The Laughing Gnostic — by Peter–R. Koenig, 1996/2014
What is art? What is rock music? It's difficult to describe its codes, gestures, aestethics and its perception for the most part it is something that must be experienced, and only as an expression of culture — it being in a constant movement of restlessness and mirroring all graspable parts of society. How can the feverish emptiness of endlessly repeated ecstasy be transformed into something that can be felt and understood, something heard and seen and be purchased? After all, music is not only qualified through the consciousness of its creator but also through the states of mind created by its perceptors.
Frank Zappa expressed it in 1974 when Fido (a 'modified dog'?), was questioned about "conceptual Continuity" and answered thus: "The crux of the biscuit is the Apostrophe(')" ('Stinkfoot').
However, in this essay I am not so much concerned with the audience but with the performer/persona known as David Bowie. Bowie is not a single character, but rather a host of Bowie–personæ: A wealth of possibilities that exists behind costumes, symbols and concepts.
[Photo on the right: Bowie and the Tree of Life, by Steve Schapiro.]
|What has David Bowie got to do with occultism and Gnosticism?|
Apart from being a sometime brilliant musician and dilettante artist, Bowie's religious perspective and compositional techniques mirror an eloquent fragmentary projection of society. "I'm actually very nineteenth century — a born Romantic" he uttered in 1995. His work resembles that of many European post–romantic novelists and thinkers, such as Hermann Hesse (the Steppenwolf), Gustav Gründgens (his most famous rôle: Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust) and Aleister Crowley. Indeed, the Gesamtkunstwerk 'David Bowie' crystallizes this splintered reality into cultural artifacts, and these in turn coagulate into new realities.
David Bowie, born as David Robert Jones in 1947, is seen by some as a sort of 'Renaissance Man' whose professed 'universality' is an attempt to show the apex of evolution by reassembling the fragmentary pieces of our society; thus, he resembles many occultists.
However unlike most occultists, Bowie has considerable wealth, critical acclaim, penetrating intelligence, and enduring good looks; he seems set to go on to even greater heights and achievements. What next, godhead? There is a Faustian/Mephistophelean element here. How else can one explain the absolute zenith of this man's worldly trajectory? In fact, there are people who are convinced that his brobdingnagian success is not without some kind of otherworldly assistance. I personally do not share this opinion as Bowie in my opinion cannot be reduced to a series of single attributes.
Nevertheless, it can not be ignored that Bowie has constructed his public persona from the various parts of the puzzle that are at the roots of modern occultism. He was summoning up some of these pieces at the early age of 16 [?].
This essay is by no means to be taken seriously. It’s about fun, the playing with words. Pure entertainment. You could comb through any body of work and attribute references to any subject you want. Often the reader will be at loose ends and if David Bowie himself happens to read this, he may find it a little disconcerting reading about an aspect of his own life story and wonder who the hell I am talking about.
|"they think that we’re holding a secretive ball"|
So what has David Bowie got to do with occultism? He answered this question himself in his 1971 song
I'm closer to the Golden Dawn
In the 1976 song 'Station to Station' he mentioned the occult doorways to other plans of reality when he described how to travel down the Cabalistic Tree of Life
from Kether to Malkuththat is from Godhead to Earth.
On 25 November, 1995, he finally admitted that in 1976 "My overriding interest was in cabbala and Crowleyism. That whole dark and rather fearsome never–world of the wrong side of the brain. ... And more recently, [in 1995 he stated] I've been interested in the Gnostics".
For some occultists think that their lives react to numbers in a strange way. For instance, things mostly seem to happen to them on certain days of the week or month. They receive a number at birth, and they vibrate to it; each of the numbers being a unit in the mathematical, or geometrical, scheme of the universe. The Astral World, for example, is intimately concerned with numbers and depends on arithmetical calculations for its efficacy.
Also on 'Oh! You Pretty Things' (1971):
I think about a world to come
Science fiction is also dotted through a lot of Bowie's lyrics.
Cover of 'Galaxy', "Odd John" by Olaf Stapledon: Ed Emshwiller. NY 1952.
Cover of 'Amazing Stories', "The Golden Gods" by John Bloodstone: Barye Philips. NY 1952.
Cover of 'If', "The Test Colony" by Winston Marks: Max Reach. NY 1954.
These pulp science fiction magazines made regular advertisements for a Rosicrucian organisation called A.M.O.R.C. which used Aleister Crowley's slogans "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law" and "Love is the law, love under will" for a time.
"Odd John" is a novel by Olaf Stapledon (1936). It is a story about a coming Superman Race that intends to replace Humanity but leads to the destruction of their utopian colony on an island.
According to Wikipedia "Odd John" is responsible for coining the term "Homo superior".
Never forget the context, though. His ex–wife Angie Bowie, an important witness to the peculiar period in question reminded the author of this article in 2003 that “We were only 21 and 23 for God’s sake!”
What books on occultisms excited The Age of Aquarius generation of the 1960s, the time that influenced Bowie’s occult background? In the early 1970s there were as many occult bookstores around as health food shops.|
Hermann Hesse's "Steppenwolf" and "Siddharta" swamped the book market. Imported from the Far East, there were countless books on Yoga, Tantra, Zen, Buddhism etc.
Louis Pauwels’ and Jacques Bergier’s “The Morning of the Magicians" (French original 1960, English translation 1963) influenced everyone who tended to believe in illuminati conspiracies and trashy occultism spiced up with so–called grand names. Colin Wilson wrote a Aleister Crowley novel "Man Without a Shadow" (1963) and "The Occult" (1971), Richard Cavendish's big book was "The Black Arts" which featured Crowley and the Golden Dawn. Also Francis X King published his "Ritual Magic in Modern England" (1970) and many other revealing books on Crowley and the Golden Dawn; most influential was Ellic Howe's "Magicians of the Golden Dawn" (1972). Ithel Colquhoun provided an insider's view with "Sword of Wisdom" (1975).
William B. Yeats' "Autobiography" (1926, 1955) made reference to the founder of the Golden Dawn, Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, and tended to counterbalance Crowley's scurrilities on its history. Arthur E. Waite's "Shadow of Life and Thought" (1938) was prejudiced by animosity, and second–generation sources, which consisted in published writings by Israel Regardie "My Rosicrucian Adventure (1936, 1971) and "The Golden Dawn" (1937, 1946), Virginia Moore "The Unicorn" (1954).
Sci–fi writers like Kurt Vonnegut and Robert A. Heinlein's Crowley–influenced novel "Stranger in a Strange Land" (1961) were read alongside G.I. Gurdjieff or Madame Blavatsky, the co–founder of Theosophy, an organisation establishing Yoga and other eastern imports in the mind of the hungry searcher. Writings by Carlos Castaneda, Jiddu Krishnamurti and Rudolf Steiner graced the bedside tables of many; C.G. Jung, Henry Miller, D.T. Suzuki, "The Tibetan Book of the Dead", the "I Ching", Crowley's "Confessions" (edited by Crowley’s colleagues John Symonds and Kenneth Grant in 1969) and Crowley's secretary, Israel Regardie's "Eye in the Triangle" (1970) accompanied the walk into the Age of Aquarius.|
Robert Charroux and Erich von Däniken wrote about Gods coming from the skies. Books were filled with respective keywords. No matter whether these books were full of factual inaccuracies, or were poorly documented and lousily researched: the dawning of the Age of Aquarius was the kickoff for the “dawning” of postmodernism and one drew inspiration from whatever one found that tasted of the occult.
|What is Gnosticism and is it found in Bowie's fragments of reality ?|
'Gnosis' comes from the Greek word for knowledge, and may broadly be defined as a way of knowledge, as opposed to faith. The following definition of Gnosticism shows it as something partly spiritual and partly psychological — a chronic dislocation or unsettledness with the world.|
Those who are happy with and in the world, who benefit from good health, and who experience love and satisfaction in their preferred fields, seem not to need the universe–healing Gnosticism, which I believe is a religious tool to heal the agony of unbearable life. Gnostics live in two worlds at the same time. They seek a divine reality, a realm within this world here, which is only a sort of shadow world.
Historically viewed, Gnosticism is a varied set of overlapping religious traditions that often contradict each other. It is part of these traditions that every gnostic constantly invents their own Gnosticism. Living in a world which is subjectively felt and experienced as a "rotten place" (a Gnostic term), cries out for salvation. Art, music, hedonism, creativity, religiousness and all manner of creative and alternative lifestyles according to "Optimum through Maximum" or "Optimum through Minimum", hint at a possible or potential gnostic undercurrent of self–realisation beyond but through this world. Bowie expresses this with: "For you're dancing where the dogs decay, defecating ecstasy" (1974).
Bowie created a world beyond his earthly (and meanwhile wealthy) existence in manifestations of constant emanations of differing stage personæ who sometimes blended in with his 'real' personality but most often had been used by him to disguise his alienation from himself, from society and its mechanisms. This is the recurring motif of his quest for the authentic self. Most prominent in his personal history is the fact that when he was a child many of his relatives from his mothers side of his family suffered psychiatric issues requiring treatment that were sometimes due to religious hallucination. This sort of 'pain' is traceable in much of his lyrics: it made him strip "myself down" and fill the blank spaces left behind "with a completely new personality. When I heard someone say something intelligent, I used it later as if it were my own. ... It's just like a car, replacing parts." In 1972 he felt that his "brain hurt like a warehouse / it had no room to spare".|
As Bowie is one of the most innovative rock and pop artists ever, his creation of multiple personalities also mirrors pop culture, with its paranoid and para–religious myths of Star–Men visiting the earth, either becoming or influencing Messiahs, or else trying to live as unobtrusive Lodgers or Passengers among the Earthlings.
The Golden Dawn was a magical secret society, a crowning glory of the occult revival which flourished at the end of the 19th century and taught a unique blend of Jewish mysticism (called Cabbala or Kabbalah, also to be found in Bowie's symbolism), astral travel, magic, yoga (also practiced by Bowie) and how to communicate with angels and demons. For this latter communion it was first necessary to empty the mind, to make room for the unknown to enter — something that bears a strong resemblance to Bowie's 'cut–up' method of writing lyrics. "I've always felt like a vehicle for something else but then I've never really sorted out what that was" (1973). "There's a feeling that we are here for another purpose." Eventually he described his working method: "You nick a touch of this, you nick a touch of that. Then you do it better simply by using Scotch tape, sawdust and a little imagination."|
In the same way he invented a biography for himself by glueing together 'objets trouvés' (found in books, newspaper articles about himself, interview questions, TV programs) and often cleverly calculated inventions of stage personæ.
The Cabbala combines several factors: the analytical and linguistic aspects of it have certainly proved of interest to the erudite side of Bowie's character, while another part of him has been drawn to the meditative Cabbala, where one immerses oneself in the Divine attributes of words and numbers to ascend spiritually. There is also a physical way of Cabbalistic working, the 'Ecstatic Cabbala', which involves exercises in breathing and movement, as well as chanting and singing.
The creativity released by the visions of cabbalists, and the writing down of visions themselves, give more reality to the experience, and make it more holy. This alchemy changes the writer, and the text itself begets a world beyond to be shown here in this world. This achievement of visibility, that is rich in detail of the trance–image, is experimental; and angels of observation run together, jumping from here to there, combining sensuous fragments. This kind of occultist does not appear to provide a well supported or unsplintered identity, compared with a traditional concept of personality.
The indefinable moment of the visions soon determines a new function of the eye: a "seeing" that extends to all that is known, until visual perception becomes more complex. A lack of definition of relevant experiences in exactitude (eg, the lack of an emphasis of a bearer of a symbol), which enables new comparisons to be made between signs and symbols; and maybe new codes and rhetoric as a goal of new structures. Visions become extensions of man into a state of gnosis. Through the interpretation, an increase of reflection arises, which cannot be attributed to a particular author, and does not demand a constant repetition of a theatrical production, but it is a metaphor for the continuity of the strategies of illumination.
As an organiser of images experienced in trance, this kind of occultist (cabbalist) reflects back to the archaic idea of creation by idealistic aesthetics. He suspends authorship in the materialistic sense (similar to the conceptions of Marcel Duchamps or Andy Warhol who was the first to create himself as artist–as–star. His view was that everyone and everything in showbusiness — even religion were showbusiness), whilst re–organising what has already been created through visions received in trance; and in this way "old" traditions are welded together into a new entirety.
Like surrealism, occultism tries to break the domination of rational philosophy and logic, stressed by Descartes. Occultism is based on the belief in a higher reality of certain forms of association through the cabbala, faith in the power of dream– and trance–images, and in the stream of words uncensored by the intellect. As many voices, colours and material as is possible, need to be perceived in the underground culture of the occultist. Euphoria of images and voices determines his identity and reflection. Like every Utopia, this one draws its power from envy for a world without limits, and unveils that primordial wish of man, on the one hand to be master of his own reality, and on the other to escape its chains. Gnosis demands the removal of structure from life itself.
Classic/Jewish cabbalists regarded the Cabbala as a treatise that would enable them to invoke the holy powers of the Universe and combat demons. Modern cabbalists regard it as the foundation of all occult science and a chart of the Astral World: a state of inner being with the same objective as the planets in our solar system. The modern Cabbalist is an inner space traveller. A Starman — a traveller between the inner world of the mind and the outer world of reality.
You will also find that Inner space in the paintings of surrealists like Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Giorgio de Chirico, René Magritte, Yves Tanguy to name but a few.
The term inner space probably was coined by the British sci–fi writer James Graham Ballard (1930–2009) in the late fifties, as a counterstroke against the phrase outer space, which roughly speaking summed up the whole sci–fi–literature at that time. He sometimes wrote in the post–apocalyptic dystopia sub–genre of science fiction — at times in an episodic non–linear style. Ballard provided an open narrative in which the act of reading itself became part of the creative process.
But labels are sticky.
Adam Kadmon: The Archetypal Man who has all the principles and faculties comparable to the Sephiroth (Sefirot) (Stations) of the Tree of Life:
From: William Wynn Westcott (Golden Dawn): "The Kabalah. An Introduction to the Study of the Kabalah", 1910
|Aleister Crowley was born in England in 1875, into a wealthy and religious family at the height of the Victorian era. In 1898 he joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In Egypt in 1904, Crowley penned an occult poem heralding the dawning of a New Aeon, which would be governed by the Law of “Do What Thou Wilt” (as can be found in Bowie’s 'After All', 1970). After the death of one of his students, Crowley’s life took a turn for the worse. His reputation in the British press as “The Wickedest Man in the World” was now, more than ever, working against him. Crowley’s later years were overshadowed by poor health, drug addiction and a desperate hunt for money In 1935, he was declared bankrupt and mostly lived from the monies from his religious sheep. He got through the London Blitz and eked out his existence in rural hostels; he died in Hastings, England in 1947.|
Crowley expanded the limits of the Golden Dawn by advocating the identifying of oneself with various Gods (called Assumption of God Forms), union with those Gods (angels and demons) during orgasm and/or consumption of mingled male and female sexual fluids.|
Crowley's key maxim was "Do what Thou Wilt", which (among many other interpretations) with the Greek word Thelema which stands for Will. In the Crowleyan world, 'Thelema' refers to sexmagick (which Crowley spelt 'Magick' to distinguish it from the purely ceremonial variety): to reach illumination while having sexual intercourse through techniques that focus the sexual energies upon a wish, a sort of an inner projection representing the desire to be fulfilled. I will expand on this subject later on.
Crowley adherents are much preoccupied, even obsessed, with his concept of Thelema: a new religious revelation whose key phrases are 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law', and 'Love is the Law, Love under Will.' This was Crowley's missionary enterprise that was supposed to sort out History, Religion, Philosophy, Magick and everyday life. That it is largely a straightforward plagiarism and distortion of Augustinus, Rabelais, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche does not appear to worry them; nor that Thelema is based on faith and individual conviction, rather than knowledge and psychology — and is therefore not truly Gnostic in nature. As a doctrine, Thelema (be it called "the new Aeon", "the new religion", the "new magick" or whatever) will generally "pretend" and "claim," but rarely try to prove a thing objectively on the basis of evidence. Therefore it could validly be claimed that Thelema is as much a prejudice as it is a belief–system.
As the inventor of the doctrine, Crowley is seen as the standard and infallible. Discussion of the Crowley–Bible The Book of the Law, is forbidden, maybe because in his diaries, Crowley identified its source of inspiration with "Thee Satan my savior"? Adherence to the Crowleyverse (a strict following of his "teachings," "orders," "ideas" etc.) produces, step–by–step, a state of divorce from reality. Because Crowley's visionary blueprint is overshadowed by his deficient biography, a trend has started among Crowleyites of differentiating between the "man Crowley" and Crowley the "Thelemic prophet." This limits the ability to think objectively or critically, and substitutes activism, beliefs, cultishness, ritualism and myth.
