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“Having to talk destroys the symphony of silence”
Another week, another swirly trip Down the Pipes. If you’re new here, welcome. This is a semi-private weekly blog about lots of different topics, some of them are for the benefit of you, most of them are for the benefit of me. Generally new posts are hidden behind a paywall, this one is not. If you dig it, consider subscribing, but do what you will.
I have been on a David Bowie kick lately, one of the few rock legends I had a chance to see in the 2000s but skipped (he’ll be back around, I thought). I ultimately never got another chance. He stopped touring, then died about a decade or so later.
Thankfully, Bowie always knew that his catalog would exist beyond his own mortal life, and he created a body of work that not only survives, but continues to evolve. His final album, Blackstar (stylized: ★), released just days before he passed on, is a grand summation of his life’s work, the kind of magnum opus that you can only write after a lifetime of prolific creation, esoteric studies, and universe building for adoring fans and followers.
Putting a bow around characters like Major Tom and Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, Aladdin Sane, and Halloween Jack is no easy task, but when you’ve spent your entire career creating and destroying characters for the benefit of the general public’s artistic and spiritual understanding, the desire to give the narrative an ending must be enormous. It feels like it’s probably one of the greatest accomplishments in an artistic life to even be capable of putting out a capstone piece of work; most artists never make it that far and only one in a million are so prolific that anyone would give a damn about what they’re even saying.
Bowie was the rare exception, a statistical anomaly incarnate, loaded into our collective consciousness over the span of decades. The Man Who Fell To Earth. Even (and especially) if you only like Bowie’s bonafide hits from the 70’s and 80’s, you owe it to yourself to give his last licks a listen.
The title track above only scratches the surface of all the occult symbolism about death, rebirth, and creative transcendence found on the album and throughout Bowie’s career, and esotericists who understand these kinds of things widely believe Bowie was a kind of high priest for proto-Christian, “deep source” Hermetic enlightenment.
Take the pentagram, or the five point star, a symbol that Bowie invoked not just on this album (★), but throughout his career (he gave us Starman, after all). Not Satanic in origin as the Christians would have you believe, but an elemental symbol for fire, water, air, earth, and spirit that predates Christianity by several millennia and was even an early symbol for the fatal wounds of Jesus…crown, hands, and feet.
For thousands of years, an upright pentagram stood for balance and good. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century—when the occultist Éliphas Lévi began studying magic as a science—did the upside down pentagram get introduced as a symbol for evil, and Christians did NOT like this. The modern association with all pentagrams as “Satanic” was solidified as secret societies like the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis began quietly surfacing ancient magical ceremonies in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, like The Star Ruby and Lesser Banishing Ritual of the Pentagram.
Pretty much all western, new age spirituality—from horoscopes to astrology, tarot to mediums, and Wicca to Neopaganism—emanates from the work of these magick practitioners. Bowie wasn’t merely aware of this; in fact, he spent years studying these texts and practicing these rituals earnestly.
One of his most celebrated albums, Station to Station, was described by Bowie as “the nearest thing I’ve done to a magical treatise.” The album, released in 1976, is best known for the single Golden Years, but the title track is one of Bowie’s finest and longest songs (his longest at the time, 40 years before the slightly longer Blackstar). It’s also the introduction of his “Thin White Duke” persona, and opens with a line from Shakespeare (as delivered by the magician Prospero in The Tempest):
Here are we
One magical moment
Such is the stuff from where dreams are woven
Bending sound, dredging the ocean, lost in my circle.
All magick is practiced within a circle, a kind of sacred space that all practitioners first learn to create before ever casting a spell or summoning a spirit.
Later in the opening section, Bowie tips his hat further to the Kabbalah’s Tree of Life, notably Kether (the crown…basically all the mystical, spiritual stuff that our human brains couldn’t possibly comprehend) and Malkuth (the earthly stuff that we almost exclusively concern ourselves with):
Here are we
One magical moment
From Kether to Malkuth
It should also be noted that Bowie’s Thin White Duke was kind of a coked out jerk, and he admits that he doesn’t remember much of this period of his life. A good thing, perhaps, considering it was during this period that Bowie went on a press tour centered around the benefits of fascism, praising Hitler as “one of the first rockstars” and doubling down even further, stating:
'I think that morals should be straightened up for a start. They're disgusting.' He added, 'There will be a political figure in the not too distant future who'll sweep through this part of the world like early rock'n' roll did. You probably hope I'm not right but I am ... You've got to have an extreme right front come up and sweep everything off its feet and tidy everything up. Then you can get a new form of liberalism.'
So in other words: Fascism is good because it lights a fire under liberalism. Machiavellian to an extreme “ends justify the means” point, but particularly pointed given the current state of affairs we find ourselves in today.
There’s a not-utterly-crazy conspiracy theory that Kanye West is the “Blackstar” that Bowie is handing his torch to. West’s Yeezus persona, Donda performance art, and his most recent bizarre public statements seem to bolster that theory.
