(From the forthcoming book: Black Sabbath: The Illustrated Lyrics Vol 2)
Revised on 11/26/16
“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
The lush, chromatic “Planet Caravan” is a showcase of Black Sabbath's ability to continually cultivate diverse material like aural painters fashioning evocative landscapes beyond the realms of the mundane. Stepping away for a brief moment from the righteous indignation of “War Pigs” and the atramentous portrayal of depression in “Paranoid” stands this island in space where the luminescent “Planet Caravan” floats.
Brought about by Iommi and Butler’s artfully juxtaposing a jazzy guitar with a soulful bass, Ward’s bewitching bongos, Osbourne’s unearthly vocals, engineer Tom Allom’s piano—its first appearance on a Black Sabbath track—and Rodger Bain’s mournful bird cries (created by twiddling frequency nobs), all of which serve to infuse depth of character and mood, the ultimate effect of the psychedelic exoticism of “Planet Caravan” is its otherworldly, dreamy excursion, which enables the listener to be carried along a mesmeric voyage of sights and sounds.
Speaking on Osbourne’s vocal effect, Ward noted: “Ozzy’s using the famous tremolo from the Hammond organ system,” Ward noted. “We put his voice through… a Hammond reverberation effect. Tony had that weird sound, and Geez just got in somewhere. It was something that was made up in the studio and totally worked.” The technique was first employed by The Beatles’ in Revolver’s “Tomorrow Never Knows”—widely considered one of the first psychedelic rock songs—which featured George Harrison’s voice processed through the Leslie speaker of a Hammond organ.
While sometimes overlooked in discussions of Paranoid, the importance of “Planet Caravan” on the album can’t be overstated; as with “Sleeping Village” and “Warning,” “Planet Caravan” underscores the fact that while Black Sabbath were inadvertently setting the template upon which heavy metal and its subgenres would be established, they were simultaneously stretching to their roots in jazz, using that to go beyond into new psychedelic spaces, ensuring that not only did every song have a different feel, but that there was room on each album for more adventurous and experimental compositions. This decision wasn’t lost on Black Sabbath’s early progeny, where the immersive, ambient otherworldliness of “Planet Caravan” can be heard in such compositions as “Dreamer Deceiver” from Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny, “Strange World,” from Iron Maiden’s self-titled album.
Although the utilization of jazz, psychedelia, and experimental songcraft disappeared almost altogether in the following decade as more commercially viable power-ballads were brought to the fore, and extremer forms of the heavy metal genre jettisoned melodic songs altogether, weird moody pieces continued to be embraced in German electronic music and Krautrock, Italian progressive rock, gothic rock, stoner rock, ethereal music, dark wave, and doom metal.
As with “Sleeping Village,” Butler composes within the constraints of a five-stanza lyric, a more traditional poetic form, but this time with a much more mystical effect for which the opulent science-fiction chronicle of space-travelers sailing past the Earth is but the surface construct. Recalling how Butler stated that “A lot of [my lyrics] look like sci-fi fantasies at first glance, but if you read between the lines you’d be surprised what’s in there,” we can see that beneath its starry, cerulean splendor burns eschatological portents. This can be seen in its use of color imagery—black night, silver dreams, purple blaze, sapphire haze, silver starlight, crimson eye—which are utilized not only to describe the beauty of our world, but to paint a kaleidoscope of visual cues to accompany other lambent phenomena, serving as an attestation to the way in which one might see the world as if anew or for the last time.
Although some take from this little more a description of an LSD trip, Butler addresses this charge, noting that “I was into astral projection at the time, but I was done with acid. I’d done acid three or four times, and it did me head in.” Yet, even if it had been composed under the influence of psychedelic drugs, the characterization of it as a drug trip is ultimately dismissive in that it ignores the genuine artistic elements that Butler weaves throughout the short narrative, as well as the metaphysical, psychological and metaphoric elements, and reduces the lyric to nothing more consequential than getting high. While this charge can be leveled against “Fairies Wear Boots,” which is by intent a light-hearted exploration of one of those prior acid trips Butler discussed, or even to some extent “Sweet Leaf,” “Planet Caravan” is about a different trip altogether.
