Lately many have written on the occult aspects of David Bowie’s video ‘Blackstar’. Most writers, however, have only touched upon some superficial aspects. This article aims to rectify this, but makes no claim to be the conclusive work on these speculations.
Was Bowie truly as immersed in the esoteric & the occult as some claim? Certainly I believe Bowie had an interest at certain early periods (around 1969), during the creation of The Man Who Sold the World. Perhaps even prior to this point he had made some studies.
If so, these still appeared to be important when he was writing Hunky Dory, as we know from themes in the song ‘Quicksand’, where he mentions the Magician Alastair Crowley and the society Crowley once belonged to:
“I’m closer to the Golden Dawn
Immersed in Crowley’s uniform
I’m living in a silent film
Himmler’s sacred realm
Of dream reality
I’m frightened by the total goal
Drawing to the ragged hole
And I ain’t got the power anymore
No I ain’t got the power anymore”
and later in this same song appears the poignant line ….
“Knowledge comes with death’s release”
There appeared an interview in a 1997 New Musical Express where we gain more insight into how important the occult was for Bowie at one time, and his attitude to certain aspects of it:
Q: “So were you involved in actual devil worship?”
A: “Not devil worship, no, it was pure straightforward, old-fashioned magic.”
Q: “The Aleister Crowley variety?”
A: “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-Defense‘. 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 through them, and saw what was on the other side!”
I have no doubt that these interests stayed with Bowie in some measure throughout the rest of his days, however, they may have resurfaced with some renewed strength from the point where he chose to enter the shadows of public life after his heart attack, and even more likely after his diagnosis for cancer some 18 months ago before his death. Such introspection about the after death state tends to visit many people at such a point. Bowie had never been overly religiously inclined, and from the evidence in some interviews he appears perhaps even Atheistic. But Bowie being Bowie, he could never have made a tribute to the prospect of Death without it having a surrealistic edge. He clearly appears to have had beliefs about death and the possible post mortem transition, and these now seem important in his last offering.
The Esoteric theme we see clearly expressed in the song and the video of ‘Blackstar’ (and also clearly in the song and accompanying video of ‘Lazarus’) leans toward the transcendent esoteric theme of the ‘post-mortem’ . This would appear to be something that had been occupying Bowie’s mind, having an impact upon his last work. Something Bowie once said in interviews was that ‘Environment’ and life conditions had always been a huge influence on his work.
Recently a certain esoteric blogger brought attention to the fact that the symbolism of the Skull, the candle and the writing desk in Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’ video come directly from Ancient and primitive Rite of Memphis- Misraim. A ritual structure that puts focus upon preserving the Egyptian mysteries, Misraim had an enormous seminal influence over the other mentioned orders such as the Golden Dawn. The scene of Bowie at the writing desk faced with the emblems of Mortality and impending doom, is the essence of the very lesson included in this Egyptian Rite, which was passed to the world through the mysterious and legendary Count Cagliostro .
The welfare of the soul in the post-mortem state is most often thought to be the concern of ‘Religion’ and the Church, but nowhere was the roadmap of the post-mortem state drawn up more clearly than in the ‘sacred science’ of the Ancient Egyptians (with the exception of the Tibetans and some lesser known shamanic cults). It is the Egyptian system of symbolism that is of particular interest here, for it most clearly opens the door to the meaning of Bowie’s latest work .
Tony Visconti , Bowie’s long term producer made the statement that ‘Blackstar’ was Bowie’s ‘parting gift’ to his fans. Perhaps we should allow ourselves to read this a little more deeply ?
If indeed this was an opportunity to turn this point in the journey of his life into ‘art’, it was also an opportunity to make a ‘Magical gesture’ of profound depth. If, there is any possibility that what I am about to write here is was in fact the intention of Bowie in the last phase of his existence, then it is a beautiful and wonderful gesture of offering to the world, hidden under symbol and allegory. If this last gesture of Bowie’s is indeed truly Occult, then it is possibly also meant as a signpost pointing toward the ultimate mystery of death, and is based on a special understanding that a dying man furnished with the adequate symbolic skill had gleaned.
