The Lyrics Corner: Therion’s “Cult of the Shadows”

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“La tapallah puluthu, Utukke lemnuti Apkallu”

Therion is one of the most famous acts in Swedish metal. Guitarist and main composer Christopher Johnsson created the band in 1987 and set the table for all of symphonic metal when he explored, alongside plenty of other musicians, the use of orchestras and choirs to add a grandiose effect to compositions.

If you are a casual Therion listener you might have missed out on their lyrics. On closer examination, it can be said that the lyrics are mythical ensembles that employ different resources of occultism to exalt the numerous magic practices and also to support the allegorical language of the most descriptive pieces. The writing style of the band walks a line between mythical speech and incantation of spells; it all adds another layer of perception to their songs.

Thomas Karlsson is a close collaborator to the Therion project and has provided the lyrical topics to all of the albums since 1996. He is a writer of the esoteric and is the founder of an occult organization named Dragon Rouge, rooted in Left-Hand Path philosophy and empiric occultism. In his academic work he has studied the Gothic Kabbalah and its rune system from a historical and metaphysical point of view.

“Cults of the Shadow” is the song we will analyze today in The Lyrics Corner. Released on Theli, this killer cut involves a simple scheme for empowerment through the mix of English, Akkadian, Sumerian and Latin phrases sung by the large choir. The male lead vocals were sung by Dan Swäno and Piotr Wawrzeniuk.

The left-hand path is a common notion in Western Occultism, and this album and this particular song deal with several symbols that are repeated in these multiple traditions. Set, the Egyptian god of the desert, is viewed as a force of chaos; meanwhile, the Sigil of Baphomet and Babel are name-dropped too, in an attempt to reinforce the ethos of this magic framework that deals with an individualistic philosophy. It should be kept in mind that the dichotomy of Left and Right hand paths is not a “good vs. evil” fight; instead they are different sets of practices and studies that reveal different truths in different ways.

Written in a style reminiscent of cryptic occultist books, the lyrics in this song point to the spiritual journey through the  left-hand path magic initiation, the one that employs the Alchemy philosophy frame to use secret codes in order to discover the unseen spiritual world. In fact, “Cults of the Shadow” is one of the confusing books of the occultism author Kenneth Grant (a former student of the famed Aleister Crowley), in which he describes his interpretation of diverse ‘magick’ schools, including some references to Ancient Egyptian religion. It is good to note that Thomas Karlsson’s work is influenced by the Thyphonian school of Grant, and this book, and this song, probably serves as a historical reference to what they are trying to conceive: a path that connects the primitive forces of Chaos with personal enlightenment and the transformation of the soul through the Alchemy.

In the lyrical narrative, this is probably a resume of the story behind the myriad of symbols:

Starting after the putrefaction process, the soul’s initiate (the subject of the lyrics) will cross the Styx river, the border that leads to the Underworld, in an attempt to unveil the alchemic secrets. The foreign and exotic chants reinforce the notion of the dark forces that terrorize and seduce through the walk, and the ancestral beings are named in the form of the Sumerian and Akkadian figures: the Utukke Lemnuti, the demons on those mythologies. The initiate invokes primal forces to gain the ultimate truth and guard himself/herself with pledges to ancestral beings like Apsu, the male principle, and the Apkallu, the Seven Sages of Sumeria; the usage of these symbols was not chosen from a random caprice; conversely, those names represent those kind givers who endowed mankind with the gifts of civilization and understanding. In the end of the lyrics, old Sumerian purification prayers and empowering recitations probably set the mood for a victorious final clash of the initiate against the dark forces, conquering dark through dark.


Secret Chiefs cloaked in wisdom
Dark illuminators of ZYX [1]
Brings the putrefaction process
To lead the soul across the Styx [2].

Ludul bel nimeqi ea [3]
Naramtu dianau Apsu [4].

The Seven Ones of Babel [5]
offer the Grail of Ecstasy [6]
to open the Eye of Shiva
through the Great Work of Ecstasy [7].

Celebrators of becoming
Appears in the Sethian [8] mystery
To turn lead to gold
Through the Great Work of Al-Khemy [9].

The Secret Sign of Mendes [10]
Unveil the Magick of the Goat
Cults of the Shadow
Under Ilan Hizon’s [11] root.

La tapallah puluthu [12]
Utukke lemnuti [13] Apkallu [14].

The Seven Ones of Babel
offer the Grail of Ecstasy
to open the Eye of Shiva
through the Great Work of Ecstasy.

Celebrators of becoming
Appears in the Sethian mystery
To turn lead to gold
Through the Great Work of Al-Khemy.

Erset la tari [15] ki-utu-kam [16]
Adapa baru sar kissati [17]
Ziqqurrat Kutha pet pi Girru
Erset la tari ki-utu-kam [18].

Subigo inimicus [19].

Ludul bel nimeqi ea
Naramtu dianau Apsu.

[1] This symbolizes chaos as an inversion of the standard alphabet.

[2] In Greek mythology, the river Styx was both a deity and the most known of the rivers that border the underworld. The waters of the Styx had miraculous powers and were also the fetid tomb of enraged souls.

[3] This line is a reference to “I Will praise the Lord of Wisdom,” a Mesopotamian poem of an afflicted man that questions his suffering, despite his faithful service to his Gods.

[4] Apsu is the male principle and the waters of the beginning of time in the Enuma Elish myth. He was paired with Tiamat.

[5] Babel is both a symbol for pleasure and the Earth.

[6] Shiva is one of the Three Hindu primary deities. He is both the destroyer and the benevolent. The iconography of Shiva includes a third eye open on his forehead, signifying another level of perception of the spiritual side of everything.

[7] The ecstasy concept deals with trances to transcend the senses. In psychology, it means a loss of self-control.

[8] Set was the Egyptian deity of Destruction and Chaos. It was paired with the Greek monster Typhon. It was the brother of Osiris and the personification of everything that confronted Egypt civilization: the desert, the harsh droughts, famine, the crocodile, and chaos itself. Depending on his mood, he could protect the caravans in the desert or destroy them.

[9] The Alchemy is viewed here as both a philosophical view and a spiritual guidance.

[10] One of the names of the Sigil of Baphomet, an occultist sign that depicts the power of the life force and the opening of a higher state of consciousness from the individual path of the Dark. It put together opposites, so it can be linked to the occultist view of the Alchemy.

[11] In the alternative mysticism of Kabbalah, this is a synonym for the Qliphoth, the Tree of the Death, or the Dark Tree. It’s the opposite of the Holy Sefirot.

[12] It seems it is translated from the Akkadian as “Do not fear to be swallowed.”

[13] The Sumerian equivalent of the demons.

[14] The Seven Sages of Sumeria. They were fish-like demigods created by Enki to improve mankind and establish culture.

[15] “The Land of No Return.” This is the Sumerian equivalent of the Underworld.

[16] A set of Sumerian rituals for purification.

[17] According to the Sumerians, Adapa was the first Sage of Mesopotamia, the first Apkallu.

[18] In Sumerian: “The Ziggurath of Kutha opens the door of fire, the land of no return, the rituals of purification.”

[19] In Latin: “Dominate the enemy.”


Did you like this? Share with us your comments about it, and if you want, suggest another song to examine. Together we can prove that metal lyrics do not all suck.

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