Realized prior to the musical context of the ambrosial space-rock genre, but within the sphere of the jazz, psychedelic and art rock forays, “Planet Caravan” is an empyrean vision that conveys an exodus from the earth to another world as expressed through the eyes of those who will see it no more. Far from album filler, “Planet Caravan” embodies a science-fiction romance, ecological apprehension, mystical reflections, an astral journey, and love letter to Creation from those on their way to Heaven.
Through endless skies
“Well hast thou sailed: now die,
To die is not to sleep.
Still your true course you keep,
O sailor soul, still sailing for the sky;
And fifty fathom deep
Your colours still shall fly.”
~ “Man Sails the Deep Awhile,” Robert Louis Stevenson
The opening stanza is an example of both consonant and assonant alliteration, with the ‘s’ sound repeating (consonant) and the rhyming hard ‘I’ vowel (assonant) used in the words “skies,” “shine,” “like,” “eyes,” “night” and “sighs.” Assonantal alliteration continues throughout the song.
Alliteration is often used to underscore the beauty of language, as well as to unite concepts by virtue of repetitive sounds. While not as commonly seen today, it’s a style recognizable from the pages of Weird Tales magazine, and found commonly in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, as well as their literary antecedent, Lord Dunsany, who in both poetry and prose, utilized alliteration, mimicking the cadence of the King James Bible to give his verses the rhythmic quality of song.
In addition to alliteration, “Planet Caravan” utilizes simile and anthropomorphism to describe a living cosmos through which the narrator and his fellow travelers sail from evening till dawn. Evidence of sentient life and eternity abound. The travelers are represented in the title of the song, and although they serve as its narrators, the listener isn’t given any knowledge of them apart from their reverent utterances about earth and its solar system. Are they an alien caravan going from world to world exploring the majesty and wonder of each? Or are they terrestrial exiles, forced to depart a dying sphere? They may very well be the departing spirits of the recent dead, as the “endless skies” are a reference to Heaven, a concept repeated in a similar vein in “Symptom of the Universe” as “eternal skies.”
The interstellar travelers of “Planet Caravan” are the first of several in Sabbath lore. “Into the Void” builds on the premise of cosmic freedom seekers, and along with “Hole in the Sky” and “Symptom of the Universe,” portrays spiritual voyages into the heavens; “Supernaut” reflects the dark side of this. These later songs, along with “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” are helpful in identifying the mystical aspects present in “Planet Caravan.” Among the more mysterious of Black Sabbath’s various space-time travelers, caravan can be identified as the fictional star-travelers of the surface aspect of the song, the band itself, and ultimately mankind upon the point of transmigration, all of which explain why the song begins with the inclusive expression “We.”
This yearning for the stars is a manifestation of disdain for a world beset by incessant strife, environmental degradation, and interpersonal dysfunction, and the longing to escape it for an otherworld away from man's tedious and confining habitation in the material sphere. One reviewer opined that “‘Planet Caravan’ is for anybody who at some time in their life has closed their eyes and wished they were someplace else, far away. It’s for all the dreamers and those that live in hope that one day there might just be something better than what they’ve presently got.”
In the Christian mindset, the cosmogenic travelogue is a manifestation of the ultimate Edenic longing, paradise beyond the door of death, what the apostle Paul referred to when describing living as “aliens and nomads in the earth,” as exiles desiring “a better country, a heavenly one.”
Stars shine like eyes
The black night sighs
“Images of broken light, which
~“Across the Universe,” The Beatles
This short segment appears at first to be nothing more than a poetic description of the stars at night, and as such is quickly passed over, but peering a little deeper reveals the same symbolic associations we see throughout the song. Human eyes, for example, don’t glow or shine like stars. So how can stars be said to shine like eyes? What is the song talking about? The final stanza of “Planet Caravan” refers to the “crimson eye” of the “great god Mars.” Allowing the song to interpret itself gives us a more palpable impression of cosmic forces than just the pretty picture that appears on first glance.
