I turned myself to face me
In the darkness, a spotlight focusses on a cadaverous, mascara streaked face; the atmosphere is electric. It’s Hammersmith Odeon, July 1973; a guitar strums a simple chord with a plangeant brush-like sound. The Spiders have vacated the stage, but this is even more electrifying than any magisterial Moonage Day Dream guitar solo by Mick Ronson.
“My death waits for me like a bible truth…”
The voice intones the words with a theatrical twist; the audience is mesmerized absorbing each nuance.
“…At the funeral of my youth.”
It’s Bowie singing of his own death.
“Angel or devil….I don’t care..”
The Jacques Brel song weaves sinuously towards its climax.
“For in front of that door there is……” in the pause, the boldest in the audience visualizing themselves face to face with Bowie at that door begin shouting ‘me ’.. ‘me’… ‘me’….
Bowie just smile wryly, ending the song with a modest …“Thank You.”
This is one among many unforgettable moments captured in D.A. Pennebaker’s 1973 film of the last Spiders gig when Bowie effectively killed off Ziggy as Ziggy threatened to take over his splintered self. Bowie ‘broke up the band’ just how the song song said he would. It was high drama. But at that moment, Ziggy fans also wanted to be there when he passed. Bowie, who died on January 10th, 2016, has finally delivered. But being the arch magician he was, he involved us all in that strange death ritual. He delivered a last statement with the album Black Star (2016) that apparently hints in coded language at his passing. Even in death, he has made it a musical reprise, a post script to those intimate moments his fans had with his death back in the seventies.
It has come full circle. Bowie even spoke of the his death to Mike Garson saying a psychic had predicted that he would die at age 69 or 70. In 1971, Bowie was regularly contemplating death, perhaps due to his involvement in Tibetan Buddhism. In Quicksand, one of his most self-exploratory songs, he refers to bardo states, which in life are also ego-deaths, and he anthemises a refrain: “knowledge comes with death’s release.” Divine symmetry, indeed.
All the Young Dudes, carry the news
When I heard the news it was in a single word text from a close friend and fellow Bowie fan. ‘Sad day’ she texted.
It was then I knew- this would be the day I had dreaded. I now had to deal with the blow for real. At first, I was speechless, but the Bowie’s buzz, not just created by social media hype, but by a genuine sense of ‘oh no he’s finally gone.’ It has taken me a couple of weeks or so to even begin to express the impact of Bowie on my life. He was like the sky both day and night- always there. Who had the audacity to switch off the sky?
Then there is all the supposition about the timing. Did he know he was dying and work harder to produce a last album, and plan several more anthologies, just to leave a tidy legacy, or was it more sinister? I do not know. It may even be unfair to speculate. But I do know that more than any other artist, his work is bound up intimately with my own personal growth and transformation that it is difficult to disentangle.
Michael Stipe of REM said ‘the solar system is off its axis and the one of the main planetary anchors has lost its orbit.” But Bowie had this effect on countless thousands. Apparently, Bowie is not just me, but everyone else too. There is a piece of him in everyone. Yet, who could possibly replace the Master B? I could not bring myself to go to the Jimmy C Ziggy wall painting in Brixton, but I did go to a tribute gig at Surya and it was difficult to hold back the tears when the musicians sang lesser known songs such as Lady Grinning Soul, Lady Stardust, and Always Crashing in the Same Car.
And I looked and frowned and the monster was me
This is not as silly as it seems: grief for the death of a star can trigger riots, and cause movements, as was witnessed when Judy Garland died in 1969. The recognition of the power in numbers triggered resistance to the police, and caused the beginnings of the gay rights movement. There is a sense that great stars’ lives are closely intertwined with those of their fans, who vicariously experience struggles their idols undertake on their behalf. One fan in Heddon Street, where Ziggy was said to have landed under the K.West sign, said that Bowie was a ‘massive force’ in the seventies. That’s the era that I remember him from. Unlike how many others have claimed, the Top of the Pops appearance singing Starman was not the first epiphany for me. I had already been studiously listening to Hunky Dory and The Man Who Sold the World, and I was one of the first to buy the vinyl LP Ziggy Stardust on its day of release June 6th 1972, but the Starman appearance was a finally sanctified-by-television moment. Through TV fame, I lost him to the craziness of everyone else. He became a mega star and household name, no longer a secret shared only by me and two others.
Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet says ‘Bowie is me’ as Bowie gave generations permission to be weird. His creativity is patterned into the DNA of swathes of people in the UK who regarded him as their one true lighthouse. This is not airy fairy stuff but profound emotion wrapped in the very fabric of the imagination. Call it the zeitgeist, but Bowie was a primary catalyst for social change. He was the portal; he carved out the possibilities of the way forward. The range and diversity of people offering tributes to Bowie proves that being multi-faceted means you can touch a diverse range of people. His catalyzing effect was to allow people to see aspects of themselves in him (no mean feat for the usually self-obsessed rock musician). We all ‘turned to face me’ and an entire culture of inward-gazing individuals began to flourish under the Bowie umbrella.
And the day will end for some, as the night begins for one
In spite of the undercurrent of conspiracy about Bowie’s death being staged, I have to admit the impact of this light going out affected me more than I ever thought it would. How could he just die like that? It was a deeply personal wound, simply because he is us, and we are him. Some of these tributes were poignant, but validating Bowie’s pervasive influence and sneaky power to get to the core of the inner self. Slis attempts to explain why his death hurt people so much, in Smells Like Infinite Sadness perhaps it surprised people with the wallop of emotion that processing the sudden death of Bowie demanded. You didn’t have to like every song – I ignored him through the 80s and 90s- but the songs you liked were ten times superior to anyone else’s. After all, most of us did not meet him in person. I did however, manage, at one of the Ziggy shows in Blackburn in 1972, to touch his hand and almost pull off a bangle during Rock n Roll Suicide.
Perhaps that was the secret of his allure. That touch of his hand was like the passing of the lightning flash from Michaelanglo’s brain-shaped overlord across to a shy 15 year-old kid. But it takes death to become immortal and the posthumous apotheosis of Bowie was faster than that flash. I’m not so interested in the massive boost in record sales it has triggered, but in the waves of emotion that swept through Bowie fandom worldwide. In death we can draw a final curtain and his work is visible whole, for what it is – not just a PR move, as people cynically suspect – but a truly staggering, mind blowing achievement. If his rock legend was already cementing while he was alive, it has now become solid as a rock.
If we can sparkle, he may land tonight
With this ‘mortal with potential of a superman’ you can take your pick of which aspect he reveals to you at any given point in your life. As Heraclitus might have said: “you never step into the same Bowie river twice.” He was too fast to take that test. He has access points, high, low, camp, serious, perverse, inane, vaudeville, cabaret, hard rock, folk, soul, experimental and yet still commercial. Select at random and see for yourself. There are volumes to say on all of this. But here I want to focus on his astrology. Why? because of what it reveals. If the theory of synchronicity, and the Hermetic rule of ‘as above so below, as within, so without’ applies, and it was good enough for Jung, it is good enough to explain why astrology has this metaphoric mirroring to unravel how character is bound up with their fate and potential. Mechanical explanations as to how it works are less useful than surfacing the patterns that appear in the natal chart. As far as I know this is something no one else has written about Bowie’s asteroid muses, as the study of it is in its infancy.
Bowie had not been given that much attention by astrologers. Then he died and there was a flurry of birth chart analyses of both his Western and Vedic Chart in the form of You Tube videos and articles online. Most of them are brief but interesting. It happened during a Mercury Retrograde in Capricorn his birth sign, which was appropriate for this orgy of replays, rewinds, reflections, and reevaluations of his prodigious output and career. See videos by Steve Judd, Kelly Simas, Barbara Goldsmith, Sam Geppi and Lua Astrology. There was a clash between styles of astrology, the tropical (Aquarius rising) and sidereal (Libra Rising) due to a birth time issue. Some of them did not know very much about Bowie and landed on most obvious features; while others genuinely saw in him a revelatory metaphor of our constantly shifting times.
