It begins with Aleister Crowley. Crowley was a British writer, mountaineer, and occultist practitioner of “magick.”
He was a very controversial figure in his own time, with relatively few followers, but became something of a cult figure after his death. In 1898 he became involved in occultism and joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an organization with Rosicrucian (an order of mystics) roots.
A year later he left the Golden Dawn, and went to found his own esoteric order. Crowley reported having mystical experiences during a visit to Egypt in 1904 and wrote the Book of Law, which he claimed a spirit had dictated to him. One of the basic precepts of the book was “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,” and Crowley made it the basis for new religion, Thelema.
He was known for the use of drugs, and for a sexual liberation that was ahead of his time. He combined both with ritual magick to achieve altered states of mind. Opinions on the sort of person he was are wildly variable, depending on where you look.
Despite the fact that Crowley died in 1947, many of his views and philosophies helped shape the views of the ‘60s counterculture, and so did his mysticism.
As the Beatles Era morphed into the psychedelic movement of the late 1960s, and a variety of recreational drugs came into more common use, musicians of the time, and their fans, began looking for something farther removed from the mainstream.
It was around this time that Jimmy Page started to become interested in Crowley and his writings. Page’s band, Led Zeppelin, released their first album in 1969, and they were gaining in popularity.
According to Car Wreck DeBangs, this was about the time that Page asked his bandmates to join him in a magick ritual, based on Crowley’s writings, to help the band.
All of them participated in the spell except for John Paul Jones, who kept well clear of the whole thing.
The first signs of their commitment show up on Led Zeppelin III, where two of Crowley’s catchphrases are allegedly carved into the outro groove – “Do as Thou Wilt” on one side, and “So Mote it Be” on the other.
It was on the following album, Led Zeppelin IV, that the arcane imagery became more overt, the album cover showing only an image of the Hermit from the Tarot, and the inner sleeve bearing four esoteric symbols meant to represent the band members.
In 1972 Page agreed to do the soundtrack for Lucifer Rising, a movie being created by Kenneth Anger, who was another ritual magick practitioner.
Page and Anger had an intense relationship that ended in a falling out in 1975. Anger trashed Page in the media, but he reportedly said in private that he laid a curse on Page and Led Zeppelin. Then things got weird.
First, Robert Plant and his family were nearly killed when their car went off a cliff in Greece. The accident forced the band to cancel the rest of their Physical Graffiti tour and delayed the recording of their next album. When they began the make-up tour, it was plagued by bad luck.
For example, Plant got laryngitis after the band shipped all their equipment and instruments to the U.S. for the tour, which made rehearsing impossible. We Do It For The Love Of Music also mentions ticketless fans rioting and John Bonham and the band’s manager, Peter Grant, beating up Bill Graham.
Finally, Plant’s son became ill and died, in 1977. Page and Jones didn’t attend the funeral, prompting Plant to consider leaving the band. Finally, in 1980 Bonham died, and the remaining band members decided that they just couldn’t bring themselves to keep the group going, so Led Zeppelin broke up.
Curse, coincidence, or the price of playing with the forces of the unknown: no matter what the cause, Led Zeppelin paid a high price for their success.