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Through ancient tales of bargains with spirits to Faust and Dorian Gray, the idea of pacts with the devil has struck a chord in folk mythology. Niccolo Paganini was said to have been in league with the devil and had exchanged his soul for his extraordinary skill with the violin. Tommy Johnson, the blues singer was said by his brother LeDell to have sold his soul for the mastery of guitar whilst the better-known and unrelated Robert Johnson reportedly met the Devil at a crossroads at midnight. In exchange for his soul, the devil tuned his guitar and Johnson became the greatest bluesman of his time.
The association of the devil with music has been long established but never more so than with the advent of Rock & Roll also known as “The Devil’s Music”. Of all of the groups who presented themselves as having mythic or occult connections, none compare with the notoriety of Led Zeppelin.
Throughout their history they have exuded a mythological aura. Their song lyrics have combined folk stories, occult references and The Lord of the Rings. “The Immigrant Song” is a classic example with its lyrics of Viking hoards and the Hammer of the Gods. Their albums have also contained mysterious imagery. The cover of Houses of the Holy is one example. It is inspired by the science fiction story “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke but the inner sleeve depicts one of the children being held in a sacrificial posture.
The group’s own record label “Swansong” uses a logo that has been interpreted as the fallen angel or Lucifer. It is based on a painting “Evening – The Fall of Day” by William Rimmer. Rimmer never clearly specified the exact subject of this painting but it is usually thought to depict Apollo. Other suggestions have been made that the figure is Icarus or Daedalus. Whoever or whatever the figure depicts is perhaps less interesting than what Led Zeppelin thought it showed when they chose it as a logo.
Soon after the formation of the group rumours began to appear that the group had sold their souls to the Devil in exchange for musical skill and success. Furthermore, it was said that one had refused to enter the deal with the other three and it was later suggested that this is why he alone had escaped the worst that had happened to the other members(1).
The guitarist Jimmy Page is known as a serious student of the occult and a particular admirer of Aleister Crowley, even purchasing his ex-residence Boleskine House on the shores of Loch Ness. He has also associated with the Thelemic filmmaker Kenneth Anger and gave Anger use of his London residence whilst the filmmaker worked on “Lucifer Rising” – a film for which Page was supposed to provide a soundtrack but never completing the work(2).
Of all of their mystic and occult references none is more complex than that produced in 1971:
In November of that year, a new album appeared in record shops. The cover depicts a picture of an old man carrying a faggot of sticks on a wallpaper background. When the album is opened out, the picture is revealed to be hanging on the wall of a demolished building. In the distance are other derelict houses and tower blocks. The outer sleeve bears no title, group name or corporate logo. The spine, similarly, has no identifying writing whatsoever.
The inner gatefold shows the hermit of the tarot deck standing aloft a mountain. Below can be seen a long-haired figure gazing upwards, who appears to be making his way up the mountain. A landscape of castles and towns is visible in the background. Only upon taking out the inner sleeve of the album are you given any indication of those responsible. Four symbols appear at the top of the sleeve. A track listing is given. “Sandy Denny” is listed next to a cluster of triangles. Some may recognise the name as the singer of the folk group Fairport Convention. Reading further, two names appear which give the strongest indication of the group or person responsible. The credits list “Produced by Jimmy Page” and “Executive Producer – Peter Grant”. Those in the know would recognise both names as being or having been associated with two particular rock groups; The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. Once the record is removed from the inner sleeve it is only then made clear that the group is indeed, Led Zeppelin. No clear title for the album seems to be shown and this record is usually referred to as “Led Zeppelin IV”. However, the actual name of the album has already been shown – it is entitled:
The very act of releasing an “unnamed album” was considered commercial suicide and the group had to fight against the wishes of Atlantic Records board members to retain artistic control of the album design.
The album has since passed into rock music legend and has acquired this status, due in no small part to the inclusion of the song “Stairway to Heaven”, still the most requested radio song of all time. Led Zeppelin clearly considered this song to be of major importance as the lyrics are printed in full on the inner sleeve.
