In our last episode of this series I argued that the release of Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper, on whose cover the malevolent spectre of Aleister Crowley made its first mass-audience appearance of the 1960s, can in some respects be seen as a watershed in the resurgence of occultism in mainstream popular Western culture, and that this is only comprehensible in the light of the psychedelic experimentation of the mid-sixties and the Fab Four’s extremely negative brush with institutional Christianity.
The interest of the Beatles themselves in occultism should not be exaggerated. All the evidence from the period 1966-1970 suggests that the quartet, and particularly John Lennon and George Harrison, had like many of their generation experienced a form of spiritual awakening through LSD for which they were seeking a coherent philosophical and religious framework which the Church could not give them. It is certain that this was grist to the mill of ideologues such as Timothy Leary with a manifesto for radical counter-cultural change, summarized by Crowley’s ‘Thelemic’ motto: ‘do what thou wilst shall be the whole of the law’. Leary later claimed in an interview on Late Night America that he was carrying on the British occultist’s work:
‘Well I’ve been an admirer of Aleister Crowley. I think I’m carrying on much of the work that he started over a hundred years ago, and I think the 60’s themselves…He was in favor of finding your own self, and ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’, under love. It was a very powerful statement. I’m sorry he isn’t around now to appreciate the glories that he started.’
Timothy Leary’s arrest by the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, 1972
By the mid-1960s Leary’s transition from ‘smart-aleck atheist Harvard professor and renowned research psychologist’ (as he himself put it) to social activist and self-styled drug Messiah was complete, causing former fellow travellers interested in psychedelic research such as Huston Smith to part company with a man whose tendency towards megalomania was becoming increasingly apparent. In his 1968 book Politics of Ecstasy in which he proclaimed with typical modesty that ‘I may well be one of the wisest men ever born before 1945′, Leary famously referred to the Beatles’ music as the scriptures of his doctrine:
‘The rock ‘n’ roll bands are the philosopher-poets of the new religion. Their beat is the pulse of the future. The message from Liverpool is the Newest Testament, chanted by four Evangelists – saints John, Paul, George and Ringo. Pure Vedanta, divine revelation, gentle, tender irony at the insanities of war and politics, sorrowful lament for the bourgeois loneliness, delicate hymns of glory to God.'
Speaking with neo-evangelical zeal, Leary proclaimed a syncretistic, monistic world-view in which selected elements of Christianity were idiosyncratically recouped and re-defined within a whole that could equally well embrace its demonic contradiction:
‘Above all, to get the message of the future, sit down with a youngster and relax and tune in to the new theme.[…] The best way for any parent to dissolve fear and develop trust in the youngsters is to get the Beatles’ “Sergeant Pepper” album or the Rolling Stones’ “Satanic Majesties” and take it humbly to a kid and say “I’ve heard that there’s an important message in this record, but I need it explained to me. Will you talk to me about the Stones and Beatles?” And then get very comfortable and close your eyes and listen to the sermon from Liverpool (it could just as well be Donovan or Dylan or the Jefferson Airplane) and learn that it’s the oldest message of love and peace and laughter, and trust in God and don’t worry, trust in the future, and don’t fight; and trust in your kids, and don’t worry because it’s all beautiful and right.'
Timothy Leary with John Leonon and Yoko Ono during the recording of ‘Give peace a chance’
That John Lennon, who by his own reckoning had taken 1000 LSD trips by 1968, was for a while an ardent supporter of Timothy Leary’s socio-political vision is attested by the fact that the song ‘Come Together’, released by the Beatles as a single in October 1969, was originally written in support of Leary’s short-lived campaign to contest Ronald Reagan for the governorship of California. The lyrics, based on Leary’s slogan ‘come together, join the party’,were essentially genial nonsense (‘he got toe jam football […] he got walrus gumboot’) which nonetheless captured something of Leary’s updated Crowleyana in lines such as ‘got to be a joker he just do what he please’. However, by the time of Lennon’s extended Rolling Stone interview of 1971 with Jann Wenner, he was clearly disillusioned with and bitter towards Leary, having experienced the negative side of the ‘ego death’ of which the author of The Psychedelic Experience had spoken and which Lennon had not only sung about in Tomorrow Never Knows but put into practice:
‘I got the message that I should destroy my ego and I did, you know. I was reading that stupid book of Leary’s; we were going through a whole game that everybody went through, and I destroyed myself. I was slowly putting myself together round about Maharishi time. Bit by bit over a two-year period, I had destroyed my ego.'
