Around 1997, I began correspondence with Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) researcher and author Peter Koenig after encountering an early version of his (by now) oft-cited essay The Laughing Gnostic: David Bowie and the Occult . We struck up a rapport through our mutual Bowie interest via emails and I ended up contributing some ideas here and there. In fact I believe I’m still footnoted which was very gracious of him. First of all, I think Peter deserves great credit for enlarging the Bowie debate certainly into realms that interested me. However I wanted to narrow the allusive collage provided by Koenig and thread a tighter needle, particularly with regard to the album and song The Man Who Sold the World and its singular importance to the Bowie corpus.
As a result of this collaboration, I began to receive very cryptic yet compelling emails from, for lack of a better term, occultists. Now, an occultist is often like the kid in grade school who starts a club, assigns a secret password to his buddies, then proceeds to bar you from joining. They all then wink and nod in the corner about nothing in particular. The raison etre is, they are in the club and you aren’t. Privilege trumps content. Status constructs a void. In short, much of the occult talk I’ve encountered is either gibberish or an improbable pastiche of Big Foot, crop circles, magic crystals and Star Sirius.
In fact I believe it takes great reserves of will not to affix to belief systems. And yes, call that a belief if you like. As the great British scientist J.B.S. Haldane remarked, “the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine.” Thus while we should be prepared to believe anything and, in a multiversal ‘many worlds’ reality, perhaps even everything, a modicum of reasoned judgment must tether our inquiries on the present, constricted plane.
Intrigued by my input on the Koenig essay, one particular gentleman tracked me down via email. For the remainder of this essay, I’ll call him ‘John’. Again though it was never explicitly stated, I got the sense John was imparting this information so that I might one day chronicle it. This seems as good a time as any to start laying it down.
He was an elderly gent from the North of England, or so he claimed. He wrote in that distinctive British-English style and I always fancied him being of somewhat higher station. Clearly well-read and erudite, he would pepper his emails with Latin and French phrases, but not in a showy way; rather because they were the apt phrases for the context. We never met or chatted on the phone. On the occasions when I asked him a more personal question, he would aver with polite yet clipped disdain. Whereas a working class guy would have been more jocular and ‘accessible’. Maybe I’m overimagining and he was a bored trucker from Northern Idaho. But that’s how he seemed to me.
Like so many in the esoteric field, John had a tendency to flit between The Golden Dawn, Thelema, O.T.O. and the Process Church, all of which he had affiliated with at some point in his life. But it was a poised and knowing flit, if I may say. I’m not an expert on the exactitudes and overlaps of these various organizations. Indeed I knew even less then (in the 2002 timeframe when our brief correspondence commenced, then ended on his initiative just as abruptly). But John related a rather gripping spiritual tale which I’ll briefly paraphrase and fill in with my own subsequent research:
Most people are familiar with ‘The Great Beast’ Aleister Crowley as he has become firmly rooted in the loopy firmament of pop-occult-new age. Alas in ‘real’ occult circles, Crowley’s iconic stature is wholly unearned as John, and others since, have assured me. But it goes beyond mere incompetence. Much to the present era’s chagrin, Aleister Crowley was the most ruinously inept sorcerer’s apprentice of the 20th century. At least Mickey Mouse was lovable; however the misogynistic, racist, anti-Semitic Crowley, not so much.
John contrasted the farcical and inept Crowley with renowned occultist Arthur Edward Waite, a contemporary of the former (they actually detested one another) who devoted much study to the often ambiguous demarcations between black and white magic. Time and again in his writings Waite warns against the summoning of spirits by those unable to banish them at the conclusion of a magical ceremony. He is particlarly cautionary against summoning evil spirits for evil purposes. Evil entities should be engaged, Waite insisted, only for the purpose of harnessing their demonic powers for virtuous ends. Thus black magic is essentially an abuse of power. Here is Waite underscoring the essential stupidity behind black magic:
“What is called Black Magic is by no means black invariably; It is almost always concerned with harmless or stupid processes…”
–from The Book of Black Magic and of Pacts: Including the Rites and Mysteries of Goëtic Theurgy, Sorcery, and Infernal Necromancy (1910)
John’s point in his frequent Waite references was to underscore the essential stupidity of the Crowley ministrations. Stupidity can unleash catastophic effects. Thus whether intentionally or not, Crowley’s net spiritual effect on the world was evil. Koenig, in The Templar’s Reich Mileiu the Slaves Shall Serve is hardly charitable towards Crowley either, calling him a “prig” and an “opportunist”.
There is an apocryphal tale of Crowley’s efforts at his Loch Ness home, Boleskine House, to prepare and practice the months-long magical operations outlined in the 15th century Book of the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. Crowley was attempting to identify and contact his guardian angel. To do this, certain evil dukes and demons are invoked for the purposes of enlisting their powers towards a greater good. Mid-ritual, Crowley was forced to abandon the elaborate six-month operation and depart for the continent on urgent business. As it turned out, this seemingly innocuous decision forever tipped the metaphysical scale on the British Isles from the realm of the Living to that of the Shifty-Shady Dead. God save the Queen and Freddie Mercury too!
