The Beatles, The Bible, and Charles Manson

The Beatles, The Bible, and Charles Manson July 7, 2023

Charles Manson made strange connections between The Bible and The Beatles.
Charles Manson made strange connections between The Bible and The Beatles. Images public domain/Pixabay.

On August 8th, 1969, the free-love hippie era of the 60s ended in bloodshed. Actress Sharon Tate and four of her friends were found massacred in her Hollywood home. Tate had been stabbed 16 times. She was eight months pregnant.

This murderous rampage continued over the next two nights, with at least two more deaths before the authorities caught the perpetrators. They were a cult with around 100 (mostly young female) followers, led by the charismatic and dangerously unstable Charles Manson. And his motives surprised everyone, as a deluded mix of Beatles lyrics and Bible passages.

“Is it a conspiracy that the music is telling the youth to rise up against the establishment because the establishment is rapidly destroying things? The music speaks to you every day, but you are too deaf, dumb and blind to even listen to the music. It is not my conspiracy. It is not my music. I hear what it relates. It says ‘Rise.’ It says ‘Kill.’ Why blame it on me? I didn’t write the music.”
Charles Manson, Parole Hearing (1992)

Who Was Charles Manson

Charles Milles Manson booking photo for San Quentin State Prison.
Charles Milles Manson booking photo for San Quentin State Prison. Public domain.

As with most cult leaders, Charles Manson fancied himself as a guru with a fresh ideology to spread. However, his greatest hindrance was his inability to stay out of trouble, bouncing around correctional institutions for a sizeable portion of his life. From 1961 to 1967, he was in and out of jail, most notably for a forged U.S. Treasury check. During this period, Manson became heavily inspired by L Ron Hubbard and even identified as a Scientologist for a brief spell.

When he was finally released, Manson stepped out into the middle of the flower power counterculture explosion. The LSD-driven minds of the era were ripe for unorthodox information, and Charles preached to anyone who would listen, telling them that Jesus and Satan were coming together to judge the end of the world. He swiftly earned his first collection of followers, eventually anointed as The Manson Family.

As these sermons continued, The Family and Manson’s strange philosophies grew. He informed his commune that they were the reincarnation of the original Christians. According to former member Susan Atkins, they quickly believed that Charles Manson was a representation of Jesus Christ and everything he said was the word of God.

All of which was harmless enough, with many of Manson’s early friends describing him as a “nice guy”. But something snapped in Charlies’ head when he first heard the Beatles’ self-titled ninth-studio record, otherwise known as The White Album. Manson believed these lyrics hid subliminal messages just for him, which had everything to do with the Bible.

“Charles Manson interpreted that Helter Skelter was something to do with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. I still don’t know what all that stuff is; it’s from the Bible, Revelations. I haven’t read it, so I wouldn’t know. But he interpreted the whole thing, and arrived at having to go out and kill everyone. It was frightening, because you don’t write songs for those reasons.”
Paul McCartney, The Beatles Anthology (2000)

The Bible’s Revelations

The Vision of John on Patmos by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.
The Vision of John on Patmos by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Public domain.

Inarguably the most challenging song in the Beatles’ discography was the second-to-last track on The White Album, namely Revolution 9. Here, John Lennon indulged in an 8-minute avant-garde sound collage without melody or focus. But while the majority of listeners quickly skipped the abstract drag, Charles Manson heard deeper details, connecting the Revolution 9 title with Revelation 9 in the Good Book.

The Book of Revelation is the final section in the New Testament, fittingly describing the world’s end. And to Manson’s credit, there were some curious comparisons to Revelation 9 and the Beatles. With the right amount of drugs, it all might make some sense.

And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.
Revelation 9:1

Charles Manson likened the Beatles to the four angles, himself as the fifth.

And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth; and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.
Revelation 9:2-3

The mention of locusts and scorpions was an allusion to bugs, which, of course, could also include beetles. Furthermore, Manson was a Scorpio, justifying his self-appointed prophetic status. Finally, the “pit” was deemed an instruction to build a bunker.

And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
Revelation 9:7-8

The Beatles were famous for their long hair, causing chaos with their mop-top cuts in the early-60s, a style they only continued to grow throughout the years.

And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.
Revelation 9:15

Back to the four Beatles and the “third part of men” were the white section of society, according to Manson. We will go into more detail about that later.

