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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Crowley Was Once On His List

Pitchfork Media interviews pop-star and soul singer Daryl Hall (of Hall and Oates) about his career, his past interest in Aleister Crowley, his collaborations with a Gurdjieff-trained Robert Fripp, and the witches in his family tree.


Daryl Hall in younger days.

"I come from a family of ministers. And my great-grandfather was what they used to call in Pennsylvania a "pow-wow man," which is basically a male witch. It goes back to the old Germanic and English things -it's like the evil eye, keeping the crops from getting the blight, and the cows from getting sick, and all that stuff. It's just old, old folky things. He was a healer, he used to heal people's warts and give them all kinds of potions and all that kind of stuff. He also had an evil side. And I heard some stories about him. [laughs] I never knew him, but I heard lots of stories about him ... I see what musicians do, especially singers, as a primal thing. It comes from howling around the campfire. Everybody was sitting around whatever, in the earliest of early times-- pre-literate times, how's that? Pre-conscious times. And pre-sentient times. And somebody would be the guy that would start the howling. And that's what I do."

As for his interest in the teachings in Aleister Crowley, Hall says his "Crowley phase" is well behind him now.

"A lot of people go through that kind of thing. And I went through it, and I retained a lot of it, and I discarded a lot of it. My life was unbalanced at the time, when I was doing that."

Sadly the interviewer doesn't do much follow-up on Hall's current religious/philosophical beliefs. Considering his past interest in Crowley, and his family tree (not to mention his singing ability), I'm sure most Witchcraft traditions would recruit him in a heartbeat!

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Early Occult Music

[This is a rough-draft excerpt from my forthcoming book concerning the history of modern Pagan and occult music. All work is copyright 2007 Jason Pitzl-Waters, and is posted under a Creative Commons License.]

Note: This section on early occult music directly follows a section dealing with the musical and cultural influence of Aleister Crowley.

"The formal mutations in the media of the 1960s?in stereo recording, offset printing, FM radio, etc.?created a new and undefined space that called forth the fecund, erotic, and magical powers of the imagination. The rise of the occult, in this view, was simply a response to a formal shift that prioritized right-brain drift, synchronistic associations, image overload, and a sense of virtual transport." - Erik Davis, in an interview with Mark Dery, June 2nd, 2005

In the years directly following Aleister Crowley's cultural rehabilitation, several musical artists started incorporating Crowley's religion, Thelema, into their works. While some, like Led Zeppelin, are less easy to spot, one of the most overt Thelemic musical works came at the dawn of the seventies from influential English musician Graham Bond. Bond was a pioneer of R&B and rock music in England, as well as a longtime fan of Crowley and a practitioner of magick. In 1971, Bond, along with his wife, singer Diane Stewart, released an album under the title of Holy Magick that mixed jazz-fusion styles with ritualistic incantations. While many critics lauded Bond's musicianship on Holy Magick (and later We Put Our Magick On You), they were put off by the Thelemic ritual that made up the bulk of the lyrical content. As one contemporary wrote:

"It's really a great pity that Graham Bond didn't achieve his rightful place in our gallery of fame a long time ago. If he had, he wouldn't be making records like this [Holy Magick ]. Reluctant as we are to pan Graham - who is an excellent and creative musician - this type of album is singularly unimpressive. Graham is, of course, into Magic - of the Right Hand Path variety - and seems to have become involved with Alasteir Crowley's Order Of The Golden Dawn. I make no comment upon his beliefs, but I have my doubts that this boring album will convert many others to the Great Wisdom. Judged as a record, it doesn't make it." - Beat Instrumental, January 1971

Unlike other rock musicians who merely hinted at their allegiance to Thelema or the practice of Magick, Bond created an openly occult work. In that sense he was the occult equivalent to Pagan musician Gwydion Pendderwen. Unfortunately, the critical cold-shoulder he got, along with his ongoing problems with drug addiction and what was most likely an untreated bipolar disorder, sent his career into a downward spiral. Shortly after recording Holy Magick, his marriage dissolved, and his new band, Magus (featuring folksinger Carolanne Pegg) never got off the ground. The musician and singer died tragically in 1974 from an apparent suicide.

While Bond's occult-oriented music never achieved much in the way of a popular audience, he did start to find a small audience among modern Pagans and occultists following his demise. Pagan scholar Chas Clifton has noted that Bond's Holy Magick, on 8-track, was in rotation at his coven-stead in the late 1970s, while the O.T.O. (a Thelemic organization centered around Crowley's teachings) considers Bond "a musician of genius". It's likely that Bond figured heavily into guitarist Jimmy Page's interest in Crowley. Despite this, Bond didn't have much impact on later bands that emerged during and after Punk in the late 70s, even when they referenced Crowley. Bond's occult works were re-released in 1999, however, and he may yet find a new audience for his unique fusion of jazz, funk, and ritual magick.