David Cochrane has studied the charts of rock starts in detail and offers an interesting twist on minor aspects. The evidence is revealing and fits Jim Morrison, Hendrix, Lennon and others. This is the theory of Harmonics which locate vibrational fifths of a circle in a chart and studies the aspects created. If there are significant aspects to the Sun, or especially between Venus and Uranus, the rock star alignment shows up. Aspects are angles – 60, 90, 180 degrees etc. Most astrologers do not go further than these standard angles. The angles created by fifths are finer and would otherwise be totally dismissed, yet chart after chart proves the link to this mysterious architecture of the stars.
Harmonics show talents, but harmonic fifths indicate that the native has potential to be a rock star. Cochrane studied Bowie’s chart and he says it is ‘mind boggling.’ It gave him chills when he discovered Bowie’s Venus/Uranus is spot on the fifth harmonic, with Pluto trine both of them. It fits the formula, giving further needed evidence that Bowie’s rock star potential could be -and definitely was -activated. Here is proof that not only was Bowie a true ‘rock star’ but a ‘crazy wild’ one – as all Bowie fans already know. He also settles the dispute over Bowie’s true birth time at January 8th between 9.00 and 9.15am, putting to rest any alternative suggestion Bowie may have been Libra rising.
Just to touch the flaming dove
I had the same feeling as Cochrane when I analysed Bowie’s asteroid muses. Bowie was noted for his actual living muses: Hermione, Angie, Twiggy, and Iman. Bowie also referenced the inner male/female in his Where are we now? (2013) video which uses the imagery of alchemy and the Jungian individuation process. Muses are very specific
archetypes, and are in the Greek myths conventionally constructed as being only female, so Angie Bowie, deserves a mention as a prime inspiration in the early days of Ziggy, and later Iman, with whom he finally settled down into a stable and mutually rewarding relationship. I have claimed that the asteroid muses can appear as teachers or earth angels can also be male or even transgender. So Bowie had many male muses too: Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Anthony Newley, Lindsay Kemp, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and possibly even Mick Jagger, but he was also known to find inspiration from less gender specific figures such as Amanda Lear, and Romy Haag in Berlin.
But these are Bowie’s actual muses in life, so part of the pop culture layer; it is also worth pulling up the carpet to see the subterranean layers hidden in the chart. Along with the Harmonics to a chart, the muse asteroids can link to their respective artistic skill, and unless there is a reason to focus on them, are largely ignored. Astrologers are still fathoming their significance since there are are over 17,000 asteroids in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter alone. Then there are the Centaur asteroids and others in the Kuiper Belt. One idea was a planet exploded into pieces and the asteroids are the remnants. The positions of Chiron, Ceres, Vesta, Pallas Athena and Lilith however are now included in most charts, and Melanie Reinhart suggests that the Centaurs can point to touchpoints of pain and wounding (Chiron), sudden revelations and abuse (Pholus) and cycles of karma (Nessus). These all add sharper details to an already multi-layered story.
He was awful nice, really quite paradise
My focus here is to study the impact of the nine art muse asteroids on Bowie. Inspiration apparently came easily to Bowie, so he must have been well tuned to the messages of these muses. A good introduction to the meaning and significance of asteroids in a birth chart can be found on Kim Falconer’s site. Muses are among the great understudied curiosities of the universe, and I’m sure Bowie would be curious about his asteroid muse placements, being the artist he was. I bore in mind that the orb of an asteroid needs to be close, making sextiles and trines, not as potent as conjunctions and oppositions, depending on the overall themes.
Writing comedy prose for radio shows: it’s the Gnome Service of course.
