Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Led Zeppelin and Tarot

When it comes to Led Zeppelin people like to, for lack of a better phrase, "tell me things."  The assumption always seems to be that they know secret things about the band that I'm just not aware of.  That tradition truly started about fifteen years ago at a small New Age/Pagan gathering in Lansing, Michigan.  I was sitting around, in a Led Zeppelin shirt* of course, minding my own business when a guy who looked like 1974 came up to me and said "Dude, did you know that the song Gallows Pole is a meditation on the Hanged Man tarot card?" Not knowing exactly how to answer, my younger (dumber) self mumbled something about how I was already aware of that, which I wasn't.

When I got home that night I dutifully went upstairs to my room, dug up the second CD from Led Zeppelin's 1990 boxed set, and sat down with the tarot's Hanged Man card.  I stared at that card for a good fifteen minutes, with Zep's Gallows Pole on repeat for the whole time.  I'm not sure what I expected to happen, but what I expected was certainly more than the nothing that occurred.  I'd move the card really close to my eyes, and then as far away from me as my arm would reach, and I did this over and over again trying to gain some divine insight into the world, Led Zeppelin, and the occult.  Thankfully, no one was around to watch my stupid card trick that evening.

Now there are as many interpretations of tarot cards as there are tarot decks, but it was always my understanding that the Hanged Man card represented something between the worlds.  The Hanged Man is not simply a soon to be corpse blowing in the wind, but a spiritual seeker, attempting to see the next world while on this plane of existence.  The Led Zeppelin song Gallows Pole ends with the protagonist dead as a doornail, with all of his attempts to get free of the noose an utter failure.  His brother brings gold and silver, his sister sleeps with the executioner, but he still winds up dead.  If that's a meditation on the Hanged Man card, I don't want to ever see it come up in a card reading.v

In truth, the song has nothing to do with the tarot and the songs original origins lie in Scandinavia where it was originally a 15th Century children's folk song with a much happier ending.  While the tarot predates the song (European style decks were in use by 1450, perhaps a few decades earlier), the cards were originally Christian symbols, and didn't receive their occult associations until the 1800's.  In a long and winding bit of evolution the song eventually migrated to the British Isles, and from there to North America.  In the late 1930's a version of it was recorded by blues singer Leadbelly, who dubbed the song Gallis Pole.  According to most Zep biographers Page was inspired to do the tune after hearing a version of the Leadbelly song recorded by California folk-singer Fred Gerlach.  However, author Mick Wall believes that Page nicked Zeppelin's version of the song from African-American folk singer Dorris Henderson, who recorded the song with Pentangle guitarist John Renbourne.  So Dutch song, then English folk song, then a blues tune, then an Americanized folk song based on the blues version.  Interesting history, but no tarot.  (Not that there's a lot of Dorris Henderson out there on the internet, but her voice was amazing.)

Led Zeppelin does has have a history with the tarot, it's jut not quite as spectacular as the dude stuck in 1974 would have had me believe.  Most of the association between Led Zeppelin and tarot is due to 1971's Led Zeppelin IV (also sometimes called Runes or Zoso in honor of the glyphs associated with it), and even some of that is wishful thinking.  At another more recent festival I had just finished up presenting my Led Zeppelin and the Occult workshop to 75 mostly non-napping people, when a young lady come up to me with a tarot card in her hand.  She wanted me to know that the figure on the front of Led Zeppelin IV represented the Ten of Wands.

According to Jimmy Page (guitar, and if you don't know who he is I have no idea why you are reading this) the cover to Zep IV came about when "Robert found the picture of the old man with the sticks and suggested that we work it into the cover somehow.  So we decided to contrast the modern skyscraper on the back with the old man and the sticks-you see the destruction of the old and the new coming forward."  I'm not entirely sure that's true either, but there is probably something to the claim of contrasting new and old.  The classic interpretation of the Ten of Wands has nothing to do with that balance, and instead represents either a large burden, or being unable to see the road in front of you (perhaps because of that burden).  The man in the picture is a little stooped over, but he doesn't seem especially troubled by it.