Outside the occult closet, Crowley is of significance at universities where topics for seminars are running short. Only after long hesitation have academics (with their absurd rules and insipid formulæ) taken an interest in 'Occulture'. While 'Occulture' itself is now bred "in vitro" as a product for the publisher supermarket, or disemboweled asexually at so–called international congresses, where it's given a first–class burial; the cadaver shivers until people are sure that it'll dance again. Crowley's world consisting of theoretical self–dissolution, strategies to disjoint personality, identity and action — all of which resulted in experiments on himself alone, and narcissistic idolising of himself alone, support the need for a McDonald hamburger. Today, Crowley is a moderately good product with a strong flavour and consumed as quickly and easily as possible. He is easily prepared, and available everywhere for consumption at any time via the Internet. Tamed, he does present society with ideas interpreted through human relationships, and views filtered through the minds of marketing–men and advertisers — he serves as a radical pseudo–counter–blueprint to the mainstream–culture. Crowley allows a new myth to be lived out: being a fictional creation becomes an integral part of being real; to be one simulation among other simulations. If he was still alive and had good public relation managers, he'd reappear through the smeary lens of nostalgia and been exposed as a sort of Ozzy Osbourne on MTV.
|Regarding Crowley's antidemocratic, racist and misanthropic writings, followers point out: "The reason [...] aspects of Thelema are omitted [in public discussion] indicates the actual problem with presenting Thelema as a religion and attempting to get Thelema sanctioned by the government or approved by the public: Thelema is ultimately in contrast to and transgressive of normative society. Thelema rejects the morals and values of normative society and acts to transgress and violate these norms. From the inclusion of intoxicants in ritual, to the positive view of sexuality, which frequently is seen as promoting promiscuity, to the pro–authoritarian and Nietzschian aspects of Thelema, normative society has much to reject in Thelema and conversely, Thelema encourages its adherents to reject most aspects of normative society." See also The Templar's Reich.|
|Stairway to Heaven|
Jimmy Page (b. 1944) from Led Zeppelin was allegedly already interested in the Qabalah at the age of eleven. In 1964, Page was a member of Bowie’s “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Long–Haired Men”. I would assume a tool in order to speak in front of a microphone only. In the next year, Bowie and Page cooperated on the Bowie track 'I Pity the Fool', and in 1970 Page gave Bowie the guitar riff for the song 'The Supermen'.
I asked Angie Bowie why her ex was involved in magick. She recalled that he heard that Led Zeppelin were involved in the occult, and so he wanted to be even cooler and scare Jimmy Page. By 1970 Page was obsessed with Aleister Crowley, had a growing collection of Crowleyana and that same year bought one of the most treasured Crowleyan artefacts of all: Boleskine House on the shore of Loch Ness in Scotland which was Crowley's estate from 1899 to 1913. Later on it had been the site of a swindle involving many of the local farmers and a fictitious sausage works. Everybody on the Loch thought the house was haunted. A perfect spot for the New Age Occultists.
David Bowie decided to retaliate with that kind of magick, and allegedly said to his wife that he would do so with what he knew of Tibetan magic (“the dark side of Buddhism” as he called it) as everything to do with Aleister Crowley was “small shit.” — Vice–versa, Crowley himself in his diary, 15th July 1936 stated: "Music is the opium of the mediocre." But on 5th March 1943: "The only hope of friendly understand[ing] is through Atonement on the higher planes:— the spiritual, the worlds of Literature, Art, Music of humanity stripped of political top–hampers, and of that philosophy which finds perfect concord in and through extremes."
There might be reasons why the Crowleyverse isn’t fit for most artists except for the ones using shocking keywords. Busy rock stars have no time for Crowley’s marathon magick. The picture of the “Most Wicked Man” suffices for marketing strategies.
|The Cut–Up method: "Inspirations have I none"|
The cut–up technique was originally devised by the Dadaists and Surrealists who called it automatic writing (écriture automatique) or cadavre exquis, and later reassembled by Brion Gysin and most famously used in literature by William S. Burroughs: you take a text, cut it into pieces, reassemble these pieces haphazardly, and thus create something new.|
Burroughs' approach was an attempt to cut through the apparent manifest content of language (a virus from outer space?) to what he hoped might be some sort of more truthful world. A world of meaning that lay beyond.
[On the right: David Bowie and William S. Burroughs; Photo by Terry O'Neal, magazine for the 'Station to Station' tour 1976.
Again used for the press photo for the January 2013 release of the 'Where Are We Now?'–song and video.]
Because Bowie used the cut–up technique to 'write' many of his lyrics there is not much sense in trying to analyse them as a whole or each lyric individually word by word: instead one has to focus on the recurring images and codes that appear in the entire "David Bowie" 'opus', which allude to his kind of Gnosticism. Bowie defined his use of the cut–up method as his way of discovering his own past and future. He himself became a cut–up himself too — at least for those who followed his career closely through the years — these followers were (and still are) confronted by reflections of themselves in the splintered facets that make up Bowie's often odd–sounding lyrics and his ever–changing styles of fashion images or with his constant dropping of keywords of books whenever the recorder or pen of a journalist is at hand. It's probably also worth pointing out that he talks in fractals.|
“I don’t necessarily know what I’m talking about in my writing,” he told Charles Shaar Murray. “All I do is assemble points that interest me and puzzle through it. That becomes a song, and people who listen to that song must take what they can from it and see if the information they’ve assembled fits in with anything I’ve assembled.”
Does Bowie simply hide that he has nothing to say as Nico opined in 1969?: “I was not jealous of his intelligence — he is entirely superficial, which is why he never knows what to look like. Or what music to make. Or whether to be a boy or a girl.”
From the Dick Cavett Show, December 4, 1974:
Cavett: "Do you want to be understood? You know what I mean... like Ziggy Stardust was...
Bowie: "There’s absolutely nothing to understand. I mean..."
The cut–up method makes it largely irrelevant whether or not Bowie is conscious of himself as a Gnostic; that is, whether he knowingly expresses himself in Gnostic terms — or whether he is hiding it "in an all time low."
Bowie has described himself as a "post–modern Buddhist"; certainly his working methods look post–modern, with their nature being fluid and flexible, rather than concrete. Ordinary materials in the form of music and text are taken, arranged, and re–arranged. Bowie studies the result, and tries something else, as he navigates his way through revisions, corrections, and different material. This method goes some way towards explaining his apparently inconsistent changes in musical style, and how he views his own work — something he claims as a masterpiece one day, becomes defective the next.
|Bowie turned into a Gnostic who gave out Gnosis, a theme which constantly recurs in his live performances, through his lyrics, and music; for instance in his rôle as the messianic alien Ziggy Stardust (1971–1973), or as the 'Hanged Man' from the Tarot in his 1987 shows — or else in the photographs where he appears with stigmata and a halo (1998) or in the 2013–video for 'The Next Day' wearing a robe and striking a Christ–like pose.|
|One word about sources|
|As the regular, commercial Bowie recordings mainly mirror the marketing strategies of his producers and record–companies, I have based this article mostly on bootleg recordings of his live concerts, or on studio recordings that were never released commercially. I feel that artists tend to express themselves more freely on stage (even though stage performances are the main source of income for many musicians), as opposed to when the artist is being supervised in a recording–studio by a producer with an eye on the market–place. So for legal reasons, I obviously cannot reproduce the exact sources for most of the material used herein. My advice to the interested reader is to listen to as many Bowie records as possible!|
|The Laughing Clone|
Without his all–consuming depressions ("hitting an all time low") Bowie's personæ would be a lot harder to understand, and ultimately be of little interest to any researcher, however dedicated. In fact, Bowie is more of a Gnostic than an artist — much, obviously, to his chagrin, as he wants to be known as an artist first and foremost. At the early age of 16, in about 1963 [? some say this song dates from 1971], Bowie penned the lyrics to his song 'I'm tired of my life', in which he sketched out his future career: "I'm trying to decide which game is best for me, which can I bear ... You don't perceive so I'm leading you away". The pattern was the idea of changing identity or thinking up your own identity.|
Deciding which game to play is plainly Bowie's habit of changing personæ, or re–inventing his personality. Thus the idea of 'finding himself' showed up in Bowie's stage 'fragments' of such personæ like the Mod and the Bob Dylan phase (1964–1968), Major Tom (1969–1970), Ziggy Stardust (1971–72), Aladdin Sane (1972–73), Halloween Jack (Diamond Dog) (1974), The Man Who Fell To Earth (1975), The Gouster (1975), The Thin White Duke (1976), The Svelte Lounge Lizard (1978), Ashes To Ashes (1980), The Elephant Man (1980–81), Serious Moonlight (1983 when he once again claimed to be the real David Robert Jones), Screamin' Lord Byron (Tonight, 1984), Tin Machine (1989), Nathan Adler (1995), Earthling (1997), on the Internet alias Mr Plod (1997), as Boz in the PC–game Omikron in 1999, and as Sailor [?] on his Bowienet (2007).
To some degree all these personæ are re–creations of the Pierrot / Pinocchio figure, a disguised Gnosis in the form of parody. Bowie has repeatedly appeared on stage as the 'Pierrot in Turquoise', a sort of a Threepenny Pierrot (the colour turquoise connoting "the British symbol of everlastingness" as one of his early teachers gnomically recollected). This figure originated in 1967, when Bowie was a member of Lindsey Kemp's mime company — an environment where everything was apparently tragic, dramatic and theatrical, that is just an extension of his own life. At the same time (circa 1968) he performed in the mime–drama 'The Mask' playing the part of a youth who becomes fatally identified with his painful mask, a rôle which Bowie would later repeat as "Ziggy Stardust" who is stifled by his Mask while "making love with his ego" on stage (this is reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's 'Picture of Dorian Gray' which was also the plot in a short film from 1969 with Bowie and Michael Byrne and also for Bowie's video for the 1979 song 'Look Back In Anger' — a story around a portrait in the protagonist's attic that ages in his place).
'Look Back In Anger' was used as the opening song for many of Bowie's stage performances between 1983 and 1997.
The voiceover of the 1968 pantomime concludes, as the lights dim on the lifeless body: "The papers made a big thing out of it. Funny though — they didn't mention anything about a mask."
The Mask was a concept that Bob Dylan had toyed with in 1964, when he appeared onstage with the words: "I got my Bob Dylan mask on", to which he added "I'm glad I'm not me" in 1966. This was making a plain distinction between searching for an identity, and actually producing it. The reference to the Mask signified a knowledge of how artificial it was as a myth, and how it was a sort of excessive satire. Bowie had outlined his projected career in his 1967 'The Laughing Gnome', where he sang about how he saw himself and Mick Jagger growing new personæ in the future:
The 1967 German versions of his songs had been re-arranged. For example the track 'Mit mir in Deinen Traum' which translates as 'With me in your dream', rather contradicts the English original 'When I Live My Dream'. Here he praises the dreamland where a certain "you" is going to meet Bowie in that "you's" dream.
|"He is a symbol of a new age / He glides above the realms of you and me"|
Feeling "that the human complex is such an inadequate form of existence", Bowie said that he experienced "an incredible loneliness". He has always styled himself as a creature dwelling in the "human zoo", tattooed with Tarot cards (like Ray Bradbury's 1951 'Illustrated Man'); a 'Karma–Man' (which dates from 1967, and was on the live set list until 1970, talking about Zen–Buddhism joining the Tibet Society in 1967 with his then producer Tony Visconti) sitting "on my karma, dame meditation" ('Little Wonder', 1997) and being a 'Silly Boy Blue' (1966, "Child of Tibet", "Mountains of Lhasa") who never leaves his body now and so has "got to wait to die". — (On the live set list in 2001)|
'Dame meditation' most probably refers to the Kundalini, the yogic fire–snake that resides in the genital region, coiled waiting to arise to the head of the yogi and enable illumination symbolised by a lotus flower.
Angie Bowie: "He said that Chime Rimpoche was his guide/teacher. I saw Chime Rimpoche the first time I went down to Beckenham there he was at Victoria station or Charing X and he was there in his saffron robes and I walked up to him and said Hi are you Chime Rimpoche? He said yes. I said I am going to visit David and he said I know. I thought he and David were 'Light People.'"
Chime (Chimi) Youngdong Rimpoche, a high holy Tibetan Lama established his Tibetan Centre in the north of Lockerbie, with a huge Buddha flanked by hundred of mini–Buddhas.
Angie Bowie: "Due to his [Bowie's] interest in Tibetan Buddhism he skirted around the issue of Tibetan Black Magic but I never saw any evidence that he performed rituals or was exerting any influence whatsoever through the practice of any ceremonial religion: Black magic Tibetan guarding of the unconscious etc. blah di blah di blah. David called it 'the dark side of Buddhism'."
Buddhism is a tool that combines diet, drugs (or rather the absence of drugs, as stimulants are not considered to be appropriate indulgences), yoga and sexual techniques.
The Buddha's main objection to alcohol and recreational drugs is that they befuddle the consciousness, thus making mental development difficult. Buddha also often warned against alcohol's negative social effects. Consequently abstaining from all recreational drugs including alcohol is one of the precepts that all Buddhists are expected to practice. But one wonders whether psychedelics would be useful in the practice of Buddhism?
Yoga is one of the preliminary conditions to master the body before using it as a temple. But to westerners, Yoga is mistakenly thought to be simply a system of physical exercises to keep the body supple and the mind calm. But the meaning of the word yoga is union and the system was developed by eastern adepts to assist them in attaining union with the source of all being.
Regarding Yoga: I watched a barefoot Bowie sitting in a very difficult Yoga position during his live performance of 'The Man Who Sold The World' (1970) at Zurich on 14th February 1996.
Hatha–Yoga plays a key rôle in Aleister Crowley's sexmagick. A major rôle is played by the nerve fibres (Nadis) and the 10 different kinds of breathing (Vayus). The ancient indian bodily expressions for the 10 Vayus are: Prana (in the heart), Apana (near the anus), Samana (near the genitals), Udana (in the throat), Vyana (the whole body), Naga (in the genitals), Kurma (open the eye lids), Krikara (causes sneezing), Devadatta (causes yawning) and Dhananjaya (floats through the physical body). The "Sexual Magic" is focussed on the 6th Vayus or Naga. There are additional teachings of using drugs in order to reach illumination while having sexual intercourse, and techniques to focus the sexual energies upon a wish, a sort of an mental photography that represents the desire to be fulfilled. Also elements of Manichaeism are introduced. The whole body is considered Divine (the Temple of the Holy Ghost) and the sexual organs are meant to fulfill a peculiar function: a Holy Mass is the symbolic act of re–creating the universe. The root belief is that only by co–operation between man and woman can either advance spiritually. Sexually joining is a shadow of the cosmic act of creation. Performed by adepts, the union of male and female approaches more closely the primal act and partakes of its divine nature, which is seen as continuous and continuing and never ending. This point of view is different from the Christian one, which holds that the creation of the universe by God occurred at some definite point in time past. The sensations that form slowly within Man and Woman sexually joined come not from the conjunction of the physical parts, but from the male and female sexual polarities in contact. Correct breathing patterns affect the chemistry of the blood stream and so bring about a change in the internal environment of the brain. Consciousness or ego makes way to make room for the divine power. The sexual energies then should be stored, together with correct breathing both lead to the transmutation of the energy in order that the Magician becomes a Clairvoyant. The Lingam (phallus) is as a symbol of the creator of the universe.
One of Crowley's sexmagical instructions is a treatise about the creative organ's divinity: the vital fluid is a vehicle of immortality. The Matter is the original primitive material substance semi–spiritual, immortal and containing in itself the archetypes of all form and possessing the double potency of attracting to itself individual spirits and also particles of gross Matter to form their temporary envelope on this plane (the gnostic Rotten Place). Another technique unveiled to the "pupil" is that masturbating on a sigil of a demon or meditating upon the image of a phallus would bring power or communication with a (or one's own) divine being/Super Ego. There are heterosexual intercourse sex techniques where the sexual secrets are sucked out of the vagina and when not consumed (when considered holy) put on a sigil to attract this or that demon to fulfill the pertinent wish/order. Crowley played around with different sexmagical methods. One of his secrets is the adoration of the idol Baphomet of the old Templars. Crowley advised selection of a female partner. The magician and his mate "copulate continuously" until impregnation results: a homunculus. In the most secret teachings, one identifies oneself with an ejaculating penis. The blood (or excrements) from anal intercourse attracts the spirits/demons while the sperm keeps them alive. Crowley saw no use in the vaginal fluids nor did he think women divine, hetherefore he could not imagine lesbian sexmagick. He believed that "man is the guardian of the Life of God; woman but a temporary expedient; a shrine indeed for the God, but not the God." ==> Women exist for the use of men. His ideal female: "robust, vigorous, eager, sensible, hot and healthy." That is to say, his interest was in the woman's body and he wanted no spiritual or intellectual participation from her. Crowley's main tools to achieve illumination remained: spermophagy, coprophagy, urolagnia and algolagnia.
Between 1967 and 1969, it was reported that Bowie slept upright in an antique wooden box, ate only two modest meals a day, and underwent periods of intense silence. |
But Zen and Mahayana Buddhism weren't his only tools used to expand consciousness and perception.
The hippie era was already over when he parodied it on his album 'Space Oddity'; by 1969 he was smiling "sadly for a love I could not obey" for he was not to become one of those stars with a mundane message who devote their lives "to save a slogan". At a time where he suffered from 11 flop singles, 2 flop albums and had stalked through seven different Record Firms (in 1969, his father who was closely involved in his son's career, had died), he was looking for a "new love" and "new words". In his song 'The Cygnet Committee', Ziggy Stardust again was prefigured: "I gave Them life / I gave Them all ... / I opened doors that would have blocked Their way." Impotence when confronting reality gave birth to fantasies of omnipotence.
|The Cut Up method and the Occultist's State of Trance|
Achieving richly–detailed definitive form or 'visibility' from self–induced trance–images is an experimental procedure. The possibilities of the united visions coalesce, jump all over the place, and blend fragments together. Neither the occult nor the cut–up technique would seem to furnish the basis of a secure or well–integrated identity. The instantaneous 'moment' quickly induces a new use for the ears and eyes: 'Sound and Vision' that extend to all that is known, until the perception becomes infinitely complex. This may engender a lack of precise definition of relevant experiences (such as a lack of emphasis on a bearer of a symbol), which enables new comparisons to be made between signs and symbols; and perhaps new laws, and new rhetoric, as the aim of new frameworks. Sounds and visions become the projections of a human being in a state of Gnosis. Through this altered interpretation, there is an increase in reflection, which becomes a metaphor for the continuing stratagems of illumination.
