The Occult and music
Aleister Crowley, who made a cameo appearance on the cover of Sgt Pepper's
Photo from Aleister Crowley Foundation
If one defines the occult as the unseen (which is technically is) then it would be easier (and less lengthy) to write an article on times that music was not affected by the unseen world than on the times it was.
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
Watch an evangelical meeting sometime (or better yet a snake handling session—watch this on TV!)---you'll see, in many cases, the kind of fervor connected with a rock concert, If you witness a coven meeting (which is not as tough to do now as in the past) you will notice the same kind of energy. I have seen cabalistic and Santerian rituals (no animal sacrifice) that have similar energy. I have been part of Hindu rituals that have the same energy as a great musical experience, and I have been at concerts that have a truly sanctified feeling to them. But the experiences range from the ecstatic (Mahavishnu, Alice Coltrane, Magma, Cecil Taylor) to the oddly detached (Leo Smith and Marion Brown, or ZAJ, led by Walter Marchetti and Juan Hidalgo, two Cage disciples) to the traditional (Korean Ah Ahk Theatre, Gamelan, Hare Krishna temple celebrations, chanting, church). Some included the desire to communicate and make more money in the process- Chick Corea's move to fusion, starting with the Moreira-Purim Return to Forever through the Mahavishnu-inspired groups, coincided with his involvement in Scientology. Although it is not known how deeply involved Coryell was with spirituality after he left Sri Chinmoy's tutelage, his most successful band, the Eleventh House, was named for an astrological term. Some of the classical pieces that were inspired by spiritual concepts, like Messiaen's work ("Quartet for the End of Time" comes to mind, but there are so many more), Dane Rudhyar's pieces, Bach's religious works, Stravinsky's pieces, Penderecki (The Passion of St. Luke), Michael Tippett's The Vision of St. Augustine and King Priam (in both pieces the lead character has a vision of the totality of creation all at once; this is similar to some Hindu concept of God realization); Stockhausen's Hymnen and Mantra, and even Cage pieces inspired by Zen, are truly amazing—they are great pieces of art no matter what the context and I am not even touching upon one tenth of all the great religious pieces.
Oddly enough, because spirituality and overindulgence in sex and drugs have both produced some great music, it is tempting to look for a link—and there is. Both elements involve a loss of identity and surrender to something else… God, wine, bliss. Certain types of reggae (such as dub) and certain varieties of psychedelic (and later) rock and jazz showed some extraordinary music that would probably not have been made without the influence of intoxicants. Sometimes intoxicants precipitated a crisis that led to other things. We are all familiar of the various stories of how drugs (particularly alcohol, psychedelics, speed, and the harder drugs -- cocaine and heroin in particular have wreaked havoc on people's lived. This has brought on death (Charlie Parker, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Keith Moon to name a select few), ruined or interrupted careers (Syd Barrett, Brian Wilson, Peter Green, Skip Spence, Ginger Baker, and David O'List) or led to lame music (Eric Clapton and Lou Reed)—to name the two people I wished hadn't performed when they were on drugs) and animal abuse (accidentally on Ozzie Osbourne's part, intentionally—for which my estimation of him went down enormously—on the part of John Cale). But Santeria and Voodoo regularly engage in animal sacrifice, and many religions around the world, including Biblical Judaism and certain older sects of Hinduism, engaged in animal sacrifice. But these seem to be used for the release of energy, which I think is totally unnecessary and to be honest, repellant.
Linking the pattern back to spirituality, part of the myth of Syd Barrett relates how he was interested in joining a sect of mid-Eastern mystics who practiced astral travel to planets—also practiced in India—but the group felt he was too immature to handle it. He resorted to a diet of LSD in order to produce the effect—explaining the emphasis on the first two Floyd LP's—but burned himself out from chronic use of LSD, from which he has apparently still not recovered. Syd sacrificed himself to his spiritual and material ambitions in a pattern not very different from martyrs and hasn't rock has its share of "martyrs" to its life style, such as Hendrix, Morrison, Moon, Cobain and Laughner, to name just a few?
