a Review by D.M. Murdock/Acharya S
October 1, 2010
"I like to think of the history of rock
& roll like the origin of Greek drama."
"There is a story of a reporter who came up to Jim Morrison after he
had recorded 'Dionysus': 'Mr. Morrison, are you trying to copy
"Morrison's reply: 'No. I AM Dionysus.'"
The Secret History of Rock 'n' Roll
is a hit.
When I first read the book's premise, which is
that the musical genre of "rock and roll" is significantly based on and
related to ancient Christopher Knowles image - mystery cults, I
thought, "Interesting angle--I'm waiting to be convinced." As a scholar of
ancient religion and mythology, I could sense where Knowles was going but I
had not seen the specifics of his viewpoint.
Cutting to the chase:
Christopher presents an intriguing case for
his unusual observations and thesis. Because of his scholarly research,
which I found illuminating, and of his clear and concise writing style,
Knowles's argument is convincing. I'm not sure every last detail
represents precisely how this fascinating development may have
occurred - such a feat would be impossible to accomplish
- but overall the
hypothesis appears to be sound.
Logical enough, in fact, that one is tempted to
slap one's forehead and exclaim,
"Doh! Why didn't I think of that?"
Basically, Knowles's premise is that rock and
roll's secret history represents,
"the startling evolution of rock music
itself and how it has acted as an outlet for deep memetic currents that
were once thought to have been consigned to history."
In a nutshell, rock and roll is a renewed
expression of the deeply rooted ancient mysteries, such as those of Orpheus,
Cybele and Attis, Isis, Mithra, the Druids, and so on.
Summarizing the similarities between these
religious rites and rock, Knowles remarks:
What did the Mysteries offer that other
cults of the time did not? Almost exactly what rock 'n' roll would,
thousands of years later.
Drink. Drugs. Sex. Loud music. Wild
pyrotechnics. A feeling of transcendence - leaving your mind and your body
and entering a different world, filled with mystery and danger.
A personal connection to something deep,
strange, and impossibly timeless. An opportunity to escape the grinding
monotony of daily life and break all the rules of polite society. A
place to dress up in wild costumes and dance and drink and trip all
What Knowles essentially describes could be
deemed an "ancient rave," loud music and drugs included.
In his quest, Christopher's citation of ancient
authorities such as Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, Strabo and
Plutarch demonstrates evidence of his thesis from ancient times, putting together
many important elements from the mystery schools and doctrines.
The abundant use of these ancient voices gives
the thesis a certain degree of credibility, while to establish a concrete
link we need to factor in modern voices within not only the music industry
but also the disciplines of cultural anthropology and psychology, among
others - a study that could produce an unwieldy amount of data.
Fortunately, Christopher Knowles has a knack of
distilling down large quantities of material, making it accessible and
interesting to the average reader.
As part of his analysis, Knowles discusses the role of Christianity in the
religious traditions and mysteries transmitted to us in modern rituals and
rites of passage.
In this regard, I found his depiction of the
gospel story to be puzzlingly literal, especially in consideration of my own
work, with which Christopher is familiar, and of the knowledge that the
mysteries - which share so much in common with Christianity
- do not revolve
around a literal, historical godman.
Nevertheless, I appreciated his frank account of
the later rise of the Christian faith under Constantine, during which time,
"any bishops or clergymen who disagreed with
the prevailing orthodoxy were tortured, exiled, or beheaded - sometimes
As further concerns the violent imposition of
Christianity upon the peoples of the Roman Empire, Knowles write:
"Starting in 389, Theodosius issued what are
now known as the 'Theodosian Decrees,' where he banished all pagan
holidays, outlawed blood sacrifice, banned pagan statues, and ordered
the seizure of temple lands by the church. Theodosius also authorized
the destruction of pagan landmarks like the Serapeum.
Christian bishops led mobs on murderous
rampages against pagans, Gnostics, and dissenting Christian factions all
across the Empire. In 391, Theodosius extinguished the eternal fire in
the Temple of Vesta and had the Virgins disbanded. Witchcraft and
divination were outlawed. The Olympian games were abolished in 393.
Thousands of texts were gathered up and
destroyed. Scribes were forbidden to copy pagan texts on pain of
amputation or death."
This section immediately caused me to think
about what we are currently seeing in the rise of Islam globally, as a
much - dreaded possible return to the Dark Ages - Inquisition, torture,
witch - burnings, genocide and all.
In considering the premise of a religion - rock connection vis-à-vis
Christianity, I was reminded of a conversation I had many years ago with my
dear friend, author Jess Stearn, an Edgar Cayce expert who had been called
the "Grandfather of the New Age" but who was nonetheless a devoted
After raising up the issue of Indian yogis and
the like, an exasperated Jess asked me,
"What do young people get out of these gurus
that they can't get out of Jesus?."
I smiled and replied,
"Sex, drugs and rock 'n'
...Jess chuckled and nodded his head in concession.
Nature Worship and
The gods of antiquity were recipients of the
kind of adoration and adulation reserved in modern times for politicians and
other celebs, including and especially rock stars in their heyday.