Techniques like these have become popularised through the writings of Aleister Crowley who was once a member of the Golden Dawn, and later of the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), which was (and still is) deeply involved with sex–magic. The public perception of both the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis are pseudo–masonic organisations where the aspirant (or member) goes through stages of ceremonial initiation wearing semi–Egyptian costumes — similar to the one Bowie wore for a photo session with Brian Ward in 1971. (See, for example, "David Bowie Black Book" by Miles, London 1980, p. 40, where Bowie is shown giving the occult sign of "as above so below" — otherwise know as a symbol of 'Baphomet', the old Knight Templar's idol. Or in the photo on the inner sleeve of the CD version of 'Space Oddity' Bowie portrays the Sphinx, an important occult symbol; also on the cover of the bootleg CDs 'The Shadow Man').
[Bowie photos by Brian Ward]
Angie Bowie doesn’t see any occult intentions behind this: “He ran out of photo shoot ideas. We did that one in London in the early 1970s. Natasha Korniloff and Lindsay Kemp’s brains were plundered for every image and every possible costume.”
It is rumored that Bowie began developing a Tutankhamun stage project in the early 1970s, but it never got beyond the planning stage.
|"The flaming Dove"|
Having already described himself ironically as "the Cream / Of the Great Utopia Dream" and as "a phallus in pigtails" in 1969, by 1971 Bowie was saying "I want to be a Superman"; he expressed these feelings more precisely in his song 'Quicksand': "I'm closer to the Golden Dawn / immersed in Crowley's uniform ... / I'm not a prophet or a stoneage man / Just a mortal with potential of a superman."
Sexmagick was hinted at in 'Holy Holy', 1970:
Listen Lady, let me lie low, lie low with you
["Righteous brother" is a term used in masonry and also in the Golden Dawn]
At the same time, he blessed gay culture with lyrics like "He swallowed his pride and puckered his lips / And showed me the leather belt round his hips ... / The snake and I, a venom high." ('The Width of a Circle', 1970).
But didn't Bowie simply "dispute the ideology of authenticity by positing gendered identities as constructed rather than natural"? [Philip Auslander: "performing glam rock", Michigan 2006].
He was not the only one to perform similar [anti–hippie/anti–psychedelic/anti–mainstream] sub/countercultural ideas: there were The Theatre of the Ridiculous/The Ridiculous Theater Company, the so–called Queer Theatre as Stefan Brecht called it, the Cockettes, Andy Warhols Factory (with 'Pork' and Wayne/Jayne County), the John Waters entourage and and and ...
|"Boys Keep Swinging"|
In 1971, Bowie stated that he wanted music to be "tarted up, made into a prostitute, a parody of itself. ... It should be the clown, the Pierrot medium" and so he introduced his androgynous gender–bender persona, as his lovers Romy Haag, Amanda Lear, and his wife Angie Bowie were able to observe at first hand — and of course to the admiration of his audiences.
While spending his time gazing into crystal balls and communicating with the spirit–world through a Ouija board, Bowie developed the persona of an androgynous messiah–figure who would blueprint the music scene of the 1970s and who would question the accepted notions of truth and authenticity (that is, an assumed identity of musician and audience) — especially where sexuality and pop/rock music running counter to everything deemed 'natural' was concerned. This undoubtedly fed Bowie's desires for 'folie de grandeur' and an aesthetic of excess, both of which might be used to re–create the self as a manufactured object — and which would mean the replacement of God as the creator.
But what about the occult world view, where sex is sometimes viewed as neither male nor female, but as a state of mind?
The boundaries of the morally acceptable were trampled by well–worn platform shoes and eventually, Bowie could climb out of the Quicksand of his thoughts and became like LSD in the water supply of his audience.
|Ziggy Stardust — our fine, feathered friend — Who he?|
In Bowie's visionary performance, civilization was going to collapse and the 'Infinites' would arrive. Ziggy Stardust (a sort of a Golem, "your face, your race, the way that you talk / I kiss you, you're beautiful, I want you to walk") was to announce the coming of these 'starmen' bringing hope. Ziggy is their prophet, the messiah who takes himself to incredible spiritual heights, and is kept alive by the devotion of his disciples. When the Starmen finally arrive, they take bits and pieces of Ziggy so they can manifest themselves as real physical beings. Eventually they tear him to pieces on stage during the performance of the song 'Rock'n'Roll Suicide'. At the moment of Ziggy's death, the Starmen take on his essence, and become visible.|
This drama is Gnosticism at its purest. In Manichaeism, every man and woman were once STARS, that is divine. Through a Philip K. Dick–like "crack in the sky", most of the divine quality re–ascended to heaven, leaving behind only some tiny little sparks of the Divine Light in humanity on the physical level. These sparkling 'leftovers' of the Divine (when the so–called Logos spermatikos left mankind), imprisoned in matter, have to be concentrated upon building up a brilliant "Body of Light" fitted for a return to the "Blessed Realm" in heaven. Thus in this form of Gnosticism, the whole body of man was considered as divine (the Temple of the Holy Ghost) and the sexual organs were meant to fulfill a peculiar function: namely, the re–creation of the universe. In Manichaeism, all other matter is "evil", a place of decay; and although many manicheist scriptures speak of the ascetic aspect (enjoining no meat, no coitus, no marriage) there are more controversial reports that take a diametrical opposed view. But whether ascetic or sensual, it was a core belief of Manichaeism that "angels" copulate with "archonts" as a way of freeing human beings from their the "evil bonds" to matter. — Archonts are the guardians of the universe and are often viewed as maleficent forces. One of the archonts is the demiurge or the creator of the world. The recurring image of archonts is that of jailers imprisoning the divine spark in human souls, held captive in material creation. — But through the union of Good and Evil — angels and archonts — souls were purified and what is removed in this purgation might be 'given to all the species of the Earth'.
There are also strong shamanic elements involved; mutilation of the body (a reflection of Ziggy being torn apart) is common in shamanistic initiation.
In his book 'Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy' (Bollingen Foundation, published by Princeton University Press, 1964), Mircea Eliade recorded a Yakut shaman stating that as a rule the prospective shaman 'dies' and lies in their yurt for three days without eating or drinking as part of their initiation. The shaman recounted that in former times the candidate went through the ceremony thrice, during which he was cut to pieces. The candidate's limbs were removed and disjointed with an iron hook; the bones were cleaned, the flesh scraped, the body–fluids thrown away, and the eyes torn from their sockets. After this operation, all the bones were gathered up and fastened together with iron. It was also believed that the limbs were distributed among the evil spirits of disease and death. Each spirit devoured the part of the body that was its share. This gave the candidate shaman the power to cure the corresponding diseases. After devouring the whole body the evil spirits departed.
The myth of renewal by fire, cooking or dismemberment has continued to haunt mankind even beyond the spiritual horizon of shamanism. Posing together with Damien Hirst, in 1994 and 1995 Bowie was going to play with the idea of torn apart bodies as Art.
Manichaeism was also an important part in Aleister Crowley's "philosophy". Did his slogan "Every Man and Woman is a Star" lead to Bowie's Starman, Ziggy Stardust, the Rock'n Roll Star of the 1971–73 Ziggy–Incarnation?
"I was very aware of the idea of androgyny or an unknown gender being attached to most priesthoods in the East... Those original shamans have mutated into the entertainer ... that's where I was at in the early '70s," Bowie recalled in 'Interview' September 1995.
|"I've had my share so I'll help you with the pain"|
|"It's the process that matters, isn't it? Rather than getting your information — or redemption — easily and directly you must go through this long stubborn painful trek. As with alchemy, the end result isn't as important as the long process whereby all the inessential aspects of 'you' have been stripped away." |
While Bowie had sexual intercourse with his alter ego Ziggy Stardust, his friend Marc Bolan (originally one of Ziggy's rôle–models for 'Lady Stardust' already in 1970 where Bowie sang "songs of darkness and dismay") celebrated libertine Gnose: "I got a Rolls–Royce 'cause it's good for my voice". |
It's plain that Bowie and his coevals either neglected or ignored the ascetic aspect of Manichean practice (who avoided activities tending to disperse the Light/Divine Sparks) and sought their salvation/health/cure of souls via Optimum through Maximum. Or, as Bowie sang later in Bertolt Brecht's 'Baal' in 1981: "He will have his sky down there below."
When the stage shows in 1972 and 1973 opened with Beethoven's 'Freude Schöner Götterfunken' [Ode to Joy], it seemed that the musicians in his band, The Spiders from Mars, had found 'God' as well but through the medium of Scientology. [Beethoven also was used in 1990 as the opener].
Scientology and Crowleyanity have more in common than at first appears, as readers of Michael Staley's article The Babalon Working and Nikolas and Zeena Schreck's "Demons of the Flesh" can learn.
Ziggy Christ — Source: The Gospel According to Ziggy Stardust?
In the end Ziggy Stardust had to die for real, as Bowie dropped Ziggy and sought out a new persona in his search for a mainstream audience; he had never intended to retire or take any kind of rest or break. But he appeared for a time to be 'going straight', and this was when the human persona called David Bowie encountered cocaine. Bowie has always been described as a hyperactive personality with a very low attention–span. Maybe Gnosticism has a physical parallelism in people whose brains are under–stimulated by a lack of dopamine, a condition that impairs the 'censoring' or controlling functions of the fore–brain. People suffering from such lapses in concentration compensate for the lack of internal mental stimuli with apparently purposeless activities, while remaining hyperactive, restless and scatter–brained. Similarly, there are cocaine addicts who suffer from a hyperkinetic disorder, and need the drug to compensate for their feelings of 'emptiness'. Like music, drugs may serve as providers of creativity and productiveness, by inducing altered constants of perception and behaviour — which in turn leads to changes in expressions of creativity. Too much Dopamin (Levipoda, L–Dopa) also can be seen in the context of schizophrenia and the belief in the 'paranormal', that is seeing meanings between things as in Cabbala.
In 1973, Bowie was allegedly influenced by the bestselling book "The Spear of Destiny”, cobbled together by Trevor Ravenscroft in 1972.
As the ideas behind his scribblings only enlarge the factual nonsense of Louis Pauwels’ and Jacques Bergier’s "The Morning of the Magicians" I shall try to diplomatically describe this rubbish in terms of content.
Ravenscroft admitted that there were no historical facts that had inspired him but that he derived his insights from private hallucinations. His book is a hardly suppressed adoration of the Hitler Youth and a show of admiration for Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner and other anti–Semites.
The work is spiced up with long quotations of “Mein Kampf” and attempts to equate an alleged Hitlerian Magick with Crowley's sexmagick. There are women in trance releasing ectoplasmatic beings through their vaginas, purportedly influencing the group around Hitler. Ravenscroft rambles at length about the Nazis’ expeditions to Tibet, sent off by Heinrich Himmler's “Ahnenerbe” in search of the original Aryan.
Himmler is seen as an empty receptacle for extra–human forces, e.g. evil. Without any factual relevance, Ravenscroft trots out fantasies about the secret force Vril invented by Golden Dawn member Edward George Bulwer–Lytton for the 1871 sci–fi novel 'Vril' with the idea of a coming race destined to supplant the current humanity, and a so–called Thule Society.
While in reality the Thule Society was a purely political organisation, a lot of occultists and conspiracy aficionados prefer to conjure up a delirium of seemingly realistic occult connotations out of all this (e.g. the "mystics" in Bowie's 'The Supermen' are the leaders of Nazi Germany: "Where all were minds in uni–thought / Power weird by mystics taught / No pain, no joy, no power too great / Colossal strength to grasp a fate").
Where the book is not pseudo–anti–Hitler it seems to be vaguely pro–Rudolf Steiner. Maybe Bowie was inspired by the more than generous descriptions of Steiner’s instructions in Ravenscroft’s book? Steiner’s way of yoga is in direct opposition to the eastern way.
Soon more on this.
Hermann Rauschning: "Hitler Speaks" (1940), "Hitler Spricht" (1940); Trevor–Roper: "Hitler's Secret Conversations" (1953).
Ellic Howe: "Astrology and the Third Reich", also as "Urania's Children" (1967).
Francis King: "Satan and Swastika, The Occult and the Nazi Party" (1976).
Ellic Howe once told me, the present author, over a fine dinner: "Never trust an Occultist."
There are proto–fascist elements in occultism.
Occultists consider themselves as 'subjects' — while non-occultists are 'objects' — as in Aleister Crowley's "the slaves shall serve". In occult terms the occultist is a dichotomist, seeing him– or herself as a superior being or a 'chosen one', while everyone else is as nothing. This sort of occultist lives in a world ruled by good and evil. Of course, as a superior being many occultists might reach a level that is above that — but nevertheless the world below the abyss is only black and white. Most occultists are trapped in such relationships; all are victims and culprits, masters and slaves, Gods and sub-humans, and this is mirrored in their language and their imagery.
|"Do I have to give your money back when I'm the Fuhrerling?"|
Already in 1969, Bowie had said about England: "This country is crying out for a leader. God knows what it is looking for, but if it's not careful it's going to end up with a Hitler. This place is so ready to be picked up by anybody who has a strong enough personality to lead." [Bowie interviewed by Kate Simpson, in 'Music Now!', December 1969.]|
"I was interested in the symbols of the Nazis. I think they are the most powerful set of symbols that have been invoked in terms of political history. The swastika. They took a Buddhist symbol, the Eastern symbol of the sun, and turned it around so it became a symbol of the dark.
That intrigued me about the Nazis. Who was the magnus [sic]? Who was the black magician?" [David Bowie, 'Arena' magazine, 1993.]
So there were fascist subtones in the Ziggy Stardust area. The obvious "Z" lightning in the stage show resembled a S–rune (SS was the nazi Schutzstaffel / Protection Squadron or Defense Corps), and subtly reminded one of Nazi military troops and how the populace subjected themselves to the master leader.|
"He was the naz[z]
with God given ass
He took it all too far but boy could he play guitar." ('Ziggy Stardust'].
Later, everything would become a mirror. In 1993, Bowie took to painting the Ziggy Stardust's/Aladdin Sane's red–blue zig–zag lightning–flash directly onto his face for a portrait on the cover of the music magazine "Q" (May 1993) — Also on the cover of the bootleg double CD "Birthday Bash" (1997).
There were possible references to totalitarian ideology already in pre–Ziggy Stardust songs. 'The Supermen' (1970) infers the idea of a master race with regimented militant behaviour: "The supermen would walk in file / Guardians of a loveless isle". "Where all were minds in uni–thought" while 'The Saviour Machine' (1970) described a futuristic fascist being in a theocracy where the word of God is "law". Was that Aleister Crowley's "Love is the Law, Love under Will" ?|
[On the right: still from Lenie Riefenstahl: "Triumph Des Willens" (Triumph of the Will), 1935.]
It had been reported that Bowie had a strong interest in the saga of King Arthur ("I had this morbid obsession with the so–called 'mysticism' of the Third Reich" in the 1970's. "The side of it that fascinated me was the apocryphal tales of the SS coming to England and searching through Glastonbury for the Holy Grail").
Allegedly those Knights had been sent off on a quest for the Holy Grail. In magical and sex–magical interpretations, this grail is the vagina containing semen and vaginal fluids. Consuming this elixir (the Elixir of Life, as it is called, or "psychosexual fluids") gives rise to the Homo Superior, the God in Man, and the Man in God ("the Golden Ones" (Warriors) in 'Oh! You Pretty Things', 1971).
PATRICK SALVO: "As for yourself, you obviously don't believe in organized religion but you were once a Buddhist. You practiced it and that would be organized to an extent."
BOWIE: "Well that's why I'm not a Buddhist anymore. I wrote a song called "The Supermen" which was about the Homo Superior race and through that I got interested in Nazism. I'm overwhelmed at their methods–diabolical. I have no room in my head to entertain their theory, the gross effects, the terrible disregard for human life, especially for particular races and religions. You knew Roman Catholics were next. The Pope bought Hitler off. It was the whole thing about the Magic Wine. Hitler wanted to develop an Aryan race. For what reason? To fight Homo Superior. He was dreadfully afraid of Homo Superior and his aims to develop a race of Aryan people was a misrepresentation of that good feeling of Homo Superior. Because if it was such a depressed era, spiritually and morally that it came out all wrong. I'm sure Hitler could have gone the other way. But mind you this is a mad planet, it's doomed to madness. We might have freaked the world so much, twisted it off its axis, its practical and mental axis so much that the way these new children could be influenced by their grandparents might have ticked something off in their head that you may well find that we have given birth to Homo Superior prematurely." [Interview' Magazine, March 1973]
Glastonbury had a history of mystical connotations going back ages. Allegedly, Christ was there — or at least the cup from the Last Supper, the Holy Grail containing Christ’s blood. St. Patrick is supposed to be buried in Glastonbury, and King Arthur lived nearby. In the 1950s and 60s, many books dealt with the quest of extraterrestrials or Atlanteans for cosmic power at the site of the ruined Benedictine Abbey, i.e. Glastonbury. In 1971, a serial of Glastonbury festivals began. Of course, Bowie sang there, to thousands: "Where all were minds in uni–thought / Power weird by mystics taught." ('The Supermen.')
