Aleister Crowley, who made a cameo appearance on the cover of Sgt Pepper's
Photo from Aleister Crowley Foundation
By Gary Gomes
In the world music tradition, we have rather extensive history (extending all the way back to the Greeks) of the use of music to induce certain states- modes were thought to have certain qualities. There is even some evidence to suggest that the Egyptians used music as a healing tool This anticipated the later utilization of these techniques by figures as diverse as Sun Ra, Jimi Hendrix, the Misunderstood, Rudolph Steiner, various "new age practitioners" such as Stephen Levine and the biased experiments tying plant growth to listening to classical music.1 These types of customs are utilized in Africa, India, South America and within most native cultures (shamanic cultures from Russia to the Americas to the Pacific) have some kind of tradition of sacred song to them. The links run from the Russian shamanic traditions, the Australian aborigines to East Indian Gandharva Veda and Karnatak musics to Hawaiian chanting, to perhaps the most infamous occult music tradition of all, the Yoruban culture in Africa which found its expression as Voudon (Voodoo) in Haiti and Santeria throughout most of the remainder of South America. This tradition has found its way into contemporary culture through jazz, tango, Cuban music, and of course, blues and rock and roll (more on this later). 2 Getting back to tradition, in the more mainstream religions, it is valuable to know that Moslem, Hindu and Hebrew prayer is usually chanted, not spoken, and there are literally hundreds of books in all these cultures regarding the power of chanted prayer. Balinese and Javanese Gamelan and African Joujouka are vessels for worship. And the Western church also has a tradition of its own of this type—plainsong or proportional chant, which later evolved into Gregorian chant, was one of the basic building blocks of the Western music tradition. Also, as the years progressed, every major composer from the Renaissance onward (and even before) devoted most of their output to sacred work, up to and including 20th century composers like Stravinsky (occasionally) and Messiaen (mostly). A great many composers also chose subject matter of a more obscure occult/spiritual tilt. Mozart wrote overtly about Masonic principles in his opera "The Magic Flute"; Scriabin seemed under the influence of the Theosophical movement of his day with his Prometheus Symphony; Richard Strauss "Also Sprach Zarathustra" is a piece dedicated to Nietzche but also to the misunderstood principles of the founder of the Zoroastrian religion (considered to be the first continuous monotheistic religion; in its current state it is a realtively small religion practiced pretty much exclusively in Iran and in a small colony (Parsi) in Bombay, India); Erik Satie was a Rosicrusian who applied some of the principles of this secret society to his piano pieces; Dane Rudhyar and Gustav Holst were astrologers; Olivier Messiaen wrote numerous pieces dedicated to his unique form of Roman Catholic mysticism, but borrowed from Indian ragas and birds (St. Francis of Assisi being the Catholic link) and also wrote huge works drawing on Indian and Japanese works; and Schoenberg's most ambitious work was the unfinished opera Moses and Aron. The most anti-mystical composer of the 20th century (he claimed that the imagery of the Rite of Spring was derived from the music, and the large pagan gathering that was this major piece's program was inspired by the music, not vice versa) Stravinsky, wrote at least two major sacred works—the Canticum Sacrum and the Symphony of Psalms. Among more contemporary composers, Stockhausen has written works about mantra, the creation and the archangel Michael; Penderecki has written religious works and mystical works, as has Ligeti ("Lux Eterna"), John Cage was directly inspired by Zen and Indian thought about music, while the minimal trio (Riley, Reich, and Glass) are well known for their interest in Indian music, African and Hebrew traditions, and Tibetan Buddhism, respectively. As George Crumb wrote the piece "Black Angels," there was definitely an air of foreboding in the late 1960's and early 1970- like "Tubular Bells," this piece did not start out as an "occult" piece but became one by association by virtue of its inclusion in the soundtrack to the Exorcist (an overtly occult piece like Stairway to Heaven was only marginally associated with occultism, by contrast). The mystical tradition that inspired Wagner is well-known. His finest work (also his last) is a opera called "The Comedy at the End of Time" in which the world comes to an end, prophesied by Sibyls and Anchorite monks and Lucifer is finally forgiven by God for his transgressions and accepted back into God's hands. Even Glenn Branca talks about angels and devils in his Symphonies (and I have left out a ton of composers, I know, from Beethoven's "Missa Solemnis" to Handel, Haydyn, Bruckner, well…it never ends.) We'll talk about blues, jazz and rock further on. Where do these people come up with this stuff? First of all, as one of my friends remarked to me long ago, music, being an auditory phenomenon, is not visible, save as a representation on sheet music. It is an occult (unseen) science. It seems to come from everywhere. We interpret it in a congregation (the audience) and it has a wide variety of "secret messages" to it. We can go all the way from the meanings that people derive from lyrics or music to the truly insipid interpretation of lyrics by the "Paul is dead" mania of the late 1960's to Geraldo Rivera hearing the words "Son of Sam" in Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" to the even more