But there are also stories of marvelous second chances, like John Coltrane's incredible rebirth and spiritual awakening in the 1960's. But these are very rare and Coltrane only had a short span of time in which to spread his new gospel. Disciples like Pharaoh Sanders and his wife Alice Coltrane, despite great initial popularity, vanished into obscurity by the late 1970's (although they re-emerged) and the ones who exceeded Coltrane's spirituality (like Ayler) were found dead in the East River in the late 1960's under bizarre circumstances. Although Coltrane really got into some incredibly mystical places (albums included titles like the churning "Meditations" (this piece sounds like one of the foundation stones for the German Free Jazz scene of Brotzmann and the late Peter Kowald), Om, Interstellar Space (homages to the planets in duets with drummer Rashied Ali) and the comparatively tame classic A Love Supreme. Ayler's entire set of work was spiritually based., from his earliest to his last lame rock-based work. Titles like "Witches and Devils," "Ghosts" and "Universal Indians" barely hint at Ayler's ecstatic virtuosity. Anybody who just thinks he was blowing straight simple themes should listen with care to, for example, "Ghost" on his Love Cry LP in which he dances in and out of the melody, dropping notes and catching them intentionally like he was using the silences as a type of spiritual counterpoint, while Milford Graves does everything he can to avoid keeping a beat and Alan Silva keens to the higher consciousness. It's an amazing, ECSTATIC performance—quite startling. Are the missing notes being played by the Ghosts?
And Sun Ra's interest in Egypt, and spirituality was not just for show. When I met him and spoke with him in 1973 (it was an interview in only the loosest sense of the word—more of a Sun Ra lecture), one of the things he told me to do was to look up a book that I would be interested in at the University of California at Berkeley. The book Urantia has to be one of the strangest books ever written—it was written through a technique that would later be called "channeling" but was composed in the early twentieth century by a spirit possessing a well-placed man in an apparently well-placed group of people. If such a thing were to happen today, there would be a rush to record it or make a television series about it. But, being "well-placed" at that time meant that you would not want anyone else to know of this, so a group met and recorded the book in secret. The book purports to be a history of the universe told from the creation, and Ra was fascinated by it. In one of the chapters of the book, it spoke of Green, blue, orange people—so much so that Ra felt this was why people had distinct color preferences throughout their lives. Somebody who liked green clothing was probably a green person in previous lifetime. He also spoke freely about angels and UFO abductions he had experienced. This was in 1973, long before this kind of thing became popular. Albert Ayler also had a famous vision in which he and his brother were zapped by a flying saucer but were immune to its negative effects because they possessed holy marks. This type of dream is not dissimilar to the belief in certain Indian sects that UFO's represent highly evolved spiritual beings who are intent on deceiving humanity for their own ends the one populated by faerie, vampires, ghosts and all the occult mischief makers.5 Interestingly enough, in some meditation circles, some folks seem to encounter UFO-like characters when they start to make spiritual progress, but these characters are considered distractions, not helpers.
My meeting with Sun Ra marked a time (1973) during which interest in the metaphysical and the occult was just about as strong as it is now, but most of us tend to have relatively short memories, so we tend to forget that the sixties and its expansion into drugs also led to a major concurrent interest in the occult and the spiritual life. For example, astrology was HUGELY popular in the 1960's; interest in Eastern Gurus, thanks in no small measure to the Beatles involvement with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the Hare Krishna, was enormous. I can recall kids in college leaving to join spiritual groups—and interest in Wicca or White Magic was also quite high. So we had a major influence of different gurus affecting musicians who had come out of the drug culture, or even who needed a refuge. Among the folks who were disciples of different gurus were of course, the Beatles who aligned themselves with TM and ISKCON—the International Society for Krishna Consciousness appealed to John for a brief while, George died an adherent to ISKCON. "The Fool on the Hill" was originally, the story goes, dedicated to the Maharishi and most of The White Album was written in retreat in India). The Doors were into TM though Morrison was initiated into TM before the Beatles involvement: Morrison was the shaman who sacrificed himself for his vision, too in love with living on the edge to see the danger. The Beach Boys were also TM devotees, but it was too late for poor Brian Wilson, who stopped work on Smile because he was sure that his music caused some of the Topanga Canyon fires. Other followers were The Rascals whose song "It's Wonderful" is their TM tribute. There was also Pete Townshend, who devoted himself to Meher Baba- "Baba O'Riley" on Who's Next name checks him and Townshend's first solo album Who Came First was almost entirely written in dedication to him.
