Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow

The songs of Jon Anderson’s epic album Olias of Sunhillow (1976) tell a story based upon the following original tale by Anderson which appears on the inner sleeve of the album (including an attached page) within the gatefold artwork by David Fairbrother-Roe.

The Story
by Jon Anderson

Through the mist of a million years of energy three riders skimmed the surface of the plain of Tallowcross and raced towards a dream. Their meeting point lying between the glades and Gardens of Geda and the high mountain masses, where fountains of light and colour and soft winds of passion, openly existing through wisdom, surrounded the three that silent eve, they sang together through motions only ways, as all around them sparkled and chorused in wonder.

OLIAS was to build the ship the Moorglade Mover
RANYART was to guide the moments begotten light
QOQUAQ a leader, a fashioner of peoples of Sunhillow.

Four tribes lived on Sunhillow and existed through music, rhythms and tempos, each of the tribes attained a light of their own through their songs to their stars, so their energy, their souls, their time, their movements were all accordant to the stars.

NAGRANIUM  – deep dark skinned streched beat
ASATRANIUS  – jangled lines of monotone
ORACTANIOM  – cascading ready light metal
NORDRANIOUS  – weavers of body sound

The dance of Ranyart would start the call; with beams of alternity directed to the skies. Bending the staff of motions begotten light, he moved with grace within him and charged the air to part and carry him towards the course of passion.

Olias had been busy, and having sang his song the metalic-like trees with their golden leaves jingling like winter snow, had motioned their strong roots to slowly dance out of position towards Olias to create the frame of the Moorglade. With spread-eagled wings and high masts with enough room for all, it stood, near ready, it needed only to be strengthened and covered and this was for the fish of the ocean the ‘solar’ to do. Olias reach out with voice and sound to ease them from their play. As intertwined and inter moving parts of the ocean rose into the air glistening in the quick wind, they rushed expectantly towards the frame and crashed their forms and clasped and died as all will: the Moorglade was ready.

Hurtling through space amidst countless sister planets. Sunhillow had held the tribes for as long as time would allow; Qoquaq sat alone in the valley, at close points to all, and sang of the mass lands to the East; as the sound ascended and rang out of the valley, a distant form was heard, deep rhythms awoke that spelt of a movement, as slowly and surely Nagrunium awoke to the message of love and haste. A deep throated drone from the East was heard as an array of sound converged toward the valley.

Metal could be seen glinting and chiming in the Western mist. Qoquaq, translike, sang out the rhythms in one clear tone as the singers of the North approached the scene. As they began to mingle a strange discord arose; each tribe had not seen of each other and were at once charged to counteract the balance. Only seen through a veil of innocence, still the movement was so strong all that could move, moved toward Qoquaq, so great was his song. He then gently rose as if not seen at all and guided them toward the ship the Moorglade Mover. Olias sang out to Qoquaq as the tribes of sound, in their transic state, appeared on the plain of Tallowcross. His song of welcome was to bring them closer to the ship, as they climbed on board the noise rang out within, rhythms took over rhythm and became more and more intense so that all in one movement the giant wings of the Moorglade began to take to life.

Slowly she dragged herself along the plain, onto the ocean from which point the ocean began to move underneath the feel of the ship. The solar shell counter-reacting with the live made sense of vision, and as the Moorglade began to race, inventing speed, a great writhing tidal wave became and rose high towards the stars, thrusting the Moorglade high into space and to flight with giant sails beaming to the stars, and as the ship travelled into space a thunderous crash was heard in the distance as Sunhillow exploded into millions of silent teardrops.

Inside the ship all had quietened and as Olias and Qoquaq were in a unified trance piloting the ship and Ranyart in deep space of position; the tribes were left to see for themselves their own situation.

Almost at once there was a hum of doubt which doubled to a noise and shuffle of discontented tremours within. Moon Ra, the disorientation had shown its face, they cried and screamed for mercy tearing at each others and their own feelings, releasing only fear and pain. The sound was utter disharmony of balance resounding to such a voiceless pitch and counterpitch so that which rose from their surroundings was awkward and sullen, their own fear had created a form from deep within their own souls. All was bared before them.  The form rose and filled the inside walls of Moorglade so as to split the walls around to such a force and strain as to crash all into the vastness of space to be lost forever.

