The Beatles HELP! Film, shot in 1965 in various locations around the world, received critical reviews over the years. This film, like the Beatles blockbuster hit a year earlier “A Hard Days Night” had an accompanying soundtrack album.
The Help Soundtrack album was photographed by Robert Freeman, and the final product had a few versions depending on the label and country released. Capitol Records US version is below, and for the purpose of this article I will be referencing this version of the HELP! Cover.
The first thing you may notice is that the Beatles are not spelling out HELP with their arm positions. Are they using Semaphore? Well, unless they are spelling NVUJ, it doesn’t seem to be semaphore either (unless it is some sort of acronym??) . Whatever it was, however it came to be used- this particular album cover did become iconic in the Beatles legend, as did so many other album covers the boys released in their frenzied, roller-coaster ride to the toppermost of the poppermost. Let’s take a look at the “official” explanation of the iconic arm positions of the Beatles on the HELP! album for guidance.
According to wiki:
The album cover features the Beatles with their arms positioned to spell out a word in flag semaphore. According to cover photographer Robert Freeman, “I had the idea of semaphore spelling out the letters “HELP”. But when we came to do the shot, the arrangement of the arms with those letters didn’t look good. So we decided to improvise and ended up with the best graphic positioning of the arms.”
On the UK Parlophone release, the letters formed by the Beatles appear to be “NUJV”, whilst the slightly re-arranged US release on Capitol Records appeared to feature the letters “NVUJ”, with McCartney’s left hand pointing to the Capitol logo. The Capitol LP was issued in a “deluxe” gatefold sleeve with several photos from the film and was priced $1 more than standard Capitol releases at the time.
The arm positions were not anywhere close to spelling H-E-L-P in semaphore. It is quite possible that the Beatles are actually using ritual signs here on their HELP! album cover. Consider the following information about ritual signs:
According to Thelemapedia.com:
Ritual signs are positions assumed by the body, whether physical or astral. Their use is common in Thelemic ritual magick. The following sets of signs were assigned by Aleister Crowley to the various Grades of his order, the A.’.A.’.. The first sets (the Neophyte, elemental grade signs and L.V.X. signs) were derived from the grade signs of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Such signs often have multiple uses and meanings, depending on the context.
The following is a list of the L.V.X. Ritual signs as listed on Thelemapedia
The L.V.X. Signs
- Common title: Osiris Slain. The Cross.
- Letter of LVX: [+]
- A.’.A.’. grade: 5°=6°
- Description: At shoulder level, hold arms straight out at the sides to form a cross.
- Common title: Isis Mourning. The Svastika.
- Letter of LVX: L
- A.’.A.’. grade: 5°=6°
- Description: Right arm is bent at 90°, upper arm parallel with the ground, forearm pointing upwards, fingers extended. Left arm is the same, but with the forearm arm pointing downwards. Head faces to the left and down. Right foot rests on its ball, with the knee bent.
- Common title: Typhon. The Trident.
- Letter of LVX: V
- A.’.A.’. grade: 5°=6°
- Description: Raise arms above the head at an angle of 60° to each other, and throw the head back, as if looking upwards. Stand up on the balls of both feet.
- Common title: Osiris Risen. The Pentagram. Attitude of Resurrection.
- Letter of LVX: X
- A.’.A.’. grade: 5°=6°
- Description: Standing upright, cross the arms over the chest, right over left, so that the open hands rest on the shoulders.
Here we have in 1965, what seems to be a direct link to Crowley’s Thelema once again in the form of yet another iconic Beatles album cover. It appears as though Harrison is holding the “Osiris Slain” ritual position, Starr in “Isis in Mourning”, and Lennon holding the “Typhon” ritual sign.
Again we have to ask- if this is indeed the intended symbolism- was it put forth by the Beatles themselves, the photographer of the photo shoot, Robert Freeman or another nefarious figure(s) working behind the Wizard’s curtain?
With the other themes and mysteries we have explored in thenumbernineblog, you may possibly be wondering why the “Osiris Risen” ritual sign was omitted from the cover. Perhaps that negates the whole thing. On that note, I would like to share the following outtake from this photoshoot in the Swiss Alps.
Here we have Paul in the “Osiris Risen” ritual sign. A theme so common as we have seen. The resurrected god figure. Intriguing isn’t it? Instead on the final Capitol records release, McCartney is featured with one arm pointing skyward, and his left hand pointing directly at the Capitol Records logo.
“Now I find, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve opened up the doors.”
These early occult symbolic gestures seem to get more frequent as we progress into the Beatles psychedelic phase. But here is yet another possible example of an early Beatles reference to Crowley and his teachings. Kenneth Anger was a disciple of Crowley, and around this same time period was constructing his short film “Lucifer Rising”. Jann Haworth designed the costumes for “Lucifer Rising” as well as the Beatles Sgt. Pepper Costumes.
The lettering on this leather jacket worn in the film looks somewhat similar to the HELP! lettering on the cover, but that might be a bit of a stretch, it is just speculation. However, Bobby Beausoleil was cast by Anger to star in the film. Beausoleil would be arrested some years later in connection with Charles Manson. In 1967, Anger and Beausoleil (would that translate to “Sun Boy”?? hmm) would have a falling out. Here is where it gets good. As the story goes,
Anger proceeded to inform the Berkeley Barb underground newspaper that his house had been burgled, and that his camera, props, and footage for Lucifer Rising had been stolen. He subsequently made the claim that Beausoleil was responsible for the theft of the footage. Beausoleil denied the accusation, stating that Anger had spent all the money that had been invested in the film and that Anger had simply claimed it was stolen to avoid being punished by his creditors. In October 1967, Anger then posted a full-page advert in the Village Voice declaring his own death with “IN MEMORIAM. KENNETH ANGER. FILMMAKER 1947–1967”. In this, he was imitating Crowley, who had faked his own death in order to drum up interest for an art exhibition, although Anger also told friends that it was a stunt to protest the limited finances that were available to independent filmmakers. Anger then furthered this publicity campaign by arriving at the New York City office of the Film-Makers’ Collective and burning dozens of his old films, before returning to San Francisco to appear at the funeral for one of the Church of Satan’s parishioners. Source
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. – Charles Caleb Colton
Well, that sounds really familiar doesn’t it? (Recall a very early thenumbernine article Kalediscope eyes, Crowley and the Symbolic Pyramid, where I discussed the “Paul Is Dead” rumor resonating with Crowley’s faked death. Especially since the “PID” rumor went viral on Crowley’s birthday.) And all of this in 1967, around the release of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band when Paul McCartney was supposedly introduced to Kenneth Anger? Were they tossing this idea around? Could the Beatles and/or McCartney have known Anger prior to Sgt. Pepper? Looking at this Help! Cover, I think it is a good possibility. This line of thought can be forged further when you realize what the film itself was all about. In essence, the plot (how ever chaotic and mishmashed as it was) centered around a cult chasing after Ringo and the other boys in order to sacrifice him to the goddess “Kaili”, because he wears the sacrificial ring. Meant to be a comedy spoof- still an interesting notion in this context. The interpretation of the film itself will have to wait for another time.
To Be Continued….