To many, the occult is a joke. To others, it is a legitimate thing to be feared. Whether or not the occult is real, many famous people have been involved with spiritualism and occult activities.
10 David Bowie
While David Bowie is certainly one of the greatest musicians of his generation, he is also a full-fledged intellectual with widespread interests. In the 1970s, one of those interests was the occult. Of course, he fostered an image of being an “otherworldly” person onstage, but many who knew him say that he was also engaged in supernatural activities offstage.
In 1975, Bowie became increasingly addicted to cocaine, which let him work and make music almost nonstop. The drug allowed him to beat back sleep while he was touring and making albums. But soon, the side effects of the drug began to overtake him, and he developed cocaine psychosis.
At the same time, Bowie began to eat up information on the occult. Whether he was suffering from the effects of cocaine or was actually under assault by the spirit world, Bowie began to fear that he was being invaded by demonic spirits he had summoned.
With his cocaine addiction fueling his obsession with witchcraft and the occult, Bowie was afraid that witches were attempting to steal his semen. He believed they wanted to make a child for sacrifice. It was at this time that Bowie was recording Station to Station, an album that makes frequent occult references. He admits that he can’t remember making the album, such was the extent that cocaine had ravaged his mind.
Those around him began to fear for his mental state. Although he was just as productive musically as he’d always been, his psyche was falling apart. However, one of Bowie’s friends convinced him to allow a white witch to perform an exorcism on him and his home. Bowie later said that the exorcism had worked. However, this coincided with his quitting cocaine, which could be more than a coincidence.
9 Elvis Presley
Like David Bowie, Elvis Presley had a voracious drug habit, although he was addicted to prescription drugs, not cocaine. According to ex-wife Priscilla Presley in Elvis and Me, he was obsessed with the occult, which ran counter to his public image. Elvis, who famously sang many gospel songs throughout his career, was known as a Christian who appreciated church and family values. However, Priscilla paints an entirely different picture of the famous singer.
According to Priscilla, Elvis was constantly looking for new ways to enter into “higher levels of consciousness.” While drugs may have played a part in his growing obsession with the supernatural, Priscilla said that Elvis frequently read books from a variety of authors about occultism. Entering into a state of celibacy, he did little more than take barbiturates and the sedative Placidyl, then fight his drowsiness as he tried to read his books.
Priscilla said that Elvis eventually kicked his obsession with the occult and had her burn all of his books. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for his drug habit. With his usage increasing, his health deteriorated. He eventually turned back to Christianity, which became more important to him in the dark days of his later life.
8 Daryl Hall
Many of us remember Daryl Hall as the blond-haired member of the musical duo Hall & Oates. But did you know that Hall immersed himself in the world of the occult for quite some time? “Around 1974, I graduated into the occult, and spent a solid six or seven years immersed in the Kabbala and the Chaldean, Celtic, and Druidic traditions [and] ancient techniques for focusing the inner flame,” he revealed in a 1987 interview with Penthouse.
Hall also claimed to have long-standing heritage in the supernatural, contending that his great-great-grandfather was a warlock and that he was related to occultist Aleister Crowley. Hall was especially interested in Crowley because they both rebelled against their conventional, religious upbringings by trying to infuriate everyone around them with shocking actions.
While Hall seemed quite interested in mysticism in the old days, current accounts show that he’s back together again. “A lot of people go through that kind of thing,” Hall said. “And I went through it, and I retained a lot of it, and I discarded a lot of it. My life was unbalanced at the time, when I was doing that.”
7 Queen Victoria
In the late Victorian era, a movement called Spiritualism, in which people talked to ghosts, became popular with all social classes in Great Britain. Many of the era’s greatest figures participated, including Queen Victoria herself. The queen and Prince Albert, her husband, were deeply interested in Spiritualism, regularly attending seances and other psychic meetings.
When Albert died in 1861, Victoria was devastated. Grieving in the only way that made sense to her, she searched for a medium who could help her make contact with her dead husband. She knew that many mediums were frauds but finally found one who seemed genuine: Robert James Lees, a 13-year-old medium who claimed to channel the spirit of Albert.
She sent her courtiers to investigate the young medium. After impressing them with impossible-to-know details of Albert’s personal life, Lees was invited to see the queen at Buckingham Palace.
He went to the palace nine times. Each time, Victoria was left completely at his whim, prompting her to ask him to become resident medium of her royal household. The boy refused, promising that she could continue communicating through Albert’s former gun boy, John Brown. For more than 30 years, Brown remained Victoria’s medium, having a complete hold over her.
After Brown’s death, the queen wanted to publish a study of his seances. But her courtiers convinced her that public knowledge of her reliance on a medium might damage her reputation. She agreed not to publish the study, and the history of Victoria’s interest in Spiritualism was swept under the rug.
6 Jimmy Page
It is no secret that Led Zeppelin has long been associated with occultism by annoyed parents. But there is a surprising truth to this: Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was a devout follower of the teachings of occultist Aleister Crowley. Throughout his career, Page has made frequent references to occult elements in his work with the band.
In the 1970s, Page’s interest in the supernatural led him to operate The Equinox Booksellers and Publishers, an occult bookshop and publishing company in London. He maintained the shop for many years until his work with Led Zeppelin kept him too busy. Even so, Page included the supernatural in the band through the use of occult symbols.