PRESLEY & THE BLACK STAR
If we listen to the song ‘Black Star’ by Elvis Presley, of which Bowie was no doubt fully aware, it is completely clear what the nature of this ‘Black Star’ was to Bowie, and to ourselves. It is noteworthy that Bowie seems to have cleverly played with the fact that a blackstar is also a medical term, referring to a type of shadow indicating cancer on x-rays.
Bowie was born on January the 8th . The day the Blackstar album was released. There would appear to be some modicum of significance in the fact that Elvis Presley was born on this same date as Bowie; and that he also released a song called BLACK STAR in 1960.
“One fine day I’ll see that black star
That black star over my shoulder
And when I see that old black star
I’ll know my time, my time has come”
EGYPT & ALCHEMY
As I often explain to visitors who come on my ‘specialist’ esoteric tours of the Egyptian section of the British Museum, The art of Alchemy takes its rise from Ancient Egypt. The true and original name of Egypt was KHEM or Khemet. A full explanation of this can be heard on my tours of the Egyptian section at the British museum, however, I can mention here that one of the key aspects of Alchemy, a.k.a ‘the Great Work’ was the ‘Black Sun’ or the ‘Sol Niger’. This represented an essential key to cause the body to become full of light during its process of dissolution. The disciplines of Alchemy, Magic, Yoga, etc may appear to be disparate concepts to the uninitiated, but they certainly are not to be considered as separate in essence.
The black star, with its connotation of darkness, would ordinarily be averse – what is usually thought of as the ‘evil’ pentagram. Bowie was fully conversant with these ideas, as one of the titles mentioned in a recent list of his 100 favourite books was published featured Eliphas Levi’s Transcendental Magic. The Pentagrammic star was especially known to French occultists who were contemporaries of Eliphas Levi as the ‘Blazing Star’. This star was always a symbol of ‘light’ and of the powers of generation, opposed to darkness and ‘degeneration’. The inverse pentagram we now often see used in many black metal bands’ imagery is therefore representative of this ‘Light inverted’ .
Let us go one step further , and understand the use of the ‘Upright’ Black Star used by Bowie on the cover of his last album. To get the full picture we must consider the symbolic meaning of ‘Reversal’ to the Egyptians, who were the true source of the bulk of the symbolism used in the western variants of the Esoteric traditions and currents that have come down to us since .
Reversals in Osirian symbolism
In the Image of Osiris, ancient Egypt’s lord of the Underworld and of death, we classically see him holding the whip and the shepherd’s crook. If not, then sometimes symbolically equivalent emblems are held (as in the photograph above). These, representing the active and passive forces, are symbolically assigned to specific sides of the body. The sign formed by the crossed arms over the heart causes these items to be reversed. This refers to a form of ‘reversal in death’, not unlike the principle of a mirror. Following this type of hidden logic in the same way in this world of the living, the ordinarily upright pentagram of light, when reversed, is a symbol of darkness and corruption. The upright star of darkness (the black star image on Bowie’s album cover ) when mirrored, as inverted in the ‘otherworld’ of the dead, would be a symbol of light .
To the Ancient Egyptians the star SIRIUS (Alt : Sothis) was a dual symbol of both Light and Darkness. This star was also known as the Dog star, at times attributed to Anubis – the Black Jackal of the Egyptian pantheon. This star governed the opening of the passage of fertility and life, and also into death.
The Egyptians venerated Sirius for other very important and little known reasons, of which I will again mention are covered on my seminars and my private tours at the British Museum.
Anubis was the closest deity to the deceased and as well as being the embalmer of the corpse, he would also lead the newly dead into the hall of judgement where the ultimate meeting with ‘OSIRIS’ (the lord of the underworld) could take place, after intense and vigorous trials . It is said in many accounts that at the conclusion of the Eleusinian mysteries, the ultimate and final mystery whispered to the candidate of the mysteries was “Osiris is a Black God”.
The speculation that Bowie may have intended Blackstar to be, as Visconti said, ‘a parting gift’ for his fans includes the suggestion that it may also be considered as an act of high Magic where he may have imbued his ‘memory’ with ideas; musical concepts that would have been easier for him to take through the transitory point of awareness at the point of death. We must recall Bowie’s words we mentioned from his N.M.E interview earlier, where he speaks of drawing ‘portals’ into other dimensions, thus linking the dual worlds of life and death. This is not an outlandish idea to many still-living traditions, such as that found in Shamanic song or Tibetan verses to guide the soul during its transition.
