Sheep go to Heaven, Goats go to Hell: The Occult, Goats, & Metal

Figure 1. Are they really evil? Photo courtesy of Dapple Hill.

According to cultural references, Cake got it pretty right when they sung that “sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell”. Goats have had a bit of a bum rap in culture. The catch phrase has moved in movies from ‘The butler did it’ to ‘I knew it was the bloody goat’. But, it’s not all bad; in American Football (Gridiron for the uninitiated) the GOAT is the greatest of all time. But, for the most part they’re problematic and their cheeses tastes like they smell. I’d never tasted a smell until haloumi. Goats can be difficult little pricks; you’ll know this if you’ve ever tried to keep one fenced in. But they’re also incredibly cute and full of personality. Yet, they are still considered to be the Devil’s lawnmower.

By now, the more kvlt amongst you have already thought of Baphomet. Like a lot of cultural references, this one gets messy, so you’ll have to make do with what I’ve pieced together. So, there were these Knights Templar; these guys were an elite fighting force. However, (because no one expects the Spanish Inquisition) they were captured, and subsequently tortured. Wrongly accused of worshipping false idols, several of them ‘confessed’ under torture to worshiping a figure, named after several different versions of the Latin word Baphomet. They described this idol in a variety of different ways, a cat, a severed head, and a goat-thing. This was then depicted by an occultist and ceremonial artist (and not the David Copperfield kind who hides the Empire State Building), Éliphas Lévi in 1856 (see figure 2). Since that time, the goat pentagram motif has become more popular (and sometimes annoying) just like Che Guevara and Chairman Mao T-shirts, coffee mugs, and posters on angsty teenagers’ walls.

Figure 2. Éliphas Lévi’s Goat Pentagram (retrieved from Wikipedia)

Satanism has, for better or for worse, been long associated with Heavy Metal. For example, the perfectly reasonable use of kick ass imagery and lyrical content (eg the album covers of Coven to certain lyrical interpretations of Behemoth), Satanism or at least anti-Christian views have been a treasure trove from which to draw upon. On the other hand, there is a ridiculous, assumed relationship, such as claims that KISS stands for Knights in Satan’s Service. Another example is Ronnie James Dio popularising the use of the Italian malocchio (although Beatles fans will love to tell you that Lennon did it first) being mistaken as Devil horns. Then there’s nuttier than squirrel turd Varg Vikernes (among others), who set alight churches. I could go on, but, luckily for the time-pressed among you, I won’t.

As to where it all began, there is a long historical relationship between not only Metal and Satanism, but also the Blues and Satanism. As outlined by Helen Farley, “from the beginning, blues was known as the ‘devil’s music.’”(1), and from these beginnings, many a Blues player has been accused of making a deal with the devil at the crossroads; their souls in exchange for supernatural musical abilities and fame. Through these so called ‘deals with the Devil’, Blues has had a long, misguided association with the cloven hooved one. To a certain extent, many Blues players have enjoyed this relationship; figuring that if they were going to be associated or accused of devilry, then they would use it to get bums on seats (2). In my mind, this definitely draws parallels to Metal, and, in fact,  a fascination with the Blues has inspired many renowned Metal guitarists to make their own ‘deals’. As Farley stated, and I totally agree, “this posturing was more a rebellion against polite society than a reflection of Satanic belief”. (1)

This musical association with the Devil has certainly been profitable one, almost certainly due to the fact that (and let’s not kid ourselves here) trolling is fun, and the Devil just looks great on a T-shirt. As one of my favourite Metal bands once sung “I’m sick sick sick, of six six six” (‘Working Class Zero’ by Illdisposed). But honestly, put a few demons and skulls on a T-shirt and you can shut up and take my money. And if someone gives me a sideways glance for it, then all the better. But on a more serious note, if you’re wearing the same shirt as me, come and have a beer and a chat.

If you haven’t been paying attention, and you’re still wondering why we’re walking around with goats on our t-shirts, I’ll summarise; as a result of old Éliphas tapping into the symbolism of the goat in 1856, the goat has been associated with Satanism; musicians with ‘supernatural talent’ have been accused of dealing with the devil; and as a result, we’ve put goats on album covers and merchandise. Personally, I have no problem with that. As it stands, the goat is a far more interesting and intelligent animal than most; rebels of the animal kingdom, standing against polite society, eating whatever takes their fancy and allowing no man (or fence) to contain them. If we still had banners, I’d chuck up an image of one and follow it down the highway to hell.

Figure 3. And don’t even get me started on giraffes. Photo of D.I.C. taken by the author.

So maybe it isn’t a bum rap. Sheep may go to heaven and goats may go to hell – but things are sure to be entertaining in the brimstone mosh pit, with goats as our eternal comrades.


(1) Farley, H.S. (2009). Demons, Devils and Witches: The Occult in Heavy Metal Music. In G. Bayer (Ed.), Heavy Metal Music in Britain (pp.83). Surrey, England: Ashgate.

(2)Oliver, Paul. (1990). Blues Fell This Morning: Meaning in the Blues, 2nd ed, Cambridge: Cambridge UP.

About Dave Snell 1 Article
Doctorate in Boganology (well actually Social Psychology from University of Waikato, 2012. Columnist for Nexus (UoW Magazine) 2005-2011 Author of Bogans: Insider's Guide to Metal, Mullets, and Mayhem Featured in the TVNZ show Bogans

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