Symbols abound. John appears to have wings, and no feet. To the left is a snake, a gnome and a mystical Hindu. To the right is a tiny Madonna and Child. In the center is a four armed Hindu doll. Symbolic palms are spread throughout.
Why did the Beatles, who would later sell their music in a plain white jacket, produce this cover? Beatles' manager Brian Epstein didn't like the cover idea, fearing lawsuits from the personalities protrayed, and recommended brown paper jackets be used. In 1967 there would seem to be little reason to expend the effort, and incur the legal risks Epstein feared, to increase Beatle record sales.
The cover design screams out for interpretation. The explanations of the " Paul's Dead Theory " do not adequately resolve the numerous symbols. I offer my explanation, not as definitive, but as food for thought.
The grave is not Paul's. He is alive and shown on the cover. The grave is not the "old" Beatles, as some guess; the old Beatles are shown on the cover also. Who's grave is it then? Let's look for clues.
The lyrics to the title song talk about a Sgt. Pepper who taught the band to play. Strangely, the audience is introduced to an "act you've known for all these years". A singer, Billy Shears, is introduced. Who is Billy Shears? The only thing we know is that he is a singer. The singer may not be any of the pictured band members, because they all hold wind instruments. There are two instruments shown with no players. The horn to the left of the drum, and the drum itself. Again the singer isn't the missing horn player. This leaves the missing drummer as the prime suspect. As conspicuous in his absence as the drummer is Sgt. Pepper himself. Are Sgt. Pepper, the drummer, and Billy Shears all the same person?
The similarity of this symbolism to the Second Coming of Christ is conceivable. This album cover reveals the true identity of the "dead man". So does the "Number Nine" phrase (from the "White" album), which played backward says "Turn me on dead man". Number nine, expressed as a Roman numeral, is IX - defined in the dictionary as:
I.X. Iesous Khristos, [Gr.], Jesus Christ
The uniforms of the post-fab four, at once both military and mystical, suggest an allegorical link to the Knights Templar. The crowd and the band represent their profound and continuing influence. (This is allegorical, and does not suggest that the personages assembled are in fact members of a secret society .) The fellowship's musicians seem unable to play until the drummer provides a beat.
Only Paul is at attention. His fingers are on the keys, ready to play at a moments notice. Paul's poses always seem different and significant. Perhaps he is signalling Pepper. A hand is suspended above Paul's head. According to the "Paul's Dead" theorists, this was an omen of death. Instead, it may be another symbol - the Rosicrucian "Hand of the Mysteries".
The scene depicts a ceremony of some kind. It
may be a waiting for the dead man's return, or a summoning of the dead