Evil: telling it like it is
For more than a week, a great outpouring of grief and accolades -- even from a Vatican official -- has flowed in the wake of the death of the famous musician, David Bowie, whose last song included lyrics that said, "Look up here -- I'm in Heaven."
Maybe he is. Who can know? Who can know where any of us will end up, after this test on earth? Almost without question, this was a man with sensitivities and struggles -- often spiritual struggles -- that touched a cultural nerve. He was certainly innovative, with a new look each time, it seems, and sometimes what seemed like a different persona and gender. Upon news of the rock star's death (1/10/16), Cardinal Gianfranco Cardinal Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, issued a statement quoting from older Bowie lyrics ("Ground Control to Major Tom / Commencing countdown, engines on / Check ignition and may God's love be with you"). The point: No doubt this was a man searching, and good for him. God give his soul peace. Let us pray for him, and all deceased. One day we'll need it ourselves. At one concert, laudably, Bowie recited the Lord's Prayer for a friend with AIDS. Reports one outlet, "Indeed, in his last photo shoot, the gravely ill singer was radiating happiness." [The last words his wife] tweeted before his death: 'The struggle is real, but so is God.'"
The problem is that in exalting Bowie, or anyone, we can cause distraction at the least and often the snare of deception. To take David Bowie as an example, his musical past included songs and a video giving what was tantamount to devotion for the notorious English occultist, Aleister Crowley, a practitioner of "magick" who among other things inspired the first American Church of Satan. Crowley, known as "the Beast," was the "darkest" known (emphasize known) practitioner of the black arts in recent centuries, and spoke openly against Jesus. His emphasis was on drugs, sexual magic, and the "true inner self" -- a forerunner of all the New Age stuff that has pervaded our culture. He was also a progenitor of modern selfishness and hedonism. "Be strong, O man! Lust, enjoy all things of sense and rapture: fear not that any God shall deny thee for this," he wrote (and taught). As he also said -- in what became the credo for our current time -- "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." Addressing Heaven at a satanic ceremony, Crowley, who rose to power precisely at the onset of the twentieth century, in 1900, railed against Christ when he intoned, "Thine hour is come; as I blot thee out from this earth, so surely shall the eclipse pass; and Light, Life, Love, and Liberty be once more the law of Earth. Give thou place to me, O Jesus: thine aeon is passed: the Age of Horus is arisen by the Magick of the Master, the Great Beast."
Bowie was hardly alone in his infatuation with Crowley. A number of musicians have held the Englishman as an icon, most notably Ozzie Osbourne (he too wrote a song in tribute) and Jimmy Paige, guitarist for "Led Zeppelin" who ended up buying Crowley's old home on Loch Ness where he and a fellow band member wrote the iconic "Stairway To Heaven" (Paige said the song had come to them as if from somewhere else: channeled, in a matter of a few short minutes).
The "muses" indeed! To finish on Bowie, the Vatican official perhaps did not know all this about Bowie's past. But it is disturbing nonetheless, for in recent years, the unofficial Vatican newspaper has heaped praise on many hip aspects of the modern culture. Reaching out to the world is one thing; embracing it is another. Father Rutler, a well-known priest in New York City, recently complained that "the impulsive effusions of grief from the Holy See remind one of an extravagant tribute that the editor of L'Osservatore Romano paid to the crooner Michael Jackson when he died of acute Propofol and Benzodiazepine intoxication. The headline asked as if it were Holy Saturday: 'But will he actually be dead?' Ignoring the epicene Jackson's mockery of Jesus in his video 'Thriller,' the Vatican newspaper lauded the star as a 'great dancer' ('grande ballerina') and declared that he would 'never die in the imagination of his fans.' According to L'Osservatore, Jackson's transgenderizing surgeries were 'a process of self definition that was beyond race.' As for Jackson's piroquettes with young boys, the unofficial voice of the Holy See commented: 'Everybody knows his problems with the law after the pedophilia accusations. But no accusation, however serious or shameful, is enough to tarnish his myth among his millions of fans throughout the entire world.'" The Catholic League once complained (referring to Bowie, perhaps a bit too harshly) that "the switch-hitting, bisexual, senior citizen from London has resurfaced, this time playing a Jesus-like character who hangs out in a nightclub dump frequented by priests, cardinals and half-naked women."
But the truth is the truth, and it sets us free.
Bowie and many musicians had connections with the occult.
"As I say in the book, I believe David Bowie is true magician in the story of rock and roll, the artist who most perfectly realized the definition of magic, both Crowley's original ('The science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with Will') and Dion Fortune's modification ('Magick is the art of causing changes in consciousness in conformity with the Will')," notes author Peter Bebergal in Season of the Witch. "The thing I wanted to emphasize in Season Of The Witch is that the occult imagination is not simply about belief or practice, it's about how the application of the occult became the very method by which rock and roll was often realized. Bowie's music and performance were a magical practice, maybe even more potent than if he sat by himself in his room and tried to conjure a demon. I think this goes to the heart with my frustration with the occult merely as a belief system. Without art, without some expression of those experiences and those interactions with the unconscious, I lose interest. It's fun to imagine Crowley at the Boleskine house trying to meet his Holy Guardian Angel, but what is left except the story? The story of David Bowie drawing the Kabbalistic tree of life in the studio when he was recording 'Station To Station' resonates because of 'Station To Station,' the album. It's a masterpiece, and it is partly a result of what was going on in his head as he tried to manage a psyche fractured by cocaine and occultism."
Continues the author (indicating that occultism goes far beyond Bowie): "I think Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath actually transformed pop culture. That's real magick. A band's adherence to some occult idea, be it LaVeyan Satanism or the Norns, is fine for making a certain kind of music that might have its own dark power, but that doesn't make them any more 'authentically' occult. But what Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath both did so brilliantly was find the perfect balance between mythology and marketing. What is the occult if not a kind of transmission between the audience and the musician, whereby there is a kind of unspoken agreement to suspend disbelief, just as when we watch a stage magician. Black metal bands have a powerful pact with their audience and sometimes the media likes to make hay of it all, but that transmission rarely reaches beyond their subculture."
Bowie's fascination -- at least during much of his career -- was with what the author calls "alien Gnosticism" ("The Man Who Fell to Earth").
It is wonderful to show mercy -- especially this year -- and we should reach out and love all. But when we ignore evil, it festers -- whether in ourselves, our families, or the culture at large.
A splendid such point is made by Catholic writer Anthony DeStefano in his self-help book, A Travel Guide to Life. Notes DeStefano (about those who promote a positive, merciful attitude, but without recognizing evil), "There's a problem with not mentioning it. Even if you ignore evil, it's not going away. And that's why most of these personal development techniques ultimately break down. You can listen to self-help audios all the time and become well-versed in the power of positive thinking and make good progress on achieving your goals and believing in yourself -- and then one day, when you're least expecting it, evil strikes.
"The truth is that you can ignore evil all you want, but evil is not going to ignore you. Saint Paul said that our struggle in life is not with 'flesh and blood' or even the rulers of this world, but rather with 'powers and principalities.'
"Now, many people in our enlightened culture scoffs at the idea of the devil and dismiss any notion of a spiritual world beyond the senses. But if you call yourself a Christian, you're still supposed to believe in those invisible realities. And the reason you're supposed to believe in them is that they're true -- they do exist, and they do try to influence people to do bad things. Like it or not, there's a spiritual war going on."
Music in harmony, in melody, in rhythm has an inexplicable ability to penetrate directly into the soul (and to take with them lyrics).
There it imparts grace or darkness.
And there it has helped greatly to cause the disordered, dangerous society you now see around you.