Radiohead, 9-11 and the Esoteric “Burn the Witch”

Pick up a copy of my book, if you like this analysis by clicking the image.

Pick up a copy of my book, if you like this analysis by clicking the image.

By: Jennifer Sodini and Jay Dyer

After a period of silence, Radiohead has reappeared with a new single after a curious marketing pitch, removing their social media profiles from public view.   The new single, “Burn the Witch” is garnering much media attention, particularly in regard to the enigmatic lyrics and symbolism presented in the video.  Pitchfork elaborated on the coded lyrics in a political commentary, writing:

…the “Burn the Witch” video, which ends up resembling a bit of vintage UK cinema far more familiar to non-British viewers: ’70s horror film The Wicker Man. Teased since the mid-’00s, the song finds Thom Yorke intoning ominous commands like “Stay in the shadows/Cheer at the gallows” and “Abandon all reason/Avoid all eye contact.” Arriving at the current chaotic moment in global politics, though, and set in the quaint visual context of “Trumpton,” the “Burn the Witch” video plays as a pointed critique of nativism-embracing leaders across the UK and Europe, perhaps even the show’s near-namesake stateside (Donald Trump, anyone?).  

In that sense, “Trumpton” reflects the mythical small-town “family values” often championed by the sort of right-wing politicians who, let it be said, have never exactly been Radiohead’s cup of tea. The connection between “Trumpton” and far-right politics became explicit in 2014, when a Twitter user with the handle @Trumpton_UKIP began poking fun at the right-wing, populist UK Independence Party—and a UKIP politician called for a ban on the spoof account. Sad!

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You can read the Pitchfork article in its entirety by clicking here, but we thought it would be interesting to analyze the mystical/esoteric significance of the video – since that’s our area of expertise and interest.

The video begins and ends with a blue jay singing, and if you’re piqued by the political element of the video – perhaps this could be alluding to the fact that social media has played such a huge presence in this particular political climate since this bird resembles the Twitter logo, or this may be a reference to @Trumpton_UKIP.  The bird also bears an eerie similarity to the opening montage of  David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (as well as the close of Lynch’s Blue Velvet).  Both Lynch works present idealized America as a dreamland with a dark, occult underbelly masked by conventionalism and hypocrisy.   Radiohead’s video also presents Puritan America (and thus idealized America with its Puritan work ethic and values) as a hypocritical monstrosity, yet foisted upon the global stage as the “model village.”  

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However, from a metaphysical point of view – the blue jay’s spirit is an interesting element to begin and end with regardless. Blue jay’s have the ability to mimic hawk calls as a ploy to lure these birds of prey away from jay’s nests – a blue jay’s totem spirit is known for loquaciousness, and the gift of gab. Common vocations of  the blue jay totem are sales people, lawyers, politicians, public speakers, and teachers. Even from a mystical point of view, there seems to be an air of political undertone.

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From here, we are taken into a small town – where it seems the mayor of the town is dressed in a rather Masonic garb (see picture above) and is having a discussion with his “village,” giving them a pep talk to be on their best behavior as a rather dapper man is chauffeured into their town.  The pilgrim’s colony is an extension of the British Empire, illustrated by the man in the bowler hat, as time shifts from post-industrial revolution Britain to colonial U.S. , where the puritan work ethic has given rise to a massive labor force concerned with its jobs (“jobes”), thus the Trumpton (Trumpt0wn) reference.

Women are then shown dressing a Maypole (interestingly, the video was released a few days after Beltane), which has a Pagan history, and in The Wicker Man film, the sexuality behind this symbol/tradition is the basis for a large part of the storyline. According to PaganWiccan.com:

“It is believed that the earliest Maypoles were actually living trees, rather than just being a cut pole, as we know them today. Oxford professor and anthropologist E.O. James discusses the Maypole and its connection to Roman traditions in his 1962 article, The Influence of Folklore On the History of Religion. James suggests that trees were stripped of their leaves and limbs, and then decorated with garlands of ivy, vines and flowers as part of the Roman spring celebration. This may have been part of the festival of Floralia, which began on April 28th. Other theories include that the trees, or poles, were wrapped in violets as homage to Attis and Cybele.”

