Q&A: ‘Season of the Witch’ Author On Rock and Roll and the Esoteric Beyond

maxresdefaultAuthor Peter Bebergal
Image Credit: YouTube

Peter Bebergal isn’t your ordinary rock and roll enthusiast.

The author takes his commitment to the music seriously, so much so that he often dives into uncanny waters to divine its origins. His research has introduced him to the Fon people of West Africa, acquainted him with the impact of an ever-changing and amorphous Vodou deity, and revealed to him the hand that the religious South had in the formation of the style.

We recently had a chance to catch up with Bebergal for the re-release of his fan-favorite hit Season of the Witch. Go on and read the interview below to learn more about his compelling work:

What motivated you to start researching the occult and its influence on music?
I grew up in the late 1970s/early 1980s and was always interested in the weird, the fringe, and the alternative. My cultural touchstones are things like Dungeons & Dragons, monster movies, horror comics, and In Search Of with Leonard Nimoy. Even when I studied religion in college and graduate school, I was interested in the stranger areas of popular culture. I have been following what some might say is a resurgent interest in the occult, especially amongst some artists and musicians. As I began to investigate this, I was constantly reminded of how all these ideas and images were part of rock and roll, especially in regard to the mythology and mystique that surrounds the music. I began to see a pattern emerging, and before I knew it, an entirely new cultural history of rock emerged.

Who would you say Season of the Witch appeals to? Is it a history of Rock and Roll, or does it appeal to those interested in religion as well?
I do think at its roots, Season of the Witch is a history of rock, but threading within that is a history of alternative religion and occultism in America. What I think the book reveals is that these beliefs and practices were not just located in New Age book stores, but had a deeply profound effect on popular culture in general, and on the story of rock more specifically. The book is not arguing that without the occult, rock would not have existed, but I am arguing that if not for occult ideas and transmissions, the story of rock would look and sound very different. So I hope that anyone with an interest in popular music, religion, and the lesser known aspects of pop culture would find something to enjoy here. But I am not shy in saying that if you ever “threw horns” at a rock concert, this book is for you.

9780399174964Season of the Witch, 2014
Image Credit: Penguin Random House

Was there anything notable or surprising when you were doing your research?
I was amazed to find how many musicians throughout history were interested or involved in occult ideas and beliefs. When many artists were pushing up against the mainstream, they also found themselves looking beyond mainstream religion for spiritual nourishment. As their art was a rebellion, so too was their spiritual journey. Rock and roll musicians were no different. The occult and other alternative religions became shorthand for staking a claim that they were defiant or dangerous. The occult offered inspiration that meaning was not limited to the Christian or Jewish ideas about God or the universe. Even for those whom the occult was just a good marketing tool, it proved to be a powerful signal to the culture that something different was about to happen. I was also surprised to find out how the word “occult” still has so many negative connotations. Often when I would tell people I was working on this book, they would ask about devil worship, as if that was the preeminent aspect of the occult. The devil certainly makes an appearance, but he is only one of a myriad of images, beliefs, and practices that make up this very mercurial phenomena we call the occult.

You mention that you have been a fan of Rock and Roll since you discovered your brother’s record collection at the age of eleven. What band would you say has had the most influence on you?
The answer to this will have to be plural. Music is an essential part of my life, and has been for my whole life, but the bands that set my love of rock in motion would have to be David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Pretenders, XTC. So many more, really. I remember being a kid and a pre-teen, hearing some of their songs for the first time and feeling like there was soundtrack not only for all the strange inscrutable feelings I had, but for the world. It didn’t matter how I felt or what was going on, there was song that either heightened my excitement about something, or made me feel like my sadness was no unique.

If you had to pick a favorite band, which it would it be?
It’s a cruel question! But I am going to have to say a tie between the first King Crimson albums and the early work of Brian Eno. Actually, no. I would have to say Cream. But wait, then there is Soft Machine. What about The Pixies! And Pavement! The Velvet Underground!

This is a really colorful and intricate book cover. What went into picking this?
When I first had the idea for this book, I knew only one artist could channel the necessary magical forces to get the cover just right, and that is Arik Roper. Arik is well known for his album cover and poster art for some of the seminal underground metal and “stoner” rock bands, including Sleep, High on Fire, and the Black Crowes. Arik and I met when I interviewed him for my last book, and since then we have become friends. It was a dream-come-true to have him commissioned to do the cover. And look at it! It’s just perfect.

What do you expect readers to take away from Season of the Witch?
I hope readers will feel like they just got off one of those not-so-scary, but thrilling nevertheless, haunted house rides. At every turn there is another ghoul or witch or skeleton. Your adrenaline is increased despite yourself. The occult influence on rock and roll is story that includes everything from voodoo to sitars, 1970s devil movies to beliefs in UFOs. There are anecdotes about bands, their fans, album covers, religious detractors, and even a brief history of Wicca and the Illuminati. What I want readers to take away from the book is a better understanding of the occult imagination finding a potent vehicle in pop music and from there made its way into myriad aspects of popular culture.