Rock and roll and the occult

In 1976, David Bowie famously told us that "Rock has always been the devil's music." I enjoy hearing about the real or rumored occult influences on rock and roll, and famous musicians' interests in the "dark arts." Gary Lachman's "Turn Off Your Mind" and Erik Davis's book on Led Zeppelin IV are fun reads on the subject. Greg Taylor, who edits the terrific Daily Grail site, wrote his own engaging essay on the roots of "Occult Rock," from Robert Johnson and the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin, Bowie, and Tool. The piece, titled "Occult Rock," appeared in the second volume of Greg's journal of weirdness, Darklore. From Greg's essay, now readable online:


There is no doubting… that The Thin White Duke (Bowie) was consumed by occult ideas during the '70s. He was said to have been interested in scrying with crystal balls, and experimented in contacting the Spirit World via an Ouija Board. He later warned a journalist against ever using one: "Don't… It can mess you up, especially if you're taking drugs." (Peter) Koenig documents further gossip surrounding Bowie's alleged descent into occult madness:

Rumor has it that Bowie kept his hair and fingernail clippings in the fridge of Michael Lippman's home where he was living then, so they could not fall into the hands of those he thought wished to put spells on him. Bowie constructed an altar in the living room and he graced the walls with various magick symbols which he handpainted. Candles burned around the clock, he regularly performed banishing rituals, and he protected his friends by drawing sigils on their hands. The seventeen-year-old Cameron Crowe allegedly found a stirred-up Bowie burning black candles against an aborted magical ritual during the LA period.

Eventually Crowe published several narratives in Rolling Stone and Playboy of Bowie drawing black magick symbols, seeing disembodied beings, thinking he was the Messiah, keeping bottles of his urine in the fridge…

Occult themes can also be found in Bowie's music: his 1971 song "Quicksand" begins with the lines "I'm closer to the Golden Dawn, Immersed in Crowley's uniform, of imagery". On Station to Station (1976) he references the Kabbalah in the title track with the line "one magical movement from Kether to Malkuth", talks of "flashing no colour" (part of the Eastern occult Tattva system), and also makes a sly tip of the hat to Aleister Crowley's book of pornographic poems White Stains in the very last line of the song. The album's art (at least on the CD version) also includes a picture of Bowie sketching the Kabbalistic Tree of Life on the floor.

"Occult Rock"