There is a photograph of Bowie taken during his ‘Thin white duke’ period from his album Station to Station (1976), where he is shown drawing the diagram of the Qabalistic ‘Tree of Life’ on the floor. This diagram, although it has changed at various points in history, does have its origin in Egypt. He is wearing clothes with diagonal white lines across them. It would seem no mistake that at the end of the video to his song ‘Lazarus’ from the Blackstar album, he wears these same clothes just before being shut up in a closet – clearly symbolic of the Sarcophagus .
“Something Happened on the day he died,
Spirit rose a metre and then stepped aside
Somebody else took his place , and bravely cried
( I’m a Blackstar , I’m a Blackstar )”
In Egypt there was a very distinct science behind the transition and separation of the various ‘parts’ that constitute what we deem to be a living being. There was a most devout belief and a state of certainty about these various levels of being. This was in fact the very basis of their entire spiritual work.
Could it be that Bowie intended the Black star to represent the the newly deceased identity that takes the ’place’ of the living person at the moment of death? Could all of this have been Bowie’s version of the African concept of the soul returning to its Star? This concept was the same in Egypt. Even the biblical theme of “Lazarus”, used by Bowie as his last offering, is a symbol of the resurrection (again a concept and belief held dear in Ancient Egypt and paralleling the belief in the return to one’s true Star).
Even the notorious Magician Aleister Crowley promoted the beautifully positive phrase from his famous Book of the Law
“ Every man and every woman is a Star”.
In the Blackstar Video, Bowie follows the orbit of what is assumed to be a star in the sky, holding an ancient book emblazoned with the upright Black Pentagram Star toward it.
“ Osiris is a black God”
For the Egyptians, the sun was a God, and we know that all stars are indeed suns, our nearest Star being our own Sun. This fact is something the Egyptians also knew very well. Osiris was known as the Sun in Amenti (The underworld)… this considered, we could easily replace this phrase “Osiris is a black God” with “ Osiris is a Black Star”.
To the Egyptians even the uttering of the name of one who had departed would enliven the second level of the Egyptian bodies (the KA), catalysing a process where after further highly secret and highly specialised developments, this would ultimately enable them to become a star in heaven.
“There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds”
In conclusion , it appears Bowie may have been making an attempt to build a magical bridge between the dual worlds of life and death, leaving for us, a signpost .
May he be made at one with Osiris, may he be unswathed, may he be at pleasure and enter eternity through the field of reeds and partake of the divine dew of immortality.
Lee Gerrard-Barlow has over 20 years of experience in the Ancient Mystery Traditions , working with Trance states, meditation, magical and Yoga based practices. He has a passion for teaching the more hidden aspects of the Egyptian Wisdom to those who are willing to receive it, and is an experienced lecturer and Premier Trainer for ISI/CNV International the continental school of Dr Marco Paret , where he teaches the arts of Magnetism (Mesmerism) Fascination and ‘Presence based therapies.
He trained as an “N.L.P Master Practitioner” under Dr Richard Bandler’s Society of Neuro Linguistic Programming, made a comprehensive study in ‘Hypnosis’ and has a practice in London. He also writes for trebuchet-magazine and other journals.
Lee Gerrard-Barlow runs specialist private “EGYPTIAN MAGIC & ENLIGHTENMENT” tours of the ‘Egyptian section’ and ‘Enlightenment Gallery’ of the British Museum, where you shall learn of a magical and esoteric side of Ancient Egyptian belief which is not found in the standard histories.
Lee also holds regular seminars & courses ( private & public ) teaching the techniques of the ancient hypnosis ‘Mesmerism’. http://arcanatherapies.com/
He privately teaches other related traditions such as the Qabalah and Tarot upon request, both in person and on Skype. He is also practices and is available as a Consultant on symbolism and the knowledge base of ancient Traditions. If you are interested in booking a tour with Lee as your guide * — at the British Museum for the “EGYPTIAN MAGIC & ENLIGHTENMENT” tour, or for any of his other services, please make contact with Lee at ARCANA EVENTS www.arcanaevents.com or alternatively : email@example.com
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Really annoying that some things all supposedly boils down to the occult or religion. The man was just truly talented.
He certainly knew how to get people talking.