In ancient Aegean, Levantine and Mesopotamian literature, gods and angels were likened to and personified as stars and planets, designations that are commonly used in the Old and New Testaments that refer to them as the “heavenly host,” “morning stars,” “host of heaven,” and which can be both benevolent or demonic. In “N.I.B.,” the fallen angel Lucifer deceptively claimed that the moon, sun and stars bore his seal, a reference to his association as the “day star” in Isaiah 14:12 and his former position on the divine council. He tells his beloved that if she would look into his eyes, she’d recognize for who he really is.
Fallen divine beings are likened to stars in a letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Paul appears to have hand in mind the rebellious Watcher class of angels depicted in great detail in the Book of 1 Enoch, and summarized in Genesis 6 and Jude 1, as those who “did not keep their own principality, but left their proper dwelling” when they spied from afar the daughters of man and came to earth to mate with them to produce the hybrid seed of giant Nephilim.
Along with the watching angelic eyes, there is the mysterious sighing of the black night, which is an expression that can’t help but evoke the concept of the “black knight,” a being sometimes associated with death and darkness, such as the giant black knight Orgoglio (lit. pride) in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, who takes the duplicitous Duessa as his wife until the Christ-like King Arthur comes and beheads the giant and his seven-headed beast.
Conversely, the sighing black knight might hearken back a century prior to Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess, in which a poet falls asleep and dreams of a dog who leads him into the forest, where he sees a black knight mourning over having lost a game of chess. The poet comes to realize that the knight is speaking in symbols—not literally—of the loss of his beloved.
In a similar vein, “Planet Caravan” speaks in symbols of love and loss, the forces of good and evil at work in the world, and the voyage to an otherworld. Even the name itself conveys this, as caravan designates a procession of travelers journeying together for safety through hostile country, bringing to mind the reminder of 1 Chronicles 29:15: “For we are strangers before you, and pilgrims, as our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and none abides.”
In silver dreams
Pours down in beams
Light of the night
“Blacker seem the shadows dark,
~Clark Ashton Smith “Night (Twilight)”
Accorded its own verse, the moon as portrayed “in silver dreams” echoes its long association with the world of dream. The primary source of illumination in the night sky, the moon was linked to aspects of dream from the earliest times. The moon in worldwide motifs symbolizes emotional states, memories, moods and maternal elements relating to the home and the past. Conversely, it also denotes magic, lunacy, death, the abode of souls, and door to the eternal. The Romantic poet, John Keats wrote,
“What is there in thee, moon!
That thou shouldst move
My heart so potently?”
In a similar vein, Buddy Holly sings in the song “Moondreams”:
“Strange things take place in my moondreams,
As the lonely and loveless hours go by,
Your face takes its place in every moonbeam,
Moondreams bring thoughts gentle as a sigh.”
The depiction of the moon in its role as “light of the night” is most closely found in the Book of Psalms from the Old Testament: “Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights—the sun to rule the day, and the moon and stars to rule the night.” (Psalm 136:7-9, NLT) It’s depicted with a silver pathway in the Book of Job: “Have I looked at the sun shining in the skies, or the moon walking down its silver pathway…?”(Job 31:25-26) Butler borrows the association not just for “Planet Caravan,” but “Symptom of the Universe,” in which “Mother Moon” calls him “back to her silver womb.”
The dream-moon pours down its beams as if offering a lighted pathway to heaven. Butler and Iommi note that they were at the time investigating astral projection, a metaphysical practice that seeks to will an out-of-body experience by separating the astral body from the physical one, with only a silver cord connecting the two. Derived in part from passages in Ecclesiastes 12:6 and Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:2, and brought to the fore in theosophy, astral projection is often associated with the world of dream and meditation, with the astral plane considered an intermediary realm between heaven and earth composed of astral spheres populated by angels, demons and spirits. With this in mind, the song takes on yet another layer of meaning, serving as a potential description of the astral body traveling in an out-of-body experience. This concept is revisited again in “Shock Wave,” only in that case astral travel is portrayed in a very different light, proving to be a deadly attempt to escape the consequences of past evils.