To portray the Beatles as active conspirators rather than confused fringe participants in Leary’s programme is the stuff of legend. Nonetheless, it has to be said that in the apocalyptic climate of the late 1960s, stoked by LSD, apparent signs of impending revolution and the burgeoning of cults such as Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan and The Process Church of the Final Judgment (an offshoot of Scientology founded by Robert DeGrimston Moore and the former wife of boxer Sugar Ray Robinson), it is perhaps logical that at least one person should have driven a Leary-esque interpretation of the Beatles to an appalling paroxysm – mass murderer Charles Manson, who would for a short while be Leary’s neighbour in Folsom Prison in California. Although this is not the place to provide an account of the Manson Family’s grim appropriation of the Beatles’ songs, it does need to be stressed that to allege that the Beatles somehow ‘inspired’ Manson’s crimes would be to ignore the fact that his reading of Revelation #9 and Helter Skelter from the ‘White’ Album was pathological and had nothing to do with the songwriters’ intentions. Nevertheless, listening to Helter Skelter with the benefit of forty years’ hindsight and viewing the Beatles as seismographs of their time, it is not difficult to detect in the song’s rare frenzy (equalled perhaps only in the all-submerging feedback that terminates I want you (she’s so heavy) on Abbey Road (1969)) the reflection of an increasingly violent social climate which was the Manson Family’s condition of possibility.
In earlier instalments of this series we have already referred to the work of the Catholic philosopher and Indologist R.C. Zaehner, one of the first serious scholars to sense the negative potential of Huxley’s The Doors of Perception back in 1954. In the final years of his life, Zaehner saw Manson as the logical end-point of the drug-fuelled absorption of the Vedantic strain of Eastern philosophical thought into Western culture, going as far as to conduct a series of interviews with the leader of the Family in prison which provided material for Zaehner’s Our Savage God and the posthumous essay collection City Within the Heart. Zaehner’s claim was that Manson, following Crowley, had simply drawn the conclusions of what was possible on passing beyond Western dualistic thought-categories into a monistic realm ‘beyond good and evil’ where ultimately opposites pass over into one another. This was not simply Zaehner’s philosophical construct devised to demonstrate the superiority of an Abrahamic moral framework over a Hindu one (as a reading of his Mysticism Sacred and Profane demonstrates, Zaehner’s knowledge of Eastern thought was profound and perfectly capable of differentiating between different Indian philosophical streams). It was based on Manson’s own question: ‘if God is One, what is bad?' As Zaehner comments,
‘Crowley has been condemned as the arch-Satanist, but this is perhaps to do him less than justice, for he belonged to an age-old tradition which saw the Eternal as the ultimate unity in which all the opposites were reconciled, including good and evil.[…]Manson carried Crowley’s premises to their logical conclusions: if God and the Devil, good and evil, life and death, can really be transcended in an eternal Now, then sadism and sexual profligacy are not enough: you must transcend life and death itself either by killing or being killed. Charles Manson did not shrink from this ultimate “truth.”
One member of Manson’s ‘Family’ was Bobby Beausoleil, who had been introduced to Crowley by the American underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger, perhaps best-known to the general public for his lurid revelations in Hollywood Babylon. Anger, who as a child actor had danced with Shirley Temple, was perhaps the most consistent follower of Crowley in the years after the latter’s death in 1947 when the ‘Beast’ had largely been consigned to the obscurity where I suspect that many of us wish he had remained indefinitely. Going as far as to attempt to restore Crowley’s notorious Abbey of Thelema in Sicily in the 1950s in the company of sexologist Alfred Kinsey, Anger dedicated his orgiastic Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome – a film accompanied, somewhat strangely, by Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass – , to Crowley, casting no less that Anaïs Nin (who had known Crowley in the 1930s) in the part of the moon goddess Astarte. Linking the dawning of the Age of Aquarius to Crowley’s Aeon of Horus, Anger would become a major cultural player in the late 1960s, not least through his influence on rock music’s vanguard. Whereas Timothy Leary looked to the Beatles to propagate his social programme, Anger would do much the same with the other mythical British band of the 1960s – the Rolling Stones, whose flirtation with the occult would prove more serious than that of their Liverpudlian counterparts.
