Is Hotel California Satanic?
(It’s About Forgiveness)
The simple answer to the question posed in the title of this piece is this:
Not any more or less satanic than you are.
If you are interested in hearing why I say that, read on…
I have been musing a lot about the Eagles and Hotel California over the past month, and that’s what has brought me to actually write this right now. Yet the song is so pervasive and has such a lasting impact on the psyche that I am also never not thinking about it on some level. It’s just that things have finally come to a head.
It all started with watching the Eagles documentary, History of the Eagles, on Netflix with my fraternal twin brother. Really good documentary btw if you haven’t seen it yet, very well done, worth 3 hours of your time. And in all of those 3 hours, there was just one thing that really stood out for both me and my bro and which we discussed at some length and that was the whole Don Felder thing.
Quick summary: Don Felder actually wrote most of the guitar parts for Hotel California while relaxing at a beach rental home on Malibu one day in 1976. He recorded it along with some other songs onto a mix tape which he then sent to Don Henley and Glenn Frey for possible use on their next album. Henley and Frey right away saw the potential in the track of what was to be Hotel California, and they interestingly called it “Mexican Reggae” because it has a Spanish guitar sound and Felder apparently mixed in a reggae drum beat with it.
So the point is that Felder actually wrote a good portion of what most feel to be the Eagles greatest song, their swan song you might say, not to mention one of the greatest rock songs ever, definitely up there with Stairway to Heaven and with a similar theme (getting to that). To make a long, involved story shorter, after much bickering to the point of almost even physical fighting, Don Felder ended up being fired from the Eagles in 2000, apparently for asking Henley and Frey for more money than they felt he was entitled to. The implication was that he was being selfish, not a team player. Fair enough, and we will consider all of this a little further on in this piece. But for now, what my bro and I felt was interesting was that Felder was included in the documentary with not a few clips of him being interviewed about the band’s history. He came across very well, I felt, and there was a moment at the end when he began to cry in reminiscing about the band and what happened to him, and while some might see that as phony or whatever, I didn’t see it that way.
So that’s some back story on where I’m going with all of this, now let’s talk about the song itself, particularly its ominous sound and lyrics…
Listening to Hotel as a kid, I had no idea what it was about, but it scared the shit out of me. You, too? It’s dark ambiance is a given, but then is so much of the “Satanic Rock” of the Seventies has that . So I was not at all surprised to discover that when played backwards (see backmasking) it seems to have satanic messages, not to mention that when played forwards it could be read in a satanic way. But do I really believe that Don Henley, who wrote most or all of the lyrics, consciously planned to write a song praising Satan? Not at all, but neither do the Christian groups who claim that it is satanic; their view apparently is that Satan uses rock artists like Henley to hold unknowing and mentally malleable mortals under his sway.
Henley’s own explanation of the intention behind the words are this : “It’s about the journey from innocence to experience — that’s all.” This was from the Eagles documentary (see also Henley’s interview with Rolling Stone), but apparently he has also said that the song is also a social commentary on the decadent Southern California lifestyle of the mid-70s, a theme which the Eagles also explored in songs like “Life in the Fast Lane” (also on Hotel California) and which Henley also later explored in his solo career on songs like “The Garden of Allah.”
Others have noted that the song could be the account of a drug trip, partly because it begins with the words “warm smell of colitas rising up through the air,” colitas being a slang term for marijuana, and also the “The Hotel California” could be seen as code for “THC.” I do feel this interpretation has validity, especially because the Eagles were all apparently doing pot and cocaine in large quantities in those days. But again, was it intentional on Don Henley’s part? Only if he was high when he wrote it! And he might have been! Joe Walsh has said that cocaine really helped him write, and I think that Henley or Frey might have said something like that, too, in the documentary. (Btw, Joe Walsh deserves his own blog entry, but I did want to say that I always assumed Walsh had more of a role in the creation of the music of Hotel California, but really it was almost all Felder, with Walsh adding some licks and finishing touches.)
Also the words “and I was thinkin’ to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell” at the beginning of the song is actually what any drug trip has the potential to do, to take you to either heaven or hell. Aldous Huxley wrote about this in his book, Heaven and Hell, which is sometimes as a companion volume to Huxley’s more famous work, The Doors of Perception, which was an account of what he experienced while under the influence of mescaline.
So this “trip” into the Hotel California could be heaven or hell, and it most decidedly turns out to be hell, right? Listen, I’ve done drugs too in my life, let me come clean here and just admit this, so I can absolutely grok the despair and hopelessness that the protagonist of the song is relating. Yes, I’ve been to some very dark and tormented places while under the influence, and it has made me question everything more deeply, and hopefully, it has helped me to write something here which can actually be helpful to us all on our inner journeys back to the light.
And so here I would say what scares us about Hotel California is that on some level, we really feel it is true of us — yes, deep down, we feel lost, alone, not able to find our way out of the darkness, trapped. And that, my friends, is hell. And when you’re really in it, like when on drugs, it can seem like an eternity. And yet, it does end, it doesn’t last forever. Which is why I don’t subscribe to the idea of eternal damnation, because I believe that in each of us there is an eternal spark that will eventually light our way back home. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…
So just taking this “drug trip” theory of the song’s meaning a bit further, have you ever thought about this: If the guy can’t escape Hotel California (“you can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave“), then who’s singing the song? Or how is he singing it? Ok, sure, you’re supposed to suspend your disbelief when it comes to art, but in this case, it’s a good question. So is this guy trapped in some infernal realm, or he’s a ghost, and he’s reporting on what happened to him, and it’s a cautionary tale, trying to warn the rest of us? etc.
