The identity of the real Sgt. Pepper is a question that Beatlemaniacs have been asking for over 50 years and, given its notoriety, there are countless theories in the ether surrounding the possible identity. One of the most popular beliefs that Beatles fans have been speculating for decades is that Sgt. Pepper’s identity is a man who goes by the name of Aleister Crowley, a person once branded ‘the wickedest man in the world’.
This has been a discussion steeped in mystery, one which is like a lot of things linked to the universe in which The Beatles exist in. The number of wild conspiracy theories attached to anything surrounded the band is truly endless but, undoubtedly, one of the more interesting question marks around The Beatles is from their iconic 1967 album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and, more specifically, who the inspiration was. The number of people that have been rumoured to be Sgt. Pepper is a long list but no name on the list seems more legitimate than the dangerous occultist writer Aleister Crowley.
Crowley’s belief system was labelled as ‘Thelema’, which was more specifically deemed as a new religious movement as well as a “magico-religious doctrine”. It has also been characterised as a form of modern Paganism. Thelema would gift the writer with the title of ‘the wickedest man alive’ but, despite this moniker, there was something about him that allured the likes of The Beatles to him following his death in 1947 when he became immortalised in culture.
In his autobiography, Crowley claimed that his purpose in life had been to “bring oriental wisdom to Europe and to restore paganism in a purer form”. He was influenced by a wide variety of thinkers ranging from eastern religious movements and practices like Hindu yoga and Buddhism to scientific naturalism but one theory is that he was a firm believer in was magic.
There was an alluring factor to Crowley which has seen the likes of David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and more from the world of music pay tribute to him in one way or the other but none more famous than The Beatles‘. The Fab Four included him on their album artwork for Sgt. Pepper, taking up his place at the top left-hand corner on the back row and, although the portrait of Pepper on the album is soldier James Melvin Babington, that hasn’t stopped the theory claiming that the true Sgt. Pepper is Crowley.
The record was released 20 years on from the death of Crowley, which the band seem to draw attention to on the opening line of the album when they sing, “It was 20 years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,” which suggests that they are aligning themselves with the occultist.
This was seemingly confirmed by Lennon’s 1980 interview with Playboy’s David Sheff. In the interview, Lennon seemingly repeats Crowley’s most famous teaching, “Do what thou wilt is the whole of the Law,” when he said, “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 wilt, as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody.”
The fact that Lennon uttered these words suggests that this is more than just another Beatles conspiracy theory like the infamous ‘Paul Is Dead‘ myth and there is some substance to the belief that Crowley is the true Sgt. Pepper.