stupid "backwards masked" lyrics of Led Zeppelin, among others. Before any of you ever reads too much into a song lyric again, I strongly encourage you to read Julian Jaynes' Origins of Consciousness in the Bicameral Brain. In it, he discusses the cross talk of schizophrenics as the model for messages from the Gods to early cultures. It is a fascinating bit of work and one that should give pause to any one who thinks they hear a message from anywhere—be it from a grizzled singer who can barely pronounce the words he is singing because of a drug-addled state or a "blues" affectation. Thankfully, apart from Geraldo and a few Beatles-maniacs in the 1960's (they are back, by the way and on the Internet), most of us don't pay too much attention to words we can't understand on records. Also, this diatribe should not be taken to mean that 1) their isn't real occult or spiritual significance to the music we enjoy or 2) that music can not be a consciousness altering experience for some people, even from sources that I would not necessarily like. Both exist; but like anything else unseen, interpretation must be made with caution. Blues, rock, and jazz, it must be noted, are many times made in the presence of mind-altering substances. To get to the essence of this, it is always useful to recall that alcohol is called "spirits" for a reason. It has a potency that opens us up to very positive or very negative experiences. Also, the grandfather of these musics is a blend of two musics that have profound occult roots—the Yoruban and the Celtic cultures, for blues came out of Africa, jazz came out of Europe and Africa (adding sex from the whorehouses – in the old days there used to be sacred sex temples in various cultures)– and rock coming out of blues and old country. And country came out of the old Celtic folks who settled in Tennessee. Ever wonder why groups like Fairport Convention and Jethro Tull had such an easy time blending rock rhythms into these weird little English folk pieces? The blues certainly had its share of occult imagery working for it. There is of course the Robert Johnson legend of him going to the crossroads. This is a place in most cultures where demons gather or the devil appears. According to one sensationalistic television special I saw, the Allman Brothers Band used to spend time at Johnson's grave and apparently picked up some kind of a curse by hanging out there- hence the deaths of Duane Allman and Berry Oakley. Pieces like "Got My Mojo Workin" or even Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put A Spell on You" are obviously huge parts of the history of rock and roll. Even the sex and drugs part of rock represent a sacred tradition, because sex, if used properly, can lead to enlightenment or power, as can alcohol or drugs—but they are considered rather dangerous for unprepared individuals, so a variety of spiritual traditions—in the far east (India with Tantra and Aghora), Shamanic cultures, and even, from what I know of the Santerian—require long periods of preparation before these substances are used for spiritual purposes. Here in the United States, all you need is a fake ID, a drug connection, and (maybe) a condom and you're all set.3 Anyone who has ever been to a rock concert sober knows the sense of power you feel from seeing thousands of fans masses… and most of us have been witness to the power of sex, either in our own lives or through proximity. Jim Jones (and many sect leaders) slept with his female devotees not only for pleasure, but for power and dominance. The Hare Krishnas (ISKCON) also had stories of rogue Western gurus who abused their positions for sexual dominance.4 The organization has made major changes over the past twenty years to ensure that the power struggles and corruption that plagued certain parts of the organization in the 1980's do not recur). And think to the recent Heaven's Gate cult—the leader, plagued by guilt or fear over his homosexuality, convinced many cult members to become Eunuchs—actually, somewhat perversely following a pattern that exists in the early Western church of eunuchs (Origen, one of the truly great early church thinkers and founders, was a Eunuch. Moving into music, it was a well-known custom in certain circles to castrate male choirboys in order to retain the high pitched purity of their voices, although this was apparently, done more for aesthetic reasons than spritual—if only they had been blessed with the falsetto control of, say, Frankie Valli. It happens in certain pagan traditions also- according to one who claimed to belong to a family of witches, Alex Sanders, ritual castration was once part of becoming a witch (he got away with a nicked scrotum, though). In India, certain dovotees of Shiva engage in surgery to eliminate sexual desire to this day, and a very bizarre group—the Harridan—go from village to village looking for male children with either deformed sexual organs or with hermaphroditic tendencies, and claim these children as part of their group. The group dress in women's clothes and have a reputation for being powerful magicians. It is rare that parents refuse their demand for a child, because of the fear of a curse. These individuals take the child, cut away all vestiges of maleness and travel the country, telling fortunes and offering magic remedies to villagers—while seeking new recruits. Power, intoxication and the creative energy of the universe (sex) are difficult to withstand. Many sects call for abstinence, for similar reasons—abstinence builds up energy in most people, which can be transmuted to satisfy the goals of the group or given proper guidance, can be channeled through the body to create higher states of consciousness.