The Rolling Stones’ turn to occulture can be pinpointed to 1967 with the release of Their Satanic Majesties Request, when they deserted their trademark R ‘n’ B for a none-too-successful foray into psychedelia and made their first dalliance with the black arts. This was what Mick Jagger would later refer to as the Stones’ ‘Baudelaire period’, when they were deeply involved in a London scene characterized by extreme affluence, drugs and heady avant-garde art, a more or less conscious revival of fin-de-siècle French dandyism of the second half of the nineteenth century. Former Blondie bassist turned literary authority on the counterculture Gary Valentine Lachman comments succinctly:
‘by the mid-sixties occultism had become the latest fad, providing the rich, young and decadent with a new set of thrills. Acid primed them for the otherworldly, and the fashionable philosophy of being ‘beyond good and evil’ opened bored rock stars to exploring the dark side. Nowhere was the scene more seductive than at 1 Courtfield Road, Chelsea, home of Brian Jones and his girlfriend, Anita Pallenberg.’
For Jagger’s own partner Marianne Faithfull, the place was ”a veritable witches’ coven of decadent illuminati, rock princelings and hip aristos’. The atmosphere was one of splendour, sorcery and decay, a dizzying blend of drugs, magic and sexual excess. It was a time when, according to Faithfull, if you asked someone if they had read Huysmans’ A Rebour [sic], and they said yes, you’d immediately hop in the sack.’
Frequently regarded as a pale and frankly incompetent imitation of Sgt Pepper (the covers for the two albums were designed by the same Chelsea artist Michael Cooper, and Jagger amassed a good deal of his occult literature from the same Indica bookshop that had provided John Lennon with The Psychedelic Experience), Their Satanic Majesties Request’s title reflects the influence of Anger, whom Mick Jagger had met at the London Mayfair home of gallery owner Robert Fraser, with the filmmaker expounding to an impressionable Jagger about Crowley’s Thelemic doctrine of ‘Do what thou wilt’. Anger was largely attracted to Jagger on account of the latter’s remarkable ability to drive audiences into a frenzy, with the Stones provoking frequent crowd riots (for example in 1965 in Dublin and Berlin). For Anger, the strangely charismatic and androgynous singer seems to have functioned as the embodiment of the disobedient spirit of the rising Lucifer he celebrated in his films. Commisioning a soundtrack from him for Invocation of My Demon Brother, Anger unsuccessfully tried to persuade Jagger to play the title role in his 1972 remake of Lucifer Rising, a film whose 1967 version had starred Bobby Beausoleil’. Anger described Lucifer Rising as
‘a film about the love generation – the birthday party of the Aquarian Age. […] Lucifer is the Light God, not the Devil – the Rebel Angel behind what’s happening in the world today. His message [and here Anger quoted Crowley’s ‘Hymn to Lucifer’] is that the key of joy is disobedience’(quoted Partridge, 243).
It is not difficult to see how texts from the Stones songs such as ‘my name is called disturbance, I’ll shout and scream, I’ll kill the king, I’ll rail at all his servants’ (Street Fighting Man) could be worked into Anger’s narrative, nor how it could cohere with their fascination for the Delta Blues and the myth of Robert Johnson. Moreover, there is strong evidence that at least three of the key figures in the Stones’ entourage – Jones, Pallenberg and Keith Richards, whom Anger described as the ‘occult unit’ within the group – had at least a moderately serious commitment to his agenda. As for Mick Jagger, his recourse to diabolical imagery seems to have been superficial, short-lived and largely opportunistic, enhancing the mystique of his stage persona.