The first most striking placement is that of Thalia, the muse of comedy, which is conjuct Bowie’s Sun/Mars in Capricorn in the 12th house. At first glance, this is not what would be expected, and would be more likely to show up in the life of a stand up comic, but it does emphasise the line ‘Comedian’ in the ‘comedian, Corinthian, chamelon, and caricature’. Bowie, in his ordinary bloke mode, was known to be hilariously funny, sharing jokes in emails to Brian Eno, and the element of music hall comedy is there in the first album. But it screams out on the track he could barely ever put back in the closet –The Laughing Gnome (1967) riddled with corny jokes. His sketches with Ricky Gervais are well known also, but his acting roles tended not to emphasise this comedic side of Bowie who once quipped “One would expect that the marriage of a rock star to a supermodel would be one of the greatest things in the world. It is” which Leah Whitehorse offers as evidence of Bowie’s typically Capricorn dryness of wit. It is not obvious humour- even hidden – a very 12th house theme.
Blue, blue, electric blue. That’s the colour of my room where I will live.
The asteroid muse Urania (Astronomy) is the spaceman vibe, that distant contemplative mood that tinctures the song Space Oddity with its strange appeal – is conjunct his moon in Leo, making that ultra significant for him. Circe is also interestingly positioned close by in Leo. Circe was the creature who was able to bewitch Odysseus and his crew in the Odyssey. This ability strongly to the power that some performers to have to bedazzle their audiences. Bowie was immensely charismatic. Another of the nine muses was Polyhymnia (Sacred Music) is also related to Mime, and she is sextile Bowie’s Ascendant. This seems clear enough as Mime was hugely significant for Bowie, having been taught by Lindsay Kemp, giving him his visceral, physical stage presence, a skilled use of the body as a tool for expression.
Turn to the left; Turn to the right
The asteroid muse Terpsichore (Dance) is at 11 degrees Aries, conjunct his Sphinx in Aries. Bowie has posed as the Sphinx early in his career showing some fascination with Egyptian symbolism, but the Sphinx refers to the precession of equinoxes, a shift from the age of Virgo to that of Leo – hence the hybrid female/lion. His asteroid Sphinx is in direct opposition to his Neptune in Libra, giving that extra force. But he noticeably also had developed an hieratic, jerky, awkward looking style of dancing e.g. Boys Keep Swinging video. Terpsichore is also trine to Calliope (Epic Poetry).
Throwing Darts in Lovers’ Eyes
The muse asteroid Erato (Poetry and Sonnets) is conjunct his Midheaven in Saggitarius more or less conjunct his Venus. This alone would be enough to say the muse asteroid placements gifted him with power of words beyond the ordinary, a blessing for any writer or songwriter. This also ties in with the Venus/Uranus link to rock stars. Bowie has a Venus Uranus opposition.Talk about creative tension! Bowie’s lyrics are also well known to be memorable, if enigmatic, rich in metaphor, allusion and imagery, and since his death a massive internet search has occurred where fans remind themselves of his skill with turns of phrase.
Euterpe is the muse most associated with Lyric music, so clearly of importance to Bowie. She is placed at 16 degrees of Pisces, not particularly strong at first glance, yet Euterpe sextiles the Sun/Mars conjunction in his 12th House. It is also within the orb of Melpomene (Tragedy) in his first house which incidentally is conjunct the asteroid Orpheus, also a resonant symbol for poets, singers and musicians. So the themes in his work coalesce here in a very interesting way to spell out the poet/rock god mythology.
Whether all asteroids are relevant is debatable and, since there are thousands, only those that trigger the themes of the natal chart stand out as touch points revealing patterns in the psyche of the native. This Orpheus placement is just one example. There is also Icarus on the Ascendant at 11 degrees which may also suggest a link to the Ziggy Stardust mythology he created, that absolute fall from grace, the hubris of wanting to be as good as the gods. Icarus, who got burned for flying too high, is in opposition to his Pluto at 12 degrees of Leo lending greater intensity to this configuration. W.H.Auden’s poem about Icarus too pops up in the film ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ as a signature emblem of Thomas Jerome Newton, the character Bowie returned to in his one musical for the stage in 2015.