Israfel, the angel of music
Artwork by Ruth Frasur
1. Many of you may recall these experiments, conducted as far back as the early seventies, in which various experimenters "demonstrated" that plants responded more positively to Mozart than, let's say Megadeath. The hidden factor that was not explained up front, was that the first lady who conducted these experiments hated loud rock, indicating the distinct possibility of bias. Recent experiments have been less conclusive—I seem to recall that now country and western music is the best—but research also tends to indicate that plants seem to thrive if the researcher likes the music being used—so plants could, and mine have, thrive on a diet of free jazz, art rock, and noise. [BACK TO TEXT] 2. The more insidious side of this is that science, our new religion, is expanding on the "classical" experiments and has produced "studies" that show that learners learn better to the music of Mozart—which is odd, considering the fact that Mozart was more of a burnt out party boy than Ozzy Osboune—and many subliminal learning tapes have modeled their music on a certain number of beats oer minute that are supposed to optimize learning. In fact, a friend of mine who programs funk jazz—you know, like the Yellow Jackets, and various other fusack entities—has told me that many of the lighter (yes, Virginia, there is lighter jazz than the Yellow Jackets—all kidding aside, they are good musicians whose combination of elements just happen to annoy ME) jazz stations and producers have the music calculated so it hits a certain number of beats per minute, etc. in the theory that it will sell products better. On the surface of it, it makes sense, but, IF IT WERE TRUE, we would expect, let's say, Kenny G. to be more popular than Bruce Springsteen or the Rolling Stones and this is clearly not the case. But we will be stuck with lame jazz on the airwaves because of this misconception. And we won't even get into Scientology's take on this (refer to the section on jazz rock and Chick Corea's desire to reach people). [BACK TO TEXT] 3. There is a story circulating that Shree Rajneesh, the Rolls Royce Guru, used to preside over ecstatic dancing and (allegedly) even sexual acts performed by his disciples and, in so doing, gathered tremendous Siddhi or power. [BACK TO TEXT] 4. See the interesting book Monkey on a Stick for an interesting—though some would say biased—expose of the abuses of power in this organization, especially after Srila Prabhupada passed away. [BACK TO TEXT] 5. This theory is not dissimilar to a theory put forth by John Keel , a veteran UFO and occult investigator, who sometimes felt that UFO's were the latest manifestation of history's contact with the unseen occult world. [BACK TO TEXT] 6. An odd bit of musical trivia is that the occult connection with music can be traced to the most bizarre of connections—Desi Arnaz. It seems Desi was allegedly involved in an offshoot of Santeria in Cuba and was a devotee of one of the deities in his native Cuba. "Babalu" was apparently a tribute to this deity and one Santero (Santerian Priest) I know claimed that the conga rhythms in the "I Love Lucy" theme were actually used in worship to this deity. And they were worried about Led Zeppelin and Ozzy in the seventies! (Note to lawyers in the audience: I am not claiming that Desi was a Satanist! [BACK TO TEXT] 7. Things like the success of "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac and "Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright showed mainstream acceptance of these themes. But I think "Rhiannon" in particular, pales in comparison to pieces like "Tam Lin" from Fairport Convention, a song about the evil side of the faerie folk that sent chills through me when I saw them perform it without Sandy Denny. [BACK TO TEXT] 8. I can remember innocently doing a public relations flyer in my high school that stated "Their Satanic Majesties Request Your Presence at Our Spring Dance" and it was a spring dance for two Catholic high schools. Went over like a lead balloon but I was Episcopalian and forgiven for my error. [BACK TO TEXT] 9. There have been increased attempts at Christian conversion in other cultures—the underhanded shenanigans that have occurred in India with the intention of drawing Hindus away from their native religion are extraordinary, deceitful, and reprehensible—but we are living in a time of cultural exchange unparalleled since the late 1800's, personally and through the use of the Internet. [BACK TO TEXT] 10. You haven't lived until you've gone to a Goth club and been approached by somebody who hands you a card that advertises fake vampire fangs and yellow contact lenses—then flashes his fangs at you. It's an interesting experience. [BACK TO TEXT]
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