Angie Bowie commented: "Arthur? He wasn’t fixated on Arthur, he never even mentioned him. Grail? Well, he hung out with Ken Pitt who loved dressing up as a [***]. Maybe he liked the rakish slant of the officer’s hat or the feel of a lash on the thigh, who knows? I wasn’t there. Before my time. Ken Pitt was interested in [***] dress–up and things occult! There are only twenty or thirty international legends; to what or which was he supposed to attach his new belief system if not Arthur? [It’s] the only distinct legend which features the English doing something apart from running around covered in Wode or empire building."
Me: “Did he believe he could become God with the help of occult practices?”|
Angie Bowie: “David wants to be a dictator, not God. His fixation is with himself and he strives to ignore his own self–loathing."
|"And in the death ..."|
In the biggest stage show ever mounted in rock history (the show stage was based on the expressionist designs of "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari" – the design of "Caligari" was developed by a famous 1920s-occultist, Albin Grau, also responsible for "Nosferatu"), in 1974 Bowie presented himself as 'Halloween Jack' with his own face as a Japanese Kabuki–Mask, on which yet another persona was painted: Aladdin Sane (A Lad Insane). |
An unreleased track from this time is called 'A Lad In Vain'.
Journalist Chris Charlesworth made it clear how theatricality was perceived at that time within rock culture when he described Bowie's show as "a piece of theatre" that "has much to do with rock and roll as Bob Dylan has with Las Vegas [...] the show is a completely rehearsed and choreographed routine where every step and nuance has been perfected down to the last detail. There isn't one iota of spontaneity about the whole show." [Chris Charlesworth: "Bowie: Birth of the New Rock Theatre", 'Melody Maker' June 22, 1974].
In the early 1974 live shows he played the rôle of the 'Cracked Actor', parodying a Hollywood Pierrot Hamlet who addressed a skull with the lyrics: "you sold me illusions for a sack full of cheques / you've made a bad connection 'cause I just want your sex."|
The song 'Cracked Actor' appeared on the live set again in 1999 and 2000.
Reported to be heavily addicted to cocaine by the end of 1974, Bowie had his band introduce him with a 1969 song's lyrics: "The Sun machine is coming down" and underlaying now new songs like 'Who Can I be Now' ("can I be real?") and 'It's Gonna Be Me' ("be holy again") with dancemusic ("For you're dancing where the dogs decay, defecating ecstasy") in the most surging 'party/disco' style — which worked surprisingly well — unlike Bowie's attempts at dancing, which were stiff and jerky. In a fascinating way.|
The American journalist Lester Bangs (in a search for authenticity that Bowie always refused to display) reviewed this performance as a "parody of a parody."
"Extraterrestrials had been in the audience during his concerts at the Los Angeles Amphitheatre [in September 1974]. People had mistaken them for the Bowie clones he attracted. The silver pentagrams marked on their foreheads had been interpreted as attempts to imitate his own facial decoration. But he had distinguished his own. They were there and their eyes never left him. He had counted twenty. He was terrified they would come backstage. The time wasn't right. His act had still to be perfected, enhanced, taken to ultimate extremes. He had become an automatized mutant, a rock android. People paid to see him with the expectation he would die on-stage.
And he had got out of that."
[Jeremy Reed: "Diamond Nebula", London 1994, p. 68]
On 19 October 1974, on stage that night in Detroit, Bowie "told the audience about the flying saucer [a news story he had heard on the radio], and extraterrestrial creatures in general, indicating that he was on intimate terms with these beings from antoher time and place. He was disappointed that no one around him seemed interested."
[Henry Edwards and Tony Zanetta: "Stardust: The David Bowie Story", NY 1986, page 285].
Bowie "plunged again into the making of his movie Diamond Dogs. This was the story of three drag–queen divinities who ate the flesh of babies and of the encounter with the martyrlike Bowie, an 'intergalactic communicator' who saved humanity by allowing himself to be literally absorbed into their flesh." [Edwards and Zanetta, Stardust, page 297]
In 1975, Bowie was undoubtedly speaking to himself in the duet with the sex icon Cher in 'Can you hear me?' In February that year he insisted, "that Hitler was a terrible military strategist but his overall objective was very good." It was clear that he was living in other realms.
|"Such is the stuff from / Where dreams are woven"|
Bowie was reading Madame Blavatsky and Gurdjieff, and (according to Peter & Leni Gillman: "Alias David Bowie", London 1986) in 1975 allegedly he met the Crowleyite Kenneth Anger ("Anger vigorously denies this; he says he's never met David Bowie," Henry Edwards and Tony Zanetta: "Stardust: The David Bowie Story", NY 1986), and soon would develop a new alter ego: the emotionless Aryan superhuman called The Thin White Duke. In late 1975 he started recording the songs for his next album, 'Station to Station', released in January 1976.
Kenneth Anger had lived in Aleister Crowley's Boleskine House in Scotland for a summer before Jimmy Page bought it in 1970 from the Canadian who owned it.
Anger's later membership in the Crowleyan Ordo Templi Orientis is easily demonstrated by the way he signs his private letters (to me, the present author) with the abbreviation "O.T.O.", and the fact that he is a known associate of the chief of a modern–day American version of the O.T.O., called the 'Caliphate'. In fact, Anger is listed as a member of the 'Caliphate' O.T.O's IXth degree in the group's membership list (see details of Crowley's sex–magical system above). A member of Charles Manson's infamous 'Family', Robert Beausoleil, lived together with Anger for some time. Before he took up murdering Hollywood celebrities in 1969, Beausoleil had acted the part of Lucifer in Anger's movies 'Lucifer Rising' in 1966 and "Invocation of My Demon Brother" of 1969; when he was sent to prison, he composed the music for 'Lucifer Rising'. Kenneth Anger was also instrumental in the founding of Anton LaVey's 'Church of Satan'. And allegedly it was LaVey who played the rôle of Satan in Roman Polanski's movie 'Rosemary's Baby' (this is in fact not true). Sharon Tate, one of the Family's murder victims, was Polanski's wife.
In 1993, Bowie admitted that it was the atmosphere surrounding the Manson murders that had induced his fascination with what he called 'Black Magick'. Manson himself was possessed by occult fantasies. Nonetheless, most people were far more interested in Bowie's latest hair–style than his lyrics. He still maintained, "I'm Pierrot, I'm Everyman. What I'm doing is Theatre, and only Theatre... what you see on stage isn't sinister. It's pure clown... putting over the great sadness of 1976."
B.t.w, it is preposterous to assume that Bowie had ever been initiated into the O.T.O. After all, in the 1970s, it was a Swiss group that might be regarded as the only active O.T.O. worldwide.
|In 1978, he described his persona of 1976 as "a very Aryan, Fascist type; a would–be romantic with absolutely no emotion at all but who spouted a lot of neo–romance." [Bowie interviewed by Timothy White: "Turn and Face the Strange", in 'Crawdaddy', February 1978.]|
|John Symonds: The Great Beast * The Life and Magick of Aleister Crowley (1971).|
The Magical Record of the Beast 666 * The Diaries of Aleister Crowley (1972).
White Stains (1924/1973).
Christopher Sandford (via Angie Bowie) ("Bowie — Loving the Alien", Revised and Updated, London 1997): In March 1976 "Bowie gave an interview in which he said, 'I want to be prime minister of England.'" — "I just want to have a revolution in England [...] The one thing I want to do when I get back to England is see what is happening there politically [...] When I'm a lot older and know what I'm talking about politically, I would like to get into our politics back home. I still have my Grand King complex. I'll never lose that. I'm ultra Capricorn." [BOWIE: NOW I'M A BUSINESSMAN, 'Melody Maker' 1976, Interview by Robert Hilburn.]|
Sandford: "Then he began, with the aid of his book of magic numbers, to calculate the ideal moment for him to assume power."
Aleister Crowley (then still in the Golden Dawn): "777 VEL PROLEGOMENA SYMBOLICA AD SYSTEMAM SCEPTICO–MYSTICAE VIAE EXPLICANDAE FUNDAMENTUM HIEROGLYPHICUM SANCTISSIMORUM SCIENTIAE SUMMAE (Liber DCCLXXVII — 777)", 1909, many reprints.|
William Wynn Westcott (Golden Dawn): "An Introduction to the Study of the Kabalah", 1910.
S.L. MacGregor Mathers (founder of the Golden Dawn): "The Kabbalah Unveiled", 1912, many reprints, e.g. 1970.
John Frederick Charles Fuller had coined the term Crowleyanity in his admiration for Crowley’s poetry in his 1907 book ‘The Star in the West’, which was a verbose eulogy of Crowley’s artistic talents. Fuller had come into contact with Crowley in 1905; having left the army for health reasons in April 1906, he joined Crowley’s occult order Argenteum Astrum, then helping to edit the A.·. A.·.’s journal ‘The Equinox’, which also became the O.T.O.’s organ in 1912. But in 1911 Fuller accused Crowley of cowardice and disloyalty over a legal case, and broke away from him. He resumed his military career, which led to his becoming a Major–General, and even on one occasion to a meeting with Hitler. He was also a member of Sir Oswald Mosley's fascist group, the British Union / Blackshirts that existed 1932–40. |
According to Bowie's manager Kenneth Pitt from about 1967 to 1970, Bowie's mother, Peggy, naively joined Mosley's Blackshirts in the 1930s for no other reason than she liked the uniform. [Kenneth Pitt: "Bowie: The Pitt Report", London 1983].
Flag of the British Union:
J.F.C. Fuller: "Yoga", 1925. "The Secret Wisdom of the Qabalah", 1937.
|On platform 8 in Victoria Station / London on 2nd May 1976 Bowie had been photographed (by the 'New Musical Express': see small scan of the item in question on the right) giving something that looked vaguely like a Nazi salute (which did not come across in both the footage ! ), and had been overheard muttering "I am the only alternative for Premier in England. I believe Britain could benefit from a Fascist leader. After all, Fascism is really nationalism" a week before in Stockholm.|
"People aren't very bright, you know. They say they want freedom, but when they get the chance, they pass up Nietzsche and choose Hitler."|
"Adolf Hitler was one of the first rock stars... think about it... I think he was quite as good as Jagger. It's astounding. And, boy, when he hit that stage, he worked an audience. Good God! He was no politician. He was a media artist himself. He used politics and theatrics and created this thing that governed and controlled the show for those 12 years."
"I think I might have been a bloody good Hitler. I'd be an excellent dictator. Very eccentric and quite mad."
"I'd love to enter politics. I will one day. I'd adore to be Prime Minister. And yes, I believe very strongly in Fascism. The only way we can speed up the sort of liberalism that's hanging foul in the air at the moment is to speed up the progress of a rightwing, totally dictatorial tyranny and get it over as fast as possible."
[Bowie interviewed by Cameron Crowe: "A candid conversation with the actor, rock singer and sexual switch–hitter", printed in 'Playboy', September 1976.]
|"To be insulted by these fascists — it's so degrading"|
Angie Bowie recalled a good deal of occult activity during the LA period of 1975–76; it was also clear that Bowie was vulnerable to the influence of sycophants and hangers–on while he was heavily into cocaine. It has been alleged that at this time he scribbled frantic cabbalistic calculations on his own correspondence, stored his own urine in a fridge of Michael Lippman’s home where he was living then, and was obsessed about preventing anyone else getting hold of his nail–clippings and hair–trimmings, so they could not fall into the hands of those he thought wished to put spells on him. This sort of voodoo superstition — a fear that bodily waste could be used for evil purposes by occult enemies — can also be found in Aleister Crowley's more secret teachings.|
|Here is one of those 'secret teachings': "All bodily excrements, such as cut nails, and hair, should be burnt; spittle should be destroyed or exposed to the Sun; the urine and faeces should be so disposed of that it is unlikely that any other person should obtain possession of them.All bodily excrements, such as cut nails, and hair, should be burnt; spittle should be destroyed or exposed to the Sun; the urine and faeces should be so disposed of that it is unlikely that any other person should obtain possession of them. It is even desirable in theory that linen should not be washed by strangers, and that old clothes should not be given to the poor until some time after the occasion of wearing them." (Aleister Crowley: "Of the Secret Marriages of Gods with Men." Published for example by Francis King: "The Secret Rituals of the O.T.O.", 1973).|
Bowie constructed an altar in the living room and he graced the walls with various magick symbols which he hand–painted. Candles burned around the clock, he regularly performed banishing rituals, and he protected his friends by drawing sigils on their hands.|
The seventeen–year–old Cameron Crowe allegedly found a stirred–up Bowie burning black candles against an aborted magical ritual during the LA period. Eventually Crowe published several narratives in 'Rolling Stone' and 'Playboy' of Bowie drawing black magick symbols, seeing disembodied beings, thinking he was the Messiah, keeping bottles of his urine in the fridge, etc., etc.
Yet still in March 1987 Bowie was insisting:
"I don't think I ever was particularly in the Occult." Listen:
And for all these years he sang about the 'Jean Genie' who "keeps all your dead hair for making up [witchy] underwear."
Was The Thin White Duke also meant to be the god Set who slays his brother Osiris / Ziggy Stardust?|
“I had this more–than–passing interest in Egyptology, mysticism and the cabala. At the time it seemed transparently obvious what the answer to life was. My whole life would be transformed into this bizarre nihilistic fantasy world of impending doom, mythological characters and imminent totalitarianism.” ('Musician', May 1983.)
Angie Bowie witnessed her husband exorcising the swimming pool: “When he did the exorcism he cited from one of the books I got for him from the magick store in Hollywood [Rituale Romanum] . Some exorcism spell, who knows? I offered to bring in the Greek Orthodox Bishop from Santa Sophia’s Cathedral in Los Angeles. I though I might humilate him into behaving himself, stop doing so much cocaine and have to receive a house visitor; but that didn’t work. David performed the ‘Swimming Pool Exorcism’ himself... in fact, when I found a house in California in Los Angeles, an old Hollywood house with a second–foor solarium with a pentagram painted on the foor, he nearly had a heart attack and said we couldn’t live there! David loves to play weird. He just can’t stand not to be the head Ho Ho.”
Bowie asked someone for a mezuzah, a talisman against demons used by Qabalists. In April 1974, while in London, Angie Bowie received a phone call from her husband in LA, who claimed that he was kidnapped by a magician and two witches who wanted to steal his sperm. Allegedly, they intended him to father a Baby for Rosemary.
Angie Bowie reacted reluctantly: "Believing he was held captive by a warlock and [*** C*** ***] and he was to inseminate the whatever by All Hallows’ Eve. I told him, I said, why did they bother to hold you captive, they just needed to ask. I’m sure you’d have been delighted to [***] AGAIN... I never bought his stories. NEVER. Flying all the way to Los Angeles for him to invent some hallucination, drug–induced, about witches and warlocks... Please!"
|"I'll be your king volcano right for you again and again"|
|In 1976, the Thin White Duke, alias Bowie opened his live performances with a cloth / mask covering his face. After showing Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel's film 'Un Chien Andalou' as a prologue, he came on stage as a "Frank Sinatra of the Nightmares" "throwing Darts in Lover's eyes", ripping that golden cloth/mask off his face when singing the revelatory lines from his song about the Sefiroth "From Kether to Malkuth".|
The 1976 track 'Station to Station' is a fine example of Bowie's use of occult symbolism. Not only does he refer to Aleister Crowley's book of pornographic poems (with its topics ofpedophilia, bestiality and necrophilia) when he sings of "making sure White Stains", the 'Stations' of the title refer to the ten stations of a cabalistic diagram called the 'Tree of Life', where the transcendent aspect of God becomes manifest through ten emanations or spheres (called 'Sefiroth' in Hebrew) from the highest 'Kether' (the crown), to the lowest 'Malkuth' (the kingdom). Each of these Stations represents a thing in itself, connected by twenty–two paths, to each is attributed a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each represents a planet, a sign of the zodiac, or one of the elements, together with a whole hierarchy of corresponding ideas.|
Bowie also opined that these Stations refer to the Stations of the Christian Cross, the fourteen landmarks on Christ's path to the crucifixion.
But which God was Bowie trying to reach? "Does my prayer fit in with your scheme of things?" he asked 'God' in the track 'Word on a Wing' on the same album, in 1976. |
"I wrote the whole thing as a hymn. What better way can a man give thanks for achieving something that he had dreamed of achieving, than doing it with a hymn?" [Source: 'Melody Maker' 1976, see below.]
|After a show on February 6th, 1976: "The numbers were a bit tough for us tonight. We were a four and the audience was a four. That can sometimes mean resistance. In L.A. we'll be a five — in the realm of the magician — and the audience will be a six — meaning comfortable, agreeable. That should really be something." ["BOWIE: NOW I'M A BUSINESSMAN", 'Melody Maker' 1976, by Robert Hilburn.]|
Aleister Crowley was technical advisor to Dennis Wheatley's book "The Devil Rides Out" in 1934. Christopher Lee suggested to the Hammer executives that his friend Wheatley's gothic fiction would be the ideal material for them. Richard Matheson ('I Am Legend', 'The Incredible Shrinking Man', several 'Twilight Zone' episodes ...) provided the script and Terence Fisher's film was a vast improvement on the book.
Stills: The Devil Rides Out — Hammer Film Productions 1967.
You need magical circles in order to manifest Angels or Demons. The magician stands in one circle and the Angel has to appear in the other.
|"flashing no colour"|
Those who in 1888 founded the Golden Dawn attached immense importance to colour, seeing it as a mode of enhancing states of consciousness. They made experiments with Tattwa cards, a set of twenty–five coloured symbols which each initiate had to make for himself. These symbols represent the five elements of fire, earth, water, air, and spirit and their combinations.