Crowley’s Boleskine machinations transpired in the 1899-1900 period. For me, it’s noteworthy that Nietzsche died in 1900 leaving behind the admonition that the 20th century’s greatest challenge would be navigating and ultimately reconsecrating a godhead within the nihilistic void left in the wake of the Christian God’s death. Many forces would compete for this new aeon. Crowley was at least intuitive enough to sense the wide-openness of his age. Alas, his hapless legacy involves filling the vacuum with evil, restless and anarchic spirits. Thus a key subtext of the present spiritual milieu was birthed by tragic accident. For, tossing improperly summoned silhouettes and shadows into the midst of alienated, disaffected souls is an invitation for serious intra-realm destabilization.
There were few more spiritually desolate places than post-WWII England. In The Wall, Pink Floyd explores the massive void left, especially within the British working class, after WWI. Yet another exhausting war later, by 1947 souls had only numbed further. Nearly all of the iconic British rock stars (Thelemites in spirit if not in fact) were born in the mid-forties near the, er, climax of Crowley’s seminal outreach program. Bowie was born January 8, in the year of Crowley’s death. Jimmy Page (ardent Crowley devotee and himself an owner of Bolsekine House), 1945; Eric Clapton, 1945; Mick Jagger, 1943; Keith Richards, 1943; Ozzy Osbourne, 1948 –the list is endless, the ‘do as thou wilt’ ethos ubiquitous. Now, John never alleged these folks were direct descendants of Crowley. Had he done so, I would have deep-sixed his missives straightaway. His point was more sane than that, if still a bit outlandish: occult-energy was at a fever pitch in England at this time. The kids were sponges. Spirit abhors a vacuum.
But there was a further reason why the karmic forces in the UK needed placating at the conclusion of the war. Nothing is offered from one realm to the next without some form of recompense. Spiritualists such as Crowley and Dion Fortune were quite busy turning the tide of the war from the Nazis to the land of Arthur and Merlin (this is chronicled in the Evans/Sutton article ‘The Magical Battle of Britain’). Indeed some biographers are convinced it was no accident both Crowley and Fortune died within a year or two of war’s end. They were simply psychically exhausted. But this might be another way of saying they left unfinished spiritual business behind, as John adamantly contended.
During the darkest days of the Battle for Britian, it’s reasonable to ask what spiritual debts had been amassed by the nation’s spiritualists? And to echo the Boleskine refrain, were appropriate measures taken to re-right the spiritual balance after victory was secured? John insisted the ‘backend work’ was not properly completed, especially without recourse to the occult machinations of Crowley, Fortune and Waite (who died in 1942).
Thus in a way, and perhaps in a larger sense, WWII only compounded the turn-of-the-century mischief unleashed by Crowley at Loch Ness. Britain had come to owe much to the Realm of Shadows. Moloch, Satan’s most bellicose fallen angel, invoked often and by all sides (quite understandably) for his highly-sought military prowess demands, as a normal course of his conscription, child sacrifices. Clearly Moloch is out and about in this period. Allen Ginsberg sees him repeatedly in the early post-war period as reported in Howl (1955) and in his peyote-induced vision of the former’s ‘skullface’ in the facade of the St. Francis Hotel. The threat posed to the children by Moloch (and their parents’ attendant horror) is stated clearly enough by English poet John Milton in the 17th century. With the ‘invention of the teenager’ in the post-WWII era, the true demographic-economic import of Moloch (wed with Mammon) finds ellyptical reference in David Bowie’s 1971 song ‘Oh You Pretty Things’. (Iggy Pop skirts the theme in a more carnal and ‘raw’ form in 1973 with ‘Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell’. Who’s Iggy anyway but an overproduced Bowie stooge?) By 1999, Moloch has Bowie directly address the children on the pact that betrothed them to Hell at an all-too formative age. This time, there’s no Nietzschean dress-up, no faces in chaste golden rays. The time draws nigh. Moloch is removing his mask:
“First MOLOCH, horrid King besmear’d with blood Of human sacrifice, and parents tears.”
–from Paradise Lost, John Milton (1667)
“Oh you pretty things Don’t you know you’re driving your Mamas and papas insane.”
–from ‘Oh You Pretty Things’, David Bowie (1971)
“Don’t hold your breath but the pretty things are going to hell I am a drug I am a dragon I am the best jazz you’ve ever seen… I find you out before you grow old”
–from ‘The Pretty Things are Going to Hell’, David Bowie (1999)
But let’s give the Old World a rest. A continent away, “ghosts crowd[ed] the young child’s fragile, eggshell mind” as vengeful Native American spirits –Tecumseh, Atualpo and dozens more–sought uninvited refuge in the white invader’s children. In the song Peace Frog, Jim Morrison insisted his soul had been breached and entered. Here’s a fuller account:
“James Douglass Morrison’s father and mother were separated during the Second World War, due to Captain Morrison’s assignment to the Pacific theater where he flew Hellcats from an aircraft carrier. After the war, the family was travelling on a highway near Albuquerque, where Captain Morrison was an instructor in one of the military’s atomic weapons programs. Suddenly, they came upon an overturned truck and saw the bodies of several Pueblo Indians lying on the asphalt. Captain Morrison saw to it that an ambulance was called, while his son screamed, “I want to help, I want to help! They’re dying, they’re dying!” While his mother held Jim in her arms, his father told him that it was a dream—it really didn’t happen. But Jim later described the event as “the most important moment of my life.” He believed that as his father’s car pulled away, an Indian died and his soul passed into his body.”
