Led Zeppelin took the music world by storm with their 1969 debut album. They went on to become one of the greatest bands of all time, blending incredible blues-based musicianship with J.R.R. Tolkienesque imagery and lyrics.
But there was also another critical ingredient. Throughout their work was a subtle yet powerful sense of the occult, inspired largely by British occultist Aleister Crowley. In this article, we are going to look at the question: how did Aleister Crowley inspire Led Zeppelin?
Aleister Crowley was influential upon Led Zeppelin, who expressed his magical ideas in their album art and music. In particular, guitarist Jimmy Page has been a lifetime student of Aleister Crowley, practicing the occult, publishing the work of Crowley, and even owning a house in which Crowley performed magic.
Jimmy Page: A Lifetime Practitioner of Magik
All four members of Led Zeppelin were massive presences in their recordings and performances. Besides his incredible guitar playing, Jimmy Page added occult references to their album artwork, and overall presentation. In 1978 he shared some of his thoughts on Crowley:
“I feel Aleister Crowley is a misunderstood genius of the 20th century. It is because his whole thing was liberation of the person, of the entity and that restrictions would foul you up, lead to frustration which leads to violence, crime, mental breakdown, depending on what sort of makeup you have underneath.”
Later in the same discussion, Page went on to describe his personal magical practice. Although he didn’t divulge much, saying that it was private, he did state that Crowley magik was a daily part of his life.
“My studies have been quite intensive, but I don’t particularly want to go into it because it’s a personal thing and isn’t in relation to anything apart from the fact that 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.”
The Band Conducted an Occult Ceremony Prior to Success
Legend has it that in 1969, just prior to their breakout success, the members of Led Zeppelin conducted an occult ceremony to help them succeed. Not surprisingly it was Page’s idea, while Bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones chose not to participate in the ritual.
The Outro Groove of Led Zeppelin III
One example of the occult influence can be found on their album Led Zeppelin III, which allegedly has two quotes carved into the outro groove– “Do as Thou Wilt” on one side, and “So Mote it Be” on the other. These are both famous Crowley quotes, taken from his system of magik.
Led Zeppelin IV, the Band’s Occult Magnum Opus
The band’s fourth, and probably most acclaimed album, is particularly rich with Crowley-inspired content. The album cover, inner sleeve, and possibly even subliminal recordings on the album all contain occult meaning.
The Front Cover Art
The front cover shows a reimagined version the Hermit from the Crowley Tarot card deck. The theme of the hermit was also used in their 1976 film The Song Remains the Same, which blended live concert footage at Madison Square Garden, with artistic film montages.
Aleister Crowley’s Tarot Card Deck
This tarot card deck is one of the bestselling decks of all time, and was a collaboration between Crowley, and artist Lady Frieda Harris. The project was completed over five years, between 1938 and 1943. It was not published until 1969 by the O.T.O, well after both Crowley and Harris had both passed away. Initially starting with rough sketches, Harris was able to capture the esoteric and abstract magikal concepts Crowley wished to convey in the deck with her beautiful paintings.
Each Band Member Chose an Esoteric Symbol
Included in the sleeve of Led Zeppelin 4 are 4 rune symbols, each one representing a different member of the band. Apparently, Page and Plant had custom symbols created for them, while at the request of Page, Jones and Bonham each picked a symbol from the book “Book of Signs” by Rudolph Koch.
Jones picked a well-known rune, a circle intersected by three ovals, which symbolizes integrity. Drummer John Bonham picked three interlocking circles which represent the holy trinity of man/woman/child. Singer Robert Plant’s symbol is a feather inside of a circle, inspired by the Egyptian goddess Ma’at. The most mysterious of the four symbols is Pages. Packed with rich meaning, it is left open to the viewer to interpret its meaning.
Rumours of Subliminal Messages
Some believe that Led Zeppelin 4 contains subliminal messages. In particular, there is a theory that Stairway to Heaven, when played backwards, contains hidden occult meaning.
Thelema: The Magikal System of Crowley
Crowley referred to his work as being a religion, which he called Thelema, which is the word Greek word for ‘will’. While travelling in Egypt, Crowley made psychic connection with a higher being named Aiwass, who communicated to him The Book of the Law. Crowley then proceeded to develop Thelema, his own esoteric and occult philosophical and religious movement.
He also declared it the beginning of the Aeon of Horus, a new age in human development characterized by what he called “the Crowned and Conquering Child”. He made a distinction from this age, and the previous, which he referred to as the Aeon of Isis, characterized by the mother/goddess idea, or the one preceding that the Aeon of Osiris, which was marked by redeemer-based religions such as Christianity.
In Thelema, there is a pantheon of deities, especially three beings known as Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit. Also present in ancient Egyptian religion, they are the three speakers of The Book of the Law. You can read more about the Book of the Law here.
The essence of Thelema can be summarized in the following three statements,
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”
“Love is the law, love under will”
“Every man and every woman is a star.
When Page makes references to Crowley and the occult, he is not explicitly saying he is practicing Thelema, as he may be influenced by other occult practitioners as well. However much of what is generally regarded as western occult magik is contained within Thelema.