At this moment Olias awoke from his pilot position, standing, his arms outstretched he held within him the terror and cries of torment from the people, he sang chords of love and life and caressed the form until it surrended. The people now in a dazed light relaxed and slept underneath a crystal blanket, each in a chrysalis state, as the Moorglade journeyed on through space a song of love was released and played among them.

Ranyart had spelt out the path and danced a cascade of joy as the ship stretched towards the earth, he began to sing a new Song of Search as he soared over the hills. Clouds moved along with the silent wind, as the silver chord of life began, for as the Moorglade came to rest on the plains of Asguard, one mind of many thoughts emerged from within; one sound; one soul; one.

And so in parting Olias, Ranyart and Qoquaq climbed to the highest mountain, lying down with eyes fixed to the stars, only seeing the stars, they again became one with the universe and drifted away towards the sun.


Olias cover art by David Fairbrother-Roe


For each of the following three images, you must click to enlarge.

(above and below) inside gatefold, sides 2 and 3 — Jon Anderson’s story Olias of Sunhillow is the text


(above) sides 4 and 5 — there is an inner page added between the front and back sides of the gatefold


outer cover, full


(above) inner sleeve, or liner, featuring the lyrics and a photo of Jon (second from right), his then wife Jennifer, and others including David Fairbrother-Roe, the artist of the album cover, at far left (see comment below by John Morrison, a cousin of the artist)

(below) closeup of Ranyart, from page 5. The text can be read after clicking on the image twice to enlarge it.


Olias of Sunhillow complete slide show set

Video artist  (previously vzqk50) created a set of 13 slide show videos for Jon Anderson’s epic Olias of Sunhillow.

Ocean Song


Meeting (Garden of Geda) / Sound Out the Galleon


Dance of Ranyart


Olias (to Build the Moorglade)


QoQuaq Ën Transic




Transic To



Flight of the Moorglade


Solid Space


Moon Ra




Song of Search


To the Runner


About Jon Anderson’s Olias of Sunhillow


The featured slide show set for Jon Anderson’s great masterpiece Olias of Sunhillow is the work of vzqk50 who provides the following information on the music, from the wikipedia article (slightly edited by me).

Olias of Sunhillow is a progressive rock concept album by Jon Anderson, the lead singer of the band Yes. Released in 1976, it was his first solo album.

The album tells the story of an alien race and their journey to a new world due to catastrophe. Olias, the title character, is the chosen architect of the glider Moorglade, which will be used to fly his people to their new home. Ranyart is the navigator for the glider, and QoQuaq is the leader who unites the four tribes of Sunhillow to partake in the exodus.

The concept may have been partly inspired by the cover art for the 1972 Yes album Fragile, which depicts a tiny planet breaking apart and a glider escaping into space.

[note: Anderson stated very clearly in a 1976 post-release radio interview with New York DJ Allison Steele “The Nightbird” that a primary source was Roger Dean’s artwork for the album Fragile. In answering the question “Who is Olias of Sunhillow?,” he says

Olias was the kind of fantasy that came about out of the artwork of Roger Dean on Fragile. I had the idea that that ship…that kind of hovered around…was playing some little  part in this idea, of the story that was coming out at that time…

yes-fragileThe wikipedia article continues…] Anderson has stated that works by J.R.R. Tolkien were also an influence, underlying the epic scope of the narrative compressed into the album.

Olias of Sunhillow has been Anderson’s most acclaimed solo work both by critics and fans. Through months of effort, Anderson achieved arrangements of musical virtuosity that he has been unable to match in later solo works. (Many later works, such as Animation, relied on session players.) Since Anderson produced Olias soon after Vangelis had auditioned to be a part of Yes, there has been widespread speculation that Vangelis contributed to the album, with some fans going so far as to say that Olias represents the kind of sound that Yes would have created if Vangelis had in fact joined the band. However, both Vangelis and Anderson have denied that they collaborated on the album, and it must be noted that Olias sounds markedly different from the five albums that Jon and Vangelis did actually produce together in the late 70s and early 80s.