The jazz-rock contingent seemed drawn to Sri Chinmoy as John McLaughlin, Carlos Santana, Larry Coryell and Brian Auger were all devotees at one point in their lives. Chinmoy seemed to attract instrumental virtuosos while he himself is known for the thousands of songs and paintings he completed, as well as his feats of strength). And of course, there was Alice Coltrane (whose best work, Universal Consciousness, was inspired by her spiritual interests and other musicians, like the late Larry Young (Khalid Yasin) went over to Islam (as did Cat Stevens). And many AACM musicians (from Muhal Richard Abrams to Kalapurusha Maurice McIntyre) were drawn to African and Jewish spirituality. Other folks were drawn to Western Magick, like Graham Bond (who committed suicide in 1975), Robert Fripp (in the early 1970's before his involvement with Western guru J. G. Bennett and the Gurdjieff group), and of course, folks like Stevie Nicks. But what of the heavy metal tradition—the one most intimately (and publicly) connected to the "darker forces"?6
But the interest in the weird extra forces of the progressive rock world came to a head between 1971 and 1975, when : 1) Magma came to pre-eminence; 2) King Crimson became interested in Wicca (the Wetton-Cross-Bruford Group); 3) Yes composed titanic works dedicated to Theosophy (followed by Todd Rundgren just a little later.7 These are only the three most obvious. Vander actually developed his own language based upon a time when he was playing free jazz in a club. As the story goes, he was playing to an unappreciative audience; and he thought about the people who were dying to play this music (think Coltrane—Vander viewed Coltrane as his major hero according to the press of the time) and he wished the audience dead—and he was going to tell them. What came out of his mouth, if we are to believe him, was the foundation of Kobaian, the language of all of the Magma music. This concept is quite a bit like "Glossalia," or speaking in tongues when possessed by the Holy Spirit, a phenomenon documented in every religion in the world. Also, I can recall a hell of a lot of apocalyptic thinking at the time—one of the reasons that Fripp gave for disbanding King Crimson in 1975 was because he thought the world was going to undergo massive disasters in 25 years and the idea of running a group seemed frivolous to him; the story changed shortly after, to the "small mobile intelligent units" concept favored by Fripp, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno, but apocalyptic thinking was the first reason I saw in print. Not tough to see why—escalating energy prices and unemployment were starting to worry folks, and there was a real feeling of doom (perhaps fed by too much drug consumption) in the mid-1970's. The advent of Punk and Disco only seemed to make people more convinced that things would get worse and that it was time to get spiritual—in time for a variety of Gurus (eastern and Western) to fill the gaps that the cessation of drugs and partying brought. Also, pieces that had no occult origins like Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" acquired satanic connotations because of its lifting of Terry Riley's trance ideas, and, of course, its use in the film The Exorcist.
In certain areas, (mainly industrial England and heartland USA) groups with huge Marshall Amplifers, and distorted guitars realized how ominous such sounds could be. They took the basic concept of Cream, the Who and Hendrix, slowed down the beat and voila, Satanic heavy metal is born. The forerunner is probably Black Widow, an obscure English group from the late 1960's who teamed up with our friend Alex Sanders (see above) caused a minor sensation with their live shows (featuring a nude female celebrant at the end) and releasing one album which faded into obscurity because their record company wanted to push Simon and Garfunkel instead of them! So much for their association with Sanders (according to them, the most powerful man in England). Many groups, like the Crazy World of Arthur Brown (who Ritchie Unterburger correctly identified as the daddy and grand daddy of all the latter "Satanic" rockers), Atomic Rooster, Black Sabbath, Kiss, and Alice Cooper, that were essentially Hammer studios and Hollywood visions of the occult world—accidentally evil or occult at best, but entertaining for the spectacle.
The Stones, you will recall, were also involved in their earlier years—of course they had a certain number of songs and album titles in their early years.8 And of course, there was "Dancing With Mr. D" and "Sympathy for the Devil" but their real involvement was with the films of Kenneth Anger, author of Hollywood Babylon. Anger was a Luciferian satanist and also a devotee of Alesiter Crowley (who was not a Satanist) and the movies he mad with the Stones help were a bit bizarre, disturbing, and ultimately incoherent, like Bunuel/Dali on a bad day. This interest lasted a very short while for the Stones (probably 1968-1971) but the stigma stuck. But they were the bad boys- it was expected. The other fellow who exploits in this area are best known is our friend Jimmy Page.