In 'Station to Station' Bowie is "flashing no colour" which hints at his experimentation with the hindu Tattva system which advocates 'colour–flashing' in order to enter the several astral planes contributed to the 5 elements.
But “flashing no colour”: Which Tattwa has no colours? It’s the Akasha–Tattwa, the superimposed quintessence of all the others — being usually translated as spirit but seemingly having more in common with Astral Light than with spirit as the term is used in the Occident.|
What are you going to do with flashing no colors in a magical circle? Breaking glass?
My question to Angie Bowie: “Regarding astral travels. Did he use the Hindu symbols called Tattwas? You focus on one of the images, and eventually ‘astrally’ enter, step through it like you would through a door” (there to experience a lucid, coherent astral vision).
It is worth adding that most of those who have experimented with this technique have claimed (a) that the nature of the day dream bears an authentic relationship to the symbol employed — if one uses the water Tattwa one usually experiences a 'watery' vision — and (b) that as one goes on using the technique the visions become less dreamlike and more real. At first it seems as though everything perceived were just the product of one's own imagination, i.e. that one simply took scraps of memory, scraps of other men's ideas gleaned from books, pictures, etc., and built them up at will into a composite picture. But a little further experience generally convinces one that the new 'plain' one has become conscious of has its natural laws — just as the physical world has: that one cannot make or unmake the vision at will, that the same causes produce the same results, that one is, in fact, merely a spectator and in no sense a creator.
[Photo on the right by Steve Schapiro in the magazine for the 'Station to Station' tour 1976:
Bowie in the Wand Posture used for astral travelling — there are three postures: flat on the back, sitting while resting the palms upon the knees and standing upright.]
It's a very special knowledge that you've got, my friendFrom 'Did You Ever Have A Dream?', single in July 1967.
The use of Tattwa symbols was the introductory stage of the Adept's astral explorations. After he had mastered them he went on to more complex symbols: the twenty–two trumps of the Golden Dawn version of the Tarot pack, the sigils — geometrical figures — attributed to various spirits in the grimoires, and finally the 'Enochian pyramids' derived from the Enochian magic of Dr Dee, invoked by the use of the Calls which had been delivered to Dee by his supposed angels.|
Interesting as such visions were to those who experienced them, it is doubtful whether they were of any great spiritual value; there is reason to think that for at least some Golden Dawn initiates they were an obstruction on the magical path, a search for wonders which distracted them from what should be the ultimate goal of all magical activity — the raising of consciousness to a new level, not a descent into the murky delights of one's own unconscious mind.
After the magician had mastered Tattwa vision and manufactured his seven magical weapons, his next task was the consecration of these latter. By consecration they meant, not some superstitious rite involving the muttering of half–understood prayers and the sprinkling of holy water, but a conscious imbuing of dead matter with the living spirit. The consecration ceremonies of the Golden Dawn were not believed to have any virtue of themselves; it was the imagination–inflamed will of the consecrating adept that reached out through the Astral Light and brought down, for example, the cosmic force of fire into the wand (the fire symbol) that lay upon the altar awaiting vivification. [Compiled from Francis King: "Magic. The Western Tradition", London 1975]
|"Have you sought Fortune, evasive and shy?"|
|So were you involved in actual devil worship?|
"Not devil worship, no, it was pure straighforward, old–fashioned magic."
The Aleister Crowley variety?
"No, I always thought Crowley was a charlatan. But there was a guy called [Arthur] Edward Waite who was terribly important to me at the time. And another called Dion Fortune who wrote a book called 'Psychic Self–Defence' [1930, republished 1971]. You had to run around the room getting bits of string and old crayons and draw funny things on the wall, and I took it all most seriously, ha ha ha ! I drew gateways into different dimensions, and I'm quite sure that , for myself, I really walked into other worlds. I drew things on walls and just walked trough them, and saw what was on the other side!"
When Bowie had asked the journalist George Tremlett whether he had ever tried to communicate with the dead using a ouija board, Tremlett said no. “Don’t,” replied Bowie, “It can mess you up, especially if you’re taking drugs.” (David Bowie: "Living on the Brink", London, 1997. p. 149.)
Arthur Edward Waite (1857–1943?) was an English Christian mystic and writer on masonic and occult subjects and editor of the works of others. He was received into the Golden Dawn in 1891 although his involvement was sporadic and caused a schism the following year. He never felt at home in the original G.D. and so he purged magic from the rituals, replacing it with mysticism. He re–organised his own G.D. by banishing the Gods of the Egyptians and rewriting the rituals in a more Christian form. Still, he kept some of the cabbalistic teachings. Some of his members were of Rudolf Steinerite persuasion. When Waite branched off in 1903, Algernon Blackwood followed him.|
"The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts" (London 1898) was an attempt to synthesize the procedures of all of the famous Grimoires. It was revised in 1911 as "The Book of Ceremonial Magic". His Christian Golden Dawn lost much of its appeal and he closed it down in 1914. Today, Waite is best remembered as the designer of the Rider Tarot with its period charm of art–nouveau. It was produced under Waites direction by a certain Pamela Coleman Smith.
Dion Fortune's (1891–1946) original training was in the Golden Dawn. She felt that the Order needed new blood, that it was manned "mainly by widows and grey–bearded ancients". Indeed, of the men, a considerable number were, or became freemasons, while many of the others — and most of the women, seem to have come from the Thesophical Society of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. Fortune was temporarily expelled from the order because it was said she revealed too much of the inner teachings. She defended herself by pointing out she had been told none of it, that she had worked it out herself. The then head of the Order did accept this but it does suggest that members at the heart of the Golden Dawn taught ideas concerning sexual polarity, which are not recorded elsewhere. She was rather more into what is now called Channeling and left the Golden Dawn to form the Society Of Inner Light which was based on her own inner plane contacts and which was a little empire of her own. Her "Psychic Self Defence" (London 1930) is the best book on the subject.
Bowie read Austin Osman Spare's "Book of Pleasure (Self–Love): The Psychology of Ecstasy" (1913). Spare, born in London in 1886 became a member of Aleister Crowley's Argenteum Astrum and contributed some of his drawings to Crowley's periodical, 'The Equinox' in 1910.
Spare tried to conjure thought–forms to manifest in visible appearance and to communicate with the unconscious and the world beyond. For this he used a technique somewhat similar to automatic writing, a technique already used by the Surrealists, automatic drawing where the hand draws or writes without any conscience.
These sigills/emblems were letters of Spare's so-called Alphabet of Desire: "Each letter in its pictorial aspect relates to a Sex[sic] principle." The basis of this Alphabet, together with many early examples of the letters composing it, is given in Spare's "The Book of Pleasure" where he described his use of art and sex to explore the subconscious mind.
|Kenneth Grant, being his literary executor, and Steffi Grant: "ZOS SPEAKS! ENCOUNTERS WITH AUSTIN OSMAN SPARE", London 1998, page 119.|
|Sigills were created in a child–like way: For example you want Power. You write down the word "Power" and eliminate all the vowels. With the remaining consonants P, W and R you draw a sigill as simple as possible.|
Spare's magic was analogous to that taught by Crowley in his Ordo Templi Orientis. When visualized (and sexually aroused), the emblem or sigil allegedly stirs the subconscious and a corresponding image arises in the mind. Eventually the communication with the other World begins — or the Wish is fullfilled.
Consciousness interferes in this process. Spare called the forgetting of the desire during magical evocation "union through absent–mindedness" and he advocated the yogic method of emptying the mind of all but the sigil. Prolonged orgasm and the use of sperm was used in context of the emblem/sigill/alphabet. He "copulated merely with the atmosphere, or rode [imaginary] whores, witches and bitches of all kinds, there being few virgins." In other words: Spare practised magical masturbation. The annointed sigill then was buried in a basket or an urn.
Kenneth Grant: "IMAGES & ORACLES OF AUSTIN OSMAN SPARE", London 2003, page 17.|
Similar drawings by Fraternitas Saturni members Guido Wolther and Johannes Goeggelmann.
Nevertheless, Spare remained cautious about those who "praise ceremonial magic and are supposed to suffer much ecstasy! Our asylums are crowded and the stage is over–run. Is it by symbolizing that we become the symbolized? Were I to crown myself King, should I be King? Rather should I be an object of disgust or pity."
Mario Praz in his "The Romantic Agony" (Oxford, 1933) referred to Spare as an English "satanic occultist", and he placed him in the same category as Aleister Crowley.
Spare died in 1956 poverty stricken. Today he is considered a very influental magician among occultists and the various groups like the so–called Chaos Magic movement, Kenneth Grant's Typhonian Order (the English O.T.O.) and in Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth of Genesis P–Orridge.
There is another less serious insight in Bowie's songs that involve a dialogue between Bowie and an 'Angel' (perhaps a sort of Mephistopheles?); there is a strong implication of some kind of Faustian pact, though this isn't immediately obvious. In 1999 Bowie's posed as 'Mephistopheles' in photographs.|
In 1976's 'Golden Years', Bowie sang "I'll stick with you baby for a thousand years, nothin's gonna touch you in these golden years" to an "Angel". This could be interpreted as the angel and Bowie assuring one another of their thousand year pact... though Angie Bowie remembers this track as a much more conventional love–song, written for her when Bowie was trying to save their failing relationship. Allegedly.
In 'Station to Station' there is the line "throwing darts in lovers' eyes". In Crowley's system, the dart or arrow is a symbol of direction, and shows the dynamic of True Will — which is not being but going, not individual but universal. The arrow pierces all points simultaneously in a perpetual orgasm; it is tipped with poison, an alkahest capable of dissolving the illusion of separation.
[Photo on the right: John Robert Rowlands, "bowie eclectix" (also "The Archer"), 1976.]
In Crowley's 'Thoth' Tarot cards, the complementary card to 'The Lovers' is called 'Art', which depicts the flight of this arrow beyond its disintegrative stage. The two figures in 'The Lovers' are now synthesized, which is Perfection. The arrow soars Beyond, piercing the rainbow. There is no goal, only the dynamics of the flight. The flight towards Perfection. The House of God is smitten by the Lightning Flash of Illumination, the impact of the Holy Guardian Angel and the Flaming Sword of the Energy that emanates from Kether to Malkuth, hence two figures are cast forth represented by the Hebrew letter Ayin: these are the twins (Horus and Harpocrates) born at the breaking open of the Womb of the Mother (the second aspect of the House of God (or Tarot card 'Tower': symbolic of the ego in its phallic aspect) as "a spring shut up, a fountain sealed").
|Rudolf Steiner’s Stations|
|I wont discuss here the fairy tale alleging Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) was a member of the O.T.O. or even a Crowleyite. The pertinent facts are published in my essay Rudolf Steiner: Never a member of any Ordo Templi Orientis. In the context of Bowie's lyrics in 'Station to Station' it is noteworthy that the 'regular' occultist does not travel from Kether to Malkuth but from Malkuth to Kether, that is via sex to divineness. It is in Steiner's worldview where one travels from Kether to Malkuth.|
It is quite obvious that Steiner's worldview was and is ascetic, i.e. "is sensual–free" ("only what is communicated with pain has a value") and he has deeply rejected the eastern version taught by most yoga practitioners. Steiner was against the attenuation of consciousness, against oaths of secrecy and a personality cult (although he appeared as messenger of the Masters, e.g. Zarathustra). He repeatedly stated that esoteric training should be based on thinking, and not bodily forces (as by sexmagicians). In this, Steiner was most obviously referring to hypnotism, mediumship, and Yogic breathing, but also, presumably, to sexual energies. Nevertheless, Steiner's student should "do as much as possible, whatever his position, to further the health of body and soul" — with the exception that sometimes duty may stand higher than health, or life itself. The crucial point is whether consciousness is controlled by bodily forces or whether the body is controlled by the spirit–consciousness of the individual Ego. Eurythmy and Speech–Formation are later artistic applications of the initiation–knowledge gained by Steiner, as ways of bringing the spirit into the physical, not the physical into the spiritual.|
Advocating the Christian way of the Rosycross, Steiner opposed any ceremonial magic, although he used Eliphas Levi's apocalyptic seals and the Tarot symbolism. Even text passages from Levi's "Dogma and Ritual of High Magic" are found in Steiner's rituals. Steiner considered his rituals building the bridge between the Invisible and the Visible: "downwards" and not "upwards" as with the libertine Gnostics. Steiner's Chakra exercises work from above downward. It is the heart which is considered by the vedantics as the main chakra and not, yogically, the solar plexus.
|"You drive like a demon from station to station"|
I shall not discuss here the skipping of Tifereth and Yesod (his relationship with Angie Bowie was nearing its end); but the omission of Da'ath, or the 'words through the throat' was certainly manifest in the next few years of Bowie's life, when he recorded several albums containing tracks with no lyrics.
[Picture at the right: 'DER SPIEGEL' 16, Hamburg 1976 — Article by Siegfried Schober: "Idol des letzten Rock". Caption: "Singer Bowie: Frankieboy of the Nightmares".]
Unused alternative lyrics to 'Station to Station'
You smell like a ghost
You eat like the terminal girl
But the men hurt your back
You sit and you piss dark water
You're silent but aware
You're seething but warm
You sword–play to
The Return of the Thin white duke
Throwing darts in lovers eyes
|"You'll never know the real story / Just a couple of dreams"|
Bowie was spouting occult keywords far and wide without any apparent fear of being publicly condemned. "That whole dark and rather fearsome never–world of the wrong side of the brain" as he later called Aleister Crowley's field, was — and is — expressed in complicated wording, as we've seen in the previous analysis of the lyrics in 'Station to Station'.
By now living as a tax–exile in Switzerland, Bowie had scaled down his elaborate and expensive concerts to a minimalist show without a set, instead using white light against a black background; he himself adopted a 1920's look. His friend Iggy Pop was seen dancing in the background at these performances. Linked up to a new management and record–company, both Bowie (now rich, but still maintaining an 'arty' profile) and Pop moved to Berlin for a time (in reality he still lived in Switzerland or was on tour with Iggy Pop or recorded in Paris). There in a seven–roomed flat they numbed their depression with beer and cocaine, and produced voiceless textures of electronic sounds whose style was to influence many rock musicians in the future. Far removed from the public's gaze, Bowie started painting, mostly rather amateurish portraits in the expressionist manner of the 1920's, or versions of the Cabalistic Tree of Life with its ten spheres/stations and twenty–two paths (corresponding to the Tarot trumps). As mentioned previously, one of these occult paintings is shown on the back cover of EMI's 1991 CD re–release of 'Station to Station'.
Bowie recorded 'Low' with Brian Eno; together with Iggy Pop, they "fabricated" the album 'The Idiot', Bowie became "Heroes" (also the song title in between inverted commas) ('Heroes' introduced Robert Fripp: Bowie, Brian Eno and Fripp enjoyed calling one another charlatans), Pop ironically caught sight of the 'Lust for Life' but both remained 'Passengers', headed by Bowie as 'Lodger'. Aimless.
When Bowie sang a duet with Bing Crosby about the 'Peace On Earth', shortly before the latter's death, as a Christmas record in 1976, it was hard to tell their voices apart: suddenly, unaccountably, Bowie had become mainstream.
In Berlin he was spotted alone in trendy cafés with his head in his plate. Occasionally, he cried out: "Please help me."
|Breaking Magical Glass 1977|
|Gazing upon shiny surfaces as a type of autohypnosis is called scrying. Scryers stare into the reflective surface or past the surface into the center of it until they are in a self–induced trance. They see visions or perceive images of known symbols. This was a popular technique in nineteenth–century England. John Dee, the royal magician to Queen Elizabeth I, used a crystal egg and a black obsidian mirror. His mirror is exhibited today at the British Museum in London. Such scrying often was done ritually in a magic circle. Sometimes the scryer used a wand to invoke the entities in the magic mirror. John Dee, the Elizabethan scholar and magician, believed that through the mediumship of Edward Kelly he was in touch with angels and other spiritual creatures. Because Dee's manuscripts provided little more than the skeleton of a system, rudimentary when compared to the consistent and elaborate magical corpus taught in the Golden Dawn, his writings were thoroughly studied by members, who then combined Dee's "Enochian magic" with other aspects of the Western tradition in order to become more than human.|
The method is simple. In a dimly lit room, sit in a yoga posture in front of a mirror. Observe yourself in the mirror. Focus on your face. Gaze into your reflection's eyes.
You can also focus your attention on the so–called Third Eye, the spot in the forehead that is in the center of, and slightly above, the brows [Ziggy Stardust / Aladdin Sane]. Imagine a light there. Let thoughts wander.
You may also draw magic symbols on the mirror. Or the face of an Angel.
You receive information through any of your senses. In this trance you hear your own disassociated voice. You experience Sound and Vision.
Break a mirror and you will suffer seven years bad luck.
[Photos on the right: above: Kevin Cummings, below: Steve Schapiro.]
Davor Zadnek is a practising Thelemite:
If we assume that breaking glass is a mirror or a crystal ball, than I would say that this lyric is most probably about evocation. "Your room" would than hint that it is not usual evocation but the one that uses sex, which is a more powerful and advanced technique. The inclusion of the Tree of Life would probably mean that Bowie is using this "tree" as a basis for his magical work, perhaps evoking some beings that are closely related to the Tree of Life.