Beyond Bond, the other major player in British occult-influenced rock was Led Zeppelin. Jimmy Page is a well-known follower of Crowley and other ritual magicians of his era, such as Austin Spare. Page reportedly has one of the largest private collections of Crowley memorabilia extant, and owns Crowley's former home on Loch Ness. While Page is most certainly a true believer, the remaining members of Led Zeppelin can't be called anything other than occasional dabblers in occult or Pagan beliefs. However, the occult elements in their works can't be denied, and have had far-reaching effects on the larger culture, especially upon alarmist Christian groups who have been quick to demonize the band. A typical comment from Christian author David J. Stewart, posting on the Internet site "jesus-is-savior.com":

"Led Zeppelin is Satanic to the core. In the song "Houses of the Holy," Robert Plant (lead singer) speaks of Satan's daughter and making her garden grow (a sexual reference). The album cover displays naked women crawling towards the top of the temple. It's sickening in the name of decency. Anyone who denies the occult inspiration of Led Zeppelin's music is woefully deceived."

In the end, Led Zeppelin were never overt enough in their allegiance to occult theories to alienate their huge fan base, of which many undoubtedly count themselves good Christians. Led Zeppelin joins the ranks of other influential superstar bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones who, while peripherally involving themselves in occult or Pagan ideas, never crossed over into becoming self-consciously Pagan or occult acts. But for the curious who want to explore the occult and mythic symbolism of Led Zeppelin, I highly recommend Erik Davis's book Led Zeppelin (33 1/3) which exhaustively pores over the band's fourth album and makes a case for it being "the 70's answer to The Mabinogion," according to one reviewer.

Outside of Bond and Page, occult-influenced pickings in prepunk England become much slimmer. There was the progressive/metal act Black Widow, whose stage show included a mock sacrifice of a naked woman, and who consulted (in)famous Witch Alex Sanders on its ritual structure. Black Widow's 1970 song "Come to the Sabbat", with its painfully earnest invocation of Satan, is unintentionally hilarious to modern ears, though it caused a stir when it was released. Early heavy metal band Black Sabbath caused a much bigger stir, but were somewhat less occult in overall outlook, with the strongest association with the occult found in Ozzy Osbourne's solo song "Mr. Crowley". While occult and Satanic themes in heavy metal music would recur in the 1980s and beyond, in most cases these elements were for show and did not reflect deeper philosophical attachments to occult practices, modern Pagans, or even to Satanism (a topic far outside the scope of this book).

What becomes clear when looking at British occult-influenced music is that it rarely sparked further exploration into occult subjects. Generally, during the marketing process, occult elements are minimized by the bands that did dabble with such symbology (remaining detectable, of course, to those looking to smear them with "Satan worship"). When Industrial and Neo-folk artists with strong occult interests emerged in Britain and Europe in the late 1970s and early 80s, artists like Graham Bond or Jimmy Page would not be mentioned as influences, although all would share a common fascination with the teachings of Aleister Crowley.

While Britain possessed the lion's share of occult-influenced music in the late 60s and early 70s, there were a few similar artists in America worth noting. Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors, was involved in modern Pagan, occult, and shamanic practices throughout his short career. He alluded to occult and shamanistic ideas in his song lyrics and poetry, underwent a Pagan handfasting ceremony with author Patricia Kennealy (though the proper paperwork was never filed to make it a legal marriage), and posed with a bust of Aleister Crowley in a picture that appeared on the back of Doors 13. Besides reaching a wide audience with his esoteric (sometimes to the point of indecipherability) lyrics, Morrison's dabbling in Paganism via Patricia Kennealy ended up bringing modern Paganism into the homes of his many fans. As she writes:

"I consider that I've made the Craft accessible to people who would never read a book about Witchcraft per se, but who would read a fantasy novel or a memoir of life with a rock star. Its my way of sneaking round to the back door then holding it open for them to come inside."
- Patricia Morrison, quoted in Wiccan Wisdom Keepers, p. 112.

Jim Morrison's musical influence is also felt within modern Pagan and Pagan-influenced music. Superstar Wiccan rocker Sully Erna of the band Godsmack lists The Doors as an influence, and American Pagan festivals and conventions today often conduct a ?Dionysian Morrison? ritual that invokes the spirit of Jim Morrison as a manifestation of the Greek god Dionysis, ritually dancing to the music of the Doors. Morrison also provided a template to many within the Goth musical scene that emerged in the early 1980s. Goth music, as we will discuss later in the book, inherited many of occult and Dionysian impulses first pioneered by Morrison (as was recently recognized by a Doors tribute album by Goth artists including Pagan band Rhea's Obsession).

While the Doors were not alone in their interest in the occult, they were one of the few American bands to make it an explicit focus. In America as in Britain, many of the bands that started in the 60s turned their attention to Eastern spiritualities and philosophies in the 70s, although even in those cases references to Western occultism and Pagansim did pop up from time to time, with the stated admiration of Aleister Crowley by psychedelic psychologist Timothy Leary being a prime example.

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