The Occult Influence On Rock Music

Eric W. Brown

WARNING! This paper has a tendency to be misinterpreted. The comments I've gotten back indicate that this paper is frequently misunderstood to be making numerous different (and irreconcilable) statements that it is not making. I'll try and give a quick address to the most common groups of people who complain about this paper without understanding it. The one common thread seems to be that people are taking things way too seriously...

  1. People who feel that this paper is some sort of propaganda for the XXXXX religion or that I "only feel this way" because I belong to the XXXXX religion where XXXXX can be replaced with Baptist, Satanist, Fundamentalist, Wiccan, Catholic, Atheist, and others.

    Nowhere do I make any hard statements about religion and am not interested in joining any holy wars right now. BTW, No guesses on this topic have yet been correct.

  2. People who feel that this paper in some way slights artist XXXXX by his inclusion, where XXXXX can be any of the musicians or groups mentioned in the paper.

    No offense was intended against any particular musician. I personally own all the albums referenced and certainly don't mean to insult any of them as I do actually like all of them.

  3. People who feel that this paper in some way slights artist XXXXX by their omission, where XXXXX is typically Marilyn Manson.

    First off, note when the paper was written. Second, observe that the real point of the paper is best served by avoiding groups like Marilyn Manson. The method I actually used for selection was to make a big pile of my albums, remove titles by groups like Black Sabbath so as to leave mostly lighter, established music, and randomly draw a handful from what was left.

  4. People who feel that this paper in some way is actually making the statement that "music is a tool of the devil".

    This one is particularly mysterious to me as it's roughly 180° out of kilter and adopts phrasing that isn't to be found anywhere in the paper. I can only guess that people have been so frequently hit by arguments that music is the devil's work that they assume any paper that includes both the words "music" and "devil" must also be making this point rather than something nearly the opposite.

  5. People who feel that this paper insults Satanist group XXXXX by lumping it in with other, very different Satanist groups, where XXXXX can be replaced with LaVey's or whatever.

    This one is understandable and I only defend against it by saying that a real detailed discussion of the differences between the myriad of different groups that call themselves "Satanists" is well beyond the scope of a paper that's only a couple of pages long, and not particularly relevant in any case.

  6. People who leave cryptic comments that don't seem to have much meaning whatsoever.

    Well, jhfguhewr jktkjdhsk fgththth to you, too. Seriously, though, are you supposed to be playing with this computer?

In any case, I'm not an extremely serious person by nature as should probably be indicated by the existance of my Weird Stuff page. A quick glance through the other assorted items I thought amusing enough to include should perhaps give a less twisted idea of where I'm coming from... some of the mail I've gotten indicates that others have posted incorrect "summaries" here and there that really don't reflect what's being said but do cause strange pre-dispositions, so perhaps that's part of the problem. This paper is quite short and simple, and although it is grossly out of context here (my fault) I've been completely surprised by the things people have been reading into it.

Also, while I'm thinking of it, if you're not currently hearing the soft background music and you want to, ensure that your browser is capable of playing (and properly set to handle) the "audio/prs.sid" MIME type. Players are available freely for most machines.

End of warning -- back to the paper

From its very beginning, rock music has been associated with the occult, both in reality and in the minds of the establishment. These two relations often differ strikingly, but they both have their effect on the music produced, as well as the society around it.

The study of the influence the occult has on rock music is hampered by the fact that both the occult and rock music have nebulous definitions that readily vary from one person to another. For the purposes of this paper, the rock music of a given era will represent the general genres of music popular with youth culture in that time period, and the occult will represent the belief or use of any supernatural entities or influences. Thus, psychedelic music is a facet of the rock music of the late sixties and the early seventies, and punk is a facet of the rock music of the late seventies and the early eighties. Further, the belief in fate, the devil, or futuresight all fare as the occult.

Rock and roll's origins can be found in the tribal music of Africa. This music was originally part of the ritual worship of the assorted tribal gods. Among the slaves who were brought into the New World, the old ritual tribal music quickly changed into more acceptable forms like church music and the blues, as the act of worshiping pagan gods was usually viewed with disfavor by the ruling whites. These new types of music, combined together and further altered by the influence of Voodoo ceremonial music and popular white music, eventually became rock and roll.

From the very start of its popularity, rock and roll was accused of being the devil's music by the establishment. It would have been far more accurate to have labelled it Damballah Ouedo's music instead, for at this point in time, the worship of this Voodoo god had had a far greater impact on rock and roll than the worship of the devil.

Throughout the fifties and into the early sixties, the occult influence on rock and roll waned as rock and roll itself became more mainstream. Rock and roll was still young, and during this period it established a firmer foothold. It would fully need this foothold in the years ahead.

The sixties was a period of great unrest in the United States. Youth culture sought a different way of life, and found marijuana and newly developed drugs like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). These drugs were not fully understood, and it was commonly believed that they could expand the human conscious and provide their users with mystical experiences that could increase their understanding. Many of the earliest experimenters with LSD (most notably Timothy Leary) considered the drug to be a gift to humanity -- from what is uncertain. Regardless of its source, LSD had a major effect on rock music. The sound and content of songs changed noticeably as the creative force behind rock music became charged with the force of the supposed mystical images generated by the hallucinogenics, giving birth to psychedelic rock music. This movement toward hallucinogenic use had its roots both in the musicians themselves and in dedicated musically minded outside businessmen. For example, one of the biggest producers of LSD (a shadowy figure who is still known only as Owsley) sponsored the rock band The Grateful Dead in a deliberate campaign to promote the idea of consciousness expansion through the use of LSD.