–from ‘Jim Morrison: A Failed Shaman?’ by Stanley Krippner, Ph.D.
For our purposes, let’s say shamanism is the New World equivalent of Afro-Haitian Voodoo and European magick. Indeed shamanism, yet another intermediation process between the physical and spiritual worlds, may well have prevailed in Paleolithic Europe. Contemporary to the Lizard King’s possession, John suggested a similar series of ‘entries’ were occurring all across England. We mustn’t forget the inroads of the Voodoo Loa via Delta Blues with that other demoralized people, the African-American. Rock forefather and bluesman Robert Johnson was born in 1911 (the same year Crowley wrote his signature work, Magick, Liber ABA, Book 4 which contains ‘The Book of the Law’). The affinity between the British working class and the South’s African-American is not nearly so far-fetched as might be assumed. Despair breeds nihilistic opportuntiy. Fearing increasingly for his soul as his demise neared, Crowley was all-too aware of his complicity in opening the wrong door. Indeed he was a prime instigator of the post-WWII crossover wave. How did he actuate this? Obsessed with redressing the effects of this botched portal for the remainder of his life, Crowley set about birthing as many illegitimate children as he could manage. This rather bizarre tactic was undertaken at the counsel of his spirit guide, Aiwass (whom he had eventually ‘rendezvoued’ with in Egypt as the former’s automatic writer for The Book of the Law).
By quite literally ‘seeding’ alienation via fatherless progeny (largely among the British working class) Crowley created, to the best of his carnal abilities (and it should be added, with the assistance of his seed-laden adherents), willing and youthful receptacles for the netherworld spirits he had unwittingly unleashed who were desperately in need of mortal footholds. Chaos is the father of reinvention and illicit entry. The twin foundational strengths of family and cultural coherence wither before a concerted illegitimacy campaign. Many post-WWII parents were themselves survivors of two calamitous wars within their own lives, not to mention victims again of class stratification and social immobility. PTSD was a national affliction before it was a clinicized acronym. (In the adtermath of WWI, Robert Graves would call it ‘war neurosis’.) What possible bulwark could these bludgeoned elders offer their childfren anyway? I’m reminded here of Alex’ vapid, go-go-booted mum in the 1971 film A Clockwork Orange and her utter incomprehension of the monster in her midst. Look out at your children! As for Alex, he regards her with a diffidence born of mild contempt. Numbed by mother’s little helper, she is irrelevant. There is no generational wisdom to impart. The main cultural conveyance is bleak nihilism.
Aiwass had warned Crowley the welfare of his own soul hung precariously in the balance. Summoned from the infernal depths so unceremoniously, the demons were generally ill-tempered and insistent on mortal hosts. A natural and uncoaxed profligate, Crowley was not exactly averse to this prescriptive measure which amounted to fucking himself back into cosmic equanimity. His depravity was at full-mast right up until his death in London on December 8, 1947. Endowed with blessed semen (via certain Gnostic mass rituals), Crowley ended life as a drug-addled sex-surrogate for demonic entities. The rock pantheon is eternally (infernally?) grateful.
The signature communication mode between both realms is automatic writing which is essentially the transmission of thought and spiritual content from the Dead to the Living. The rock ‘n roll songbook would be bereft without its team of automatic writers. Bowie was one. Cobain was too. Black Sabbath all but rejects authorship until such time as the royalty checks are cut. Robert Plant held up a pen for Stairway to Heaven. Indeed over the last half-century, supernatural conveyances have reached a fever pitch. That may be because Crowley unleashed, on one end, so many lugubrious spirits, and on the other end, a battery of willing spokesmen.
Suffice to say I found John’s macrocosmic explanation of the present spiritual milieu completely absorbing. There are numerous specific observations he made about prominent individuals. However I will refrain from reporting these as that would broach accusations of ad hominem attacks. Suffice to say, nothing is simply a gas-gas-gas. The very term, pop music, trivializes the endeavor by design. Everything matters. Cultural and spiritual movements happen for reasons and are freighted with agendas, both visible and obscure.
Throughout this project, I strive against imparting my own personal beliefs. I want to spark debate and provoke thought in others. As Heidegger famously said (paraphrasing): “The most thought-provoking aspect of the present era is how few people are actually thinking.” I believe the stakes are high –too high to thoughtlessly bang tables.
The Burrough’s cut-up technique is a derivative of chaos magic. How else does a pink monkey bird sprout wings? But which Demon, which Duke? Agares, Valefor, Aim, Buné? Maybe Duke Focalor.