If Ye (Kanye’s latest persona, and the most common word in the Bible, meaning YOU ALL) claims he’s an anti-Semitic fascist, it’s probably an attempt to do the whole “artist as a mirror for society” thing. We are living in a country that has at least partially embraced the fascism Bowie prophesied. If Ye is Us All, then his statements merely reflect the statements our leaders and our neighbors are embracing. He, like Bowie’s Thin White Duke, is embracing the dark in an attempt to shine light.
None of this should be written or said out loud, and not just because defending a fascist is always reprehensible. More spiritually, one of the foundations of any kind of magical working is to practice in silent. To call attention to magick is a sure fire way to make it disappear, and most of the texts I’ve read include some dire warnings about disclosing the rituals and practices contained within. For example, Crowley warns in his comment on The Book of the Law:
The study of this Book is forbidden. It is wise to destroy this copy after the first reading. Whosoever disregards this does so at his own risk and peril. These are most dire. Those who discuss the contents of this Book are to be shunned by all, as centres of pestilence. All questions of the Law are to be decided only by appeal to my writings, each for himself.
There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt.
Just last week I asked Alex Greenwald from Phantom Planet what his connection to the occult was, his answer was provided with a knowing wink and nudge: “I love this question more than any other question I’ve ever gotten, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
By even writing this much I’m probably inviting trouble for myself, but it is one of those “once you see it, you can’t unsee it” things that I feel compelled to share with those of you who are open to considering it. My entry point into all of this madness was actually Phish, who in 2016 covered Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars as an homage to their recently deceased musical hero (one of their finer jam vehicles is actually a song called David Bowie). Their work is similarly littered with these kinds of hidden messages, though they similarly will never openly admit it. Practice in silence.
In the 1960’s, rock and roll was considered “devil music” by the establishment. Even the lily white Beatles were accused of slipping “Satanic” messages in their music, and in fact it was John Lennon’s placement of Aleister Crowley on the cover of Sgt. Pepper that led to his resurgence among rock and rollers, including Jimmy Page (who later purchased Crowley’s estate), Stevie Nicks (who cited Crowley’s Diary of a Drug Fiend as one of her favorite books), Ozzy Osborne (who wrote a song called Mr. Crowley), Mick Jagger (who played Lucifer in the Crowley-inspired 1980 film Lucifer Rising) and yes, David Bowie.
Bowie is just another in a long line of western spiritualists who saw his music as a medium for unveiling profound, universal truths. If you’re still reading and even remotely intrigued by any of this, I highly recommend watching Moonage Daydream, a new Bowie biopic that attempts to put together a postmortem synthesis of his full career, both as a musician and a magical raconteur.
In a way, Bowie knew he’d turn ashes to ashes one day, and throughout his career he found ways to emulate some of the most prevalent spiritual and societal myths known to humanity. It would take me thousands of more words to break it all down, but the short version is that his entire canon tells a pretty clean messianic story.
And like all that came before him in this grand tradition of magick and prophecy, Bowie’s primary message is one of Love. Not the love that’s romanticized by institutions like marriage and the general working order of things, but a kind of evolved state of love that sits somewhere between religious fervor and orgasmic bliss. It’s the theme that comes up again and again as the force that binds us to ourselves, to our spirit, to each other, and to our higher power, however we may conceive of that. Bowie alludes to as much in Modern Love:
Never gonna fall for (modern love)
Walks beside me (modern love)
Walks on by (modern love)
Gets me to the church on time (church on time)
Terrifies me (church on time)
Makes me party (church on time)
Puts my trust in god and man (God and man)
No confessions (God and man)
No religion (God and man)
Don't believe in modern love
All occultists can’t stand “traditional” religion, because it’s generally understood that organized religion is merely the calcified remnants of a long forgotten, once deep spiritual understanding. The Catholic Church may speak of love, but they don’t practice it. The teachings of Jesus were washed away over centuries by men with smaller minds and bigger egos, leaving us with a powerful religious order but little underlying magic (and love) behind it. The Church offered a deal: Repent to us and be saved. Bowie offers an alternative: Create things through the lens of love, and you can live on forever, like him.
Bowie may be remembered by most folks for writing some catchy pop songs, popularizing a full spectrum of queer identity at a time when it was considered…well, queer, for his Little Drummer Boy performance with Bing Crosby, and perhaps for playing Jareth in Labyrinth.
But now you know the real underlying meaning of his great work, and with that you’ll start to notice other luminary creatives referencing it too…though never as directly as I’ve referenced it here. Magick exists whether or not you practice it or even believe in it, and those of us who do practice typically shy away from acknowledging our craft openly, lest we be labeled as Satanists at best or nut jobs at worst.
But to quote Bowie one more time:
I must be only one in a million
I won't let the day pass without her
It's too late - to be grateful
It's too late - to be late again
It's too late - to be hateful
The european cannon is here
Until next week!