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One Christian Interpretation of "Stairway to Heaven"

Pastor of Iglesia Conexiones, and author of Biblical Prayer for Today's Believers: Transform Your Prayer Life (available on Amazon).

Looking for Relaxation

A couple of months ago, I asked Alexa to play medieval music for me while I painted the walls in my house. From time to time, I like to listen to music that relaxes me—Gregorian chants, smooth jazz, yoga music, natural sounds, etc.

One of the songs Alexa played for me was Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin. I wasn't familiar with the song, but I found the music appealing and the lyrics puzzling and mysterious. So I googled the lyrics, and in just a few seconds I found the song.

Led Zeppelin, January 1975, Chicago

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Listening to Songs Backwards

When I was a teen (sometime between 1993 and 1998), I heard about songs that delivered hidden occult and Satanic messages when played backwards. I figure that Stairway to Heaven is one of those songs I heard about, because I found a lot of material about this online.

I heard some of the recordings that played Stairway to Heaven backwards, and I have to admit that they sound creepy enough—I couldn't get those sounds out of my head for a whole night. However, there are some people who argue that these messages are really not there, but we imagine they are there because it has been suggested to us.

Maybe there's a few Satanists out there who get a kick out of ruffling feathers by playing Stairway to Heaven backwards, but most people I know listen to songs the way they are meant to be heard: forwards. So, in this article, I'm just going to give you my interpretation of the forward lyrics—which I think are dark enough.

But if you want to listen to the song backwards, here's a video of that for you—but please, first listen to the track without reading the suggested lyrics (just put a shirt or a piece of cardboard over your screen) so you can judge for yourself whether anyone would actually get a hidden message by playing the song backwards.

Why Write about It?

Now, why would I try to interpret Stairway to Heaven and write about it? Let me explain. Examining the lyrics of songs I hear and like gives me an opportunity to discern the message of the songs and decide whether I should listen to them at all. For me, this is an exercise in discernment.

Now, I know there's a lot of baggage associated with rock music, Stairway to Heaven, etc. But ultimately, I think that it is possible for us to appreciate a song by what it is in itself—I think this is true of every individual piece of literature, every piece of art, and every song. And since I know next to nothing about many modern artists and musicians, disassociating songs is a lot easier for me than it is for most fans.

Lyrics of Stairway to Heaven

According to songlyrics.com (check out https://www.songlyrics.com/led-zeppelin/stairway-to-heaven-lyrics/), the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven are as follows:

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven

There's a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

There's a feeling I get when I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who stand looking
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it really makes me wonder

And it's whispered that soon if we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason
And a new day will dawn for those who stand long
And the forests will echo with laughter

If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now
It's just a spring clean for the May queen
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There's still time to change the road you're on
And it makes me wonder

Your head is humming and it won't go, in case you don't know
The piper's calling you to join him
Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?

And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold

And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all are one and one is all, yeah
To be a rock and not to roll

And she's buying a stairway to heaven

What Does Stairway to Heaven Mean?

So, what does this all mean? Well, according to what I have read, there's a lot of interpretations of the song. Even the artists themselves don't know what the song means. So, you could say that the song means what you make of it—and still, I think that you could arrive to a more objective meaning by a careful analysis of its lyrics.

Analysis of The Lyrics

The Lady

The first major element in the song is a character identified as "a lady." The point that the writer/singer appears to make about the lady is that she is wrong about how she wants to get to heaven.

The writer tells us that this lady knows "all that glitters is gold"—a contradiction to the popular cliché "all that glitters is not gold."

Because the lady believes that all that glitters is gold, she wants to buy a stairway to heaven. However, her conception of heaven is problematic: she believes that, in heaven, there are stores—and that, even if the stores are closed, she can get what she wants.

Moreover, when this lady tries to read a sign on the wall, she isn't sure what it means because two meanings are possible. In fact, a songbird warns her that sometimes all our thoughts are misgiven. The point, then, is that this lady's perspective is wrong.

At the end of the song, the lady still persists on her ways: she walks shining a white light to show that everything turns to gold, and she still plans to buy a stairway to heaven.

The Writer/Singer

The writer/singer then begins to speak in first person, referring to himself as I. He tells us that when he looks to the west—maybe West—he gets a feeling and his spirit cries for leaving. The reason he gets this feeling appears to be that trees are being burnt.

The writer/singer is also aware of the voices of those who stand looking (most likely, his audience).

The writer/singer begins to talk about himself and the audience:

"And it's whispered that soon if we all call the tune

Then the piper will lead us to reason

And a new day will dawn for those who stand long

And the forests will echo with laughter"

What he appears to be saying is that he and the audience will be led to reason by "the piper" if they call the tune—identify the song being played by the piper. Then it will be a new day and the forests will echo with laughter.

