Rock music abounds [from Queen to Grace Slick] with trite references to 'magic'. There is a fair degree of evidence of a deeper reference to the historical practices of magic in the music of Procol Harum. This piece does not seek to make a case for this or indeed try to establish how or why magic should have become a feature of the works of the band. The intention here is merely to go out on a limb, as far as possible, in finding magical and mystical allusions in the works as available to me. If anyone wished to engage in a fun attempt at convincing themselves they could always compile a tape of their favourite versions of the following works for repeated listening.
THE NAME ORIGIN OF THE BAND
It is to be noted that the phrase PROCUL E PROFANI means 'be gone all evil' and has been used in rituals. Latin particularly of the corrupted or 'dog' variety has always been used in rituals. The band name is supposedly dog Latin for the name of a cat. Cats and dogs are known as the familiars of witches. Shape shifting by magically inclined persons is also alleged to be usually as cats and dogs but also sometimes as butterflies [the emblem of the 'Chrysalis' record label which released the UK output from 1971-1977].
THE SONG WORDS (read them here)
A Whiter Shade Of Pale
The miller who told his tale could be 'Arthur Miller' and the reason for the ghostly face could be that it was his tale of the Salem witches and their persecution. Virgins occupy an important position within magical groups and rituals. (a reader's comment here)
Cerdes (Outside The Gates Of)
Phalluses are used as amulets in protection against evil. 'Spewing verbiage up' may refer to 'talking in tongues': being under demonic possession or the utterance of protective spells. Wraith = a spirit body sent after someone by a magical practitioner who seeks to inflict 'psychic attack' on them. More commonly a wraith is a spirit manifestation of someone known to the seer often as a portent of the death of the person whose wraith it is. Pewter painted pot/terracotta cup may refer to the Babylonian devil trap used to capture spirits and also to ward off the evil eye.
Shine On Brightly
Eunuch friend = possible phonetic allusion to 'Enoch'. There is an Enochian system of magic. This was originated by John Dee in Elizabethan England and revived by Aleister Crowley. It is based on communication with spirits and angels through planes or aethyrs of consciousness. Blue = the light of the 'searcher' who is doomed to always 'search in vain' in some versions of the tarot card pack.
In Held 'Twas In I
The notion of a 'wise man's fool' equates to the notion of the Fool in the tarot who knows that he knows nothing and is thus a wise fool.
The Devil Came From Kansas
Silver paper: silver objects form part of magical practice as do metallic objects in general. Silver is particularly used in protection. Cheese: there was a cheese made in the Hebrides on May 1st. and kept until the next Beltane as a charm against the bewitching of milk produce.
All This And More
Lollards: were the agents of the Protestant reformation who, in their twelve conclusions of 1395, firmly stood out against the (Roman Catholic) incorporation of magical or invocational practices in religious ceremony. In particular this document condemned the use of wine, bread, wax, water, salt and pilgrims' staves amongst other things which don't crop up on Procol Harum records.
Long Gone Geek
The cat with a Stetson hat: the American legend of Stackerlee [as in the song 'Stagger Lee' by Lloyd Price] concerns a black man who sold his soul to the Devil in return for a Stetson hat which gave him powers of metamorphosing into animals such as cats. Hubris lead to his downfall after he shot the stealer of the Stetson hat.
Still There'll Be More
Salt: is used to seal bodily openings against magical/psychic attacks and is widely used in magic and ritual in any case. Urine [piss]: has similar connotations of power.
Piggy Pig Pig
The pitcher: may again be a devil trap reference. The evil eye: refers to the power to do damage to strangers from the mere act of staring at them. Its power was believed to be greatest at the time of the new moon. Pigs have, in various cultures, formed sacrifices to the sun, moon and the Earth.
The attempt to conjure up spirits by black magic was known as 'wailing': [I note that die hard fans often copy this out as 'Wailing Stories' on tape lists]. The soup spilling out: equates to the belief that storms at sea were outpourings from the cauldrons of witches. Tower: tarot card reference. Incantations are part of magical protection.
Your Own Choice
Too many women and not enough wine: supposedly there needs to be a correct balance of these elements in ritual ceremonies in covens.
Chapter 21 of The Golden Bough relates how a wicked Jew bewitched the prophet Mohammed by tying knots in a string which he hid in a well. He was rescued from this spell by the Archangel Gabriel.
Cords: are used in spells, which invariably involve knotting, against enemies. They are knotted around wrists, knees etc. in magical weddings and other rituals to increase the flow of blood. Such rituals within covens can result in sexual intercourse for magical purposes without these leading on to the participants being permitted to be partners in the future. A witch who left someone might take the cat as her familiar.
A Rum Tale
'Followed my footsteps': a traditional method of magic was to collect dust from the footsteps of a subject to use in the formulation of spells for the purpose of controlling them.
Thin End Of The Wedge
Wrong slice of the spread: in card pack divination the diviner cuts a 'spread' of cards.
Monsieur R Monde
New Lamps For Old
The title is a reference to the traditional tale of Aladdin and his 'magic lamp' which produced results when rubbed.
Cock robin: pagan sacrifice of a male virgin to ensure fertility of the land. Magic Carpet: is a stock element in eastern storytelling but the main magic carpet was of green silk and belonged to King Solomon and went to whatever place he requested.
Save the world and be the king: more tarot card references. Fool's Gold [Iron Pyrites]: a major testing ground for medieval magical beliefs was the attempt to produce real gold from base metals through alchemy.
Skating On Thin Ice
Playing on the wrong side: 'black magic' is known as the 'left hand path' and 'white magic' as the 'right hand path' hence if black magic is evil then using it is playing on the wrong side. The searcher: tarot.
The magic tooth and so forth may refer to elements held in the gris gris bag used by New Orleans magical practitioners to summon up psychic powers. [cp. the Roger McGuinn song : Lover of the Bayou].
Mark Of The Claw
Witches were thought to have a devil's [claw] mark on their body. Verdicts, in witch trials, were returned by a 'ruling of thumb' such as seeing if the body of the accused would float in water.
The Worm And The Tree
Tree metaphor and mysticism is found in all cultures. The most relevant one here is the 'Tree of Life' in the Jewish Kabbala [like the Catholic Latinate ceremonies this was something which came under threat from the rise of the Lollards].
The Truth Won't Fade Away
It was black it was white: black magic, white magic. There were roles that we played: magical rituals involve role play.
Eye in the middle of my head: the 'third eye' is regarded as, when opened, the area related to telepathy, clairaudience and clarivoyance. In the Chakra system its mantra is OM.
A Robe Of Silk
Robes of silk are worn in ritual ceremonies.
The first three albums feature bells from time to time and the final track of Prodigal Stranger ends with a bell-ringing pattern. Bells were rung to knock witches off their broomstick. Hebrews wore bells on their clothes to ward off evil.
The context of this is fully documented here
For a more general treatment of the characteristics of the music which may render it appropriate for magical practices I refer the reader to: www.kkup.com/bewitched.html: Although they surprisingly refer only to one specific Procol song: Barnyard Story.
Someone out there in the world of illegal music trading has fancied a magical connection as the 1974 BBC Radio 1 concert has traded as Tales With Tangrims and the 1977 Hofstra University concert as Snails and Pentagrams.
Many thanks to Dr C for this
'Beyond the Pale' looks forward to receiving visitors' comment and feedback.
More Procol writings from Sam Cameron