In some respects it is ironic that most theologically-driven accounts of the late 1960s dealing with the Rolling Stones focus on the song Sympathy for the Devil from Beggars Banquet, whose evolving compositional process is immortalized by Jean-Luc Godard’s documentary film of the same name (released in Europe as One & One). Sympathy is frequently regarded as the epitome of the Satanic in rock ‘n’ roll culture, an invocation of the demonic that would lead to the violence of Altamont in December 1969. The song itself, probably inspired by Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita (published in Britain in 1967), is actually a fairly sophisticated and deliberately ambiguous literary construction which can be construed in a number of ways, even as a denunciation of the darkness of human nature as manifested in historical events such as the Russian Revolution. What is beyond doubt, however, is that there is a wholly characteristic element of provocation in the piece, whose effectiveness relies at least partially on the ambivalence of the singer’s stance, expressed in such enigmatic lines as ‘every cop is a criminal and all the sinners saints’; it is precisely Jagger’s refusal to express where his allegiances lie which gives Sympathy a certain shock appeal of moral detachment. Equally critical to the power of the song is its driving, mesmeric samba rhythm, which as Godard’s film makes clear, completely transformed the song from its original medium-paced version. As Jagger would later explain,
‘it has a very hypnotic groove, a samba, which has a tremendous hypnotic power, rather like good dance music. It doesn’t speed up or slow down. It keeps this constant groove. Plus, the actual samba rhythm is a great one to sing on, but it’s also got some other suggestions in it, an undercurrent of being primitive – because it is a primitive African, South American, Afro-whatever-you-call-that rhythm. So to white people, it has a very sinister thing about it.'
This type of studied ritualistic primitivism has of course many twentieth-century precedents – despite the difference in idiom, a non-judgmental stance towards violence and flirtation with its primal energy already characterize Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, whose ethical ambiguity Adorno recognized in his controversial essay on Stravinsky in Philosophy of New Music:
‘the music initially says, So it was – and provides no more commentary than does Flaubert in Madame Bovary. The horror is observed with a certain satisfaction, but it is not transfigured; rather, it is performed untempered.'
Adorno notes that Stravinsky’s music dates from the period of ethnological field-work which was not used ‘to play out the primeval in opposition to civilization’ but rather ‘”researched” with a positivistic detachment that well matches the distance that Stravinsky’s music maintains from the horror that transpires on the stage, which it accompanies without commentary.' There is an intriguing parallel here with the Rolling Stones; in 1968 Brian Jones had made recordings of the Joujouka musicians of Morocco during ritual animal sacrifice, and on a broader level, the Stones’ appropriation of the Blues can also be seen as the fruit of ethnomusicology and ‘field’ recordings of the legendary Delta bluesmen.
There are of course at least three possible ways in which the violent element in much of the music of the 1960s counter-culture can be interpreted, all of which can arguably be applied to the Rolling Stones. Firstly it can be seen as a form of catharsis, a venting of pent-up aggression frustrated by the constraints of bourgeois cultural domination, an implicit or tacit call to revolution (e.g. Street Fighting Man). Secondly it can be seen as the holding up of a mirror to society as a form of prophetic warning – just as in the Austrian expressionism of the years immediately prior to World War I (Schoenberg, Kokoschka, Schiele, Trakl …) . Jimi Hendrix’s interpretation of Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, his feedback-drenched Star-Spangled Banner or the howling vocals and fractured guitar work of Neil Young’s Southern Man are prime examples here; in the case of the Rolling Stones, the menacing Gimme Shelter which opens Let it bleed is a paradigmatic instance of this apocalyptic current which can still strike today’s listener as a powerful and emblematic expression of the bleakness of the Vietnam era:
Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
This element of social protest through the intimation of all-engulfing chaos gives songs such as Gimme Shelter a form of despairing but compelling grandeur as chronicles of an epoch. On the other hand, the Rolling Stones undoubtedly also played with a third and ethically less savoury type of musical violence which cannot be viewed as a form of bringing the world’s darkness to consciousness for any redemptive purpose, but where anarchy and transgression are themselves regarded as vital, liberating forces (Led Zeppelin, perhaps the most Crowleyan of all mainstream rock acts, also exhibit this tendency, for example in the appeal to Viking mythology in Immigrant Song – such an attitude towards violence remains foundational for Heavy Metal). The Stones’ notorious Midnight Rambler, in which Jagger assumes the persona of a murderer/rapist, and which aroused justifiable protests from feminists which would continue throughout the 1970s, is a particularly unpleasant example of this undercurrent in their output.
