The world is reeling from the sudden news that David Bowie has died from cancer at the age of 69.
I don’t think there is a single person in the UK who has not in some way been inspired by Bowie. His long career spanned so many genres and identities – rock star, fashion icon, actor, producer, painter – that he transcended all of these different personas to become an icon of epic scale.
As a musician, Bowie seemed literally out of this world – an unreachable, fae creature set apart from the rest of the human race. In his acting career he continued in this theme of otherworldliness, cast repeatedly in the role of an outsider within humanity; as an alien in The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976), a vampire in The Hunger (1983), and, in a role very familiar to most Pagans, the Goblin King Jareth in Labyrinth (1986). In all of these roles, Bowie exuded an aura of sublimity and mysticism, but what I find most surprising is that, conversely, he succeeded also in portraying a quality of human poignancy. Delivering his lines with a trademark softness and Zen-like calm, combined with a shy, typically English humour, Bowie brought that same sense of fragility and melancholy to his acting that we also hear in his music. Bowie would go on to demonstrate that he was just as capable of capturing the essence of humanity in his more earth-bound roles, including Nikola Tesla in The Prestige (2006), and as the prisoner of war Major Jack Celliers in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983).
I think it is this talent for creating ethereal, otherworldly artistry combined with all the delicacy of the human spirit that has given David Bowie so many fans among the Pagan community. We too are proud of our status as “outsiders” from the mainstream, and our connection with that which lies beyond reality and in the infinite realms of the imagination. But what Bowie reminded us is that all outsiders are still only human and just as fragile, vulnerable, emotional and passionate as anyone else. And that’s fine.
Bowie has stated,“Questioning my spiritual life has always been germane to what I was writing,” and showed a keen interest in Buddhism. He also said he was “…in awe of the Universe,” which was no doubt an influence on the themes of space and extraterrestrials that come through in his music and films. Only Bowie knows whether or not he found what he was searching for spiritually (although judging by the quiet manner in which he released his final album just days before his death as a parting gift to his fans, I personally suspect he might have). But through his music, acting and other art, he certainly helped others along their spiritual path, myself included. He will be truly missed.