But 'carpet' is usually associated with astral travel (flying carpet in Arab stories). So, this could mean that the practice is not only evocation but also Raising on the Planes (astral travel) used to investigate the Tree of Life. So, this could hint that he is using a combination of both techniques – and many occultists indeed find the combination of both techniques much more effective. Usually they first use Raising on the Planes and than use the connection gained in this way for evocation but there is t he possibility to first use a magical mirror to get a glimpse of one sphere of the Tree of Life and than use the vision in the mirror to enter that sphere with astral travel. As the second interpretation is in accordance with the succession in the lyric, this would mean that the first part is not about evocation of some particular 'being' but of 'scrying' certain part of the Tree — or looking at a certain part of the Tree with the magical mirror and than using those images to astrally enter into this part of the Tree. This is not a common technique but it can be used (and is used) and this second interpretation is in my opinion more in accordance with the song.
But because Bowie uses the word "listen", this could mean that a certain evocation of a being is indeed present as in evocations the beings are usually firstly heard and only than you make a visual connection. But looking at this with the conclusion that we found in the second paragraph, I would say that he is using general scrying of some sphere of the Tree and that first some being(s) "appear" and they first make audible contact but the working is 'concentrated' on the sphere of the Tree and not on a part icular being — so that the 'apperance' of this being(s) is more a contingency than anything else. Than he uses astral travel to intensify the experience of this sphere and make the more definite visual connection – the word "see" could imply that.
I would say that "Oh–oh–oh–oh" means sexual intercourse, so we have another point that this is about sex magick.
The lines "You're such a wonderful person" and "But you got problems" could hint at the experience that he is getting through — first the vision of beatitude in all and then because of the transformative nature of this working, the unconsciousness complexes came to the surface of the consciousness and he sees his problems or project them to him/her. Or it could mean that he gets clairvoyant.
"I'll never touch you" could perhaps mean that Bowie will not hurt him/her or better that he/she is not going to be influenced by all this as this is his personal working and that he/she is not part of it. "Don't look" in "Don't look at the carpet" could mean exactly that — you must be ready for this experience or they might be too much for you, so Bowie is protecting him/her. Crowley used sex magick in this way, as he could not find a suitable partner.
Rabbi Luria's old schema, given pre–eminence in the Golden Dawn and A.·. A.·.. Serious Qabbalah scholars like Gershom Scholem thought Crowley and Mathers (the founder of the GD) were a bunch of swindlers.
Ellic Howe and his friend Oscar Schlag indeed showed evidence that the Golden Dawn's foundation was based on a forgery (Ellic Howe's "Magicians of the Golden Dawn", London 1972).
Maggie Ingalls, famous in the Thelemic Continuum for expanding Crowley's Thelema in the
This is an interesting set of lyrics. I read it as a loony accusing his girlfriend of being nuts: ("But you got problems"), which is just a projection of his own mental state. The breaking of glass, in the way he words it (especially with the "again") seems obsessive/compulsive action designed to harm both the girlfriend and himself.
I agree that the first glass that comes to mind is a mirror or crystal ball, but the Tree of Life symbolism leads me to consider that the broken vessels, shells, or shards that are the Qlipoth might be what he means. "Don't look at the carpet" is contradicted by "See!", which suggests that the broken glass is all over the floor.
The last line, "I'll never touch you", can be read as either a threat or a promise. He'll never touch her, but he will create hazardous conditions in her room — he'll never touch her because he thinks she's the crazy one — or he's assuring her that he won't physically assault her — or all of the above?
There do seem to be ritual elements implied, but it feels to me that it's a private ritual invented by the 'speaker' of the words...maybe he's in a moral struggle, his 'angelic' and 'diabolic' aspects locked in combat.
In the song 'Warszawa' (1977) you hear Bowie sing mysterious lyrics which remind of the so–called magical barbaric language. Based on the assumption that language and magic are so intertwined that they also enter in direct interaction with the outer world, this so–called language comes from the Enochian channeling of Dr John Dee and Sir Edward Kelly's medieval angelic language, which was also used in the Golden Dawn and Crowley's magick (at that time published in his "Magick In Theory And Practice", originally from 1929, many reprints since then).
OM is a Buddhist mantra (Om mani padme hum) augmented from the Sanskrit AUM. Crowley expanded it to AUMGN — thought to be so powerful that any magician vibrating it would be able to control the mind and the spiritual forces, that is the Universe.
In an e–mail correspondence in December 1999 and January 2000, Norman Ball speculated about Bowie having made contract with an Angel (a sort of Lucifer/Mephistopheles figure) in the 1970's — but this was not a Faustian pact in the mediæval sense, no signing your soul over in blood on a parchment to a devilish figure hovering at your shoulder. Mr. Ball mentioned the belief that it is possible to have a conversation with an inner voice where such a deal is consummated. This is what Crowleyans call "The Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel" (the 'Angel' in the 'Golden Years' song?).
So much from Norman Ball.
The sephirot/station Tiphareth (Tifereth) is the seat of the Holy Guardian Angel, the Sun (Son, i.e. Christ) and Osiris, the husband of Isis, the father of Horus and the brother whom Set murdered. Osiris is exemplary of the death–rebirth gods, of which Ziggy Stardust is a postmodern type, characteristic of the old Aeon when humanity’s view of the universe was geocentric rather than heliocentric.
|"They'll never clone ya / You're always first on the line / When you're a" Bowie|
Meanwhile, having somehow consumed all his potential musical rivals, Bowie's sound–tapestries gained lyrics again.|
But a definite loss of creativity had overshadowed him; all his life Bowie had confined much of his admiration to those who tried to emulate him e.g. Jobriath aka Bruce Wayne Campbell (aka Jobriath Salisbury, Jobriath Boone, Cole Berlin and Joby Johnson). Allegedly Bowie had instructed Angie Bowie to question anyone she met about Jobriath. Jobriath, born 1946, was an American glam rock musician and one of the first rock musicians in the United States to openly identify himself as gay. He died of AIDS in 1983. On stage he was far more shocking than Bowie.
During the Song 'TVC15' Bowie performed a Golden Dawn Posture, called "The Enterer", invoking the aid of the elements.
Astrology also was a part of Bowie's belief system. The journalists who wanted to interview him had to provide their astrological data so he could review them in combination with his Tarot readings before he decided whether to be interviewed by them or not.
According to Christopher Sandford (via Angie Bowie) ("Bowie — Loving the Alien", Revised and Updated, London 1997), "Bowie's bizarre behaviour continued even after he moved to Europe: witness his strange use of 'signals'. Throughout 1977 and '78 his letters were filled with numbers to which he gave mysterious meanings. The minute Bowie left Berlin in 1979, the numbers abruptly stopped."
The first song he ever had written, 'I'm tired of my life' (in c. 1963) [? some say this song dates from 1971] was recorded again in a new 1980 version, with partly altered lyrics under the title 'It's no Game' — the song states there were "No more free steps to Heaven". [The opening noises were taken from George Gershwin's piano roll for the 'Rhapsody in Blue' from 1925]
So what was Bowie most concerned with by 1980? He sang "This is the message from the action man: I never did anything out of the blue... _I wanna axe to break the ice_" (Franz Kafka's definition of a book). Bowie was now presenting his Gnosis as a prison represented by the Pierrot costume. He reacted to an earlier persona, Major Tom who sang in 1969: "I think my spaceship knows which way to go" (in 'Space Oddity').
Bowie's life as a show "hung out in heaven's high: hitting an all time low." Gnosis as an escape from, and result of, the pain of being and resisting philistinism. "My mama said to get things done you better not mess with Major Tom." Bowie's Gnosticism manifesting itself as a mechanical womb in his 1980 video for 'Ashes to Ashes'. And this would be the last creative act by him for a decade; after this ultimate act of coitus with himself, Bowie obviously felt in need for a very long cigarette–break.
|Vampires of Human Flesh|
German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder had a reputation for vampirising worn–out superstars in his films. Alas, the planned film of Bertolt Brecht's 'Threepenny Opera' with Bowie was still–born; but Bowie (then living in New York) added the 'Alabama Song' (from Brecht's 1928 opera 'The Rise and Fall of the Town Mahagonny') to his live set, and played the title rôle in the BBC's 1981 television production of Brecht's 'Baal' — possibly to rekindle his dying fires "with gasoline"? Brecht's songs, which Bowie sang live during the programme and which were also released in a studio–recorded version, are among the best interpretations this writer has ever heard; they are perfectly in accord with Bowie's desire to alienate everything (Brecht was the 'inventor' of the literal alienation between the actors and play on the stage, and the audience).|
Nobody seemed to appreciate the complexity and subtlety of it all. So long as Ziggy Stardust was "making love with his ego", Bowie had the potential to develop his creativity. But his burgeoning wealth, the loss of any true opposition for him to work against in his commercial and social life, as he was now an 'acceptable' performer, and mostly surrounded by lackeys and toadies — all this meant that his consciousness of once having been a 'suffering– individual– splintered–into– countless– pieces' manifestly receded into the background. The suicide machine grew tired, the drug problems became easier to handle, and the sex–life grew straightforward.
'Cat People' from 1981: "See these eyes so green, I can stare for a thousand years; these tears can never dry. Judgement made can never bend." Maybe this is Bowie and his angel telling each other about their millennial pact as mentioned in the Bible, and the hurtful burden of God's condemnation?
Now Bowie a very rich man, where was the gnostic thorn in the side that had existed between 1983 and 1992? Had he become a self–parody with the 1984 song 'Blue Jean'? Or was it a case of 'the unbearable lightness of being' in the Italian ballad 'Volare' (which he sang in the film 'Absolute Beginners' in 1985), or John Lennon's 'Imagine' (sung live in 1983)? Once again he told the world: now I am the real David Robert Jones — and produced music which he had done "with love" — but later would hate.
You might find this association intriguing: in 'Let's Dance' (1983) the lyric runs "Under the moonlight / the serious moonlight", which bears a resemblance to Aleister Crowley's 'Lyric of Love to Leah' from his diary for 1923: "Come, my darling, let us dance / To the moon that beckons us / Come, my love, let us dance / To the moon & Sirius!" A product of a 'cut–up'? A deliberate play on words? There are semantic connections between the two — as in "If you should fall into my arms / If you say hide we'll hide ..." and Crowley's "To dissolve our soul in trance / Heedless of the hideous / Heat & hate of Sirius."
[Demon Dog] Diamond Dogs = Dog Star = Sirius = Serious Moonlight
There's an anecdote about Bowie's fear of other people magically using things he touched.
Dee's 'Enochian' system of magic, with its complex magical diagrams, was an important part of Golden Dawn teachings. [More about Dee soon in this essay].
There is a postscript to this story. The producer of 'Twin Peaks' for sentimental reasons bought the rights to 'Neutron'. The project was revived recently. And guess who wants to play the lead?
|Despite all this, in March 1987 he is going to utter: "I don't think I ever was particularly in the Occult" (like Bill Clinton never had sex with Monica Lewinsky?).||
So when Bowie put a 'For Sale' sign at his front gate during the 1980's, who or what moved in?
Bowie's live performance of 'Time' on the 1987 Glass Spider video shows that he now used the Tarot Card 'The Hanged Man' to represent himself as a sort of Richard Wagnerian 'Redeemed Redeemer', a key figure in occultism, which also hints at Baphomet, the central idol of the Knights Templar and the Ordo Templi Orientis. 'Baphomet' was also one of the magical names of Aleister Crowley who identified himself with the Antichrist, the Beast 666, or an erected Penis.
Bowie was hanging on a rope as he let himself down from the huge Glass Spider that overshadowed the stage, his legs crossed mimicking the pose of the 'Hanged Man' Tarot card — at the same time referring to the Hindu creation–myth of the universe being spewed out of a giant spider's bowels.
Who is Bowie singing about here: "The sniper in the brain", who "flexes like a whore" in a Stefan George sort of park where lovers quit — but who were the lovers — Bowie and God?
Did Bowie fear he would drown in the Abyss, escaping only like Baron von Münchhausen did, pulling himself up by his own hair? The 'Babe of the Abyss' was a new band called 'Tin Machine' in 1988 (was it a sort of rejigged version of Lou Reed's 'Metal Machine Music' of 1975?).|
Tin Machine was initially conceived as a complete departure from anything he'd done before, suddenly Bowie belonged in rock'n'roll, but soon he started doing parodic versions of Ziggy at the band's live gigs in 1989. The gap between past and present yawned wider still, while the critics mocked his latest incarnation. Once more he seemed to be posing as an artist, a generalist, a Renaissance Universalist and 'professed' "I don't care which shadow gets me... switch the channels, watch the police cars. I can't reach it anymore" (pronounced "read shit").
Slowly but surely, the inner core of a Weltanschauung is revealed: Art as Therapy. It had grown up during the long summer holidays Bowie had spent on the island of Mustique, where he had been spending his vacations since 1975 — Mustique was a highly exclusive millionaire's playground — Bowie would have rubbed shoulders with Mick Jagger and Princess Margaret. As opposed to being a 'post–modern Buddhist', he had set himself up as the historian of his own identities, an antique–collector specialising in cast–off personæ: "I've always found that I collect. I'm a collector, and I've always just seemed to collect personalities and ideas" .
In 1992 he married Iman Muhammid Abdulmadjid, duly "sanctified by God", and told the press: "I'm not a religious person. I'm a spiritual person. God plays a very important part in my life — I look to Him a lot and He is the cornerstone of my existence... I believe man develops a relationship with his own God." ... "Religion is for people who believe in hell; spirituality is for people who've been there." He did a lethargic recording of a hectical song about 'Sex and the Church' where he considered that "there is a union / between the flesh and the spirit / It's sex and the church."|
Between songs during the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness in 1992, Bowie knelt down and recited the Christian Lord's Prayer.
|In 1993, his music has come to appear as the ultimate parody of modern jazz — the instruments like a torn sound–fabric, the tunes overwhelmed by electronic rhythms and samples — it all seems rather like a Brian Eno album without Eno. Obviously, Bowie is "looking for God in exciting new ways."|
|"The 20th Century Boy"|
Possibly reminiscing about life before Iman, and mulling over an old staged suicide attempt, sipping cocktails served by the world's most beautiful woman, (his wife was also an ambassador for UNESCO), some time in 1993 Bowie spent some time listening to some avant–garde music — while painting masturbating Minotaurs.
Bowie was not the first one to produce such beasts. A painting by Alastair Campbell appeared on page 40 of 'Starfire' Vol I, No.1, published in April 1986 — 'Starfire' is the magazine of the Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis. It accompanies a poem entitled 'The Minotaur' by his partner, Ann Campbell.
Bowie re–established contacts with his old associates from the 1970's, and started working out ideas for a concept–album once again. He entered the fray again in 1995 releasing '1. Outside' with a handful of new songs including Jacques Brel's 'My Death Waits There' in his Bing Crosby voice. This was unexpected. |
[does "death" mean the 11th sephira "Da'ath"?]
But what ever lies behind the door
There is nothing much to do
Angel or devil, I don't care
For in front of that door, there is you"
Regarding the title of the release '1. Outside', Bowie had the media believe that he had been inspired by his visit to see the patients at the Artist's House at Gugging in Austria, where schizophrenic patients practice art as therapy. Some have become famous worldwide: an exhibition of these painters in New York during January 1994 had the title '...Outside Art'. But in fact Bowie and Brian Eno recorded most of the songs for '1. Outside' between January and May 1994, while Bowie, Eno and their friend André Heller only visited Gugging in September of that year.
In September , Andre Heller — a longtime friend and supporter of the artists from Gugging — announced his visit to the House of the Artists. Heller's friend and colleague David Bowie, had seen pictures of the Guggingers at his home and asked Heller to introduce him to the artists. One afternoon, the two world-renowned artists arrived in company of the photographer Christine de Gracy and another friend at our House. During the tour of the House David Bowie drew portrait sketches of the artists and later, while having a snack with all the artists he penned down his visual impressions in pencil. He [Bowie] was similarly excited of Oswald Tschirtner and his [Tschirtner's] artwork. He [Bowie] and O.T. [Tschirtner] posed also together for many photographs. At the end of his visit, Andre Heller gave the House an invitation to attend “his” [Heller's] Chinese National Circus.
['Der Blaue Stern', Mitteilungsblatt der Gesellschaft der Freunde des Hauses der Künstler in Gugging, #5, Autumn/Winter 1994, page 26]
|Personal Note: I visited the so-called Patient-Artists at Gugging several times since 1984 (see photo at the right) and collected much of their work. I happened to be at the House of the Artists in September 1994 again, exactly one day after Bowie, Heller and Brian Eno had visited, without knowing they had been there. I asked one of the staff of the House why there was so much photographic equipment around, the staff member informed me of the visitors they had the day before.|
Peter–Robert Koenig in "Haus der Künstler" in Gugging — 10 May 1984 — Paintings by August Walla
The instrumentation was cold and soulless; Bowie appeared to perform it in a black rubber costume, trying to break away from his image as a sort of Club Mediteranée tourist entertainer, and sang "There is no Hell / like an old Hell." He crooned "i hurt myself today / to see if i still feel / i focus on the pain / the only thing that's real" and evoked Nine Inch Nail's picture of an insect crawling into a vagina. But the "spontaneously invented" pseudo–dramatic enigmas like "I hit the rose" (possibly a reference to Lou Reed's 'Vicious'), and his screams of "this chaos is killing me" sounded too serialized, loud, and contrived. There was a huge contrast between what was happening on stage and the widely–avalable Bowie–as–Icon; this was what struck the observer. His emotions came across as synthetic and pasteurized, as he squeezed out gobbets of æsthetic resistance of the kind that Bob Dylan had already voiced decades before: "i accept chaos, i'm not sure whether it accepts me." Or how about some warmed–over Freud: 'There shall be Me/Ego where there was It'? Instead of 'Un Chien Andalou', Bowie raised a banner on stage with the words "Open the Dog" on it, from his 1970 song 'All the Madmen' — where they took "some brain away". Both reviewers and audience were deeply displeased with Bowie for refusing to reprise any of his old hits; they only felt boredom when he sang "the music is outside"; they were waiting for some ecstasy, but couldn't understand the complexity of Bowie's pain, because Bowie sacrificed articulation and emotion to an artistic concept where he remained the Master of Ceremonies.