With the widespread use of LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs came a new interest in the Eastern religions, particularly Hinduism and Zen Buddhism. This interest not only made noticeable changes on what was played, it to a small extent changed what it was played with. George Harrison "discovered" the Indian sitar while learning about Eastern religious thought, and the Beatles' song "Within You Without You" on the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album resulted. It is also interesting to note that the cover of this album contains pictures of a few Indian gurus as well as Aleister Crowley, self claimed master of black magic.

The growth of psychedelic music was neatly complemented by the development of the Moog synthesizer, an instrument capable of making truly bizarre sounds that were apparently just the thing to listen to while going on a hallucinogenic induced consciousness expanding trip. Songs like the Monkees' Moog accompanied "Daily Nightly" that invoke confused images in lines like:

Lost in scenes of smoke filled dreams,
Find questions, but no answers.
Sparks will rise and sometimes see
Phantasmagoric splendor.
seem to be ideally designed for someone wishing to be in an altered state of consciousness.

It was also during this period that one of the biggest concerns of the establishment became a reality. When the underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger convinced Mick Jagger of The Rolling Stones to write the song "Sympathy for the Devil", Satanism had its first marked effect on rock music.

As the seventies came into being, there seemed to be a plethora of small occult influences and one dominant one: unity of religion. That is, the concept that all religious teachings are just different ways of expressing the same few ideas. Rock performers as diverse as Steppenwolf and Cat Stevens produced songs with lyrics to this effect. The Steppenwolf song "Spiritual Fantasy" has the lines:

... the wise men came together
And they found that all the teachings were the same.
The Cat Stevens' song "Jesus" equates the teachings of Jesus and Gautama Buddha.

There were other influences, too. The idea of a nature god is one. The piper mentioned in Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" is probably of this variety. The use of supernatural creatures was another, as can be found in Warren Zevon's song, "Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner". The "Eagles Hotel California" makes several indirect references to Satanism. Eventually, Satanism became the dominant occult force in rock music and has remained so to the present time. Satanism, however, is not so much a religion as an assortment of individual ideas as to what Satanism should be, since all of the original Satanists' writings have perished. Thus, the Satanist influence on rock music tends to manifest itself in a negative attitude toward established religions, especially Christianity, but to a lesser extent other religions as well (including notably the Wiccan faith).

It may not be immediately clear why the occult should have any influence on rock music at all, but there are at least four reasons.

The first (and foremost in the past decade) is shock value. Rock music has always been at odds with the establishment, and often the most successful musician is the one who stands out most clearly in opposition with established society. Thus, by adopting Satanist ideals and all of their negative connotations, a rock musician can automatically set himself apart from society and get free (albeit inadvertent) publicity from lobbyist groups like the Parents' Music Resource Center, that specialize in discovering hidden messages in recordings and attempting to censor everything they consider unfit for the public ear.

A second reason is artistic value. The very same motives for including references to occult themes in classical liturature holds just as well in popular music.

A third reason is the rock performer's search for individual identity. This is related to the first reason, but is not as strong. Rather than trying to shock an audience with an outwardly negative occult frame like Satanism, a musician might just want to ensure his audience that he is his original by adopting passive (but unique) occult images.

A fourth reason might be the independent rise in popularity of fantasy, horror, and science fiction liturature. These books could be building up an appetite for the occult throughout society. Perhaps the deepest reason for occult influence in rock music is betrayed in the Kansas song "Sparks of the Tempest".

Run for the cover,
Millennium's here
Bearing the standard
of confusion and fear.
The underlying reason for the influence of the occult on rock music could be a millennial effect. If it is assumed that the imminent changing of the millennium will have the same effects as the previous one, a general increase in the occult even in mainstream society is to be expected. If a millennial effect is active, the abovementioned fourth reason is not independent but related to the occult in rock music.

Rock music has throughout its entire history been influenced by the occult, and the causes of this influence are just as much a part of society as they are a part of the rock music itself.


  1. Drury, Nevill; Inner Visions; Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1979, Chapter 6
  2. Ebon, Martin; The Satan Trap: Dangers of the Occult; Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY, 1976, Chapter 4
  3. Godwin, John; Occult America; Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, NY, 1972, Chapters 11-12
  4. Lyons, Arthur; Satan Wants You: The Cult of Devil Worship in America; Mysterious Press, New York, NY, 1988, Chapters 1 & 11
  5. Stokes, Geoffrey; Rock of Ages: The Sixties; Rolling Stone Press, New York, NY, 1986, Chapters 19-22
  6. Webb, James; The Occult Establishment; Open Court, LaSalle, IL, 1976, Chapter 7
  7. Weldon, David; "Revisiting the Horrors Beneath the North Shore"; Saugus Observer vol. 7 #'s 51-52, vol. 8 #1, Saugus, MA, August 1989
  8. Wheatley, Dennis; The Devil and All His Works; American Heritage Press, New York, NY, 1971, pp. 267-288
  9. Wilson, Colin; The Occult: A History; Random House, New York, NY, 1971, Chapter 3


  1. The Beatles; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
  2. Cat Stevens; Buddha and the Chocolate Box
  3. The Eagles; Hotel California
  4. Elton John; Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
  5. Jethro Tull; War Child
  6. Kansas; Point of Know Return
  7. Led Zeppelin; Led Zeppelin IV
  8. Mike Oldfield; Tubular Bells
  9. The Monkees; Pieces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd.
  10. The Moody Blues; In Search of the Lost Chord
  11. Pink Floyd; Dark Side of the Moon
  12. The Rolling Stones; Beggar's Banquet
  13. Steppenwolf; Steppenwolf the Second
  14. Warren Zevon; Excitable Boy

[home] [up] Copyright © 1989   E. W. Brown