A purple blaze
Of sapphire haze
In orbit always
“We followed the dreamer through the purple hazy clouds,
He could control our sense of time,
We thought we were lost, but no matter how we tried,
Everyone was in peace of mind.” ~“Dreamer Deceiver,” Judas Priest
The birds-eye perspective was employed on “Wicked World” to describe the horrors visited on the Earth by its governments, but here it’s used for the opposite effect. The view of Earth, now in close-up, is illustrated as soothing and tranquil, but arrestingly beautiful, like a glimmering jewel. There’s an underlying irony to the fact that such grandiloquent beauty appears to be best appreciated by those departing it, as the Earth’s inhabitants have their attention fixed instead on conflict and destruction.
The Earth is described no less chimerically than the moon, and appears to have imagery borrowed from Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” particularly in the way the two words are juxtaposed in the stanza. In Hendrix’s trippy dream-vision, he wonders if it’s “just the end of time,” which may be what the planet caravan’s journey actually illustrates
Some have interpreted the purple blaze as a violet combustion indicative of an incinerating planet, however, this appears to be not a literal but a metaphoric conflagration, as evidenced by the following stanza which depicts the beauty of the dawn as seen from earth.
The sapphire haze is a poetic description of the bodies of water as seen from above. Purple is made up of red and blue, and appears to denote earth’s conflation of, and conflict (blaze) between fire and water, war and peace. Sapphire is used in the Bible to denote God’s throne, and is one of the main gems making up the New Jerusalem on earth. Purple is also the color of royalty, but it has a negative connotation in the Book of Revelation, as a symbol for Babylon the Great, who the kings of the earth fornicate with and get drunk off of. In other words, the earth is the spiritual battleground between the purple-clad powers-that-be led by the crimson god of war and the peaceful sapphiric forces of God and his servants, “in orbit always” to denote the unending cycle of this conflict that ceases only at death.
The end of time appears to be what Butler had in mind in regards to “Planet Caravan,” as demonstrated by his explanation of its surface meaning: “It was about how there was so much hate in the world, and these people wanted to get away from it, to find a better world.” The first places the song in the catalog of Black Sabbath’s socially-critical songs, describing the planet caravan as a spacecraft getting away from mankind’s ubiquitous wars which have set the Earth alight with violence.
Paradoxically, Butler offered a second apparently conflicting interpretation of the lyric. This more recent explanation interprets “Planet Caravan” as a kind of interstellar love song, its travelers “taking a spaceship out into the stars and having the ultimate romantic weekend.” This construal is difficult to support from the lyric itself. There is no mention of another human, let alone romantic expressions, as the only objects of affection are that of the creation. Conceptually, Butler brought this idea to the fore in the song “Zeitgeist” from the 13 album, which bears some musical similarity to “Planet Caravan”:
“The love I feel as I fly endlessly through space,
And very soon
The bomber’s moon
Will show us light
And as we crash
We'll pray and kiss
And say goodnight
While the “interstellar lover” interpretation is not so readily discerned in “Planet Caravan,” there’s no reason the exilic convoy can’t represent both ideas. This will be discussed later.
The search for “a better world,” as Butler describes it, ties “Planet Caravan” into the album’s anti-war framework. This would accord with the idea that the voyage is a metaphor for transmigration of the soul after death, and maintains “Planet Caravan” as taking place coterminously with “Into the Void,” which also incorporates both a science-fiction and spiritual/eschatological framework, along with songs like “A National Acrobat” and “Symptom of the Universe,” which also deal with journeys into the afterlife.
A short bridge enters at this interval, introducing an additional celestial effect of what may be something flying, swimming or floating by in the noctilucent aether of space.
Below the trees
Bathed in cool breeze
Breaks dawn from night
“Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.” ~P.B. Shelley
After describing the earth from above, the narrator now looks upon it from below, in the quiet of the deepest part of the night at the very the onset of dawn. This is an odd line given that the interstellar travelers are supposed to looking at earth from space, but it makes considerable sense in the metaphoric and metaphysical interpretations, which is where the truth of the lyric lies. These lines are among the most mystical in the song and appear to reflect several occluded meanings that—whether intentional or synchronous—are interesting to try and parse.