Alas, his audience was expecting the authentic ecstasy that was to be expected in Rock and Initiation — "authenticity" which Bowie always consciously refused to induce because its production must be felt in those perceiving the performance — the audience. The 'reality' was placed 'outside' upon the perceptor, that is the audience. But neither audience nor reviewers noticed that Bowie was indulging in parody again when he sang about Andy Warhol's yawn–inducing life, while prancing about like a puppet on cocaine: But those who move clumsily can not lie, and are therefore creating consciousness.
Being in the first row of the audience, one still wondered why Bowie never broke into sweat while performing: Intensity noted through its lack. Presence through its absence.
|"I'm so thankful that we're strangers when we meet"|
Wildly he pushed his career as a painter, meanwhile sitting on a bunch of selfportraits gazing sinisterly à la Anton LaVey (the founder of the Church of Satan); paintings titled 'Satan', 'Crouch', 'We Saw A Minotaur', the Tarot cards 'Love', 'Moon', 'Death' and 'Star' (originally produced as Christmas presents for his friends in 1975) ... |
The Prince's Trust sent out plain white masks to over 1000 public figures in late 1996. Bowie's design consisted of a simple "666" stencilled on the forehead, complemented by the handwritten annotation "Your pretty face is going to hell." He arranged his Mask (number 56) in a basket with a brass plaque that read "Hell Or Bust. David Bowie 1996".
Both the release of his album "1. Outside" and paintings turned out to be artistic flops as Bowie himself had predicted "I think I lost my way." |
The National Portrait Gallery simply noted: "I suspect nothing very exciting of David Bowie has ever come our way." In April 1995 he hired a gallery and hang his own work in it. Critics called it a "vanity exhibition."
It was possibly precisely the pain caused by such rejection that spurred Bowie into renewed action. With the cold–blooded efficiency of a chamæleon changing colour, he removed all the parts of his act that met with no favour with audiences — such as the 'art–ritual murder' of Baby Grace Blue — and started performing his back–catalogue of hits again. A deluge of PR 'news releases' hit the media, and Bowie rummaged through his bran–tub of showbiz VIPs (Damien Hirst, David Lynch, Julian Schnabel, Dennis Hopper (riding in occult circles in the 1970s), Balthus, and many more) to once again raise his profile.
But the context remained Gnostic: the long–planned involvement with the stock–market, the purchase of several more pieces of property — and a suddenly natural–looking smile. This was a kind of yogic exercise in Asana (or posture) as he adjusted his position, for both himself and his audience. Perhaps this was why he sat shoeless in a difficult yoga posture at the Zurich show on February 14th 1996 as he sang 'The Man Who Sold The World', while styling himself as re–frozen into the man who yet again "died a long long time ago." This song dated from 1970, and had already had two new versions of it, the first with Lulu, in 1973, and another in 1979 with Klaus Nomi, now with an oriental feel reminiscent of Madonna's 1990 live version of 'Like A Virgin'.
His live performances 'looked the business' again — they were now commercial transactions between Bowie and the audience — who got a precisely–measured dosage of ecstasy, and a share in Bowie's evolving stock–market activities, with his Ziggy Stardust songs.|
The occultist views himself as a rebel and a narcissist, who posits him or herself inside, as well as outside, the predominant culture. He understands himself as part of an elite, and endeavors to create himself anew. Lurking on the threshold of History, occultism wants to communicate its ideas to the world. It evangelizes with the ultimate aim of destroying society's standards. It strives for world dominion and compares itself to the early Christianity that had been hunted by Rome.
Today, in the worldwide circus of the images, occultism is the continuation of fashions, of habits or mannerisms on how to display oneself: pseudo–originality. The occult supermarket is universally plundered and leaves only a completely devalued treasury of total subjectivity. By picking out the pieces that appeal most to him or her out of the debris left after the breakdown of the symbolic order, the occultist's cultural reality ends up consisting of slightly differing arrangements of said pieces into signs of strict hierarchies. Normal activities one might expect in joining such a group, such as experiencing, recording and processing are curbed and one is reduced to subsistence on a diet of already fixed images that work in a consciousness dissolving way. Common occult knowledge is repackaged and sold as a new product; a juicy hamburger in a shiny new wrapping that you can buy at the mall. Defanged, neutered and essentially without much nutritional value.
Modern occultism shows itself to be a post–modern esoteric supermarket with the equivalent and equal importance it vests in a whole range of different things: cabbala, T–shirts, yoga, invocations of demons and angels, sex–magic, calendars, exorcism, drugs, religion, Gnosis, videos, scandal, gossip, postcards, philosophy and pseudo–science. Egyptian mythology is revised and all is reduced to the level of a soap–opera. To the uninformed observer occultism looks rather like a tiny group of people, similar to a Harry Potter reading circle, rejects from a renaissance fair or heavy metal fans in search of a naked high priestess.
|"You Rebel Rebel"|
When a Mythos dies, the need for compensation grows into the infinite.|
And so it happened. Bowie became the first human who sold his persona to the stock market. One month after his 50th birthday, in February 1997, the finance boutique Fahnenstock & Co, issued Bowie bonds on expected royalties (via a firm that transfers future income into a new society: in other words, Bowie is not going public himself, otherwise he would have to reveal his financial situation). Included were 25 earlier records published prior to 1993. Because Bowie has kept control and all rights over his work from 1975 onwards (that is, the master tapes, despite disastrous contracts binding him until 1982; a fact which maybe also was responsible for his constant change of music styles), in one second 55 million Dollars sloshed into his bank account. Because only the second firm/society (contrary to the first) is rated, it receives better conditions than the first. So, the Bowie bond has a repayment period of 10 years and yealds a net interest of 7,9%. This is remarkably higher than any US–government bond issue to date. Although other artists sell more CDs, the product "David Bowie" is considered to flow back one of the strongest commissions in the History of Popmusic. Income is generated especially through licensing the use of a catalogue of some 250 (330?) songs which can be played now in lifts, TV ads (e.g. Microsoft) or telephone answering machines.
This constant money flow makes the Bowie bond so strong that it received the AAA–rate from the Rating Agency Moody's due to Bowie ranking 16th amongst the top–earning entertainers in 1997. The ordinary consumer is left outside this charmed circle gazing in wonder (some in dismay), and even hardcore fans are left out: the whole stock of bonds vanished in the treasure vaults of the large British insurance conglomerate Prudential.
It is likely that Bowie's new songs will sound much more like his old catalogue — which sells well — rather than his post–1983 releases.
Record companies have minimum orders... and since the last Bowie album there have been a lot of changes in their distribution methods and minimum orders have increased substantially. The minimum order from Sony, who are the distributor, is UK £2500... which equates to 250 albums or 800+ singles per annum. Small dealers are being increasingly driven out of the market. The best place to buy them is probably 'CD NOW'... or Amazon. CD NOW is selling 'Heathen' for UK £8.99 inclusive of shipping. And in the UK, retailers like 'Music Zone' and 'Woolworths' have new titles for £9.99.
The fragmentation, the virtualisation and the mechanisation of Society have found their restless soundtrack.
In March 2004 Moody downgraded the Bowie bonds from A3 to Baa3 — just one notch above junk, after a lengthy review process. [Incidentally, the bonds did later recover.]
His heart problems of June 2004 forced him to draw back from the stage.
In 2010 he bought a three-bedroom villa in St Lucia.
In January 2013 he returned with a bang, which signalled the greatest comeback in showbusiness history. "David Bowie is" became the Victoria and Albert Museum's fastest–selling event ever.
Back to 1997. With a renewed access of enthusiasm, Bowie did mammoth tours through Europe, appearing in a new Pierrot suit, and the red hairstyle from 1972. He performed Iggy Pop's 'Lust for Life' in a slow–motion staging, as if the extraterrestrial refugee Ziggy had finally fallen to earth, as in 'Earthling', the title of his new album. Never before did Bowie have a better backing band; never before was his mood better — but neither had his ideas seemed more clever–clever, arty, and implausible. Yet from the gaping chasm that stretched between the hard–headed commercialism and Gnosticism, there now arose phoenix–like music — something lacking in all his previous tours.
Meanwhile, Bowie's involvement with masks has become mainstream and been adopted as a pose by many other musical artists, Madonna and Curt Cobain were rare in being inspired more by Bowie's Gnosis than by his hairstyles.
|"But a devil at home / Come on here, woo-woo / And kiss it for me"|
Like the apocalyptic 'Diamond Dogs' tour of summer 1974 (which was based on George Orwell's 'Nineteen Eighty–Four'), which had in turn inspired the bleak tone of the 'Outside' tour in the winter of 1995, the business of dealing with a death–wish was resolved for Bowie in dance–music; after the depressing summer 1974 tour, there was the 'Philly Dog' / Soul Tour in autumn 74, that culminated in Bowie's disco album 'Young Americans' in 1975.|
In the spring of 1997, Bowie created a mélange of drum'n'bass and dancefloor sounds, which yet again took critics and audiences by surprise — even though he was meeting their urgent demands for something they could dance to. He shouldn't have been surprised at the bemused reaction when it was revealed to the world that he'd been doing fabric designs for Laura Ashley's latest bedroom collection.
Both of Bowie's dance tours (in late 1974 and 1997) are only preserved in the form of bootleg recordings; the two exceptions are tracks he issued in 1997, but these pieces only go to prove Bowie's inconsistency (they were issued under the alias 'Tao Jones Index'). This dance music's interminably monotonous quality bears witness to Bowie's sense of a new creative phase about to start — but simultaneously betrays and is lost in its sheer repetitiveness.
Still, Bowie's stage personæ became less androgynous, and more humorous; he bared a set of vampire fangs at his audiences, and told them to focus on him, and only him. TV interviewers and the members of his band had to play second fiddle (as always) they were a chorus present merely to react to his key–words and bizarre bon–mots, which he scattered before them with lackadaisical charm, like pearls before swine. Bowie qua Bowie no longer exists, except in the scraps of conversation he has syphoned off for re–use, or in the key–words and shards of reality he has preserved for posterity some moments ago, some books ago. He only seems interested in bits of the past, myths, guitar–noises, and the books he happens to be reading at the moment — apocalyptic platitudes. The most outlandish thing he does these days is accompanying Mick Jagger to drag–balls; for the rest he fills his days by playing golf with Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper (real name Vincent Furnier who allegedly discovered his name during a Ouija board session in which he learned that he is the reincarnation of a seventeenth century witch), going skiing at St. Moritz or Gstaad, and appearing at a photo–shoot with Tony Blair for an anti–drugs campaign (though Bowie did wear a huge pair of earplugs inscribed with the word "SEX" to this event).
|"What a fantastic death abyss"|
Appearing on TV talk–shows in 1997, Bowie wore carefully 'distressed' torn Pierrot costumes, and sang once more of the 'Scary Monster and Super Creep'. On his right hand he wore a giant false rat's paw — was he being his own pied piper? The guitars screamed, and his backing band were "running scared" (and breathlessly) behind the master. On the next show he would do the same song again, but this time in a much more subdued Johnny Cash manner, strumming his guitar in a leisurely fashion and singing "she opened strange doors that we never close again." The 'Doors of Perception' is a phrase deriving from Aleister Crowley's friend Aldous Huxley as far back as 1930, and refers to an entrance to other realities opened through taking drugs. The "doors of perception" were first spoken of by William Blake. At the climax of orgasm, these doors are blasted wide open and pure apprehension of reality can be attained.|
Finally deciding to work up a sweat in the hot summer of 1997, Bowie donned a red polo–neck sweater, and opened most of his gigs "immersed in Crowley's uniform" with the 1971 song about the Golden Dawn, as his thrilled audiences joined in joyfully to his words: "Don't believe in yourself / Don't deceive with belief / Knowledge comes with death's release." No one could have guessed, the eleventh Sefira Da'ath would be celebrated by so many people simultaneously.
The superb live show cybercast on the Internet on October 1st 1997 was opened by Bowie with the words "I tried to sneak on but..." immediately followed by "I'm closer to the Golden Dawn..." — was this an explanation of his enduring absence of creativity? Other shows started with the 'Supermen' from 1970 filling the Earth before recorded history began, with "Nightmare dreams no mortal mind could hold", to a riff supplied by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page — the world's most enthusiastic private collector of Crowleyana, who contributed in 1965 to Bowie's song 'I pity the Fool'.
Sometimes he asked his audience to dance, no doubt having his 1974 lyrics in mind: "For you're dancing where the dogs decay, defecating ecstasy / Because of all we've seen, because of all we've said / We are the dead." Plato related that a wise old man said to him, "Now we are dead and in a kind of prison," matter: the gnostic prison. — Between songs Bowie spoke about Jean–Paul Sartre, and also about Heinrich Harrer (author of 'Seven Years In Tibet') because "this is the book part of the show." The ballad honouring Jean Genet/Julien Green of 1972 vintage was revived as a blues number, though it still reminded us to "keep all your dead hair for making up underwear" — and even though this came across as more of a parody of occultism in 1997. Near the end of this live set there was a drum'n'bass ascension of Laurie Anderson's decidedly individual conception of communication 'O Superman': "Well, you don't know me, but I know you. And I've got a message to give to you... when love is gone, there's always justice."
And in the name of Justice, Bowie performed benefit concerts for children's charities, staging 'unplugged' versions of his greatest hits at schools, eventually consenting to participate in the 1997 'Children in Need' charity record of Lou Reed's 1972 song 'Perfect Day'; Bowie contributed his own dia–Gnosis with "What a Perfect Day / You made me forget myself." At this time he gave a sort of Dadaist interview about smoking cigarettes, from which unpromising topic he even managed to squeeze out a few Gnostic insights: "All life's pleasures leave you unsatisfied because you try to reach that high every time." Being a smoker among non–smokers makes him feel "like the lowest of the low...".
|"I love death, the more of it the better. I think it's a good thing, heh heh heh!"|
Around this time photographic portraits emerged showing Bowie with a halo and bleeding stigmata (e.g. on the cover of the 1998 bootleg "Jungle Fever"). In the autumn of 1997 he forbade his audience from dancing while doing a now somewhat jazzy version of Brel's 'My Death Waits There'. Despite constant touring and being on stage since 1987 (the Glass Spider tour was followed byseveral Tin Machine tours, the Sound and Vision Tour, the Outside Tour, the Open Air Festivals) there were no signs of wear, the sound of the band was full and satisfying, the songs' arrangements became increasingly subtle, his voice stronger (albeit everything was in different keys to suit his now lower register), his mood more entertaining. His 'Always Crashing in the Same Car' (now in an unplugged version) of 1977 turned "Crowley's uniform of imagery" into "Crowley's uniform of symmetry" (October 97, live on the Internet).|
Bowie's constantly reiterated expressions of ecstasy in his live performances for years on end, raise obvious questions about how genuine this ecstasy really is. Repeatedly simulating this ecstasy (having sung 'White Light White Heat' for the thousandth time) nurtures a suspicion that Bowie's sort of ecstasy is merely a component of his disciplined and choreographed Pierrot, expressing a depressing intensity. Bowie's Gnosis remained in the new arrangements as part of his progression, but ceased to be an isolated fragment of his identity. It always was, and still is, the persona that is called 'David Bowie' that continues to attract the attention of the world. Never mind the quality, feel the myth; that's what sells. But not everyone buys this. The well–known Viennese remixers Kruder & Dorfmeister refused to remix one of Bowie's songs in 1998, considering it to be a "waste of time."
|"What's Really Happening?"|
At the age of 50, David Bowie changed his views of the cut–up method for writing lyrics to his songs. Previously he'd considered this method to be a tool for determining both past and future. Now he senses no past or future either for the individual or Society at large. Everything was going too fast for him, leaving him no time to grasp or to properly and analyze the past, let alone talk of future projects. All that matters is the present. Remember how the days used to last so much longer when you were five than they do when you're fifty? Now it's not a question of going through a series of personæ or identities, but a matter of experiencing them in a completely post–modern way simultaneously: a sort of "TV karma", as he called it. By the end of 1997 Bowie expressed a desire to retire from the business, stop smoking and have another child. Of course, he retained much of his old hyperactivity, covering some cars with mirrors as a publicity stunt, constantly recording new songs, and adding his weight (not always very tastefully) to sundry projects, like Jorge Luis Borges' or Stanislaw Lem's idea of reviewing non–existant books.|
Post–modernism has no aims, no original thought, no authenticity, and ultimately no authority. An eternal contiguity ties everything in with art, artistic objects, and semiotics. Everything is connected somehow with everything else: a TV series, a piece of art, a clapped–out superstar, a successful star, a line, its mirror–image, its compression. But there again, what would pop and rock be without these symbols of identification and their correspondences? What is reality without its simulation?
|"Seven Ways To Die"|
|Bowie always expressed interest in electronic dreams. As early as 1983, the 'Serious Moonlight' tour was organised via e–mail. In September 1998 he created 'BowieNet' on the internet: an internet service provider (ISP) for web accounts, with news, a (planned) sports news service, stock market news, a 'BowieBank', e–mail facilities and a supermarket where those interested may purchase his paintings and other memorabilia. Rarely has the music business been epitomized better than in this advertising slogan: "Buy David Bowie online, you rebel rebel". The circle had closed, for the internet itself is of course a form of virtual reality — a Gnostic world beyond this world below. This is Gnosis through Bowie as the redeemer, who brings complete and constant availability of the Bowie icon. Marketing itself becomes a myth.|
|"Live 'til your rebirth and do what you will"|
In the varieties of occultism that derive from Hinduism, fragmentation is a major theme — just as it is on the internet, and the definition of identity in post–modernism. The equality or unity between the individual and their rôle must be dissolved. Multiple or decentralised personality is the measure of post–modern knowledge. There is a form of reasoning in the association between fragments (or the fragmented perception), but there is no ultimate truth behind it. This creates room for a new myth: fiction then becomes an integral part of being real. To be one simulation among other simulations. A result of this was Bowie made into a hero in a computer game called 'Omikron, the Nomad Soul'.|
Andy Warhol once predicted, "Nobody really knows you". You can be anything, even the website that you visit on the internet — eclectic creations that are tied together by the star's image and elements from and of other kinds of multimedia. These products are supposed to enhance the intimacy of the relationship between the star and fan — though they still keep you well aware of the superhuman range of Bowie's interests — as well as another closed circle he foresaw in 1971 in 'Moonage Daydream'. Here he sang of electronic dreams: "Don't fake it baby, lay the real thing on me / The Church of man, love, is such a holy place to be."