And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
Revelation 9:17

Finally, the “Breastplates of fire” were guitars. The mouths that “issued fire and smoke and brimstone” were their vocalised lyrics.

“It has nothing to do with me. Manson was just an extreme version of the people who came up with the ‘Paul is dead’ thing or who figured out that the initials to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ were LSD and concluded I was writing about acid.”
John Lennon, Playboy Interview (1980)

The Beatles’ Revolutions

The Beatles said Manson was "barmy".
The Beatles said Manson was “barmy”. Public domain.

The Revolution/Revelation connection was merely the key which unlocked Charlie’s full madness.

Within the Revolution 9 song in question, Manson misinterpreted various samples as calls to do something greater. The sounds of gunfire. Lennon shouting, “Rise!” (which was actually “Right!”). Not to mention the album’s association with the colour white so soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. These factors prompted Manson to prophesise about an inevitable apocalyptic race war where the black population would rise against the caucasians.

Manson’s insane white supremacy sermon didn’t end there either, as his motivated mind perpetually trapped itself within deeper webs of self-serving Beatles hypothesis. Rocky Raccoon is the only lyrical example that directly mentions the Bible, but Charles was more interested in the derogatory term for a black person one could derive from the title. Another similar term would be that of Blackbird, which was actually a pro-black civil rights song. And then there was Harrison’s tune Piggies, a slang famously used to degrade authority.

As they waited for the prophecy’s fulfilment, Charles used other Beatles songs in further contexts. For example, Lennon’s Sexy Sadie became the Family Name for one of his most notorious followers, Susan Atkins, while McCartney’s Helter Skelter evolved into the title for the imaginary revolt itself. But eventually, Manson grew bored of naming things, and he decided they would start the fight themselves, stating, “It looks like we’re gonna have to show blackie how to do it”.

What followed was the Tate–LaBianca murders, orchestrated by Manson and carried out by his minions. Six victims lost their lives in total. And upon the walls, scrawled in blood, were incorrect variants of Beatles lyrics. Rise. Pig. Healter Skelter.

Several months later, Charles Manson and his accomplices were caught and locked up, serving life sentences. Manson died in prison at age 83 in 2017. But, as with every murder case, no amount of justice could revive the dead. And no matter who was behind bars, the Los Angeles scene would never feel safe again.

“I murdered them all. I’m God and I killed everyone. Now what?”
Charles Manson, Geraldo Rivera Special (1988)

And in the End…

Charles Manson died in prison at age 83.
Charles Manson died in prison at age 83. Public domain.

Manson embodied the quintessential cult leader: a magnetic narcissist whose inflated sense of superiority and delusional promises convinced followers of his spiritual authority. Yet, in retrospect, we can study figures like Charles Manson to help us to identify warning signs, avoiding such a mess in our futures.

We must always remember that anything, even the fun-loving songs of the Beatles, can be distorted to exploit the vulnerable. This unfortunate reality is particularly forceful regarding revered religious texts, such as The Bible.

The line between cults and religious sects is a delicate one. Throughout history, we’ve witnessed instances where ego-guided men have perverted holy words to satisfy their hunger for authority. Whether priests, conspiracy theorists, or cult commanders, they are self-proclaimed leaders who declare access to higher information. They cherrypick research and twist cherished teachings into manipulative ideologies designed to snag paranoid truth-seeking individuals. And as more people join, an impression of belonging within a community intensifies. The influence builds momentum. They generate additional power.

While some of these scenarios may originate from good intentions, others, like the Manson Family, end in tragedy. Hence, we must view the above as a cautionary tale, emphasising the need to scrutinise any hypothesis, doctrine, or alleged godhead prophet. We have to engage in critical thinking to prevent a fall into the distortion of material presented by malicious individuals or organisations. Otherwise, we risk losing ourselves to a misguided idolisation of anyone with a message. Even someone like Jesus Christ. Even someone like John Lennon. Even someone like Charles Manson.

“It was upsetting to be associated with something so sleazy as Charles Manson.”
George Harrison, The Beatles Anthology (2000)

“I knew Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, and, God, it was a rough time.”
Ringo Starr, The Beatles Anthology (2000)

About Jared Woods
Born in South Africa and now homeless as a nomadic something or other, Jared Woods does whatever he wants. He has authored numerous books, including the spiritual philosophy texts known as the "Janthopoyism Bible". Follow Jared on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @legotrip You can read more about the author here.

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