One Magical movement from From Kether the Malkuth
Many tributes refer to Bowie as in possession of a transformative force, or that he had a teaching role in their lives. I’m the first to say that’s true – to a teenager, it had the force of being struck by lightning, and although he tried to escape the stereotyping, that lightning flash became an iconic symbol of the power of inspiration, and Uranian/Promethean innovation. Fans and musicians claim they learned a huge amount from either meeting, watching and emulating Bowie. Like other rock stars, Jimmy Page being the most well known, Bowie has also been linked closely with the Occult and there are serious articles and also reams of ridiculous videos, with ominous fear-instigating narratives. Those that characterise it as all devil worship, are not surprisingly usually by Christians and/or fear mongers who have a vested interest in bolstering an extremely polarsied view of Satanism, when it should be clear that Christianity and Satanism are psycho-sisters, not so diametrically opposed as the powers that be would have you believe. Many of these stories can be ignored, although they might successfully put people off researching further. There is the story ill informed commentary has made much of his visions of the devil in a swimming pool.
Immersed in Crowley’s uniform of divine imagery
The narrative goes, well it must be his own fault. No one can claim to know whether Bowie did indulge in rituals which wrecked his psyche – or be active in the O.T.O- drugs might have had as much to do with it, but there has been a renaissance of interest in Crowley in recent years which reclaims his status even as a painter. Take much of this with a pinch of salt. The word ‘occult’ just means hidden and a lot of this knowledge, especially Gnosticism is now emerging into the light of day – the esoteric is becoming more mainstream. Bowie regarded himself as a kind of Gnostic and even appears as herald of Gnosticism in Philip K. Dick’s novel Valis (1981).
In that sense Bowie could be likened to the Tarot card the Magus. He was an artist in multi media of considerable powers, a Mercurial juggler of ideas, and that he appeared as Nicolas Tesla in the film The Prestige (2006) was not by chance, as Nolan went personally to persuade Bowie that only he could play this role. Tesla is suggestive of Bowie’s interests in innovation, teleportation, and access to unlimited energy hinted at in Black Star. He said “all art is unstable…there is no active author,there are only multiple readings.” Bowie himself acknowledged all his idols. He was generous in his spirit as his many collaborations prove. For the literary minded, there are references in his songs to Nietzsche, Genet, Burroughs, Orwell, Ballard, Philip K. Dick and to study his work is to breathe a living display of eclecticism and erudition. His list of100 favourite books shows his odd choices of reading, not restricted by any categories or limits such as you find in universities. He was the classic autodidact. Not an intellectual as such, but a thoroughly instinctual thinker, not afraid to tackle the great themes love, death, time, transformation, gender, sex, politics and above all exploring facets of the self in a very Jungian way as the blog Red Book, Red Sails explains. The only reason he did not realise the Diamond Dogs show fully was that he couldn’t get copyright on the ideas from Orwell family who refused, otherwise he would have been the first to put Orwell’s vision on stage in a musical.
His use of the cut up technique for his lyrics from Burroughs and Gysin relied on an understanding of the acausal, serendipitous arrangement of words and along with Eno’s Oblique Strategies Cards, which would be used in the studio to generate procedures for decisions about song writing. He regarded use of the cut up technique as a kind of secular Tarot, and the seemingly random placement of words as having divinatory significance. This may account for why so many see so many things in him. It is not Bowie we see but a prism of shattered fragments of ourselves refracted back to us through his work.