Olias has been re-released several times, most recently with a US CD release by Wounded Bird Records on February 28, 2006.

The album sleeve features a series of artworks by the artist David Fairbrother Roe, RA (whose other work included graphics for the Isle of Wight Festival, Nazareth – Hair of the Dog, and the Dragonflight novels of Anne McCaffrey).

The image in the sidebar of (I think) Qoquac, reproduced above, is claimed to be a copy of the Roe original. The artist “John D.” says he painted it in 1977 at the age of 17 (posted by Niaka at flickr). It may be signed just to the right of the figure, but I was unable to read the script.

The image just above the photo of Chris Squire (lit red, wearing cape) in the sidebar is a painting titled “Welcome Home Olias” made by the artist Daniel B. Holeman, whose work may be found at

Olias of Sunhillow billboard, 17 July 1976

(above) Olias of Sunhillow billboard on Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California, dated 17 July 1976 at the source: YES Museum, which thanks Roger Meyers. The billboard rises above the Licorice Pizza record store.

About the Olias symbol

olias-welcomehome4The symbol used by Holeman in his piece called Welcome Home was designed by Jon Anderson. Holeman discusses both the symbol and his work based upon it at his site

The symbol (based on the “Olias” symbol) represents the concept of oneness of God and diversity (creation) and acts as a reminder of our path back to God through finding our oneness and embracing our diversity. The symbol is based on the “Olias” symbol of musician, Jon Anderson, combining the circle, square and triangle [the specific version of the symbol appears to be the work of the artist David Roe who designed and illustrated the album cover and gatefold sleeve] – the symbols of the fundamental dimensions of consciousness from oneness to diversity. They are all actually part of the same oneness. There are many paths back home, all unique to the individual who finds their way back, but all have one thing in common – the way back home is through TRUTH, as it was the distortion of TRUTH that made us seem lost and away from home.

While doing image searches for the symbol I came across a photograph of a headstone with an engraved symbol that caught my attention. The image, found at flickr is shown below:

The resemblance of the tripartite geometrical design in this engraving to the Anderson design is striking, the principle differences being  a. In the headstone design the triangle is enclosed in the circle whereas the triangle in the “Olias symbol” has points which extend beyond the circle,  b. The base of Anderson’s square appears to sit upon the base of the triangle while the two are distinctly separate in the engraving, and c. In Anderson’s symbol all of the three shapes are broken; it’s essentially two nearly-symmetrical halves held together by a few threads (though the connection at the very top appears to be more substantial). The shapes are unbroken in the headstone figure.


Sites that I’ve seen discussing the Anderson design have not been particularly informative. One called it a medicine wheel. It looks nothing like the Native American medicine wheels I’ve seen — an aerial photograph of a large one with a group of people congregated at the end of the path leading to the circle is shown in the sidebar — but does have some resemblance to the Greek medicine wheel shown at right–source:

The intersecting square and triangle of the “Olias symbol” (I don’t know if it actually  has a name) also make a five pointed figure most of which is contained within a circle. This may suggest the pentacle symbol, an encircled pentagram, which is frequently associated with paganism. It is a fundamental Wiccan symbol, for example.*

Update: On 21 December 2009, I received a link in comments from Winston at which clears up some of the mystery.

The symbol found on the gravestone above is one of the symbols used by an organization called the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, earlier called The Rosicrucian Society. The Society was originally the Dutch branch of the Rosicrucian Fellowship founded by Max Heindel in 1909. I am not aware of any relationship between Jon Anderson and this organization. The site or Lectorium Rosicrucianum gives the meaning of the symbol on it’s page on Symbolism (There are no URL extensions. Just choose the link in the sidebar.) as follows:

  • The Circle symbolizes eternity, infinity, or the microcosm.
  • The Triangle symbolizes the three great powers which emanate from the Logos: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • The Square symbolizes the foundation for the construction of the new human being.

Two other symbols employed by the organization, the “rose and cross” and the pentagram, are also discussed on the same page.





The two images directly above are from



*The encircled pentagram with the single point facing downward, however, is a symbol more often associated with Satanism. Below is the official insignia for the Church of Satan, the Sigil of Baphomet.


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