Jimmy Page was fascinated with Aleister Crowley and eastern mysticism (remember "Kashmir"?), but the interest with Crowley lasted for more than a few years. The late Aleister Crowley (aka "the Beast" because, as he remarked, his mother called him that) was born into a fundamentalist Christian family who also owned a brewing company. In his early college years, he essentially started tapping into his family's fortune and quickly spent it all. He was involved in the Golden Dawn, a group of occultists from turn of the century England who also included W. B. Yeats among its members. Crowley was invited in by McGregor Mathers one of the founders of the organization who perceived Crowley as brilliant, and tried to enlist his assistance in a battle for control of the group. After a long series of disputes within the group, Crowley was out, and formed his own lodge (Mathers was disgraced and died soon after), and the Golden Dawn turned more introspective and cautious. But Crowley was convinced of his special role in the world, engaging in sex magick, drugs, esoteric rituals and demonic possession. Although he still exhibited a high level of influence through the late 1930's (and a great deal of press as "the Most Evil Man in the World"), his influence waned through the 1940's and he passed away in 1947. Although it sounds like he was just a profligate junkie, his contributions to the "new age" movement and occultism were considerable—he was quite brilliant (although incredibly egotistical, nasty and arrogant). He wrote and "ghosted" wrote many significant works of occultism, including jobs for Evangeline Adams (who made headlines as an astrologer in the early twentieth century) and Gerald Gardner (this was the man generally regarded as leading the Wiccan revival in England in the late 1940's, when it was still against the law to be a witch). Crowley's general decline can be seen as starting when he started to get addicted to opium and heroin, among other substances. Israel Regardie, who served as his personal secretary, allegedly said that Crowley was a genius with the emotional development of a ten year old boy—which, when you come to think of it, is a good description for a great many famous rock performers.
Page's involvement with the Crowley legacy extended to the purchase of one of Crowley's homes, and the symbols that adorned Led Zeppelin IV. "Stairway to Heaven" was certainly a mystical piece of music (it was praised by Kenneth Anger as being the most "luciferian" pieces of Page's work—a definite compliment if you view Lucifer, as Anger did, as a representation of truth and beauty), but Page never made it to the stage of finishing a soundtrack to Anger's movies. There are allegations that some members of the group blamed the death of John Bonham and other untoward events upon Page's involvement with Crowley; but Bonham's drinking was getting out of hand even before Page's involvement with Crowley. The break up of Led Zeppelin probably didn't end Page's involvement with Crowley, but the public knowledge and interest in this probably declined at that stage.
The interesting thing is, in the late 1970's, especially with the advent of punk, a lot of groups seemed to back away from occult (particularly positive occult) involvement, but the advent of "Death Rock" or occult rock, which developed in s slow pattern through the following bands: Black Widow - Atomic Rooster - Black Sabbath Angel Witch - Venom - Pagan Altar - Widow - Witchfynde - Hell Satan - Cloven Hoof – Warhammer- Onslaught - Sabbat – Antichrist-Ragnarok - Cradle Of Filth - Megiddo Bal Sagoth - December Moon – Ewigkeit - Adorior - Hecate - Enthroned - Phantasia - Forefather - Meads Of Asphodel - Reign Of Erebus Thus Defiled - Old Forest - Annal Nathrakh. They all showed a steady but consistent interest in the underworld as a source of inspiration, although, as I indicated earlier, the evolution is part occult interest, part show biz.
Throbbing Gristle even had a bit of a run in occult circles and Genesis P. Orridge has an interest in the works of Austin Osman Spare, a contemporary of Crowley's who established the foundation of a system called Chaos magic, which draws heavily on tapping into the patterns of nature (such as repeating sets) and partially on Shamanic-inspired altered states of consciousness—which sort of fits in well with techno and other dance systems as a metaphysical delivery agent. In the progressive world, Fripp continued his involvement with discipline, Art Ensemble founder Joseph Jarman got more deeply involved with his dojo, and the Belgian groups Present and Univers Zero put out gloomy CD after gloomy CD with strong senses of foreboding.
