In 1971, whilst in the studio to record their third LP, ‘Altogether Now’, the British rock band Argent worked on perfecting their version of a song by the songwriter Russ Ballad. Although not officially released as a single until 1973, at which point it became a worldwide hit, ‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You’ remains today an anthemic piece of classic rock writing and the song was not only a massive hit for Argent but also for the pantomime act Kiss a decade later.
Anyone who has listened to rock or blues music, or followed its evolution over the past fifty years, cannot have helped but to notice that God not only gave us this art-form but that he/she/it also made quite sure that it was regularly spiced up with dark occult themes and mystically-charged, esoteric references.
In a sense it almost seems as if the Supreme Deity has deliberately sought to express itself via the pentatonic scale, Marshall amp and fuzz-box for every flavor of spiritual thought (both light and dark) has, at some time or another, been expressed through the medium of rock and roll music.
From Witchcraft and Paganism through to Mysticism and Satanism the link between rock music and the world of the occult has found expression through enigmatic song lyrics, strange album-covers and ritually-managed stage performances—all by many of our most influential artists.
The fact that rock and the occult go hand in hand is indisputable but the question is—just how deep does the dark current run through the lives and personal philosophies of the artists, performers and songwriters who have been involved in this musical genre?
In a recent book release, author and researcher Peter Bebergal has exposed the roots of this shadowy world and presented his research into the spiritual beliefs of generations of free-thinking, advant-garde and spaced-out rock musicians.
Covering a time span from the 1950s through to the 21st century, he reveals the main exponents and examines the various threads of occult ideas that bind many of them together .
Season of the Witch opens with the author taking a close look at the earliest roots of rock and roll. He examines the influence that 1930s American blues had upon it and demonstrates that the traditional ‘hell and brimstone’ versions of Christian Christian teachings were the first fusion between folk-music and religious practice.
When artists such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard came along in the 1950s and spiced the blues up a little with ample doses of sexual energy the world was presented with a musical art-form that all traditional religions defined and labelled as the ‘Devil’s Music’.
As has been the case with so many forms of American music, both rock and roll and the blues were very quickly exported overseas where they became the staple musical diet of teenagers throughout Western Europe and in England in particular where these musical sounds became molded, refined and revised with a quintessentially British sound and style.
For Peter Bebergal it was the resultant re-importation back into America of blues-based popular music by the likes of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones that began his own fascination not only into the music itself but also with the occult counter-culture that was so evidently under-pinning it.
Indeed, it was through his own personally transformational experiences whilst listening to his brothers’ essentially ‘prog-rock’ LP collection that he became exposed to a wide range of metaphysical and musical landscapes—insights, commentaries and observations of which form the basis of his book.
Throughout his book Bebergal particularly identifies himself both psychologically and spiritually with the British wave of psychedelically and esoterically-inclined music. He also argues that it was the infusion of LSD into the London music scene in the mid to late 1960s that resulted in an increasingly transcendent influence spreading through those who were touched by artists such as the charismatic dope head Sydney Barrett and the aural-barrage of early Pink Floyd.
By the time that Barrett had psychologically imploded through his abuse of LSD the Beatles were already starting to explore Eastern practices such as Transcendental Meditation and, through the spiritual explorations of band-member George Harrison in particular, the band were drawing more overtly Eastern metaphysical sounds and influences into their own exclusively mop-top interpretation of psychedelia.
One of those to accompany The Beatles on their journey to meet the Maharishi Yogi in India and was British singer-songwriter Donovan—a woefully under-rated musician and major influence on the Fab Four. It was Donnovan who penned his epic song ‘The Season of the Witch’ after which Berbagal titled his book.
Not only did Donovan introduce George Harrison to the sitar but via his almost elvish-like disposition and pagan ethos he also encouraged a whole new generation of English musicians to draw upon the occult and English Paganism to color their music.
Then the world was rudely awoken from the mystical dream. In chapter three of ‘The Season of the Witch’ the author explains how it was at the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont in 1969 that the utopian ideas of the hippy-movement came crashing down and darkened the cultural, and ultimately the musical, landscape of the time.
As this darkening current pushed the 1960s into the 1970s it gave birth to the contemporary, but still essentially blues-influenced musical form, termed ‘heavy metal’.
