G.K. CHESTERTON and IRON MAIDEN: An Incredibly Unlikely Juxtaposition

G.K. CHESTERTON and IRON MAIDEN: An Incredibly Unlikely Juxtaposition December 30, 2014

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, English writer, is known for his published works on philosophy, ontology, poetry, plays, journalism, public lectures and debates, literary and art criticism, biography, Christian apologetics, and fiction, including fantasy and detective fiction.

But did you know that he penned a hymn?

And did you know that the heavy metal band Iron Maiden used Chesterton’s lyrics in their recording “Revelations”?

“O God of Earth and Altar” was written in 1906.  Its second verse contains clear references to the Litany from the Book of Common Prayer.  The poem has been set to music more than once; but one popular version is sung to a lovely traditional English melody called “King’s Lynn”, arranged by R. Vaughan Williams in 1906.

But wait:  There’s another version!  Some of the lyrics from Chesterton’s poem introduce the song “Revelations” recorded by–no kidding!–the heavy metal band Iron Maiden.  Here for your musical education and information, is that song.  (Warning:  Turn your speakers down.)

Lest you think that Iron Maiden’s songwriter had had a conversion experience, let me explain:  The succeeding verses deteriorate into what was apparently intended as a warning about the great dangers of religion.

Here, according to the Iron Maiden fan site (spellings uncorrected), are the meanings behind the second half of the song:

1. “the secret of the hangman, the smile on his lips”. the smiling hangman is a tarrot card. it depicts a smiling man, hanged upside down from a tree. In tarrot fortune telling, this card means that a man (symbolizing each person in the song) is manipulated by a woman (symbolizing religion in the song), who wants to harm him and/or take advantage of him and seal his destiny. I asked a girl I know who is deep into that kind of stuff for the meaning of this card in tarrot card telling.

2. “the eyes of the Nile are opening, you’ll see”. Great metaphor for hidden danger. Crocodiles can swim in the water with only their eyes sticking out of it when they are on “hunt mode”. At night, their eyes glow in the dark, and appear like shiny eyes on the surface of the water. The Egyptians reffered to them as “the eyes of the Nile”, which, altough a pretty sight, warn of a great danger hidden under them.

3. the indirect refferance to Succubus is another symbolism of the great dangers of religion. Succubus was medieval folklore ghost, that appeared at night in the dreams of men, having the form of a seductive woman. Men that dreamt of having sex with Succubus died in their sleep. Incubus, the male conterpart ghost, appeared in a woman’s dream and raped her. Succubus was to blame if a man died in his sleep. Incubus was to blame if a woman gave birth to a disformed or handicaped or in any other way strange child. Merlin the wizard for instance was supposed to be the child of a woman and an Incubus.




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