The main thrust of the verse is the coming of the starlight which breaks the dawn. If we recall the final stanza of “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” we can obtain a clearer picture of what Butler is intimating here.
Now from darkness there springs light
Dawn is here depicted as breaking through the sleeper’s wall, right after 2 Corinthians 4:6 is quoted almost verbatim: “For God, who spoke that light would shine out of the darkness, has dawned in our hearts.” (AENT) The “silver starlight,” which emits from the dawning stars, effects the same purpose as the sun in that song, violently breaking dawn from night. In the final chapter of the Book of Revelation (22:16), Jesus Christ is unequivocally defined as the “bright Morning Star” and is referred to as the healing “sun of righteousness” in Malachi 4:2. Just as the sun/Son broke the wall of sleep, the silver starlight/bright Morning Star “breaks dawn from night.” From this context, we can understand that starlight here represents Christ just as the night is a representation of moral darkness.
Similarly, the cool breeze can be better understood from the stanza from “Behind the Wall of Sleep” quoted above. The light caused the wall to become “cool and bright.” So too does the starlight here, which is said to bathe the land below the trees, apparently bringing fresh, cool air that dissipates and cleanses away the stagnant, putrid odor of death. That this represents also the coming of peace is understood by the line in “Sleeping Village”: “Soft breeze blowing in the trees/Peace of mind, feel at east.”
But why is this all being shown as taking place “down below the trees,” within a wooded area, forest, jungle or wilderness?
“Solitude” describes how the narrator’s future is shrouded in “dark wilderness.” The addict in “Snowblind” forsakes the “sun,” which “no longer sets me free,” noting how much more desirable are the snowflakes that “glisten on the trees.” In both cases, trees and wilderness areas are marked by confusion or temptation. In the ancient world, trees and sacred groves were the places where pagan sacrifices were made and where the “deadly petals with strange powers” (see “Behind the Wall of Sleep”) could be found and partaken. Both are depicted in the Old Testament by the prophet Hosea, who decried: “They offer sacrifices to idols on the mountaintops. They go up into the hills to burn incense in the pleasant shade of oaks, poplars, and terebinth trees.”
“The wilderness of the Bible is a liminal space—an in-between place where ordinary life is suspended, identity shifts, and new possibilities emerge. Through the experiences of the Israelites in exile, we learn that while the Biblical wilderness is a place of danger, temptation and chaos, it is also a place for solitude, nourishment, and revelation from God.” From this we can better understand that “below the trees” lies the world of man engaged in oppression, violence and deception, where “Under the Sun” informs us that “behind each flower there grows a weed.” But it’s also the place where, in “Spiral Architect,” God looks upon his earth and feels the warmth and knows that it’s good. This stanza is a look not at tree trunks and foliage, but mankind, and serves as an oblique mirror reflecting the conclusion of “War Pigs” and “Electric Funeral,” at the time when the “Supernatural King” comes to “take Earth under His wings.”
We pass on by,
The crimson eye,
Of great god Mars,
As we travel,
“Now I know how it feels
To have wings on my heels
To take a stroll among the stars
Get a close look at planet Mars”
~The Moody Blues, “Floating”
In the surface reading, the caravan merely travel to the next planet on their journey in the universe, but the metaphoric reading is here clearly tied into Butler’s explanation of people looking to get away from hate and war to find a better world. With silver starlight breaking dawn, the astral travelers can safely “pass on by” the Satanic god of war and his watching eye, depicted as crimson to recall to mind Satan’s “eyes of fire” depicted in “Black Sabbath.”
The anthropomorphizing of Mars is a good way to depict the appellations in the ancient world of the god of war, Mars to the ancient Romans, Ares to the Greeks, Horus to the Egyptians, and Nergal to the Mesopotamians. The crimson eye (like the earlier stars, which “shine like eyes”) is also evocative of the Eye of Horus, with all its dark meanings, as is the association with the war gods, such as Nergal the “raging king” and “the furious one,” as descriptors of Satan.