In fleshing out this comparison, the phrase
"rock and roll gods" takes on a whole new meaning, particularly when we look
at the esoteric significance of the ancient myths and mysteries. As Knowles
points out, the myths and mysteries were often based on nature worship,
including the observations of the seasons, which also incorporated what is
known as "astrotheology," i.e., the reverence of the sun, moon, planets,
stars and constellations.
As a freethinker who nonetheless appreciates many religious and spiritual
concepts, especially those dating back thousands of years that express
nature worship and astrotheology, I found myself thinking that many rockers
and revelers could use a dose of the spirituality desired by their ancient
Perhaps knowing the facts in The Secret History
of Rock 'N' Roll could imbue more meaning and create greater enlightenment
in their fêting, rather than it simply serving as an exercise in wasteful
hedonism and megalomania.
At least, not all the time - but that's the beauty
of the mysteries: You get to express your rebellion without feeling high and
dry the rest of the time. Or at least not dry - and probably still a bit hung
But the most meaningful rock experiences are
like those of the mysteries and come from deeper thinkers, some of whom
Knowles discusses briefly.
Along the way, naturally, we also find discussion of the "drugs" part of
"sex, drugs and rock 'n roll," with a comparison between the rampant
psychedelic drug experimentation of the modern era and the evidently fairly
common consumption of similar "entheogens" ("God-generating" chemicals) in
antiquity, especially in mystery school initiations.
In fact, Knowles provides a thorough summary of the use of such mysterious
sacraments, which are thought to constitute various psychoactive substances,
depending on the time and place.
Transmission of the
Describing events in the line of the mysteries' transmission to America,
Knowles traces their influence from Egypt to the
Yorubans in Africa, who
then became American slaves, introducing voodoo and creating what is known
He also shows how the Druidic or Celtic
mysteries may have been preserved through Masons and indentured servants
from the British Isles.
Another interesting tie - in that validates
Knowles's premise is the role of Jungian godly archetypes, as a number of
musicians openly acknowledged their indebtedness to renowned psychotherapist
Carl Jung for inspiration, including the Beatles, Peter Gabriel and the
Although Knowles does not focus on the work of
Joseph Campbell, one would not be surprised if the esteemed mythologist
likewise has been influential on rock music, as he certainly has been on
general pop culture and social iconography, most evidently in the form of
the "Star Wars" movies and books, demonstrating the connection between
ancient and modern mythology.
In the case for ancient myths and mysteries finding their way into or
representing the hidden roots of modern music, fascinating facts jump off
practically every page, such as that the Beatles' early Liverpudlian venue,
the Cavern Club, had been a Mithraeum or sanctuary of the Perso-Roman god Mithra during Roman times.
Knowles's insight about club and theater names
such as Apollo, Palladium, etc., is also intriguing.
In his endeavor, Knowles uses categories of mysteries and gods to sort some
of rock's individual musicians and musical groups, placing Tina Turner, for
example, in the class of "Earth Mothers: The New Eleusinians" and
identifying Bruce Springsteen as an "Apollo."
I particularly liked the section regarding
Orpheus, which had some of the more obvious correlations between the ancient
and possibly modern expressions of the Orphic mysteries, at least insofar as
we think of Orpheus as a folksinger crooning his love for his lost wife,
Eurydice, and bemoaning their star - crossed fate. (Think Neil Young, James
Taylor and Nirvana.)
Although they are classified as "R&B" and "disco,"
rather than "rock and roll," one group that sprang to my mind in reading
this thesis associating music with the ancient mysteries was Earth, Wind and
Fire, which was evidently influenced by the Egyptian religion. Indeed, a
friend of mine, Kanya Vashon McGhee, states that EWF band members frequented
his bookstore in Harlem called the Tree of Life during the 1970s.
There, McGhee says,
Earth, Wind and Fire studied
the hidden meanings of religious traditions dating back thousands of years,
and eventually expressed them in the album All 'N All, the cover, lyrics and
melodies of which were mesmerizing for their beauty, mysticism and
Who can forget, for example, the song
The phrase itself is another name for what is
called in Hindu mysticism "kundalini energy," evidently reflecting the
band's interest in such yogic mysteries.
In the many examples Christopher gives he generally doesn't spend much time
on why each fits into its section, which may be because of space
consideration. I would have liked to see more about that factor, as concerns
actual songs and their possible inspiration from the ancient mysteries,
religion, spirituality, nature worship and astrotheology.
Of course, one song that immediately comes to
mind when discussing the mysteries - whose central figure is primarily the
solar divinity - is the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun."
Perhaps another volume is in order to show more
detailed influences in particular songs.
In this regard, I want to know more when Knowles writes about David Bowie,
"Everywhere he traveled he dragged around a
massive library of occult texts which he read and reread constantly."
Which books? How did Bowie's studies influence
him? Where do these elements show up in his music?
Peaking our interest again, Knowles later
"More recently, Bowie confesses to an interest in the ancient
The bizarre ancient cult of Gnosticism is itself a product
of the mysteries in significant part, its roots dating back centuries before
the common era, to be found in Egypt among other places.
