After initially posting this article, I realized that I may not have been as clear as I could be. I am not saying that Bowie knowingly poured all the meaning into this song that I am implicating. What I am saying is that there my have been dark forces working through Bowie to send a message. Bowie had an obsession with the occult, including occultist Aleister Crowley, who was a very dark individual and practitioner of magic and demonology. Bowie was also deeply fearful of evil spirits, and used various occult methods to ward them off. Whether or not each of us personally believes in a dark supernatural realm, Bowie most certainly did. As he said himself, “Rock has always been the devil’s music, you can’t convince me that it isn’t. I honestly believe everything I’ve said—I believe rock and roll is dangerous… I feel that we’re only heralding something even darker than ourselves” [DAVID BOWIE, Rolling Stone, February 12, 1976, p. 83].
Like many people, I recently heard the news that David Bowie had died. I decided to check out his final album entitled Blackstar, released a week ago. What would his final message to the world be?
What I found was alarming: a farewell address so dark, so disturbing, it would seem connected to a diabolical realm. I wrestled with my observations and decided that the best way to distill these thoughts was an analysis of the song. Is there a sinister presence underlying the elements of Bowie’s parting work? You decide.
The title track Blackstar begins with these lyrics:
“In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen”
The word Ormen is the Norwegian word for serpent and also the name of a village in Norway. Apparently there was a Viking king there who cursed the name of Christ. Based on the historical context, this seems like a reference to the Biblical depiction of the serpent of old, also known as Satan. If you want to take the meaning more literally then, the lyric would read,
“In the villa of the Serpent,” or “in the house of Satan”
Unlike many of Bowie’s lyrics which were artistically nonsensical, this song’s vision seems intentionally conceived. I realize the video’s director Johan Renck denies the song was trying to convey a particular message, and I accept that. However, if that is the case, why do both lyrics and images not only follow Biblical texts, but seem to be attempting to reverse them? Whether or not the meaning was intentional, the meaning comes through.
One of the opening scenes of the video is that of a deserted, gloomy planet. In the background is the sun, blacked out by another sun – or star, which covers it up – the blackstar.
Scripture calls Satan the “Day Star,” who was cast out of heaven. Scripture also refers to Jesus as the light of the world, as well as the literal light source in heaven, transcending even the concept of a sun. In this visual metaphor then, Satan – or the darkness, would be obscuring Jesus – or the light.
Like the blackstar, Satan has no light of his own but can only try to cover up the light of Christ that already exists, by heaping lies onto the gospel of Christ.
The song’s lyrics continue:
“On the day of execution, on the day of execution
Only women kneel and smile, ah-ah, ah-ah
At the centre of it all, at the centre of it all
Your eyes, your eyes”
Overlaying these lyrics we again see the planetary scene and a woman walking up to a lifeless astronaut’s form. She opens his mask to reveal a skull adorned with elaborate jewels. She then removes the skull and carries it through what appears to be the ancient city of Jerusalem. High above the city on a hill, we see a modern, tower-like structure, with light emanating from behind it.
Jesus was crucified on a hill just outside of Jerusalem called Golgotha, which means “the skull.” Could the song be making a connection between the skull and the physical location of Christ’s crucifixion? In ancient pagan history, sacrifices and worship often took place on the “high places.” If this is a reference to the place where Jesus died, it is interesting that all we can see is a new monument, obscuring the cross from sight.
The light emanating from behind the new structure echoes the image of the blackstar covering up the sun. The contrast of the new buildings against the ancient city also seems like a reference to something “new,” versus something “old.” Could this be a commentary that Satan, the new, is replacing Jesus, or the old? We know from scripture that Jesus alone establishes the new, through the power of his blood and resurrection.
Another image we see in this section of the song, is that of a group of women gathering together for some kind of occult ceremony. The women begin to shake as if possessed as they dance and kneel before the skull. The song’s lyric says:
“on the day of execution only women kneel and smile.”
These women are not sad, but happy on this day of execution, seeming to be witnesses of something great.
In the Biblical account of Christ’s crucifixion we also see a group of women present, who follow Jesus, weeping after him. Later, some of these same women are the first to witness Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. How interesting that while they were witnesses of the life that overcomes death, the women in this song are witnesses to death only. At one point the women begin to levitate together – a clear reference to witchcraft and the occult, which amounts to rebellion against God. Could this also allude to a different kind of “rising,” in contrast to resurrection from the dead?
The lyrics continue:
“Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried (I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”
The video now shows Bowie with his mask off, as he raises a book with a pentagram blackstar on the cover. He shifts in the opposite direction, holds his position, then shifts back. This is the clear, pivotal moment in the song and seems to signify that some kind of positional transference has occurred.
