Feb 23, 2023 I Paul Seaburn

Alister Crowley, Sgt. Pepper, and the "Paul is Dead" Conspiracy Theory

These are times when most of us think we’ve heard it all … and then something comes along to top everything you’ve heard. This happens most often these days in politics, but today’s news is about the worlds of music and high strangeness. It involves one of the greatest musicians and composers of our time – Paul McCartney. It also involves one of the best-known occultists of any time - Aleister Crowley. Most people know of one connection between these seemingly unconnectable characters – the cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album contains an image of both of them. Today something comes along to top that. It seems Aleister Crowley may also have been involved with the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy theory which had fans and the mainstream media spreading stories that the belove Beatle had died and was replaced by a lookalike. Was Crowley really involved in this conspiracy theory? How else was he connected with The Beatles? Does this top anything you’ve heard today?

THe Beatles in October with DJ Jim Stagg. (Public domain)
  • It was twenty years ago today
  • Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play
  • They've been going in and out of style
  • But they're guaranteed to raise a smile
  • So may I introduce to you
  • The act you've known for all these years
  • Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • (from “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by The Beatles)

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released by the Beatles on May 26, 1967, and is considered to be their first excursion into psychedelic imagery, art rock, drugs and mysticism. Paul McCartney was the last member of the band to take the psychedelic drug LSD and it influenced the song and the album of the same name. McCartney has said that the experience inspired him to imagine a performance by an Edwardian-era military band – the Edwardian era was the pre-World War I years spanning the reign of King Edward VII from 1901 to 1910. (For future reference, those were also the years when Aleister Crowley first began to dabble in occultism – forming the magical organization A∴A∴) This would be an opportunity for the band members to take on new personas in a kind of alter ego group. 

  • Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
  • Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
  • Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends
  • (from "With a Little Help from My Friends" by The Beatles)

As memorable as the music of Sgt. Pepper is the iconic cover. The band members are in costume as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, standing with a group of life-sized cardboard cut-outs of famous people. Those people, suggested by McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison, included musicians (Bob Dylan), movie stars (Marlon Brando and others), artists, athletes, comedians, writers, philosophers and gurus. The record company EMI rejected Lennon's suggestions of Adolf Hitler and Jesus Christ, but allowed Aleister Crowley, whose bald head sticks out like an occult thumb in the upper left hand corner. Did EMI not know who this was? Which Beatle suggested the co-called ‘The Wickedest Man in the World’?

Aleister Crowley

“Do what thou wilst is the whole of the Law.” (Aleister Crowley)

There are some who believe John Lennon suggested Crowley for the cover and base it on an interview he gave when he sounded very Crowley-esque: “The whole Beatle idea was to do what you want, right? To take your own responsibility, do what you want and try not to harm other people, right? Do what thou wilst, as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody.” Crowley was dead (1947) but having a resurgence in the 1960s – Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page bought his Boleskine House near Loch Ness. Because of the quate, the fact that his head is prominent on the cover and because he lived during the Edwardian era, sone even suggest he was the inspiration for Sgt. Pepper. That seems unlikely since McCartney created the band idea and claimed it was just a nonsense name. But there is definitely a Crowley-Beatles connection there.

The "Paul is dead" urban legend/conspiracy theory actually predates Sgt. Pepper. According to the rumor, Paul McCartney died on November 9, 1966, in a car accident and was secretly replaced by a look-alike. The story began circulating in 1967, but went worldwide in late 1969. The rumor was linked to the very occultish practice of backmasking – recording secret messages and inserting them backwards in songs. The mainstream media fed the rumor with countless articles and debates, which were picked up by radio stations playing the songs. Since all Beatles songs and album covers were heavily scrutinized for hidden messages and meanings, this fed the ‘Paul is Dead’ funeral pyre. One well-known example is the cover of the Abbey Road album which shows the Beatles crossing that street with only McCartney barefoot and out of step. Of course, that lookalike would have to have been quite a songwriter and musician since someone named McCartney has continued to write, record and perform to this day.

The Abbey Road crosswalk minus The Beatles.

Speaking of McCartney today, he was one half of the subjects in a new article on the Brooklyn Paranormal Society website which suggests there is a connection between the ‘Paul is Dead’ conspiracy theory and occultist Aleister Crowley – your “now I’ve heard everything” story for today. It seems to begin with a photograph (see it here) of Crowley holding a young boy who is said to be a young Paul McCartney. While there is a resemblance, the website says this rumor has been debunked. It then goes to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” which had the famous image of Crowley. That album, recorded after McCartney’s rumored death, contained ‘hints’ like the song “A Day in the Life” where a man “blew his mind out in a car”. Was that McCartney? Of course, there are other meanings for songs by The Beatles, as the recent documentary about their last live performance showed.

Are these links enough to prove that Aleister Crowley had some involvement with the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy and cover-up? The Brooklyn Paranormal Society says no, and we would have to agree. While it is obvious that at least one of The Beatles was aware of Crowley, like so many other counterculture members of the 1960s, none of this is solid proof of any connection between the wickedest man, the best band and the “Paul is Dead” conspiracy. What it is proof of is the popularity of all three – 50 years after the conspiracy theory and 100 years after Crowley. 

And to all of those who still believe:

  • It's wonderful to be here
  • It's certainly a thrill
  • You're such a lovely audience
  • We'd like to take you home with us
  • We'd love to take you home
  • (from “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by The Beatles)
Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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