There’s not much documentation about the early years of this celebration, but by the middle ages, most villages in Britain had an annual Maypole celebration going on. In rural areas, the Maypole was typically erected on the village green, but a few places, including some urban neighborhoods in London, had a permanent Maypole that stayed up all year round.

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We  then see a man painting a red “x” on a door which is a reference to the Plague cross – could this refer to a plague on both houses politically speaking?  It could also be a reference to the blood of the lamb in the first Passover where the Israelites were spared the Angel of Death as Egypt’s firstborn were killed (see Exodus 12).

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At times of plague, it was common to mark the doors of victims of the disease with a large painted cross, either in red or black paint. In later times, large printed crosses were often affixed to doors. Daniel Defoe reported, at the time of the Great Plague in 1665, that the Lord Mayor of London, in his regulations, stated:[1]

“That every house visited [by the disease] be marked with a red cross of a foot long in the middle of the door, evident to be seen, and with these usual printed words, that is to say, “Lord, have mercy upon us,” to be set close over the same cross, there to continue until lawful opening of the same house.”

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Later in the video we also see six men wearing deer masks holding athames, conducting a rite in a magic circle around a woman who is tied up, yet unharmed (see photo above).

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What’s interesting to note in that in the film Eyes Wide Shut a magical circle ritual is conducted, but the masked/cloaked members of the circle are female – with a man in the middle. Eyes Wide Shut was quite controversial because Stanley Kubrick, died shortly after – and many believe it was an expose of the satanic rituals, and sex magick rites performed by the wealthy elite.  Some authors such as Peter Levenda has proposed a revisionary thesis in regard to the Salem Trials – that the real practitioners of sorcery were the elite New England families who practiced Satanism under a cloak of religious puritanical piety.  Levenda writes:

“In her The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age (Dame Frances Yates) makes an interesting, if daring, claim that the Puritan movement owed much to occult ideology current in New England at the time, with connections to Pico della Mirandola, Cornelius Agrippa, and other saints of the occultist canon. This form of occultism, known as Christian Cabala to historians, was an amalgamation of the Jewish Cabala with Muslim and Christian elements….Many of New England’s practicing alchemists were Yale and Harvard graduates who continued their experiments into the 1920s.  These alchemists served as chief justice of Massachusetts, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, president of Yale College, and president of the Cincinnati Medical Society.” (Sinister Foces, Vol. 1, pgs. 16-7)

With the political sub-current of the video, tied to the esoteric symbolism perhaps the inversion here is that the “witch” is the politician/controller – not necessarily the small town folk who are adept at magical practice and trickery. There is one scene where a baker’s pie is shown with a baby calf still bleeding inside of it…perhaps a nod at the gluttony, and greed of the elite at the expense of the innocent?

The Book of Job begins with an introduction to Job’s character—he is described as a blessed man who lived righteously in the Land of Uz. The Lord’s praise of Job prompted Satan to challenge Job’s integrity, suggesting that Job served God simply because God protected him. God removed Job’s protection, allowing Satan to take his wealth, his children, and his physical health (but not his life) in order to test Job’s character. Despite his difficult circumstances, he did not curse God, but rather cursed the day of his birth. And although he anguished over his plight, he stopped short of accusing God of injustice.  The effigy is then lit as a burnt offering of human sacrifice.

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Album art with the “pool of blood” based on Moore’s narrative of government staged terror.