The “crimson eye” also evokes the bloodstained eye of destruction, the epicenter of rage and violent conflict that’s characterized man’s millennia-long misrule of the planet. Written from an earthly perspective of someone longing to go to Heaven, the narrator of “Hole in the Sky” says he’s “sitting, waiting for Mars,” knowing from having “watched the dogs of war enjoying their feast,” that he’ll return. “Symptom of the Universe” depicts another passing glimpse at Satan, now no longer bearing his crimson eye of temptation and rage, but powerless and “drowning in his tears.”
Corollary with these narratives, both of Butler’s seemingly contradictory interpretations can be found to fit. The desire to escape a war-torn planet, delineated in the physical/symbolic rocket ship journey made in “Into the Void,” and the metaphysical journey in “Symptom of the Universe,” the lyric is seen as the final departure from the world of men, the sojourn into heaven and the mysteries of the universe.
The trip in “Symptom of the Universe” also depicts a “romantic getaway” through earth and the cosmos made by two lovers in the afterlife. “Planet Caravan,” may also hint at the attainment of romantic love in paradise, achieved through escape from the present hate-filled world. While all three songs hint at death as the catalyst for such escape, only in “Symptom of the Universe” are death and resurrection explicit. Additionally, in all three cases, death is not the focus, but the heavenly voyages that epitomize (and lead to) the realization of peace and love.
The lyric concludes with Osbourne’s vocals stretching out ethereally on the word “universe” amongst a panoply of unusual instrumental effects and Iommi’s exotic lead, all of which engender “Planet Caravan” with its indefinable, timeless and mysterious virtues, as if indeed derived from the mysterious gulfs beyond the stars, beckoning the listener away from strife and greed to the far off shores, and the hope of a better life in the realm above.
The elegiac picture of “Planet Caravan” well characterizes the alluring aspect of the earth and moon as objects of beauty and wonder in and of themselves. Whatever meaning may be found beyond this aesthetic beauty rests with the listener and the ways he chooses to interpret the song, poetically, psychologically, spiritually, metaphysically or otherwise.
 Although “The Rebel” has yet to be officially released, it is technically speaking the first known song they recorded featuring piano, although the band were still going under the name “Earth,” at least for another four days (on August 26, 1969 they officially announced their new name as Black Sabbath). Allom is rumored to have played the instrument again for “Solitude,” where it’s utilized with a reverse reverb effect, though that may have been Iommi. According to Butler, Iommi first started learning to play then.
 Black Sabbath: Doom Let Loose, by Martin Popoff, 2006, ECW Press.
 Symptom of the Universe: The Original Black Sabbath: 1970-78, liner notes by Mick Wall, Rhino/Warner, 2002.
 Black Sabbath: Super Deluxe Paranoid book liner notes, by Kory Grow, Warner Brothers Records, 2016.
 “Black Sabbath – Planet Caravan”: http://headfullofsnow.com/black-sabbath-planet-caravan/#ixzz1kGDYDyAk
 Hebrews 11:13-16.
 Job 1:6; 2:1.
 From his debut album, Are You Experienced.
 Successful examples include Enigma’s A Posteriori and Mike Oldfield’s Songs of Distant Earth.
 In a bit of odd synchronicity, the Paranoid album was released the day Hendrix died.
 Ezekiel 1:26, 10:1, Revelation 21:19.
 Black Sabbath: Doom Let Loose, by Martin Popoff, 2006, ECW Press.
 Classic Albums: Paranoid
 “Jesus and Wilderness,” by Jenny Phillips: http://bibleresources.americanbible.org/resource/jesus-and-wilderness
 In certain ways, this interpretation of “Planet Caravan” counters The Fifth Dimension’s famous “Age of Aquarius,” which applied the cosmic spheres, the moon and planets in astrological ways to envision a coming age of awareness, philanthropy and peace. “Planet Caravan,” on the other hand, utilizes the cosmic spheres, not for new age ideals of a coming change in human values, but a spiritual departure into heaven from an earth inundated with war.
 The quad version of Paranoid, released on Sanctuary’s Deluxe version and Rhino/Warner Brothers’ Super Deluxe release, features an extended version in which his solo can be heard at length, and the background sounds brought into the foreground.