The card I was shown by the lovely lady in question that day did look a lot like the cover of Zeppelin IV, in fact, it looked almost exactly like it.  I was actually a bit stupefied that day thinking I had come across something I had previously been unaware of.  When I got back home after the festival I began researching the Ten of Cups and was disappointed to find that the reverse of what this girl had told me was true.  The cover of Led Zeppelin IV had inspired a reinterpretation of the Ten of Wands, and that the original Ten of Wands was something else entirely.  Since the Ten of Wands/Old Man Cover was brought to my attention I've seen multiple decks with sticks on the back, and all of them date to after Zep IV.  I think it's cool that Zeppelin inspired something, but it's not the cover of Zeppelin's fourth album that links the band to the tarot, it's the album's gatefold sleeve.

The most striking tarot related image in the Led Zeppelin catalog is on the gatefold sleeve of Zeppelin's untitled fourth album and features the Hermit from the Major Arcana.  Jimmy Page has been exceedingly blunt about the fact that it's the Hermit, “The inside cover was painted by a friend of mine. It's basically an illustration of a seeker aspiring to the light of truth."  (The work was credited to the artist Barrington Colby-Mom, who subsequently then fell off the face of the earth.)  The Hermit card must have been pretty important to Page, because he dresses up in hermit garb for a silly sequence in the Led Zeppelin concert movie The Song Remains the Same. Of course the Hermit represents the search for truth and wisdom, precisely the kind of soul searching that seemed to go into the lyrics of "Stairway to Heaven."  The Hermit on that particular album sleeve makes perfect sense when paired up with "Stairway," the ultimate song about soul searching.

After Led Zeppelin IV the band handed off the album cover art duties to the British firm Hipgnosis, who also designed album covers for bands like Pink Floyd.  I don't want to say that the tarot imagery stopped because of Hipgnosis, but it never graced the inside of a Led Zeppelin album again.  Perhaps just because it couldn't be topped, hard to say.  Page obviously remained proud of his association with The Hermit, appearing as the old wizard in 1976's The Song Remains the Same concert movie (though that sequence was filmed several years earlier), but was that the last explicit tarot reference in the music or art of Led Zeppelin, until possibly 2003.

On May 27 2003, Led Zeppelin released a two disc DVD set of live concert footage, none of which had been officially released to the public before.  To say that day was a national holiday for me is an understatement.  I took the day off from work to listen to "get the Led out" and listsen to Led Zeppelin literally all day.  Upon purchasing the DVD set I was struck by the cover art, featuring some old crumbling mountains standing alone, surrounded by desert.  The mountain in the picture doesn't look entirely natural either, it might be something that was carved by human beings.  It's old and crumbling, but still standing proudly, ravaged but remaining upright in the face of adversity.  It implies a certain eternalness, "age may weather me but I will still remain," type of thing.  This king of imagery is common on the tarot card known as "The Tower."

The Tower has several different interpretations in Tarot.  Some of them are quite negative, some more positive.  The original symbolism of the card probably relates back to the Tower of Babel, which would be fitting for the band that wrote and recorded Stairway to Heaven.  I'm not quite sure if the DVD art and the Tower card are related, but the base of the Tower and the base of the mountains on the DVD box tend to make me believe I'm on the right path.

No matter what all the art means in Zeppelin, the band does stand eternal.  Even now, forty odd years after their first record they continue to move three million albums annually.  That's impressive. Trends come and go, but Led Zeppelin remain, kind of like Tarot Cards.  


*All of my clothing either has rock band logos on it or sports teams stuff.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Jason's Charge of the God

I've always firmly believed that all male archetypes are a part of something greater, and that all roads lead back to the same place.  In other words I believe that all religions are valid, and all positive faiths can be seen as expressions of "God."  In Wicca, the feminine aspect of "The All" or "Prime Mover" is expressed in "The Charge of the Goddess."  The CotG was written and assembled mostly by British Witch Doreen Valiente (who shares a birthday with me!).  Her Charge has lots of "bits" in it, ideas incorporated from Gerald Gardner's earlier version, and words from Charles Godfrey Leyland's "Aradia" and the writings of Aleister Crowley.  What makes Valiente's Charge great has nothing to do with where the words came from, but everything to do with how those words were used to express universal truths.  