Returning to the four symbols which give the album its name, Jimmy Page has stated that each symbol was chosen by each group member to represent themselves. The symbols were chosen from “standard occult works” according to Page and he specifically mentioned “The Book of Signs” by Rudolf Koch as one of the texts. The symbols as shown represent, from left to right; Jimmy Page (Guitarist), John Paul Jones (Bass and Keyboards), John Bonham (Drums) and Robert Plant (Singer).
There is also the triple triangle symbol mentioned earlier which is given to the folk singer Sandy Denny in honour of her vocal contribution to the song “The Battle of Evermore”. This is shown in Koch’s book and is said to refer to “the Godhead”. Koch states that nothing beyond this is known however, it is clearly a trinity symbol and is likely to refer to a female trinity, having the V or “cup” shape which is regularly used to denote the feminine. An appropriate symbol for the beautiful, feminine qualities of Denny.
As for the symbols which name the album – beginning with Robert Plant’s symbol, this is a feather in a circle and can at first glance be interpreted as a quill and the mark of a scribe or songwriter. The symbol itself though is specifically the feather of Ma’at, the Egyptian goddess of justice. The feather is the same one referred to in Egyptian belief when the heart of the deceased is weighed against a feather by Anubis, the Jackal-headed guardian of the underworld. A heart heavy with sin would preclude the individual from joining Osiris in the underworld. Plant himself also said that “(My) symbol was drawn from the ancient Mu civilisation which existed some 15,000 years ago”. The symbol can be seen in the book “The Sacred Symbols of Mu” . Plant goes on to state that, to him, the feather in the circle represents “lay(ing) down the truth”.
The symbol for John Bonham is three interlocked circles and like Plant’s symbol can be taken to directly represent the musician’s place in the band – drums and cymbals being circular in form. Bonham’s son, Jason has stated that his father chose the symbol as he felt that it represented Man, Wife and Child. The symbol is seen in many religious and spiritual texts representing various trinities and is shown on the Heriophant Tarot card of the Thoth deck representing Isis, Osiris and Horus.
A similar trinity symbol is used by John Paul Jones, this symbol, like Bonham’s, taken from Koch’s “The Book of Signs”. It is a circle with three intersecting Vesica Pisces and is known as the Triquetra. This symbol has been found on early Germanic coins and Northern European Rune Stones. It is often found in Celtic art and was later used by Christians as a Trinitarian symbol. It is often seen in Rosicrucian and Mystery School texts and is best known in modern times as a Pagan or Wiccan symbol for the trinity of Maiden, Woman and Hag. The popular television series “Charmed” about three Pagan sisters uses this symbol as its logo and is seen upon the Book of Shadows used in the show.
The final symbol, representing Jimmy Page is more difficult to decipher. It does not appear in Koch’s Book of Signs and is not well known outside its context relating to Jimmy Page. Page has used this symbol on his equipment and clothing as well as printed matter. It is hardly surprising that this is the most difficult of the symbols to decipher. Page is well known as an occultist and had financed a shop in Kensington in the early seventies, which sold various rare and antique occult books, which Page often sourced and bought himself from trips to rare book dealers. Page named the shop “The Equinox” after Aleister Crowley’s magazine(3). He is also known to have one of the largest collections of Crowley’s original works. Page therefore had access to an extensive library of occult writings and it was always unlikely that he would select a standard icon.
However, although unusual, it is not a symbol invented by Page himself. The 1844 book “Le Triple Vocabulaire Infernal Manuel du Demonomane”, by Frinellan lists this symbol amongst others in its pages. A copy of these symbols also appears in the 1972 book “Grimoires et Rituels Magiques” by Dumas. Here they are listed as being associated with Saturn. Saturn rules the sign Capricorn which is Page’s birth sign, so this seems an appropriate choice. In Dumas’ book, the symbols are also listed in a chapter referring to “Le Dragon Rouge”.