Bowie is evidently one of the more consciously affected conduits of ancient
religious rites and traditions.
Concerning the musicians and their awareness
of the mysteries, Knowles asserts:
"Most - nearly all - of the artists who
channeled the ancient archetypes discussed here were completely
oblivious to what they were bringing into the world."
Whether this development was conscious or
subconscious, the thesis makes for a fascinating read, especially for fans
of rock and ancient pagan worship.
As a scholar, I felt the lack of
citations and bibliography to be unfortunate, because parts of the book
truly are good enough to be cited in other works. In fact, this work is
novel enough to teach me new goodies about even my own area of expertise - and
that's a deed well done! In this regard, I made several notes along the way
as food for further thought.
In the end, The Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll is a "wish I'd read this
when I was younger"-type book.
Indeed, it is a well-written tome positing an
unusual thesis not without precedent but uniquely expressed and detailed
here in a learned yet friendly manner.
Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll
& Acharya S on Aeon Byte
by Acharya S
24 October 2010
Miguel Conner, aka "Abraxas," is running
a fascinating program with Christopher Knowles, author of The
Secret History of Rock 'N' Roll, which I reviewed
Here is Miguel's write-up for the interview on his radio show:
In ancient times, The Mystery Religions
quenched the thirst of those tired of extroverted dogmas, those seeking
altered states of consciousness, a direct connection with the divine,
and an escape from the bondage of ego and death.
An individual could be gripped by ecstatic
cosmic energies as well as agonize alongside the gods and their
The Mystery Religions thrived across the
Greco/Roman civilization wearing the clothing of various religious
cults, including Christianity, inviting men and women, philosophers and
emperors to unlock the secrets of Creation itself. They were both wild
celebrations for the greater life and intimate rituals of inner
Eventually, the Mystery Religions were
outlawed and extinguished by Orthodoxy, existing only in fragments
within Secret Societies or the lore of hidden faiths in the borderlands.
Yet with the rise of Occultism, the birth of
a more egalitarian society, and as a reaction to an existentialist world
of grim threats, the Mystery Religions returned without the world even
knowing they were back. The old gods took on new names and returned to
the material world to impart their Gnosis. The arcane rituals were
resurrected except for the addition of modern technology. And they
thrived in a seemingly popular form of entertainment called Rock 'n'
We take a voyage into the past for the
essence of Mystery Religions and how they incarnated themselves into
Understanding the rise of the
Mystery Religions and their various schools, such as the
Eleusinian, Samothrace, Mithras and various others.
How Paul of Tarsus devised a Jewish
Mystery Religion, and how it might have been backed by Imperial
Rome from the beginning.
The various theories on the cult of
Mithras, including the reality he might have been a rework of
Horus or how it was believed he was the father of Jesus by many ancients.
Understanding the fertile soil that
gave rise to the Mystery Religion of Rock Music (the shamanistic
vibes brought by black musicians, interest in the Occult in the
sixties, a reaction to runaway wars, and much more).
Freemasonry and Mithraism might
have been a direct influence on the birth of The Beatles.
Connecting the gods of the Mystery
Religions with their Rock incarnations (Jim Morrison was
Dionysus, Neil Young was Orpheus, Janis Joplin was the Great
Why the rise of grunge might have
been the beginning of the end of Rock Music, and how it can get
back to its mystical roots.
And much more! You'll never see Rock
in the same light after this show!
Just go to http://www.thegodabovegod.com/ or
http://www.aeonbytegnosticradio.com/ or listen below. The program is
broadcast all weekend long.
Listen to it at your convenience and
Continuing with the topic, our rebroadcast is "Aeon Byte #69
Religions" with Acharya S., author of Suns of God' & The Christ
Since perhaps mankind began, there have been
those who have secretly guarded the esoteric, primordial meaning of
religion: direct contact with the Divine. These clandestine cults
flourished in ancient times, often franchises of greater unknown faiths,
offering a journey into the mystic enigmas of the supernal.
Such Godmen as Dionysus, Osiris,
Jesus became the outer symbols of enlightenment and spiritual
resurrection. Eventually many became standard religions like both
Gnosticism and Christianity. And many of these Mystery Religions were
not benign, but tools for exploitation for the ignorant masses.
Little is known about the Mystery Cults
since their annihilation by Orthodoxy, but we bore deep into archeology,
history and theology to find the true essence of the Mystery Religions.
Next week we deal with new scholarship and archeology reveals that Jesus
was never the Messiah for neither the Jews, Christians or Gnostics. More
than a Messiah, this mysterious individual was a kabbalist, noble,
philosopher, and a creator of esoteric cults. He was widely admired
throughout civilization, from Roman Emperors to Jewish revolutionaries.
He has been known as Saint Mark, Marcus the
Magician, Marcion and many other names.
You'll be surprised at the
identity of the real and spiritual Messiah that shook the world 2000
years ago. Our guest will be Stephan Hermann Huller, author of 'The Real
Messiah: The Throne of Saint Mark & The True Origins of Christianity'
and 'Against Polycarp'.
There are over 175 past shows of Aeon Byte
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