found common ground between the extreme Far Left and the extreme Far Right. 
  • In 1776, Bavarian law professor Adam Weishaupt, educated by Jesuits, believed in reason as expressed in the Enlightenment. No spookiness at all. They just wanted to bring down kings and popes, not do black magic (in fact, they hated magic). When Weishaupt joined the Masons and tried to get them to support his ideas, they blackballed him because they were too enamored of their Rosicrucian-style rituals to let them go. Eventually, the Illuminati's existence was revealed after an accident, and Weishaupt was told to cut it out. He did. End of story!
  • In 2013, Professor Griff (formerly of Public Enemy) goes on Coast to Coast AM and launches into an idiotic rant about how Jay Z is helping the Illuminati use hip hop as a way to "infiltrate" the black community. 
  • Jay Z for his part plays coy, because he knows this kind of rumor is “good for business”. As scholar Mitch Horowitz explains: “I think he’s a keen observer of everything going on around him. He’s a master at using subversive imagery.” 
  • No shit! In fact, Jay Z was almost single-handedly responsible for opening wide of Eugene Thacker’s career as a public philosopher! See my concordance for In the Dust of This Planet for more information. 

  • 2012 Super Bowl, with 111.3 million people watching (and 3 million more watching the halftime show) featured Madonna doing a 13 minute medley of her music, on a stage decked out in Egyptian motif, with Madonna dressed as the hierophant of an ancient mystery cult, seated in a throne on a chariot being pulled by dozens of “slaves”. The Golden Dawn would have been jealous of the attention paid to detail in this extravaganza! 
  • Madonna’s interest in the occult goes way back. In 1997, during an interview with Kurt Loder on MTV, she discussed her embrace of Kabbalah… or at least in Philip Berg’s Kabbalah Center, which isn’t quite the same thing.
  • Berg was following in the footsteps of Renaissance magicians who looked to Jewish Kabbalistic texts as sources of wisdom that could easily conform to their own mystical interpretations of Christianity. Later, occultists followed their lead and found in the Kabbalah a rich vein of esoteric wisdom they could apply to their own systems. 
  • It’s not a stretch to suggest that Madonna consciously drew from mythology, occultism and even the symbols of secret societies for her show. But it was still pure pop spectacle, all surface. But it’s only possible because of what came before. The theater of rock began long ago: in the smoky UFO club when Arthur Brown wore his flaming helmet, when Hawkwind hypnotized their fans with lights, when Bowie came onstage not as himself but as a crash-landed Ziggy. Madonna is simply a later iteration. “Maybe the conspiracy theorists are right. We are being mesmerized by popular music, and it’s an inside job. There is no all-seeing eye in a pyramid scheming with the music industry. It’s just who we have always been, a civilization that demands that music shake our spirits.” 

  • The first decade of the 21st century was tumultuous. 9/11 attacks, two major wars, economic instability, and an unpredictable future have people scrambling for meaning and stability. Atheists and believers became even more separate. 
  • July 11, 2002, the pop opera Dr. Dee opened to critical praise. Dr John Dee was the Elizabethan Sorcerer Supreme and Edward Kelley was his erstwhile assistant/companion. 
  • They performed rituals using the Enochian language, or "key"
  • Dr. Dee was the musical creation of British theater director Rufus Norris and Damon Albarn, from Blur and Gorillaz
  • Albarn had struck up a relationship with comic auteur Alan Moore, one of the more serious magicians alive today, and someone who believes that magic and the creative arts are inseparable, and that each is a way of conjuring factions and making them very real. 
  • Moore and Albarn wanted to work together and Moore suggested the life of Dee. 
  • Albarn in 2011: “Doing the research has been the most amazing experience. Everything I’ve read has led to something else – Christianity to Judaism, Paganism to Nordic mythology, astronomy to Hermetic philosophy – and it just seems to go on and on without end.” 
  • We are in the midst of another Occult Revival, like the one at the end of the 19th century and the one in the 1960’s. And just like those instances, it’s the writers and artists and musicians who are leading the way. 
  • In 2009, The Equinox Festival took place in England and the Musicka Mystica Maxima Festival took place in NYC. Both were gatherings of artists and musicians, many of whom consider themselves occult practitioners. 
  • Artist Raymond Salvatore Harmon said that Equinox should be a platform for people to come together. “It would also be a starting point for future collaborations and projects."
  • John Zorn was there. Aethenor, Burial Hex, Comus, and the aforementioned Peter Christopherson, formerly of COUM and Coil. 
  • Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson’s Sunn 0))) is rumored to have performed a secret Black Mass during one of their concerts. 
  • Which brings us to Doom, Death, and Black Metal. 
  • The mid-90’s saw an explosion of extreme forms of Heavy Metal music in Scandinavian countries. Ancient wooden churches were burnt to the ground, participants were murdered, suicides were photographed and used in marketing materials, etc. Black Metal was the most extreme, the ugliest, the most uncompromising music around, as chronicled in the aforementioned book Lords of Chaos, and documentaries like the Vice video above. 
  • A more gentle, throwback genre, Stoner Rock, is exemplified by the band Sleep, which has an hour long song, "Dopesmoker", about “weedpriests, creedsmen, chant the rite.” See above. Your mileage may vary.

  • From Sweden comes the band Ghost. “In the theater that is Ghost, everything is supposed to feel like it is orthodox devil-worshiping. As an audience member, you can choose to believe whatever you want to. And you can choose to partake, or you can choose not to.” Papa Emeritus explains: “My mere existence is a dishonor for the Church, thus being in favor of ‘the old one.’” 
  • And yet, it must be asked... who’s afraid of devils and ghosts when the environment is collapsing before our eyes? And what’s so great about magic when you have a monstrously intelligent computer in your pocket? The New Age is now Hot Yoga and the latest cleanse. Rock and roll is music for nostalgic adults, no good for dancing or taking ecstasy at all. And yet, despite the apparent regression in our culture, some of the most intriguing and philosophically sophisticated merging of music and the occult are being put together by artists who have yet to make their mark, but who will soon be blowing minds all over the world in ways we haven't even begun to imagine. Because that's the way it's always been.

And thus ends my concordance for Peter Bebergal's Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll. The book has a few blind spots and seriously WTF omissions (No Judee Sill?! And nothing about Radiohead?!), which I will address in a future addendum to this piece, but for now, I'm going to take a much-needed bath, and head out for dim sum with my friends Spider-Man and Mel Shapiro, inventor of the multi-track Video Aquarium DVD. - Jerky

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