Berbergal dedicates a large portion of the next part of his book to the most influential of all the post-flower-power groups, Led Zeppelin—a band who were undoubtedly one of the greatest purveyors of the music and mystical crossovers of the early 70’s. This was the band and who had at its heart a self-confessed magickian and occultist, Jimmy Page.
Following his departure from the Yardbirds Page learnt that through his blistering guitar-work and musical vision that he was able to transform the dulcet tones of polite folkensian quaintness into the thundering Thor-like and Faustian cacophony that became the band’s trademark sound and magickal vehicle.
Rather inevitably it is at this stage that the author focuses his account on Page and his deep fascination for the 19th century magickian Aleister Crowley—someone whose call to
Do what thou wilt appears to have been ritualised by the excesses of Led Zeppelin on the road.
As the heavy sound of Zeppelin morphed into the even heavier metallic sounds of bands such as Black Sabbath so the reader is treated to an even deeper examination of the darker side to Satanic occultism. It is through Sabbath that the writer then traces the final evolution of the blues into the blacks through to the eventual, and many would say inevitable, dead-end that is the Nordic-inspired cacophony of Satanic Black and Doom Metal.
Another important occultly-inspired artist who deeply revered Crowley during the 1970s was David Bowie. The Season of the Witch delves deep into the career and back-catalog of this important artist to reveal some of his many, and varied, spiritual interests.
Staying in the UK the author then takes a brief look at the UK Goth scene before moving onto an off-shoot of Prog Rock, namely Space Rock and examines the influence of the pioneer inventor Robert Moog, without whose Moog synthsizer, bands like Hawkwind would never have crafted the vehicle necessary to express their musical ideas.
As the book draws to a conclusion it comes somewhat more up to date with an examination of rapper Jay Z, his global success and, his apparent promotion of Satanism, Crowley and the Illuminati . It also looks at Madonnas interest in the Kabbalah and her use of esoteric symbolism during her 2012 Super Bowl performance.
Finally, the book closes referenced resources and full index.
Picking up this book for the first time one is led to recall the lyrics of a Bruce Springsteen song in which the American songwriter woefully quips:
It’s been a long time comin’, but now it’s here!
It has indeed been a VERY long time waiting for a book on such and important and fascinating topic to hit the bookstores.
Whether it is Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Coil and Psychic TV as music fans we have been treated over the years to an uplifting wealth of occult-related musical treats. By exploring the ideas and influences of all of these artists Peter Bebergal offers the reader a wonderful celebration of our music heritage.
Whether it is exploring the Godlike stature of Arthur Brown, the cosmic consciousness of Marc Bolan or the challenging aural barrage of Krautrock pioneers he reveals how the source of inspiration that these artists had access to and the dark esoteric themes they drew to the surface, originates from within the deeper recesses of human consciousness.
As creditable and authoritative as this book appears to be in unearthing the connections between the occult and the music industry, it is not a book without it omission. One of these is in the lack of first-hand accounts by the artists involved. Whilst it might be hard to get Bowie to talk openly about his fascination with Jung and Nietzsche today or to find out what Mick Jagger and his band-mates think about their embracing of Satanism it would have been interesting to find out where they stand today on the subject from an early 21st century perspective.
I would also question the way in which the author dismisses the Goth Rock movement of the late 1980s as lending itself more to the world of Victorian supernatural than to the occult. He failed to pick up on luminaries of the genre such as The Mission, The Cult and Fields of the Nephilim all of which made an important contribution to fusion of meta-spiritual ideas and music.
Nevertheless these omissions in no way damage the essential credibility or authenticity of an extra-ordinarily fascinating treatise on occult-inspired rock.
To a degree you really need to have been there at the time to have first explored the mystical lyrics of Bowie and Yes as well as to have tried to decipher the esoteric artwork of Hypnosis and Roger Deam to really pick up on the occult current that pervaded music during the 1960s, 70s and 80s..
If you were not there and want a well-researched, personalized and in-depth analysis of an extra-ordinary era of magickal exploration through music then this is a book that will confound, delight and entertain you throughout.
My favorite quote from Season of the Witch?
“If you make enough noise, no matter your instrument, you can keep the old gods alive for ever.”
Amen to that!
Season of the Witch is a skillfully-woven account of a musical art-form that both transformed our world and was responsible for unveiling a generation of lovers of the dark and mysterious. It will delight any music fan and music historian in equal measure.