The world has not been the same since the passing of David Bowie. His artistic output was unmatched, and he’s regarded as one of the most important figures in the world of art and pop, but how much of that had to do with his connection to the occult? Throughout his career, David Bowie used pieces of chaos magic, gnosticism, and paganism to craft a densely layered artistic persona that remains just as mysterious now as it was in the 70s.
Bowie’s interest in the arcane arts dates back to the 60s when he briefly flirted wit Buddhism. However, as the years went on he became more interested in dark magicians like Aleister Crowley, and the unsettling teachings of Russian occultist Madame Blavatsky. By the 80s he’d moved on from Crowleyism, but that doesn’t mean that Bowie stopped practicing all forms of magick.
Continue reading to find out just how magical Bowie really was, and how he used the occult to become the greatest pop star the world's ever seen.
Quicksand Directly References The Golden Dawn
David Bowie's 1971 breakthrough album, Hunky Dory, is steeped in occult lore. But the singer put his occult foundations on full display in the song "Quicksand," which openly references Aleister Crowely and his group The Golden Dawn. The lyrics to "Quicksand" describe Bowie's growing frustration with Crowleyism, and his search for answers in chaos magick. The lyrics state, "I'm closer to the Golden Dawn/Immersed in Crowley's uniform of imagery." Those lyrics are followed by "I ain't got no power anymore," and "Don't believe in yourself/don't deceive with belief/knowledge comes with death's relief." The song shows that even in the early 70s Bowie was resigned to the fact that death would be the only thing to bring real knowledge.
Bowie's Interest In The Occult Is Intertwined With His Drug Use
In 1917 Aleister Crowley said:
Give cocaine to a man already wise and if he be really master of himself, it will do him no harm. Alas! the power of the drug diminishes with a fearful pace. The doses wax; the pleasures wane. Side-issues, invisible at first, arise; they are like devils with flaming pitchforks in their hands.
The prediction fit Bowie's love affair with the drug that would lead him into a downward spiral of psychosis. By the time Bowie recorded Station to Station in 1975, he was using so much cocaine that he would later claim to not remember one moment of the production.
If this cocaine blackout actually happened it makes the lyrical content of the album even more fascinating. The lyrics to the album's opener, "Station to Station" invoke a heavy Kabbalah influence. On the track Bowie sings, "Here we are/One magical movement/From Kether to Malkuth/There are you/You drive like a demon/From station to station.” The Kabbalah system is known as the septhiroth, or a station, each of them separating the realm of spiritual transcendence, Kether, from the physical realm - Malkuth.
He Had His Swimming Pool Exorcised
While living in Los Angeles in the mid 70s, Bowie found himself embroiled in a spiritual crisis – there was a demon in his swimming pool. Bowie was deep in his phase of ingesting only cocaine, milk, and red peppers so this spiritual crisis likely stemmed in some part from his diet, but he still had the pool exorcised. The singer's wife at the time, Angela, put him in contact with Walli Elmlark, a white witch from New York who gave Bowie instructions for the exorcism over the phone. Angela said that a Greek orthodox church offered to perform the ceremony, but Bowie had a "no strangers" rule in place in his home, so he bought the necessary supplies and got to it.
Angela explained in her book Backstage Passes: Life on the Wild Side With David Bowie:
So there we stood, with just Walli’s instructions and a few hundred dollars’ worth of books, talismans, and assorted items from Hollywood’s comprehensive selection of fine occult emporia. I had no idea what was being said or what language it was being said in, I couldn’t stop a weird cold feeling rising up in me as David droned on and on. There’s no easy or elegant way to say this, so I’ll just say it straight. At a certain point in the ritual, the pool began to bubble. It bubbled vigorously (perhaps “thrashed” is a better term) in a manner inconsistent with any explanation involving air filters or the like.
Bowie later said that after performing the ritual he knew that it was time to pull himself together.
Blackstar Is Bowie's Final Tip Of The Hat To Crowleyism
Even though his artistic output slowed (and then sped up again) late in his life, Bowie's interest in the occult never waned. His final album, Blackstar, represents a "meticulously planned" ending for the story of the artist's life. The imagery behind the album delves into the concept of a person leaving the Earth and ascending to another realm and becoming a god. Bowie doubled down on this imagery with his video for "Blackstar." In the piece, a woman discovers a skull hidden in an astronaut's helmet, a direct reference to Bowie's earliest hit "Space Oddity." Following the discovery of a skull, a sex magick ritual breaks out around skull of Major Tom.
The video's director, Johan Renck, told Vice:
I'm a huge Crowley fan, I’ve always been. I tried to make a movie on his life a few years ago but we didn’t manage to put it together. I love Crowley for being an audacious man at certain point in time. I think he’s greatly misunderstood. He was a good guy, but he was portrayed as an evil man and he wasn’t.
Once again, Crowley creeps into the life of David Bowie.