One of Page’s most famous stage outfits is his “Dragon” suit, which is decorated with occult symbols. It is not possible for Page to have taken his symbol from Dumas’ book as it was published after Page’s use of the symbol. However, it is likely that he obtained it from Frinellan or an older source. There are several Red Dragon texts and an 1850 reprint of a 1521 text of “The Red Dragon and The Black Hen” lists the symbol, again in connection with Saturn. This text would seem to be the originator of the other aforementioned books and it seems a likely candidate from which Page could have selected his symbol.
Page has often expressed a fascination for the Tarot card “The Hermit” which is numbered nine. In the film “The Song Remains the Same”, Page appears in a sequence in which he transforms into the Hermit and climbs a mountainside. The illustration on the gatefold inner sleeve is clearly based on the “Rider Waite” depiction of this card. The design of the Rider Waite card was said to have been based on the painting “The light of the World” by William Holman Hunt. The card itself is usually referred to guidance, reflection and the search for inner or hidden knowledge. The colour yellow refers to intellect and knowledge and can be seen on the staff and light. The colour grey refers to humility. In the Kabbalah, the Hermit is associated with the path between Beauty (Tiphareth) and Mercy (Chesed) and is associated with the Hebrew letter “Yod”.
The illustration itself is also given the name “View in Half or Varying light” and produces a quite startling effect when reflected.
This is the fourth album recorded by a four piece group. There are four tracks on each side and the record itself is named by four sigils. Four – the tetrad is considered a divine number and almost all ancients possessed a 4 letter name for the Deity.
In occult terms, it is also is an elemental number and the four elements of the band have united to create a modern spell as well as a record. The whole item is packaged as a modern mystery school, which attracts initiates through the music. Some may progress to further grades by questioning or studying the various esoteric clues provided. Others will simply play the music. As a Mystery school, Led Zeppelin has certainly achieved success beyond any other modern occult order – they have sold well over one hundred million albums worldwide and the album has sold over 23 million copies in the USA alone.
(2) Kenneth Anger was given use of a basement room and editing equipment by Page whilst he worked upon the film “Lucifer Rising”. Page agreed to write the soundtrack for the film and produced a strange collection of electronic drones, which Anger found unusable. This dragged on for three years until Anger finally fired him when Page had delivered only 25 minutes of music. Anger employed Bobby Beausoleil, a member of the Manson family, to compose the soundtrack. Beausoleil recorded and produced the soundtrack from his prison cell. Anger also publicly accused Page of “having an affair with the white lady” referring to Page’s heroin use. Page’s music was later added to the film by an OTO member but Anger filed an injunction against the resulting soundtrack album (Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising Jimmy Page Soundtrack).
(3) “The Equinox Booksellers and Publishers” was located in Kensington High Street, London. Page’s intention was to provide books for serious collectors and reprint a number of occult works. Equinox publishing produced a collection of Crowley’s Equinox magazine and notably a facsimile of Crowley’s 1904 edition of “The Goetia”. The edition was carefully put together and, at Page’s insistence, had the same delicate camel hair paper cover as the original. Page later closed the shop not having the time to devote to its running.
Led Zeppelin,1971, Atlantic Records
Churchward, J. 1933, Sacred Symbols of Mu, Kessinger Publishing
Koch, R. 1955, Book of Signs, Peter Smith Pub Inc
Davis, S. 1985, Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga, New York: William Morrow & Co
Frinellan. 1844. Le Triple Vocabulaire Infernal Manuel du Demonomane, Lille, Blocquel-Castiaux
sacred-texts.com (2007), http:// http://www.sacred-texts.com
Dumas, F.R. 1972. Grimoires et Rituels Magiques, Belfond
Davis, E. 2005, Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd.
In The Light, 2008, http://www.inthelight.co.nz
Jayanti, A. 1999, Principles of the Qabalah, Thorsons
Waite, A.E. 2005, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, Dover Publications Inc.
David, R. 1991, The Ancient Egyptians: Religious Beliefs and Practices, Routledge