Jimmy Page Owned an Occult Bookstore
In the early 1970s Jimmy Page owned a bookstore and publishing house called The Equinox Booksellers and Publishers. Located on Holland Street in Kensington, London, amongst other things they published Crowley’s 1904 book The Goetia. Eventually Page closed the bookstore in order focus more on the band, as their success grew.
The Boleskine House Connection
In 1899 Crowley moved to Boleskine House by Loch Ness in Scotland. He considered living at this location to be essential to conducting a series of magical operations known as the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, taken from a grimoire called The Book of Abramelin.
The ceremony is intended to invoke one’s Guardian Angel, and requires six months of preparation, including celibacy and abstinence from alcohol. Part of this ritual involves summoning demons known as the 12 Kings and Dukes of Hell in demonology.
The ritual was interrupted when Crowley was called to Paris by the leader of the Golden Dawn, a secret society that Crowley was a part of, and as a result he never conducted the proper banishing rituals to rid the house of the demons. Legend has it that to this day the house is still haunted, with visitors experiencing many strange occurrences including unexplained sounds.
years later, in 1970, Jimmy Page bought the Boleskine house. He saw it as a sort of Crowley memorabilia, and also a potentially inspiring environment to work on music. He restored the house, which had fallen into disrepair, although ended up spending very little time there, eventually selling it in 1992.
Jimmy Page Created the Soundtrack to the Film Lucifer Rising
In 1972 Page collaborated with filmmaker and fellow occult practitioner Kenneth Anger on the occult themed Lucifer Rising movie. The two had a public falling out, and allegedly Anger placed a curse on Page and the rest of the band. It may forever remain a mystery what exactly he did if anything, although it really did seem like Led Zeppelin was cursed after this.
The Led Zeppelin Curse
In the first of a series of tragic events Robert Plant and his family were almost killed when they drove off a cliff in Greece. The accident left Plant unable to walk for some time, and delayed their next album. Further bad luck ensued when Plant got laryngitis, which force them to cancel concerts. Then in 1977 Plant’s six-year-old son died of a virus. In 1980, John Bonham died after consuming forty shots of alcohol. He was also taking medication to help with anxiety, and his recovery from heroin addiction.
More Aleister Crowley Resources
Crowley was a prolific poet, who also wrote many plays and novels. At various times in his life, he adopted the pen names of Frater Perdurabo and The Great Beast. Some of his most popular poems include: Hymn to Lucifer, Hymn to Pan, and The Pentagram.
“I can imagine myself on my death-bed, spent utterly with lust to touch the next world, like a boy asking for his first kiss from a woman.”
“I was asked to memorise what I did not understand; and, my memory being so good, it refused to be insulted in that manner.”
“Science is always discovering odd scraps of magical wisdom and making a tremendous fuss about its cleverness.”
Crowley wrote prolifically throughout his life. He often stated that it was not him writing, particularly when writing on the occult and ceremonial magic, but rather he was channeling beings of other worldly intelligence. Much of his work on Thelema and magick was written as short documents, and given Greek numbers as identifiers. Some of his most well-known books include:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
The Book of the Law (1904)
As described earlier, this is the central sacred text in Crowley’s Thelema movement. Dictated to him and his wife by Aiwass, the book consists of three chapters, each one featuring one of the three Egyptian deities Nuit, Hadit, and RA-Hoor-Khuit.
Magick (Book 4)
Considered to be Crowley’s magnum opus, it consists of 4 parts: Mysticism, Magick (Elementary Theory), Magick in Theory and Practice, and ΘΕΛΗΜΑ—the Law (The Equinox of The Gods).
The Book of Thoth (1944)
The companion book to Crowley’s deck of tarot cards, it was originally published as leather-bound edition limited to 200 signed copies.
Diary of a Drug Fiend (1922)
Crowley’s first published novel, and based largely on his own experiences with drugs, heroin in particular.
The Equinox (1909-1998)
A periodical published by Crowley’s A∴A∴ organization, it featured articles on topics ranging from occultism and magick to fiction and art.
Lola Zaza Crowley
The daughter of Crowley and his first wife Rose Edith Kelly, Lola was named after Crowley’s mistress. Lola was frequently ill as a child, and her mother was a severe alcoholic, eventually becoming institutionalized. Lola was cared for by her grandparents for a while, and then later by her uncle. Never close with her father, she lived a private life, seemingly with no involvement in the occult.
Aleister Crowley Net worth
Although Crowley enjoyed mixed success in his lifetime as a published writer, and died in poverty, he became a cult figure posthumously, thanks in part to the popularization of his work by the likes of The Beatles. His estate is now believed to be worth several million dollars.
Aleister Crowley and The Beatles
The Beetles, along with other artists like David Bowie and Led Zeppelin helped popularize Crowley after his death. The album cover art for their album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, released in 1967, shows Crowley in the top left corner, amongst other cultural icons. It was designed by artist Peter Blake. You can read more about his inclusion in the cover art in my article Why Is Aleister Crowley on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?
If you’d like to continue researching Aleister Crowley or any of the other topics discussed on this website, you can see which books I recommend by clicking here.