To which of these three categories Sympathy for the Devil belongs is a matter of interpretation. It can perhaps theoretically be assimilated to the first two as a cutting and insightful piece of social comment if the lyrics are taken in isolation, but watching video footage from 1969 suggests that it is more logical to assign it to the third (witness the celebratory tone of their extended Hyde Park performance, in which the drumming was performed by the virtuoso African ensemble Osibisa). Whatever Jagger’s intentions, the fact is that regardless of the text’s subtleties it was widely and understandably interpreted in its cultural context as a straightforward tribute to the Prince of Darkness. It is not hard to imagine the cumulative effect of their 1969 US tour set, with its plethora of openly violent numbers such as Jumping Jack Flash, Midnight Rambler, Street Fighting Man and Sympathy, and to understand why fans and press alike should have taken Jagger’s Luciferian stage persona seriously. Certainly the Stones themselves did nothing to discourage the interpretation and everything to stoke it. Playing sorcerer’s apprentice in this way, although hugely commercially profitable, would backfire horribly on the band in the tragic events of December 6, 1969 at Altamont Speedway.
Accounts of this legendary and disastrous free concert, culminating in the death of Meredith Hunter, are innumerable and need no repeating here. The debate about who exactly was to blame for the mayhem captured chillingly on film in Gimme Shelter continues after forty years, although the general consensus is that a toxic combination of factors were involved which coalesced around the Rolling Stones (the inadequacy of the facilities, alcohol, ‘bad acid’ and the calamitous decision to put the Hells Angels in charge of security being the principal contributing elements). What is beyond dispute, however, is that commentators, whatever their religious convictions or lack of them, remain haunted by the coincidence of the imagery of Sympathy for the Devil and the actual violence unleashed at Altamont. The press reaction to the Rolling Stones’ débâcle leaves the reader with the impression that the sheer scale of the event (300,000 people plus) and the crowd psychosis it engendered could only be described in symbolic, trans-personal terms for which the use of diabolical metaphors was so natural as to be unavoidable; indeed Mick Jagger himself would later comment that ‘if Jesus had been there, he would have been crucified.' Perhaps the dark spiritual heart of the Californian hippie dystopia of December 1969 is best captured not in prose but by the poetic conclusion of Don McLean’s famous song American Pie:
There we were all in one place
A generation lost in space With no time left to start again
So come on Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack Flash sat on a candle stick
‘Cause fire is the devil’s only friend.
As I watched him on the stage
My hands were clenched in fists of rage
No angel born in hell
Could break that satan’s spell
And as flames climbed high into the night
To light the sacrificial rite
I saw satan laughing with delight
the day the music died.
 Timothy Leary, The politics of ecstasy, 164.
 Ibid., 166.
 Ibid., 167.
 R.C. Zaehner, City within the Heart, 35, quoted Jeffrey John Kripal, Roads of excess, palaces of wisdom: eroticism and reflexivity in the study of mysticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 197.
 R.C. Zaehner, City within the Our Savage God: The Perverse Use of Eastern Thought (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1974), 41-43. An interesting refutation of Zaehner’s thesis in Our Savage God (generally regarded as one of his less coherent studies) was given by his successor as Oxford Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics:
‘While I concede that the salvational aim of Indian mysticism is not always compatible with a moral aim, I must emphasize that the so-called monistic philosophy of the East certainly cannot endorse a Charles Manson, as my predecessor feared. Charles Manson’s quoting of the Bhagavadgita is no more surprising than the devil’s quoting the Bible’ (Bimal Krishna Matilal, The Logical Illumination of Indian Mysticism, Oxford University Inaugural Lecture, 5 May 1977, 25).
