Do You Talk to the Dead? Aleister Crowley's Influence on Music Culture
What went on in your head?
Oh, Mr. Crowley
Did you talk to the dead?
-Ozzy Osbourne, Mr. Crowley
Ozzy Osbourne’s heavy metal “Mr. Crowley” was first released in 1980 on Blizzard of Ozz, and is said to be inspired by a book about Aleister Crowley that Osbourne read, plus a pack of tarot cards.
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page once owed Aleister Crowley’s Loch Ness, Scotland home, supposedly later claiming it to be haunted. However, as far as Page’s own involvement in Crowley and magic, he was once known to have said, "I'm not interested in turning anybody on to anybody that I'm turned on to. If people want to find things, they find them themselves.” Despite this claim, Crowley’s “do what thou wilt” can be found in the run-off groove on the original pressings of Led Zeppelin III. And yet...
“He [Crowley] was expounding a theory of self-liberation... I’ve employed his system in my own day-to-day life... The thing is to come to terms with one’s free will, discover one’s place and what one is, and from that you can go ahead and do it and not spend your whole life suppressed and frustrated.” -Jimmy Page
The cover art for The Beatles's 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band features Crowley’s image sitting in the top left next to Mae West. Crowley's image was featured at the urging of John Lennon.
David Bowie revered-slash-explored Crowley in “Quicksand." The Red Hot Chili Peppers did it with “Blood Sugar Sex Magik," as sex magik is a direct concept of Crowley's. Bruce Dickinson and Iron Maiden even did it (check out “Revelations,” for one.) Don’t believe me? How about “Can I Play With Madness?” No? Not enough. Maybe this will convince you. Gary Numan did it. So did The Rolling Stones. It's pervasive.
Okay, there’s a point to all the rambling, and it’s this: what exactly was Aleister Crowley's draw? Who was this occultist and why did he have such a big influence on so many influential artists? Or, have you ever picked up a tarot deck and felt the pull within it and needed to do something with your art, but couldn’t quite put your finger on it? Maybe it was the same thing. Let's chat.
Aleister Crowley was born in Warwickshire, England in 1875 and died at age 72. He was an occultist, ceremonial magician, and established creative himself, known for poetry, novels, and painting. Aside from a prolific publishing career, he founded the religious movement Thelema, which derives its name from the Greek meaning, “to will, wish, want, or purpose." I'll admit, as an artist myself, those four words are intriguing. Disclaimer: I'm not here to pass judgment, but to explore.
Thelema was founded on three tenets. The first was “do what thou wilt,” indicating that one should seek their own true path. Second, “love is the law, love under will,” where religion is love, but love is also dependent to finding one’s mission or purpose. And last, every person is a star. What I think it means is that by doing your thang, you’re taking up your destined space in the universe. There’s more (way more), but I’m no Thelemist, so I doubt I’m qualified to explain it here.
Let’s get back to our main man, Crowley. We’re trying to solve the pop culture/music obsession, right? I have a theory, but I’m going to save it for the end of this post. Until then, I’ll ask that you believe I knew where I was headed before I started writing. A few unique things about Crowley: for one, he added a "k" to the spelling of "magik" so as to distinguish his own special brand. Artists like that kind of thing - differentiating themselves from the pack. Second, his call for a "new world order" seems to fall in line with things like sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Check, check, check.
It's been said that Wiccanism, Satanism, and New Age spring from Thelema, despite there being little of Satanic elements in Thelema, yet all of which are often associated with music. This is the dawning of the... Age of Aquarius? Further, though not directly music related, 1960's counter-culture figurehead Timothy Leary claimed to carry on Crowley's principles.
Fans worship the gods of rock and metal, but everyone has to worship someone, right? Music is a centerpiece of ritualistic activity. Perhaps Crowley was a cultural deity to the likes of those that revered him in their music; maybe it's the search for self-liberation.
Or, maybe they talk to the dead.
Oh, Mr. Crowley...
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