There was sophistication to this artistry. It had multiple layers which resonate across generations, not just in music, but in film, performance, new media, gender, fashion, styling, curation and culture studies. The scholars and academics can now feast on the pickings left behind by Bowie. Hence, following the exhibition at the V&A, David Bowie Is, the wave of interest accelerated, three ultra-academic works on Bowie, Enchanting David Bowie, Critical Perspectives, and Future Nostalgia, all of which appeared in 2015. There are as many interpretations of Bowie as Bowie fans, all very postmodern- you can imagine him lodged in another dimension, snickering in amusement, much as James Joyce did when he delivered Finnegans Wake to the literary analysts. Bowie can be read on multiple levels from Quicksand to Let’s Dance, some of his lyrics a kind of navel-gazing on the inner self.
Bowie was deeply read in esoteric thought. He studied literature and practice from the Golden Dawn, the Hermetic tradition, Tibetan Buddhism, Gnosticism and magic. Bowie as a Gnostic makes total sense because he was basically saying you are your own God. More than any other rock star, there was the feeling that he just opened the door for the fans to follow. He was alien-chameleon (Aquarius rising), but also ordinary, everyday nice guy (Capricorn). He tapped into everyone’s inner alien too, ,and enabled rather than dis-empowered that spirit of individuality, and eccentricity, allowing fans to claim that aspect of themselves as their own and to undergo their own Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes.
The Sun Machine is coming down and we’re going to have a party
Bowie was most likely aware that he was his own myth in the making. That is manipulation of the potential his Protean image, and he even suggested that a transcendent being, or strain of thought from other worlds was being channeled through him. He takes a very postmodern approach to projecting personas, and playing back this image, even mocking his own role as ‘rock god’ in inane banter with Ricky Gervais. There are continual cross references to his own invented personas and characters throughout his work. Perhaps it is now best seen as a entire song cycle, or symphony with recurring themes. This self mythification process was well under way in his early twenties and had this late flourish at his death with references to Black stars and Lazarus. The myth was settling into its final phase. Events after his death have fallen swiftly into a pattern that might have been predicted. Bowie, who was linked with space exploration both outer or inner, has had a constellation star formation – shaped like the Aladdin flash – named after him by Belgian astronomers. So it connects all the dots. Tributes even came from the space station where astronaut Chris Hadfield is more than aware that Space Oddity may be his very own theme tune. Then there is the puzzle of Black Star and what it means. Decoding this video alone would require another essay to do it justice.
Bowie was already a legend in his own lifetime, but in his death he has become sanctified, granted even higher status. His place in rock history is secure. His place as icon of the era still has some settling down to do, but is already spinning its web. It could be said he has become a kind of living Bodhisattva, the Avalokiteshvara, Buddha of compassion, dying for our pains, on behalf of us so we can vicariously taste a bit of that immortality and god-like status. He described himself as a ‘post modern Buddhist’ and wanted his ashes distributed in Bali in a Buddhist manner. The number of people singing his songs gives that taste of this apotheoisis, even though they can never recreate his voice which was his most powerful tool and a godsend to any singer, and often as with Rock and Roll Suicide,he recorded the best, most intensely evocative vocal performance in a single take, leaving studio engineers and collaborators stunned. So Bowie ticks all the boxes. Drama, beauty, talent. Tick mark the New Orpheus, yes; Icarus, yes; Sphinx too; Mithras also, possibly, as this is the classic pre-Christian sun god myth cycle which shaped the later myth of Jesus.
Shrines with flowers, candles, album covers, heartfelt messages of loss, and grief, but also gratitude for touching moments in their lives have sprung up in Heddon Street, where Ziggy was alleged to have landed, and in Brixton, Beckenham, Berlin, and Tribeca. It may be easy to mock as Julie Birchill predictably has done, but it is certainly a phenomenon of the 21st century.
Zane, Zane, Zane. Ouevre le chien
The red and blue lightning flash, associated with Pegasus, which in itself is linked to the nine Art muses themselves, who seem to have been dancing around Bowie’s shoulders at his birth and throughout his career, seems to have stuck in people’s minds, so it may be for this image of divine inspiration across Ziggy and Alladin Sane’s face that he will be remembered the most.
© Kieron Devlin
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5 thoughts on “Touched by the Flaming Dove: Bowie’s Asteroid Muses”
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