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Led Zeppelin is one of the most influential rock bands of all time. And one of the band’s most popular songs is “Stairway to Heaven,” a soft rock ballad for most of its genre-hopping runtime. Many Led Zeppelin songs have a risqué edge. But “Stairway to Heaven” features pretty tame lyrics — or does it?

A popular theory claims “Stairway to Heaven” features a backward message in its lyrics; apparently 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
Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin | Michael Putland/Getty Images

The alleged evil messages in ‘Stairway to Heaven’

People have claimed that rock music is evil since its inception. From Elvis Presley‘s risqué 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 — including the Rolling Stones, Alice Cooper, and Marilyn Manson — have even explicitly incorporated satanic themes into their work.

Led Zeppelin wasn’t a band associated with the devil during its prime years. However, many people began to link the group with satanism in the 1980s. According to Salon, this was because a minister named Michael Mills asserted in 1981 that “Stairway to Heaven” contained a backmasked message. Backmasking is the practice of playing a message backward in a song.

Mills claimed that “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

Moreover, Rolling Stone reported that an evangelist named Paul Crouch had a somewhat different interpretation of the song in 1982. Couch claimed the song’s backward 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.”

Is there any truth to the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ satanic theories?

Some people thought these rumors were silly, others were mortified. Many listeners even felt that part of “Stairway to Heaven” does sound like Crouch’s alleged lyrics when played backward.

However, Led Zeppelin’s own Robert Plant dismissed these allegations. “Who on Earth would have ever thought of doing that?” Plant said, according to Rolling Stone. “You’ve got to have a lot of time on your hands to even consider that people would do that.”

According to Rolling Stone, any intelligible words heard in “Stairway to Heaven” when it’s played backward are merely a coincidence.

Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin
Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin | Art Zelin/Getty Images

Phil Collins Explains His Bad Blood With Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin

Furthermore, some people claimed the alleged satanic element of the band wasn’t coming from Plant. Supposedly, Jimmy Page was a devil-worshiper. However, this claim also was just an unsubstantiated rumor, according to Rolling Stone. Page was interested in magic and was obsessed with an occultist named Aleister Crowley. But that doesn’t confirm he worshipped the devil.

From Page’s amazing guitar solos to Plant’s dynamic vocals, Led Zeppelin was one of the wildest rock bands ever. Thanks to its timeless tracks, it’s also one of the most enduring. So it only makes sense that the band inspired some wild and enduring rumors.