The lyrics describe someone who died, rose, then stepped aside. I believe this is a clear reference to Jesus, while mocking his resurrection by claiming that that he merely “rose a meter.” This would imply not a raising from death to life, but a rising of an object a short distance. The image of Christ on the cross, being lifted a few feet off the ground comes to mind.
Again, as with the image of the blackstar positioned in front of the sun and the new monument positioned in front of the cross, we now see the concept stated blatantly: Satan positioning himself in front of Christ. It’s also interesting that as he assumes Christ’s position, the blackstar makes a declaration of himself. How very different from Jesus’ example, humbling himself by taking on human form, and being obedient, even to the point of death on a cross.
The lyrics continue:
“How many times does an angel fall?
How many people lie instead of talking tall?
He trod on sacred ground, he cried loud into the crowd
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar, I’m not a gangster)”
Scripture describes Satan as the first angel to fall. The description of him trodding on sacred ground paints a picture of one who mocks what is holy. The blackstar’s declaration of who he is in disrespect of who God is goes even further in the next section, saying,
“I can’t answer why (I’m a blackstar)
Just go with me (I’m not a filmstar)
I’m-a take you home (I’m a blackstar)
Take your passport and shoes (I’m not a popstar)
And your sedatives, boo (I’m a blackstar)
You’re a flash in the pan (I’m not a marvel star)
I’m the great I am (I’m a blackstar)”
If the meaning of the song wasn’t clear before, it is now. In the final statement, “I am the great I am,” the blackstar makes the overt, blasphemous claim to be God. This is a direct reference to Exodus 3, where we learn that the God of Christianity is the one true God, whose name is the great “I Am.” Jesus also claimed to be “I Am” and one with the Father.
When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he offered him the the kingdoms of the world in exchange for his worship. Satan’s attempt to take God’s position is nothing new. Indeed, it is the original lie the serpent told Eve in the garden of Eden, when he said that she could be like God.
In the rest of this section the blackstar tells us that we should follow him blindly “home.” If the blackstar is indeed Satan, then this home would refer to hell. The mention of passport and shoes makes it clear that this is a long journey, and “sedatives, boo,” to me implies that where those who follow the blackstar are going, drugs won’t help alleviate pain. The blackstar’s taunting statement “You’re a flash in the pan,”reveals that he, like Satan, cares nothing for our lives.
I also find it interesting that the echo-statements of “I’m not a filmstar… popstar… marvel star,” etc. are, in fact, being sung by a bona fide pop star in the person of Bowie. The blackstar no longer minces words: while we may think that what we’re beholding are pop and film stars, or the gods of our culture – what we’re actually gazing upon, even in this song, is Satan himself at work.
The final lyric I’d like to address is:
“I’m not a pornstar, I’m not a wandering star
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)”
The book of Jude specifically mentions “wandering stars,” as those who teach lies, and as such, have been sentenced to gloomy darkness forever. How interesting that the blackstar is another kind of star – yet he too will face eternal punishment in the lake of fire.
At this point in the video, we see three scarecrows hanging crucifixion style. They gyrate seductively, straw spilling from their clothing. Their eyes too, like Bowie’s, are covered with gauze. I think this crucifixion scene is undeniably another reference to Christ. The fact that “Jesus” appears in the form of a scarecrow implies that he is powerless, nothing more than a joke. The straw filling implies that Jesus is empty, but we know that all the fullness of God is in him. And while the mask implies Jesus is blind, we know that he actually came to open the eyes of the blind.
At the end of the video we see a demonic looking rope-creature approach the scarecrow “Jesus” and bow before him mockingly, the scarecrow in turn spewing back. The rope-creature then strikes his heel with a hand resembling a scorpion’s stinger, and the scarecrow cries out in agony. The Bible refers to Satan and his demons as serpents and scorpions, whom Christians have power over in Jesus name.
This calls to mind the biblical prophecy that Satan would strike Jesus’ heel and that Jesus in turn would strike his head. How interesting that one injury is a temporary setback, while the other is a fatal wound. How amazing that we as Christians have assurance that the victory belongs to Jesus! How amazing that God had a plan of salvation, from the very beginning!
This video and song come as no surprise. In this life, we can expect to encounter attacks from the evil one. Yet, it is not people we contend with, but spiritual beings. As Ephesians 6 says:
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
In conclusion, dear brothers and sisters, I ask you: should we admire an artist or stand with a culture that promotes such things? Or should we, as scripture says, stand apart? Is the content of this song tame or ambiguous? Do you think my interpretations are outlandish? Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I ask you to prayerfully search your hearts with these questions. Because a time is coming when anyone who calls themself “Christian” will have to take a greater stand than this.