Radiohead is no stranger to the notion of pre-signifying future events in their artwork.  Noted author Chuck Klosterman proposed soon after 9/11 that the band’s album Kid A (released prior to 9/11) appeared to have eerie coincidence with the fateful terror events.  Couched in the claims of “climate fear,” the album appears to have a much darker significance.  Klosterman wrote:

“The first song on Kid A paints the Manhattan skyline at 8:00 A.M. on Tuesday morning; the song is titled “Everything in Its Right Place.” People woke up that day “sucking on a lemon,” because that’s what life normally feels like on the Manhattan subway; the city is a beautiful, sour, sarcastic place. We soon move onto song two, which is the title track. It is the sound of woozy, ephemeral normalcy. It is the sound of Jonny Greenwood playing an Ondes Martenot, an instrument best remembered for its use in the Star Trek theme song. You can imagine humans walking to work, riding elevators, getting off the C train and the 3 train, and thinking about a future that will be a lot like the present, only better. The term KID A is Yorke’s moniker for the first cloned human, which he (only half jokingly) suspects may already exist. The consciously misguided message is this: Science is the answer. Technology solves everything, because technology is invulnerable. And this is what almost everyone in America thought around 8:30 A.M. But something happens three and a half minutes into “Kid A”. It suddenly doesn’t feel right, and you don’t exactly know why. This is followed by track three, “The National Anthem”

This is when the first plane slams into the north tower at 470 mph.

“The National Anthem” sounds a bit like a Morphine song. It’s a completely different direction from the first two songs on KID A, and it’s confusing; it’s chaotic. “What’s going on?,” the lyrics ask. “What’s going on?” It gets crazier and crazier, until the second plane hits the second tower (at 9:03 A.M. in reality and at 3:42 in the song). For a moment, things are somber. But then it gets more anarchic. (Reader’s Note: You might want to consider playing KID A right about now, since I’m not always so good at explaining shit like this). Which leads into track four, “How to Disappear Completely.” This is the point where it feels like the world is possibly ending. People try to convince themselves that they are not there. People keep repeating: “This isn’t happening”. People are “floating” (read: falling) to the earth. We are told of strobe lights and blown speakers; there are fireworks and hurricanes. This is a song about being burned alive and jumping out of windows, and this is a song about having to watch those things happen. And it’s followed by an instrumental piece without melody (“Treefingers”), because what can you say when skyscrapers collapse? All you can do is stare at them with your hand over your mouth.

Time passes. It’s afternoon. KID A’s side two, if you have it on vinyl. Action is replaced by thought. The song is “Optimistic, ” a word that becomes more meaningful in its absence. It has lyrics about Ground Zero (“vultures circle the dead”), and it offers a glimpse into how Al Qaeda members think Americans perceive international diplomacy (“the big fish eat the little ones, the big fish eat the little ones/Not my problem, give me some”). Track seven, “In Limbo” is about how the United States has been shaken out of its fantasy, with “nowhere to hide,” finding only “trap doors that open, I spiral down”

Upon first reading, it seems a bit of a stretch – isn’t this merely an author’s interpretation of the album and its artwork, with no real substance to the claim?  When we dig a little deeper, we discover some surprising connections, especially when we look at album artist Stanley Donwood’s inspiration:

“The red swimming pool on the album spine and disc was inspired by the 1998 graphic novel Brought to Light by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz, in which the number of people killed by state terrorism is measured in 50-gallon swimming pools filled with blood. Donwood said this image “haunted” him during the recording of the album, calling it “a symbol of looming danger and shattered expectations.”  (Link)

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Alan Moore, famed esoteric artist, appears to have based his 1988 graphic novel on the noted book of Col. L. Fletcher Prouty, The Secret Team, detailing the CIA’s covert false flag (and staged) events.  Also titled in the series is “Secret Team.”  

And Donwood writes:

“In a book called ‘Brought to Light’ by Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz the numbers of people killed by CIA-sponsored state terrorism is measured in swimming pools. The average human body holds a gallon of blood. An Olympic swimming pool holds fifty gallons. The pools mount up through the book’s narrative, reaching a number I no longer wish to recall. This image haunted me throughout Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ project, and here I’ve coupled it with a scary bear; the record’s iconic image, and a symbol of looming danger and shattered expectations.”