So anyway, one final theory/interpretation of the song is that it’s all about the founding of the Church of Satan by Anton Lavey in 1969, a theory which is apparently given credence by Anton Lavey’s image somehow showing up on the album cover (see picture above). The especially relevant line in this regard is: “So I called up the captain, please bring me my wine/We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” We won’t go into that thing about how wine is not a “spirit,” because clearly the line was meant metaphorically, and I always thought Henley’s intention was to say that hey, weren’t the Sixties our heyday, so liberating, and now we’re lost in the coke-fuelled disco era…Something like that, right? Like he writes about this particular theme in other songs like The Sad Cafe (made me cry the first time I heard it as a teen) and Boys of Summer. To state the obvious, in addition to be one of rock’s great lyricists, Henley’s also a great social commentator, just in case you didn’t notice. He’s maybe one of the best ever in rock and pop music. So again, did he intentionally plan to write a song advocating the Church of Satan and Anton LaVey? Of course not! And to say that the guy in the window of that picture is Anton LaVey, while an interesting theory, is a bit of a stretch, just as are so many of the conspiracy theories out there.
But — and this is a big BUT, people — did Henley’s mind somehow get taken over by Satan and used as channel for a satanic message? Well, that’s something else, and crazy as this might sound, I do believe there is a distinct possibility in that. Wait! Before you jump all over me for saying that, ask yourself, why is that so preposterous?
Actually, the phenomenon or possession and channeling is pretty well-documented. It really happens, people. One channeled writing that I am particularly fond of and finding useful these days is A Course in Miracles, something which definitely deserves a much fuller treatment than I will give it here (if you’re interested, I do have a blog on it: understandacim.com). A Course in Miracles is a channeled writing, claiming to be the voice of Jesus coming through the mind of a little old lady professor of psychology at Columbia University (her name was Helen Schucman) in the mid-Sixties. The Course took 7 years to transcribe and was not published until the bicentennial year of 1976, the same year, interestingly, that Hotel California was written and recorded.
The essential message of A Course in Miracles is this: We are all at home in God (Perfect Love), but have somehow forgotten this and believe that we are now separate from God. In making that separation real, we have essentially made sin, guilt, and fear, bringing that into our “reality.” In our illusory state of separation, we cannot but think we are sinful because we have made guilt and sin very very real. We have also made the whole world that we seemingly inhabit very very real, and yet Jesus in the Course is telling us that it is all just a vast illusion that is the creation of an apparent split mind. And there is but one way out, and that is through the practice of what the Course calls “forgiveness,” yet it is not forgiveness like we generally think of it.
We generally practice forgiveness like this: You did something to hurt me, but I will forgive you even though you wronged me. The Course teaches that that is not true forgiveness, because it makes “the error real,” meaning it’s coming from a place of victimization. For the Course, true forgiveness is the remembering that, in fact, God is the only reality and so none of this ever really happened because God could never be part of a world of duality/separation. So no one did anything to anyone, it’s all made up, and we’ve forgotten that we actually made it up — all of us, as the one Mind that we all share. And that one mind can do only one of two things: It can choose love (God) or it can choose fear (ego). In fact, the Course would concur with the idea expressed in Hotel that “we are all just prisoners here of our own device.” Yes, by our own mental choices, we can and do create hell for ourselves. Yet we can also choose heaven, too, and for the Course, we do that by practicing forgiveness, which essentially means to lay aside all judgment and accept the idea that “only love is real.” And in doing that, we can “check out” anytime we like from the whole ego game of separation, and finally leave it behind forever, or for forever.
In the meantime, to the extent that we think we’re here and that our body and the world and our individual existence is very real, is the extent to which we believe in a power (call it “Satan,” if you will, or call it “ego”) that can destroy God. And that is why I began this piece by saying that Hotel California is not any more or less satanic than you are. In fact, if you see it as satanic, you can only see that because you have that within yourself.
But the Course says you can re-interpret everything in light of the Holy Spirit, which sees everything through the vision of perfect love and forgiveness. And in that re-interpretation, I choose to see Hotel California as a vehicle by which we can turn more to the light, to the truth of what we really are, which is only Love. Yes, sometimes we must look at our fear, at the hell that we have created, in order to know that we want Heaven, not hell. Yes, sometimes we must be “scared straight” by a “bad” trip or a nightmare or a tormented rock song. These things serve their purpose, people, and we can see it as serving a lower (satanic) purpose, or a higher (Spirit) purpose. It’s your choice. I choose to see it as serving the purpose of bringing us all back to Love. [To be continued…]
A few good videos to watch on this subject…
Nice one about the different theories of what the song means:
A video that tries to show there are Satanic messages in Hotel when played in reverse (backmasked):
Don Felder interview where he talks about his role in the creation of Hotel California:
This one is for my twin bro: Anton LaVey, turns out, was Jewish: http://www.jewornotjew.com/profile.jsp?ID=666 Oy Vey : )
Also, one New Testament verse that is pointed to by Christians who claim that Satan can take over the minds of unbelievers and use them to do his bidding: “Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)