The 1980's also saw a great deal of interest in H.P. Lovecraft's work. Lovecraft was a writer from Providence, RI who was active in the 1920's and who developed intense and foreboding mythologies about the elder gods who ruled the earth before the advent of humans and who waited to seize it again. Their worshippers were snake-like races who seemed more inspired by the influx of Southern European immigrants into the Northeast during Lovecraft's time than by any recorded legends. (Lovecraft was an introverted xenophobe. But Lovecraft inspired more than a few groups, including Caravan (!), Magma, and Univers Zero.
Other groups, that emerged in the 1980's, such as Megadeath, Ministry and Slayer, had a stronger connection with the instrumental posture of groups like Black Sabbath, but the instrumental prowess greatly exceeded that of the earlier groups. Slayer, in particular, in their earlier albums, played with a frenzy close to that of free jazz, and a truly threatening vocal style that inspired folks like Rob Zombie (from the old industrial city of Lowell, Massachusetts), but that lost a lot of its bite when you see folks like Trey Parker (creator of South Park) imitating it pretty flawlessly. The difficult part of the late 1980's was that, with the advent of the PMRC and various Christian fundamental groups, and police looking for scapegoats, ANYTHING connected with mysticism or the occult was automatically tagged as SATANIC—even folks like Rush and Alan Parsons show up under the Satanic heading, much to my (and their) astonishment. The 1980's was also the period in which New Age music, a combination of ECM, Terry Riley, ethnic music, and a sprinkling of light electronics. This started to gain an enormous audience of over-stressed former hippies and baby boomers trying to find music that would transport them, but not force their heads to work harder than they already were. It was, in some ways, a search for a nice refuge from the hyper-materialistic eighties.
In the 1990's, interest in the occult and spirituality seemed to skyrocket to heights not seen since the mid-1970's. The introduction of drugs into a culture among youth seems to generate interest in alternative spirituality, but interest in Wicca seemed to run high in the 1990's—there are more Wiccans than Unitarians at this point—and the increasing diverse environment of the United States and Western Europe are bringing in many more religious traditions, including areas as diverse and dissimilar as Santero, Voodoo, Hinduism and Buddhism, these often having houses of worship or outlets in the same community.9
Millennium fever probably fueled a lot of interest in the occult, and disenchantment with mainstream religions also seemed at a peak in the mid to late 1990's. Prosperity in the United States always has seen us experimenting—we find that money doesn't buy happiness, or we start looking for new things to entertain us. Also, the Goth scene started to develop with a new intensity, becoming the hippie movement of the 1990's. This started to develop interest in alternative religions.10
In the later 1990's, as groups like Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson (who is allegedly, a minister in the Church of Satan) started to gain in popularity, the middle class and fundamentalist Christianity started to get very concerned again, but the ability to confine this stuff is less easy than in the days before the internet (there must have been a great deal of gnashing of teeth when Tool thanked Satan for its Grammy award!). The ultimate ramifications of the September 11, 2001 attacks have had the interesting effect of both increasing animosity towards foreign cultures and increasing interest, while the Church's recent spate of sexual molestation cases all around the United States have increased interest in alternative religion. Madonna, for instance, is interested in the Cabala and has had a Hindu (Indian) astrology reading done for her (this is the system of astrology that I myself practice). There has been an enormous upsurge in interest in the more metaphysically oriented music of the late 1960's and early 1970's (Gong, Magma, Hawkwind, Terry Riley, etc.).
But people are also a bit insecure and afraid now—it would only take one more successful terrorist attack to turn the U.S. into raging xenophobes. What does that have to do with music? Nothing and everything. Basically, even though I am not a big fan of some of the music I've discussed here, it does make the entire musical scene a whole lot more interesting. And I really don't want to listen to either basic rock'n'roll or Christian rock (although some of it sounds OK to me) or even new age stuff. I grew up in a time when virtually everything was possible in music. One of the biggest disappointments in the world as it exists today is the fact that the music scene has remained as fragmented as it was in the mid-1970's onward with segregated markets. The thing that we all have to fight is the belief that we have nothing in common with the rest of the world. The universal undercurrent in every spiritual teaching stresses our similarities—the differences are for spice and flavor, not evil.
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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