 It should be noted that Faithfull’s husband John Dunbar was involved in the running of the Indica bookshop, and that she appeared in an issue of The Process’s magazine devoted to death, although she would subsequently express her reservations about the cult’s Fascist tendencies. Marianne Faithfull would go on to play the part of Lilith in Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising.
 Gary Valentine Lachman, Turn Off Your Mind : The Mystic Sixties and the Dark Side of the Age of Aquarius (New York : The Disinformation Company, 2001), 294-295. Baudelaire and Huysmans are interesting references in that they both indicate the proximity of ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ forms of transcendence (one might equally have added Scriabin, theosophist composer of both ‘White Mass’ and ‘Black Mass’ Piano Sonatas). The true extent of Baudelaire’s Catholic commitment remains a subject of academic controversy, but the saturation of his work with religious imagery is evident; subsequent to the publication of his quintessentially decadent A Rebours Joris-Karl Huysmans reconverted to Catholicism and became a Benedictine Oblate.
 ‘Spanish’ Tony Sanchez, the Stones’ drug dealer at the time, provides a telling comment in the book Up and Down with the Rolling Stones (whose literary expression is the work of London journalist and ghostwriter John Blake): ’With his characteristic restlessness, Mick rapidly became bored with the mumbo jumbo of satanism. It was power that fascinated him, the ability to control individuals, audiences, even societies – and he knew Satan wasn’t to thank for his strength in that direction’ (Up and Down with the Rolling Stones (London: John Blake, 2010), 162). The evolution of Jagger’s religious views remains a matter of considerable debate and confusion in the secondary literature. The singer’s views on religion in the late 1960s for example include the Lennon-like statement that while the church has done ‘more harm than good’, ‘Jesus Christ was fantastic and something to base your life on’ (quoted in Time & Tide Business World, vol. 50 (July 24-30, 1969), xxxii). Despite an ongoing commitment to a lifestyle of untrammeled excess, there is considerable evidence of an interest in Christianity on Jagger’s part in the years immediately following the Altamont fiasco, with the singer following an obligatory course in Catholicism prior to his marriage to Bianca Pérez-Mora Macias in St Tropez in May 1971, wearing a wooden crucifix on his next US tour and writing the Stones’ only song about Jesus, ‘I just want to see his face’ (Exile on Main Street, 1972). The overt Gospel influence apparent in Exile‘s songs such as Shine a Light has been attributed to organist Billy Preston, who apparently took Jagger to church services in Los Angeles during the album”s final recording sessions. More recently, while most of Jagger’s pronouncements on organized religion have remained consistently negative, his solo release Goddess in the Doorway of 2002 would include tracks with titles such as ‘God gave me everything’ (co-written by Lenny Kravitz).
 Theodor W. Adorno, Philosophy of New Music, translated, edited, and with an introduction by Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 111.
 Sanchez and Blake provide the classic example in a description which could not be exceeded by any religious fundamentalist account, suggesting that this was nothing less than a 1960s Rite of Spring being grimly played out in reality. Sanchez recalls how, even in the seemingly innocuous song O Carol, a deranged crowd began to believe inexplicably:
‘crawling to the stage as if it were a high altar, there to offer themselves as victims for the boots and cues of the Angels. The more they were beaten and bloodied, the more they were impelled, as if by some supernatural force, to offer themselves as human sacrifices to these agents of Satan. The violence transcended all comprehension. It had become some primaeval ritual ; the victims were no longer merely tolerating pain and evil and bestiality but were actively collaborating in it. And now the pounding voodoo drumming and the primitive shrieks echoed out, and the Stones were into their song of homage to the anti-Christ. Another sacrificially naked girl climbed on to the stage, and six Angels leaped on her at once to toss her from the stage like so much human rubbish. Jagger could ignore what was happening no longer. He broke off in mid-verse to murmur resignedly, ” Something always happens when we get into this number. . . “’ (Up and Down with the Rolling Stones, 202).
 The Oregonian, Jan 19, 1970.