The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the convergence of religion, archaeology and extraterrestrials, thanks in large part to author Erich Von Daniken, who had frequent close encounters with legal authorities over the years. This new field of "Pop" archaeology provided a way to use imagery from the Bible and other ancient texts and artwork to support Von Daniken's hypothesis that all this religious stuff over thousands of years developed out of a visit or series of visits by aliens from other planets. Not only did this spawn thousands of books, but it also allowed individuals to read various religious texts without the inconvenience of morality, piety and self discipline getting in the way.
Now that the whole process has come full circle with mysticism and consciousness entangling themselves into this mix, it might be helpful to examine some of the Beatles "close encounters" with quasi-religious and extraterrestrial manifestations that have shown up in their art over the years.
One of the most interesting close encounters was also the earliest. In Mersey Beat, July 6, 1961, there was a piece called, 'Being A Short Diversion On The Dubious Origins Of Beatles (Translated From The John Lennon)'.
John spoke in a rather Biblical style about the origin of the name Beatles:
It came in a vision - a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them 'From this day on you are Beatles with an 'A'. Thank you, mister man, they said, thanking him.
It doesn't take much imagination to classify this Lennon quip as either a religious experience, a close encounter or both. Interestingly the PID expert Joel Glazier (the first voice you hear in Rotten Apple 1) interpreted this event as a meeting with the devil. How shocking it is that Paul would take this image 36 years later and reveal "I'm the man on the Flaming Pie." [And here's another clue for you all, the walrus is Paul]
In the artwork for the Flaming Pie album, Paul even provides an interpretation of what a flaming pie looks like, and damn if it doesn't look like a flying saucer.
In an interview from the February 1965 issue of Playboy Magazine, Paul shares a story of an odd encounter he had with an American girl, which had some religious overtones:
PAUL: "Well, you know, alot of Americans are unbalanced. I don't care what you say. No, really. Alot of them are quite normal, of course, but we've met many unbalanced ones. You know the type of person, like the political Whig."
PLAYBOY: "How do you mean?"
PAUL: "You know... the professional politcal type; in authority sort of thing. Some of them are just mad! And I've met some really maniac American girls! Like this one girl who walked up to me in a press conference and said, 'I'm Lily.' I said, 'Hello, how do you do?' and she said, 'Doesn't my name mean anything to you?' I said, 'Ah, no...' and I thought, 'Oh god, it's one of these people that you've met and you should know.' And so Derek, our press agant, who happened to be there at the time, hanging over my shoulder, giving me quotes, which happens at every press conference..."
GEORGE: "You'd better not say that."
PAUL: "Oh yes, that's not true, Beatle people! But he was sort of hanging about, and he said, 'Well did you ring, or did you write, or something?' And she said, 'No.' And he said, 'Well, how did you get in touch with Paul? How do you know him?' And she said, 'Through God.' Well, there was sort of a ghastly silence. I mean, we both sort of gulped and blushed. I said, 'Well, that's very nice, Lily. Thanks very much. I must be off now.'"
PLAYBOY: "There wasn't a big lightening bolt from the sky?"
PAUL: "No, there wasn't. But I talked to her afterward, and she said she'd got a vision from God, and God had said to her..."
JOHN: "It's been a hard day's night."
PAUL: "No, God had said, 'Listen Lil, Paul is waiting for you; he's in love with you and he wants to marry you, so go down and meet him, and he'll know you right away. It's very funny, you know. I was trying to persuade her that she didn't in actual fact have a vision from God, that it was..."
GEORGE: "It was probably somebody disguised as God."
Moving ahead into the solo years, there is quite a bit of imagery related to outer space and religion.
The artwork to Red Rose Speedway may have a motorcycle on the front cover, but the inner booklet suggests some more sophisticated means of travel. (Note that the picture of Marilyn Monroe serves as yet another backwards reference to the Sgt. Pepper album)
While the "Mind Games" L.P. is credited to John Lennon on the covers and on the labels, the inner sleeve musician credit reads the "U.F. ONO BAND."
The cover of "Mind Games" depicts John walking away from the Mother Ship.
The cover of Yoko's companion album "Feeling the Space" also nods to ancient astronauts.
George Harrison's "Dark Horse" album contains an image of Babaji (also found on the cover of Sgt. Pepper). Wikipedia notes, "Babaji is reputed to be ageless, according to some accounts, and about 500 years old around the late 1800’s, according to Swami Pranabananda." The human body is not built for that kind of longevity.
That same year John Lennon and Ringo Starr released albums around the same time. Lennon's "Walls and Bridges" featured this strange announcement.
Although this might simply be interpreted as a tie-in to Ringo's "Goodnight Vienna" album since both were promoted together, May Pang reported John's UFO sighting as an actual incident. "Walls and Bridges" also contains the song "#9 Dream," which could be interpreted as an encounter with a spiritual or extraterrestrial being.
Ringo's "Goodnight Vienna" gave us an in your face extraterrestrial connection.
The doctored photograph from the 1951 Science Fiction classic "The Day The Earth Stood Still" resulted in a revamping of the top of the Capitol Records Tower to promote the release. The name of the character in the film whose body now features Ringo's head was Klaatu. A little over a year later, a mysterious band called Klaatu released an album featuring the song "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" prompting rumors that it was actually a pseudonymous Beatles album.
Paul continued the space theme on the project McGear, a close collaborative effort with his brother Michael which featured the beautiful track, "The Man Who Found God On The Moon." The next Wings album was, of course, "Venus and Mars" with its mention of Starship 21ZNA9 and "Spirits of Ancient Egypt."
There are many other references that I could add to this list, but one of the most compelling is found on Wings "Back To The Egg" album. Obviously the front cover features an outer space theme, but the real gem is found on the album's inner sleeve.
This picture is from the interior dome of the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, Turin, Italy, the place where the alleged shroud of Jesus resides.
A recent issue of Guideposts Magazine revealed a close encounter that a mission church in Karuizawa, Japan had with John Lennon in the mid 1970s. In the article, Carol Fleenor, the minister's wife admitted that she felt judgmental towards the Ex-Beatle and Yoko as they rolled up to the church on bikes. But, in the end she was disarmed by John's humility and patience. One church member even asked John about his "more popular than Jesus" statement that caused a storm in America in 1966. John's response was "When we talk to reporters, we play around with them." He added, "We're just a music group. Don't people know that Jesus is far greater than we are?" I'm a little suspicious about the quotes, but whatever John said must have endeared him to the church people.
Paul McCartney also showed respect for traditional religious values recently on his trip to Israel when he lit a candle at the Church of the Nativity.
Former Apple Executive Ken Mansfield has been speaking at several churches in recent years about his work with the Beatles, his transformation as a Christian and his perspective on an illness from which he was not expected to survive. In at least one of his messages available on video Mansfield declares that at least one of the two remaining Beatles will profess belief in Jesus before he dies. "Mark my words," Mansfield challenged as he made the pronouncement. I never mark people's words. It is just something I do not do.
We can look all around and see numerous connections between art and ancient mysteries, but the work of the Beatles, collectively and individually seems to evoke these ideas more than most. I suspect that ancient mysteries are at the heart of the Beatles mystery.