On the famous untitled album, which became known as Led Zeppelin IV, Page used the “zoso” symbol to represent himself. Although Page’s meaning is unclear, zoso is believed to be a sigil (a sign or word with occult power) of zodiac symbol Saturn, which may be linked to a demon’s name in this context. We do know that Page is a Capricorn, a sign ruled by Saturn. Also, in astrology, Saturn is the planetary ruler of lead. Page may have considered that to be another link to Led Zeppelin.
Although Page never became a Thelemite, he admired Aleister Crowley so much that he bought Crowley’s Boleskine House in Scotland. Through Equinox, Page published a facsimile of Crowley’s 1904 spell book, The Goetia. He also owned and studied one of the most extensive collections of original books by Crowley in the world.
5 William Lyon Mackenzie King
William Lyon Mackenzie King is one of the most important figures in Canadian history. In addition to being the Prime Minister during World War II, he was also the father of Canada’s social welfare system. However, he tried to keep his obsession with occultism secret from the public.
King first became involved with the occult in 1925 when he had his fortune told, an experience he called “the most remarkable interview” of his life. Soon after, he turned to contacting mediums, so he could communicate with the dead. Some think that King’s dependence on spiritualism was a coping mechanism for him while serving as Prime Minister.
King realized that it would cause a scandal if the public knew that he regularly visited mediums. So he attempted to remain anonymous when planning a seance. In fact, he was so discreet about his visits that one of his mediums admitted that she never knew he was a politician.
However, he never allowed his interests to interfere with his political decisions. His diary suggests that he gave up spiritualism during World War II to focus his attention on the war.
4 Mary Todd Lincoln
After the US Civil War, America’s obsession with the occult exploded. It was no different for Mary Todd Lincoln, the former president’s wife. In fact, she had been delving into spiritualism for quite some time.
Mrs. Lincoln had lived a tragic life. In 1862, she lost her son Willie to typhoid fever, causing her to sink into emotional despondency. She attended a seance to try to contact her lost son, hoping to find closure in the process. She claimed the seance was so successful that she could see the apparition of Willie. “He comes to me every night and stands at the foot of my bed with the same, sweet adorable smile he has always had,” she wrote to her sister Emilie. “He does not always come alone. Little Eddie [her other child who died] is sometimes with him.”
The spirits even offered her advice on who was loyal to her husband in his administration. After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, she increasingly turned to spiritualism for relief. She attended more seances and even posed for spirit photographer William Mumler. She believed in the occult and mediums for the rest of her life.
3 William S. Burroughs
William S. Burroughs was one of the main men of the Beat Generation. He represented a group of people who were different in how they acted, becoming involved in some weird activities as a result. Whether it was writing Naked Lunch, traveling the world, or accidentally killing his wife, he was always open to what life had to offer, including the occult.
Burroughs first became involved with mysticism when he traveled to South America to investigate a certain plant which was alleged to give powers. In The Yage Letters, he wrote about his time there in a series of letters to fellow Beat Allan Ginsberg. The letters also revealed Burroughs’s interest in black magic and curses.
However, his involvement with the occult didn’t end there. Later in Burroughs’s life, he became interested in the spiritual power of photography. He theorized that photographs might take the subject out of time and space, leaving the person’s fate to the photographer. His continued experimentation with the occult led him to join the Illuminates of Thanateros. He was allegedly buried with his initiation ring.
2 Heinrich Himmler
If you’ve ever watched Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, the idea that the Nazis might have looked for the Ark of the Covenant may seem purely fictional. However, Heinrich Himmler and the SS did have a fascination with the occult. Himmler even established a new branch, the Ahnenerbe.
While the Ahnenerbe was ostensibly used for Aryan propaganda—such as proof that the German race was superior to all others—it quickly became Himmler’s tool for investigating mysticism. He authorized an expedition to Tibet to research several occult theories involving the region, such as the existence of Hyperborea-Thule. Some Germans believed that this mythic land was the cradle of civilization where the Aryan race first formed.
As Hitler had publicly denounced occultism to the German people, Himmler kept his interests out of the public eye. However, he did have a close adviser, 66-year-old Karl Maria Wiligut, who supposedly had extensive knowledge of the occult. Wiligut claimed to be a sort of medium who could recall knowledge from the beginning of time.
But Wiligut was a sick man, leading Himmler to desperately try to keep him alive to get information from him. For the rest of Himmler’s life, he stayed in touch with Wiligut, despite Hitler’s denouncement of the occult.
1 Isaac Newton
Although Sir Isaac Newton is best known for his scientific achievements, he also focused on occult studies in alchemy (the forerunner to modern chemistry), chronology, and biblical interpretation. In Newton’s time, certain branches of occultism were almost identical to science. With his insatiable appetite for knowledge, Newton was as interested in the occult as the hard sciences.
In particular, he was obsessed with alchemy. He spent quite some time experimenting with the so-called philosopher’s stone, a mythical substance that could transform any metal into silver or gold. Even more exciting, the philosopher’s stone was supposed to cure all diseases, possibly leading to immortality.
Newton was also fascinated with discovering biblical codes to decipher scripture for scientific information. He researched the geometric proportions of the Temple of Solomon, even developing a theory that it explained the mathematical mysteries of the universe.
His interest in the occult inspired many of his scientific discoveries. Although he is remembered today as a great scientist, he was known in his time for investigating the spiritual and the mysterious as a way to solve the problems of his day.
Gordon Gora is a struggling author working on several projects. Until he finishes one, he will write for Listverse.