There are early versions of this song with slightly different lyrics, recorded by Bowie and his costume designer Freddi Burretti (aka Alfred Corns) who designed some of the Ziggy Stardust and Halloween Jack costumes up until 1974. This song reappeared on the live set list in 1996–97.
Electric dreams were also mentioned in the 1971 song 'Hang Onto Yourself' (closely based on the Velvet Underground, even down to the lyrics were earlier versions referred to Lou Reed's song–book) where a quintessentially Gnostic phrase is "The bitter comes out better on a stolen guitar."
There is a 1971 recording of 'Hang Onto Yourself' with Gene Vincent (?), one of the original leather–jacketed exponents of rock'n'roll. His voice lends a juicy quality to the lyrics. Both 'Moonage Daydream' and 'Hang Onto Yourself' were central songs in the Ziggy Stardust live shows.
Since 1997 David Bowie has never tired of proclaiming himself to be the happiest person on the face of the earth, as he will soon finally become the real "David Robert Jones". But can we really believe these words, and the robotic smile of this laughing gnostic? His wittiness is the sort peculiar to those accustomed to having their jokes laughed at. Though it's highly unlikely that Bowie will ever regain the god–like prominence of his prime, his influence persists. He is currently resuscitating the Ziggy persona for a film to be made by himself — probably for sound commercial reasons as he released some BBC live recordings of the Ziggy era in 2000 — but there is always a waywardness in the man. Perhaps Ziggy Mk. 2 means something else again, and is a sign that Bowie plans to jettison the hard–won 'mainstream' acceptance that he had achieved over the last couple of decades. Is he getting bored again? "Their tragic endless lives could heave nor sigh / in solemn perverse serenity, wondrous beings chained to life" as he sang in the 1970 'Superman' song. Even collecting awards and personæ must get terribly monotonous after a while...
|"They say he has two gods"|
Bowie wondered "Can I change the channel on my TV without using the clicker?" in 1976 (entertaining anecdote between two tracks, live late 1999). Does he believe in magick? Does he think that it has any ability to affect the physical world?: "No, I think all those things merely become symbolic crutches for the negative. ... I can't become comfortable with any organised religion and I've sort of touched on all of them. I'm not looking for a faith, I dont' want to believe anything. I'm looking for knowledge" [NME 25 November 1995]. And we hear him on 'Law (Earthlings on Fire)': "I don't want knowledge / I want certainty." (1997). |
Revealing that he had "problems" with Jesus Christ he also admitted that "The gods forgot that they made me / so I forget them too."
When I asked Angie Bowie whether her ex ever said that he believed in magic, she answered: “No! Just when he was trying to scare or impress people. He said that to me once: Oh come on, I’ll show you how to astral travel... yeah, right! I saw some weird shit, but that comes from fixation and visualization, not because there was any magic involved.”
Me: “Do you have reason to think that he ever got rid of occultism/said practices?”
Angie Bowie: “I don’t think he was ever involved; he’s too egotistical to put his fate in the hands of someone else.” (E.g. supernatural forces.)
|"Just watch me!"|
'Music Now!' in December 1969: "Do you like seeing pictures of yourself?" Bowie: "Yes, because it means I am being seen."|
Andy Warhol: "I'd prefer to remain a mystery; I never like to give my background and, anyway I make it all different all the time I'm asked. It's not just that it's part of my image not to tell everything, its just that I forget what I said the day before and I have to make it all up over again. I don't think I have an image, anyway, favourable or unfavourable." [On the cover of the rare _double–album version of "Andy Warhol's Velvet Underground featuring Nico", 1969.]
There is amazement at David Bowie's stamina. But does he do this so that his audience is in awe, is that the point? Does he derive self–satisfaction from all this movement? Or is his self–satisfaction born from those who appreciate him? A chameleon changes his colours when excited: Bowie changes himself to get excited. But if this were a world without cameras, what would Bowie do? Would he be inclined to do half of what he does if there was nobody watching? Does a falling Mask make a sound in a deserted forest?
And what kind of forest is this? Sean Mayes about 1978: "When David sat down later, he tucked one leg up under him and I noticed that the sole of his shoe was as clean as the day he'd bought it. OK, maybe the shoes were new, but it struck me that he hardly ever sets foot in the street. It's all hotels, limousines, sterilised airports."
|"... as the last few corpses ..."
Tarot card Album 0 THE FOOL ------------ David Bowie (67) ...and/or the unreleased "Toy" 1 THE MAGICIAN -------- Space Oddity (69) 2 THE HIGH PRIESTESS -- The Man who sold the World (70) 3 THE EMPERATRICE ----- Hunky Dory (71) 4 THE EMPEROR --------- Ziggy Stardust (72) 5 THE HYEROPHANT ------ Aladdin Sane (73) 6 THE LOVERS ---------- Pinups (73) 7 THE CHARIOT --------- Diamond Dogs (74) 8 JUSTICE ------------- Young Americans (75) 9 THE HERMIT ---------- Station to Station (76) 10 FORTUNE ------------- Low (77) 11 STRENGTH ------------ Heroes (77) 12 THE HANGED MAN ------ Lodger (79) 13 DEATH --------------- Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) (80) 14 TEMPERANCE ---------- Let´s Dance (83) 15 THE DEVIL ----------- Tonight (84) 16 THE TOWER ----------- Never let me down (87) 17 THE STAR ------------ Black Tie White Noise (93) 18 THE MOON ------------ Buddha of Suburbia (93) 19 THE SUN ------------- 1.Outside (95) 20 THE JUDGEMENT ------- Earthling (97) 21 THE WORLD ----------- Hours (99) Heathen (2002) Reality (2003) ==> heart condition in 2004 The Next Day (2013)
Tarot Card contribution according to Aleister Crowley who altered the traditional numbering starting with the card 0. Thus, the phrase on the track "Sunday" (on 'Heathen'): "for in truth, it's the beginning of an end ... and nothing has changed, everything has changed."
"I was young, fancy free, and Tibetan Buddhism appealed to me at that time. I thought, ‘There’s salvation.’ It didn’t really work. Then I went through Nietzsche, Satanism, Christianity ... pottery, and ended up singing. It’s been a long road." [Bowie interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres, 2004]
|"Your silhouette is so stationary"|
Playing with the Mudhras
Drawing in Eliphas Levi (pen name of Abbé Louis Constant, 1810–1875): "Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie" ("Dogma and Ritual of High Magic"), 1855. Translated by Arthur Edward Waite as "Transcendental Magic, its Doctrine and Ritual" in 1896.
Since the late 60s Bowie performed a little trademark gesture of reaching above him and then touching the ground while delivering the 'magical movement from Kether to Malkuth' line, a move that crops up in several videos.
Early use of that move by Bowie – at that time rather a Rock'n'Roll posture – appeared in 'Let me sleep beside you' for the 1969 promotional film "Love You Till Tuesday":
'Ashes to Ashes' [move executed by Steve Strange] (1980), Mick Jagger and Bowie in the clip for 'Dancing in the Streets' (1985), 'Fashion' (1980):
Thanks to the Internet, what were previously known activities exclusive to occult secret Orders and Lodges have become part of popular culture, factual concerns shrink to the level of Web 2.0 'happenings' and second–hand opinions, knowledge becomes data–hoarding, the linear becomes interactive, and proper friendship disapears in interchangeable cyber–interaction. Occult culture becomes an audience driven by factions which fish their half–truths out in the limitless digital ocean. This McDonaldised Occultism is an arena where anything goes, a breeding–ground for conspiracy–theories where half–truths are classed as scholarly work – for example in the wholly quantitative use of data exclusive to the Internet in university dissertations and theses. This reduction of facts to hallucinatory speculations leaves no room for the controlling influence of truth, and results in an endless fragmented labyrinth of unlimited choices. Any information here will face a continuing elasticity in a process of transformation and interactive reconfiguration. In the vast catacombs of the hypertexts it is all too easy to lose a feeling for the whole; in the nebulous atmosphere that is left by an absence of such an overview, connections and continuity can disappear. Where there is hypertext, there is no context. Does this hold out the unalluring future prospect for Internet users of having to develop a robust information immunity against the infection of false information on the World Wide Web?
The numberless manifestations of multiple identity in our culture — including the creation of Internet personas — contribute to an over–all confirmation of traditional unitary theories of identity, and support the post–modern Weltanschauung. There are relevant metaphors for this running through informationscience, psychology, children's games, literature, advertising, biology, medicine (you can now do a virtual frog–dissection), mass culture and of course Occultism. The principle of the 'embodied artificial intelligence' is well–known, and used as a paradigm in physics, information technology, biology, and behavioural science — there are already primitive artificial 'beings' that can move independently, co–operate, organise, and evolve. Never has the gap between high culture and mass (or consumer) culture been so narrow. What is visible doesn't have to allude to the concealed; existence doesn't have to allude to essence, nor the signifier to the signified. We are living in an electronic version of Oscar Wilde's disguise, where "the true secret of the world is the visible and not the invisible."
But what disadvantages does the post–modern bring with it? A constant leaping from one subject to another in a world tied to immediacy and simultaneity will erase any consciousness of history. The post–modern individual's passivity and immobility goes hand in hand with an increasing need for ever stronger stimuli. Occultists remain trapped in an inner world of moods, feelings, and imaginations. This private world gets overemphasized and results in a lack of identity. Nothing remains but a dwindling whimper for attention.
And meanwhile, Cabbala became the new religion of Hollywood, as stars like Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Britney Spears, Gwyneth Paltrow, Liz Taylor, Barbra Streisand, Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, Roseanne Barr, Demi Moore and Asthon Kutcher took up what had previously been a highly recondite subject.
|Why Bowie is better than God|
taken from www.white-man-killer.com/bowie/bowievgod.html [defunct]
"David Bowie. Un portrait par l'écriture, la voix, les gestes, la main, le thème astral et le visage". Etudes Réunis par Anik Blaise. Paris 1984, page 111.|
"Regardons David Bowie sourire. Les commissures des lèvres ne sont pas remontées, ou à peine ; les mâchoires restent fermées, souvent les lèvres aussi ; les yeux se plissent mais pas toujours ; le regard s‘oriente en général vers la gauche et les sourcils restent statiques.
Tout se passe comme si David Bowie imitait le sourire humain, se contentant de montrer les dents et de fermer un peu les yeux."
"L'homme qui ne sait pas sourire — 1979"
"Look at David Bowie's smile. The corners of the lips are not raised, or just barely so ; the jaws remain closed, as often are the lips ; the eyes squint, but not always ; the stare is directed generally to the left and the eyebrows remain static.
Everything happens as if David Bowie imitated the human smile, settled for just showing teeth and closing the eyes a little."
"The man who does not know how to smile — 1979"
|"Now I leave them all in the never never land"|
|Robert A. Heinlein: "Starman Jones", New York 1953, Cover by Clifford Geary.|
Lisa Robinson: "Are you doing it for the money?"|
Bowie: "Good lord, of course I am."
Robinson: All this wide–eyed innocence, all this chance stuff — it doesn't convince me one bit. [...] A laugh, by the way, is a performance. The eyes flash, the head is artfully tossed back, the grin is lovely. it is then that I notice the teeth. [...] I had no desire to find the real David Bowie. I fully accept that he is whoever he wants to be at the moment, and adapts totally to whoever he's talking to.
Two oblique factors meander through his life and work: change and absence of presence. The more charming Bowie appears on stage, the more detached he seems.The more enthused he is in interviews the less convincing he is. When dancing, he looks like a controlled stage actor. Whenever he laughs, there’s a whiff of unease in the air.|
Even his fascination with the occult or fascism hints at unfathomable depths where doubts lurk as to whether they were tapped for inspiration or were ideas haunting him. Whether they remain tendentious poses or expression of true interest.
'Can’t Help Thinking About Me' was an early single of 1965. "I don’t know who I am" Bowie sings, almost forty years later, on his record in 2013, now an English Man in New York.
Identities are fragile, "the enemy is fragile" screams Bowie in an almost surreal voice on an "1. Outside"–outtake. David Robert Jones is his own gnostic ventriloquist and breaks again the hollow bridge between the real and unreal. His audience are not shallow, they realise that "Bowie is" art's filthy lesson.
What finally is at stake in the interaction/realm between the arsenal of musical performers/their performances and the audience/listeners is also the latter's identity. So Bowie on June 15, 2002: "Question I wanna ask is: Who do you want ME to BE? – And question I wanna ask you is: Who do I want YOU to be?"
The Meaning intended by Bowie (if any at all) is just one voice in a Babel of equally valid interpretations which extend beyond the microsphere of the individual reading/listening. We do not receive a meaning and then proceed to interpret, or impose a new one. Rather, meaning is made in reception only. Interpretations may seem ridiculous to some, many will be inclined to deny or argue against them. They can all, however be proven with reference to the text/lyrics in whatever form. They do not necessarily require a double perspective, or knowledge that there is an original meaning. One cannot definitely prove the authority of one version through reference to the text itself, or to intertextual material (e.g. photos — sound and vision). There is no reading/listening, however absurd it may seem, that can be ruled out. It merely requires an interpretative strategy to enable and/or activate it, and zigzag through the realms of interpretations (either highly personal and impressionistic or by controlled scholarly studies). Bowie's own meanings can be approved of, admired, derided, mocked, exposed as just another reading: They remain only a framework for a variety of meanings. No readings are valid, and all readings are valid.
"I've no control / It's all deranged / I can't believe I've no control / It's all deranged."
|Gnostic Imagery "lay rotting on the slimy thoroughfare"|
On page 27 in the lyrics booklet of the Japanese disc version of the album 'The Next Day', 2013, in the small print that follows the lyrics for 'I'll Take You There' among the Japanese text there are the mysterious English words: "The Magicians / The Magician King" written by Tomoya Kumagai. This translation is provided by Eri Wilde:
* Is this Lev Grossman, the novelist / book reviewer known for 'CODEX', 'The Magicians', 'The Magician King', etc.? His wife is also a novelist / the faculty of Princeton University, Sophie Gee.
Other lyrical imagery:
|I wish I could swim, like the doll things, like doll things can swim|
The David Bowie ArchiveTM, T–Shirt, H&M, © 2012 Steve Schapiro — Under license to optive marketing, inc.
Made in Bangladesh.
The Tree of Life.
January 2013: Has anyone noticed the bag at Bowie's feet in the 'Where Are We Now?'–video (at min 03:01) that says 'Thank You For Shopping With Us' ?
Angie Bowie on this essay in the summer of 2003: "I was impressed but nevertheless, I think you can understand that I know this very interesting critique will just inflame his ego and as long as you called him a genius he will love you! The rest is gravy to him more rubbish for his impressionable new fans to eat up as they discuss his stupidity world–wide. I have no use for him. My experience is personal and he is worth less than dog droppings. His loyalty is none–existent unless they serve at the church of David Bowie. These are my phrases from interviews etc not yours so do not think that the idea of foolish worship and the distribution of sperm on a universal level has escaped the attention of Bowie watchers."
English adaption by Mark Parry–Maddocks. Help was also provided by Kristin T. Schnider. A very early draft had been corrected by Richard Metzger, editor of DisInformation. |
The first online publication of this article was in 1996. Recent update: October 2014. It has been mentioned by David Buckley in his revised and updated "strange fascination — David Bowie: the definitive story", London 2000.
More: David Bowie und Okkultismus, a short German update with outlines of an interview with Angie Bowie. First published in DU, Zürich November 2003.
This article is going to be massively expanded and published as a book, at due time. A teaser might be found in The Voyeur, Midwoud/The Netherlands, "The Laughing Gnostic: David Bowie". See also 'Ultraculture' edited by Jason Louv, CA 2007. "The Laughing Gnostic". Other contributors there: Genesis Breyer P–Orridge, Brion Gysin, Ira Cohen, Jhonn Balance and others.
Read also Steele Savage: David Bowie — Outside, Aleister Crowley, and the Holy Grail.
Email: Peter-R. Koenig
[On the right: The author at the V&A Exhibition in London 2013.
Aladdin Sane 1973 Photograph by Brian Duffy © Duffy Archive]
Discussions on the Nature of the O.T.O. Phenomenon
Email: Peter-R. Koenig
|Read also Steele Savage: David Bowie — Outside, Aleister Crowley, And the Holy Grail|
A similar research on Marilyn Manson is Nick Kushner's "The Nachtkabarett"