Occultism in the Work of David Bowie
Ethan Doyle White
One of the twentieth century’s best-known popular musicians, David Bowie (1947–2016) drew upon a diverse range of influences in crafting his lyrics. Among these was occultism. As with many members of his generation, Bowie pursued a ‘pick and mix’ individualist approach to what he called ‘spirituality,’ rejecting institutionalised Christianity while taking an interest in a broad variety of culturally alternative belief systems. Bowie introduced occultist elements into his work in the early 1970s, adding references to Aleister Crowley and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in songs like “Quicksand” and possibly also “After All.” Rather than reflecting a committed adherence or practice of these occultist currents, such references probably represented attempts to imitate other popular musicians like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Bowie’s interest in occultism resurfaced in a more concentrated fashion when living in the United States in 1974–75. Suffering from severe paranoia, he came to believe that malevolent supernatural forces were acting against him and turned to occultist literature, particularly the work of Arthur Edward Waite and Dion Fortune, for protective purposes. He also developed an interest in Qabalah, demonstrating this in the lyrics to “Station to Station”. After 1976, he vocally distanced himself from occultism, but his work continues to offer an important case study for the influence of occultism in the history of popular music.
David Bowie; Aleister Crowley; Dion Fortune; Arthur Edward Waite; Occultism; Popular Music