Does ‘Stairway to Heaven’ by Led Zeppelin Include a Satanic Message?

Led Zeppelin are one of the most influential hard rock bands of all time. Ironically, their most popular song might be “Stairway to Heaven,” which is a soft rock ballad for most of its genre-hopping runtime. Many Led Zeppelin songs have a risque edge, but “Stairway to Heaven” has tame lyrics. Or does it?

According to a famous urban legend, “Stairway to Heaven” features a backwards message in its lyrics. Allegedly, the song’s true meaning is Satanic. What is this supposed message? And was there any connection between Led Zeppelin and the occult?

Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin | Michael Putland/Getty Images

The (alleged) evil message in ‘Stairway to Heaven’

People have claimed that rock music is evil and Satanic since its inception. From Elvis Presley’s risque dancing to John Lennon’s comments about Jesus, rock musicians have given the genre’s critics plenty of reasons to get angry. Over the past several decades, some musicians like the Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, and Marilyn Manson have even explicitly incorporated Satanic themes into their work.

Led Zeppelin weren’t a band associated with the devil during their prime years. However, many began to associate the group with Satanism in the 1980s. This was because – as Salon reports – a minister named Michael Mills asserted in 1981 that “Stairway to Heaven” contained a backmasked message.

Backmasking is the practice of playing a message backwards in a song. According to Mills, “Stairway to Heaven” included the backmasked messages “master Satan,” “serve me,” and “there’s no escaping it.” Mills worried that these alleged messages could be absorbed by people’s subconscious minds.

“Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin

Rolling Stone reports an evangelist named Paul Couch had a somewhat different interpretation of the song. Couch said the song’s backwards lyrics were “Here’s to my sweet Satan/The one whose little path would make me sad, whose power is Satan/He will give those with him 666/There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.”

Was any of this true?

Some thought this rumor was silly. Others were mortified. Many listeners felt part of “Stairway to Heaven” does sound like Couch’s alleged lyrics when played backwards.

Led Zeppelin’s own Robert Plant dismissed these allegations. Plant said “Who on Earth would have ever thought of doing that? You’ve got to have a lot of time on your hands to even consider that people would do that.” Rolling Stone says any intelligible words heard in “Stairway to Heaven” played backwards are merely a coincidence.

Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin | Art Zelin/Getty Images

Some claimed the Satanic element of the band wasn’t coming from Plant. Supposedly, Jimmy Page was a devil-worshiper. This claim was just an unsubstantiated rumor, reports Rolling Stone. Page was interested in magic and was obsessed with a Victorian occultist named Aleister Crowley. That doesn’t mean he was worshiping Satan.

From Page’s amazing guitar solos to Plant’s dynamic vocals, Led Zeppelin were one of the wildest rock bands ever. Thanks to their timeless tracks, they’re also one of the most enduring. It only makes sense that they inspired one of the wildest and most enduring rumors in rock history.

Also see: Does a Pink Floyd Album Work as a Soundtrack for ‘The Wizard of Oz’?