Stairway to Where?
Reverse Speech: Voices From The Unconscious
If there were a "Top 40" of backmasked songs, "Stairway to Heaven," by Led Zeppelin would have to be at the top of the chart. It has been quoted, misquoted, and dissected for years by religious fundamentalists as being one of the most occultic or satanic songs ever to have been released. I disagree strongly based on my research into the background of this song.
According to Stephen Davis, author of the Zeppelin saga, Hammer of the Gods, the controversy began in 1982, when a prominent Baptist used his radio pulpit to preach that "Stairway to Heaven" carried subliminal backward messages. Then, in April 1982, the California State Assembly played a backward tape of the song in a public session. Some members of the committee claimed they heard the words, "I live for Satan." Led Zeppelin were duly denounced as agents of Satan who were luring millions of teenagers into damnation as unwitting disciples of the Antichrist.
Eddie Kramer, the producer and engineer who worked on four Led Zeppelin albums, says that these charges are "totally and utterly ridiculous. Why would they want to spend so much studio time doing something so dumb?" 9
"Stairway to Heaven" was written in one afternoon by Jimmy Page, lead guitarist of Led Zeppelin and an Aleister Crowley devotee. The song has been reported to employ a technique of encoded words and double meanings similar to those used in Black Spirituals in which some songs were used as maps and other lyrics served to alert plantation slaves of an impending break for freedom. 10
Until approximately 1985, Page owned and lived in Crowley's former house, "Boleskine," a sprawling farmhouse on the shores of Loch Ness, sometimes called the "Toolhouse" Boleskine was originally purchased in 1900, by Crowley, for almost twice its value, because it met certain requirements of the Books of Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage. These requirements included windows and a door that opened to the north toward a secluded structure that was to serve as an oratory. It's commonly assumed that a small outbuilding to the far right was the oratory. 11
Crowley stated in his diary that "shadowy shapes" used to escape the oratory and enter the house. It's been reported that during subsequent rituals these "shadowy shapes" were unleashed with dire effects on visitors, staff, and a few hapless visitors from nearby Foyers.12
According to Davis, Jimmy Page was quoted in Roadrunner magazine discussing further cases of madness and mayhem including the story that Boleskine was once the site of "a church that burned to the ground with the congregation in it." 13 This brief, historical background gives tremendous insights into the profoundly significant metaphors contained in both the forward and reversed lyrics of "Stairway to Heaven." Sung forward, the song is basically a story of a woman who's searching for the meaning of life and the path to heaven. In the forward lyrics she sees signs on the wall but cautions that words can have more than one meaning. The bird that sings from the tree tells of thoughts that are misgiven. The thoughts carry images of "smoke" (perhaps fog) in the trees and the voices of those who stand apparently watching from among the trees. This is apparently the same group that is rewarded for their long-standing with the dawn of a new day and the forest's echo of laughter. There's great significance to the lyrics when they're viewed from the perspective of Reverse Speech. When we consider the complementary nature of the song, it appears to be partially a song of hope for all those who according to the legends once suffered at Boleskine.
The lyrics also seem to be a message from the unconscious mind that details its own communicative style. In the process of writing the song the way he did, Jimmy Page unknowingly established the complementary criteria for reversals to occur that speak of their own existence.
"Words have two meanings," and "thoughts are misgiven," appear at the start of the song. Note the complementarity with the last reversal on the song. As soon as the song is reversed, it says quite clearly, "Pl-a-a-a-a-a-y backward. Hear words sung." This is not an intentionally backmasked message, but rather a genuine speech reversal. It almost seems as though the unconscious mind is calling out and saying, "Hey, listen to me. I can communicate."
The lyrics also form a reversal that says: There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan. Jimmy Page may have unconsciously used the words tool shed to refer to the small outbuilding that was the oratory (Boleskine itself was the Toolhouse). The reported "shadowy figures" may be those who have stood for so long in the smoke, but are promised the dawning of a new day.
The last stanza declares not only that there are two paths that can be taken, but also that it is not too late to change roads. This last stanza contains the reversal It's my sweet Satan, the one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is fake.
Their are references to "path," "forest," and "hedgerow" all of which are descriptive of the setting of the Boleskine mansion. The word Satan itself may be a metaphor for the suffering and pain that occurred in and around Boleskine. The parallels of these images and the legends that surround Boleskine are compelling.
Other reversals that some people have quoted in this song as a basis for their claims, include: "There's no escaping it / I will sing 'cause I live with Satan / They gotta live for Satan." These reversals are so vague and imprecise, however (validity 1-2), that only the very bold would use them as the basis for an argument.
Finally, a reversal appears on a live version of the song sung in 1976, that says: Forgive me Lord, forgive me Lord, forgive me Lord. How could this be considered satanic? Who's asking for forgiveness and why? Since when does the nature of Satan, metaphoric or otherwise, include forgiveness? Is the song a stairway to heaven, a stairway to hell, or something totally different? Stephen Davis wrote a description that may be accurate regardless of how you choose to answer these questions. He said: "It expressed an ineffable yearning for spiritual transformation deep in the heart of the generation for which it was intended." 14
Some of these reversals are listed on the Music Reversals Page.
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9. Stephen Davis, The Hammer of the Gods, William Morrow and Company Inc., New York, 1985, p. 335.
10. Raymond B. MacPherson, private letter, Melbourne, 1988.
11. C.R. Cammell, Aleister Crowley, New English Library, London, 1969.
13. Davis, op.cit.
14. Davis, op.cit. p. 146.
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Reverse Speech 21st Century