In conclusion, Radiohead’s video and song constitute a critique of American exceptionalism, consumerism as a result of the Protestant/puritan work ethic and luxurious lifestyle that resulted from industrialization and corporatism, leading to (in the video producer’s mind), a xenophobic perspective of anti-immigration (“Trumptown”).   Behind this political veneer, however, there is a deeper current of an occultic elite that control the engine of American prosperity for a nefarious agenda, where the models build models – puppets building puppets, signifying simulacra  layers veiling the real power structure.  Far from being a “Christian” nation, Radiohead’s song seems to mirror that of Lynch, that the CIA is actually in the background (i.e., the “secret team” reference) functioning as the shadow government that was behind the mass ritual of 9/11 as a version of the towering inferno known as Wicker Man.  

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12 Comments on Radiohead, 9-11 and the Esoteric “Burn the Witch”

  1. Great conclusion. My favorite band. Also a tight song.

  2. Very compelling stuff! The blue jay probably is just a twitter reference, but in my experience they are rather nasty birds: quite beautiful, but in reality they are scavengers, predators of weaker birds, and very noisy and often annoying. They have a curious nature though, and will follow a person through the woods for periods of time; much more interested in humans than other birds.

    In my mind they occupy an interesting niche in nature too: not quite a song bird, not quite a crow; but something in between. Very common in the north woods…

  3. james grey // May 6, 2016 at 12:07 pm // Reply

    music video director Chris Hopewell made the 2012 film A Fantastic Fear of Everything (that title is neuro-linguistic programming) starring Simon Pegg as a children’s author with psychoneurosis from childhood trauma. Chris Hopewell vimeo is an A-Z of occult symbolism note the Honda Acura advertising. Acura is an ancient word for Mercury the god of precision and btw your unconscious mind already knows that. This is the occult arts of subliminal ads, unconscious influence, and consumption hooking on to you like a giant invisible vampire squid

  4. Michael Sean // May 6, 2016 at 7:55 pm // Reply

    Trumpton was a fictional village which was part of a trio of British children’s shows based around the fictional villages of Trumpton, Camberwick Green, and Chigley. An idealised version of British rural life like Eailing studios films, but more bizarre. Many images in all three shows connect in some way to the esoteric.

  5. Nice work Jay.

    Jethro Tull (Ian Anderson) is also one of the top musical catalogs of the true esoterica over the past half century. Long before Radiohead came along IA had all the goodies. Far from the only one though. Doors, (Jim Morrison knew what was what), Jimi, Beatles (the John Lennon side of things there), Led Zeppelin (Robert Plant lyrics) U2 (yes, freaking Bono), Police, R.E.M, Tori Amos, Madonna are some of the others…and also some lesser knowns. But not a huge number really, quite a large percent of real musical geniuses actually have become major stars, just because self-actualized creative genius and truly advanced and awakened perception are very, very uncommon in this world. Among the newer ones Katy Perry actually rates…she’s got quite a lot although she doesn’t really seem to explore much new ground musically and the music itself feels overly mainstreamed/Disneyfied to me. Adele? Nope. She’s a sleeper.

    As far as other relative newcomers, I really like this guy out of London named Tom Vek. Take a few minutes and check out the Vek video “Sherman (Animals in the Jungle)” song and video on the youtube, it’s an strange esoteric gem of a video and a kicking hit tune. I can’t listen to Vek music too much, he’s total genius and so cool.

  6. victoria // May 8, 2016 at 3:14 pm // Reply

    the blue jay could be a nod to project bluebird http://www.wanttoknow.info/bluebird10pg

  7. Scott Ewing // May 12, 2016 at 11:28 am // Reply

    This may be a stupid question – but have you ever covered the thematics in ‘The Saint’ (Val not Roger)

    – and Chain Reaction ( Keanu ) ?

  8. … both pre-9/11 Films.

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