The writer/ singer then says:

"If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't be alarmed now

It's just a spring clean for the May queen

Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run

There's still time to change the road you're on"

The bustle in the hedgerow appears to be a ripple effect of the laughter in the forests, or the response of the audience to the piper: after all, this bustle is "a spring clean for the May queen," who (according to Wikipedia) is a"a girl who rides or walks at the front of a parde for May Day celebrations." In other words, people are celebrating.

The writer/singer then tells us that it is possible to change paths. This possibility is most likely seen by the writer/singer as a good thing: after all, the lady was wrong and trees were burning.

The Audience

As previously mentioned, the writer/singer has told the audience that the piper will lead them to reason—that the piper's tune will bring in a new day and cause the forests to echo with laughter.

Further ahead, the writer/singer tells the audience that the music playing in their heads (perhpahs earworm) indicates that the piper is calling them to join him.

Eventually, the writer/singer expects the audience to join the piper and follow him down the road, which decision will result in their shadows being taller than their souls (that the shadows are taller than their souls—the souls of the aduience and the singer—could indicate that their action of following the piper is more significant than the lady's attempt to reach heaven).

Finally, the writer/singer tells the audience that if they listen very hard, they will finally hear the tune of the piper. When this happens, they will all experience unity and be rocks that do not roll (in other words, rocks at rest).

The Solution

As we have seen, there are a few problems presented by writer/singer:

  1. The lady is materialistic and wrong
  2. The trees are burning
  3. Looking to the west makes him sad

Now, read the lines below, and consider what the solution to the problems is:

"In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven"

"And it's whispered that soon if we all call the tune
Then the piper will lead us to reason"

"Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow and did you know
Your stairway lies on the whispering wind?"

According to the writer/singer, the solution to the problems he presented is music: music that is produced by the songbird, music that is produced by the piper, music that is found in the wind. Moreover, this music appears to be related to nature—it is mostly produced by natural elments (sonbird and wind), and the piper appears to be working together with these elements.

Interpretation of The Lyrics

Throughout the song, the writer/singer is clearly inviting the audience to listen to music that is in harmony with nature. The lyrics, however, do have a romantic and mystical (or spiritual) dimension to them: words such as heaven, soul, and white light point to the song's mystical dimension, and words such as trees, songbirds, brooks, and wind point to the song's romatic view of nature.

Now, we could speculate what all these elements (the lady, the piper, the stairway, heaven, the west, the music, etc.) symbolize (and I'll do that shortly), but what we think it symbolizes may not be what the authors thought it symbolizes or what society world thinks it symbolizes—so, the more we speculate, the more we have a chance of getting it wrong.

We could, for example, do an anlysis of the writers' lives and the themes in their songs to have a more accurate interpretation of what they meant—but we could still get it wrong. And even if we guess what the lyrics meant to the writers', is that the same meaning that audiences in general are getting when they listen to the song? So we must keep this subjectivity in mind simply because the writers haven't come out and said "this is what it means," and because the lyrics are obviously cryptic.

However, based on what the lyrics say of themselves, I think the lady represents materialism and religion in Western culture—which, according to the lyrics, are wrong. Also, I think that the lyrics are inviting the audiences to find spiritual meaning in nature and music, particularly rock'n roll. Due to the presence of mystical elements, it comes accross to me as if the writer/singer is inviting the audience to worship nature through rock'n roll.

Christian Perspective

Here, then, is a question that Christians are like to ask themselves about this song: Can I, as a Christian, listen to this song with a free conscience before God?

Even if we only listen to the song (and avoid watching its sensual performance), I am of the opinion that Christians cannot listen to this song for entertainment with a free conscience before God.

The problem with this song is not Devil worship, but its wrong worldview:

  1. Glory to God and Jesus Christ are absent from the song.
  2. Rock'n roll and nature are elevated to the position of being answers to the spiritual needs of society.

In the end, while I do think songs can stand alone and should be interpreted as separate items from their performers, the truth is that it is sometimes impossible for our minds to completely disassociate the song from the artist's performance and culture—and when that is the case, we need to follow our conscience.

That said, merely hearing the song or sitting down to analyze it may not be a problem in itself—the problem comes when we sit down to enjoy the song and allow the message we receive from it to influence our minds, hearts, beliefs, and behavior.

Different Performances

Watch the two performances of Stairway to Heaven below. How does each performance influence your view of the song?

What do you think about the song? What do you think it means? Write in the comments section below to let us know

Comments

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on December 27, 2020:

Thank you for this detailed look at this song. You certainly covered all the bases.