Many years ago I was writing a very big Beltane Ritual, and decided to include Valiente's Charge.  To counter-balance her expression of the Divine Feminine I searched in vain for something equally expressive of the Divine Male.  There are many "Charges of the God" out there, but they are all generally re-workings of Valiente, substituting male things in for female ones, while generally keeping Valiente's cadence and structure.  I thought that was lame and decided to write my own, to create something hopefully equal to Valiente's Charge, but unique.  The result is Jason's Charge of the God.

The Charge of the God

Revealed now are the words of the Great God.  He is the ancient one, whose face has appeared in many roles throughout eternity.  

I am he who abides in the deepest darkest woods.  It is my place to be with the creatures of the forest running in the cloak of blackest night.  With bow strung across my back I make my home with the Earth.  I am the defender of the sacredness of nature.  I am the Great God.

I am he whose light and warmth brings forth life from the soil.  My warmth is the covenant of union between Lady and Lord.  My brow is the radiant crown of summer, the glow about me my promise of eternal light.  I am the Great God.

I am he who is magick, creator of eternal energy, the catalyst of beneficial change for all who would walk in the Old Ways.  My whispers are those of tomorrows revealed and knowledge to be granted.  I am the power to see and do all things.  I am the Great God.

I am the trickster, scourge of all those methodical and overanalyzing.  I am the trouble in the best laid plans, the unexpected when all seems well.  I am the chaos in a world of balance.  I am the Great God.

I am he whose gift is the vine, the never ending chalice of intoxication.  My presents are those of joy:  wine, dance, and the freedom to be without care.  Merriment and mirth to me are great honor for the joy of the folk is my reward.  I am the Great God.

I am the cosmic god, one with all aspects of the universe.  It is the stars which provide the sparkle in my eyes, a multitude of planets make up my body, and a thousand suns burn together as my heart and soul.  I am the Great God.

I am he who abides in the skies, bringer of thunder and sender of lightning.  I give the blessings of rain to the parched and hungry land.  I command the winds that turn the seasons.  I am he whose face can be seen amongst the clouds.  I am the Great God.

I am the horned one, ancient god of fertility.  It is my seed which brings forth life in the great womb.  I am the bringer of physical pleasure, god of lust, god of the flesh.  I give the joys of bodily union to all who ask.  I am the Great God.

I am he that stands at the threshold of death, and life eternal.  I welcome those who have departed your world and bid farewell to those who return to it.  I guard the mysteries of the end and the wonder of beginnings.  I am the Great God.

Worship me side by side with the Lady.  Honor me and I shall abide forever within you.  For as long as tolerance, happiness, and righteousness exist, the true God will eternally reign.  I am love, I am eternal, I am a part of all things.  I am the Great God.

Given the structure of my Charge-stand alone verses-you can do a lot of things with it.  It can be read by two people, trading verses back and forth.  It can be re-arranged so that the last verse read coincides with whatever season you are celebrating.  When time is short you can even skip a few verses here and there, though I wouldn't skip my favorite ones (horned one, wine god, trickster, nature god).  Certain verses are for particular gods as well, and if you are doing a ritual in honor of Pan or Cernunnos you could save their verses for last, or insert their names into the proceedings.  (I give the joys of bodily union to all who ask, I am Pan, I am the Great God, etc.)   

So it's a pretty adaptable piece, and something I'm rightfully proud of.  You can also insert new verses into it here or there.  The following two verses are in my official hand-written version, but are rarely used by me these days.  The first of these two verses is obviously about Jesus, and reflects my crazy passion to include everyone and everything in my personal theology.  I've had some Pagans yell at me for it.  "We don't need forgiveness" they tell me, and then I remind them that the verse only says "and those that need forgiveness my receive it."   

The second of these two verses is a rather barbed expression of love.  I like love, I am in love, I like being in love, but it often makes us do silly (or stupid) things.  It can be a double pointed sword if not approached correctly.   

I am the sacrificial god, my blood is poured out upon the Earth so that the soil may be renewed, and those that need forgiveness may receive it.  I care naught for myself, only for those who serve me.  I am the Great God.

I am the god of love and the commitment between two individuals sharing heart, mind, bodies, and soul.  It is my arrows which awaken desire in the hearts of women and men,  and it is my poison which make the sane foolish in the name of love.  I am the Great God.