above left- detail from album cover of Low - photograph by Steve Schapiro
above right - detail of The Star card from the Rohrig Tarot - concept and artwork by Carl W. Rohrig
As described in a previous post, Christina Pazsitzky and I had a conversation on her podcast That's Deep Bro, about various topics related to psychotherapy, including Jungian theories and their translation into practice in daily life. During our discussion, we briefly scratched the surface of the topic of David Bowie's apparent identification and connection with, as well as embodiment of specific archetypes, particularly from the Tarot. The process of integrating and expressing archetypal energies is worth exploring because the stories we see, hear, and believe typically have significant influence on how we view, experience, and act in our lives, as do the images we hold in our imaginations that influence our functioning within relationships, work, culture, and recreation.
Often these narratives and symbols are invasively projected and/or pushed toward us, resulting in uncomfortable and limiting beliefs, while some revolve around us without our acknowledging or lending them importance, and finally others may be consciously revealed and directed by us through our openness, discernment, and engagement. In being mindful of synchronicity, we may identify and connect with images and qualities available to us which can stimulate our innate skills toward shifting automatic thought, behavior, and somatic patterns, expanding perception beyond adopted reality tunnels, and also toward rousing ourselves from waking sleep to consciously shift our physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual experiences.
Using Bowie as an example is illuminating because many events of his life indicate that he had knowledge of, mindfully metabolized, and artistically reflected his experience of the archetypes that resonated with him. After recording the podcast, I contemplated a bit more regarding Bowie phenomenon, and felt moved to write some of my initial observations and thoughts related to his ideas, aesthetics, and music, which illustrate how these elements have connections to his astrological, and archetypal makeup. The specific archetypes from the Tarot that are identified and examined here in relation to Bowie are The Star, the Queen of Disks, and The Devil.
This piece illustrates the way in which a synchronistic story may unfold when researched, and as the material, concepts, and study of Tarot, archetypes and astrology are vast, my intention is that only concise and applicable interpretations, explanations and correspondences will be described. This article is also by no means intended to be an exhaustive or complete review of these topics as related to the entire span of David Bowie’s lifetime, yet rather as insights into a specific space and time when these energies aligned in his life, catalyzing an emergence into a legendary musical icon status.
Archetypes may be defined as evolving images, narratives, or templates that are often recognized, represented, and embodied in literature, art, and music, as well as in other forms of media, and in our conversations, interactions, and relationships. The Tarot archetype of The Star came to mind initially during the discussion of Bowie, partially due to his many literal, lyrical references to the word star in various contexts, yet most importantly because of his demonstration of various aspects of what the image illustrates. A fitting interpretation is one holding that The Star represents, among other things, the ability to connect with otherworldly, yet universal energy and higher intelligence, and to manifest the information gathered into influential work on the material realm of physical existence. To me, this is a concise and accurate description of Bowie's artistic and musical process exemplified by the album Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and continuing in various incarnations through his final album Black Star.
I began further contemplation about deeper connections with this and other archetypes which may be witnessed at play in Bowie's life, and remembered having listened to a podcast interview with musician Christiana Key, Delphic Oracle, where she mentioned some information from David's astrological chart. Christiana described being in the process of designing a musical performance ritual around the energies of Bowie's Sun sign of Capricorn, and his Rising sign in Aquarius both of which she believed he demonstrated in his life and works. The Sun and Rising sign, or Ascendant, are considered to be of great importance in an individual’s chart, and according to my friend and colleague Kiki Erickson, may be defined respectively and succinctly as representative of the individual's personality, and their soul, aspirations, or higher self toward which they are working.
I experienced another aha moment upon this realization, in that Aquarius is the astrological sign represented in The Star card, and again appears to be a crystal illustration of the fact that Bowie appears to have been driven by this higher self, through which he communicated prescient social and spiritual information via the incredibly earthy, sonic vehicle of rock n' roll music.
Although this process of Bowie's appears to have had an expansive breakthrough with Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, I believe the origin of his archetypal embodiments began audibly and visibly with his recording of the album The Man Who Sold the World.
Emergent during the conceptualization and production of said album were the Queen of Disks, an archetypal energy recognized as influencing the astrological time-frame of December 13th to January 9th, January 8th being Bowie’s birthday, and The Devil which represents Capricorn, his Sun sign, more about the significance of these energies later.
Prior to recording The Man Who Sold the World, David Bowie appears to have been on a search for an artistic and/or musical niche, often leaning on and borrowing from some of the most popular masculine personae of folk and rock n’ roll music of the era. He also had a longstanding spiritual quest, focused heavily on Buddhism, and is reported by some to have at one point studied at a monastery headed by Chogyam Trungpa who later became a highly influential teacher of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. This narrative sees Bowie being on the precipice of becoming a monk, until he received advice from his instructor that he would affect larger scale change as a musician. Within the next few years before recording The Man Who Sold the World it seems that his spiritual exploration most likely branched out into Jungian, philosophical, and mystical areas as reflected by shifts in his image and lyrical content as well as in the cultivation of a unique musical sound.
above left: detail of the Devil card from the Smith/Waite Tarot - concept by Arthur Edward Waite & artwork by Pamela Colman-Smith
above right: detail from photograph of David Bowie -
photographer- Brian Ward
The Width of a Circle, the first song of the album, is comprised of lyrics describing an introspective and dreamlike, Jungian journey in which the singer is confronted with, acknowledges, and integrates his shadow, The shadow in Bowie’s case appears to include the archetype of The Devil, which is often illustrated as androgynous, as well as being representative of many things including; the god Pan and the constellation Capricornis, and also is frequently distinguished by intense earthiness, sexuality, humor, addiction, and mastery of the material realm. These qualities, particularly liberating ideas and demonstrations around sexuality, became signatures of Bowie’s presence for years to come, and we hear many of them in his music and lyrics, and also in photographs where he began to cultivate an androgynous image.
This shift in image and content also appears to tie in with the arrival and integration of Bowie's anima, or the feminine qualities of his unconscious psyche which may be seen as the influence of The Queen of Disks referenced earlier. This progression accurately reflects the chronology of the process of individuation as described by Carl Jung, in which the meeting of the shadow is a initiatory event which precedes the ultimate connection with, and integration of the individual’s anima or animus. This anima appears to be hinted at by Bowie on one cover for The Man Who Sold the World, where he is pictured lounging on a couch with long, wavy hair, wearing a gown, with a pack of standard playing cards strewn randomly on the floor while he holds one card facing outward, being the King of Diamonds.
The standard 52 card playing deck and the Tarot share much in common including; Kings, Queens, and four suits that correspond to each other. The Clubs, Hearts, Spades, and Diamonds of the playing card deck correspond to the Wands, Cups, Swords, and Disks/Pentacles of the Tarot each representing an element, being Fire, Water, Air, and Earth respectively, which in turn are illustrations of various areas of existence. That being recognized, the King of Diamonds would be the King of Disks or Pentacles in the Tarot, and thus a counterpart of the Queen of Disks, and Disks are representative of Earth, which is the element connected with the sign of Capricorn, and The Devil card. In addition to embodying these archetypal personae visually and lyrically, Bowie also demonstrated a strong connection and influence in the material realm by implementing these earthly Disk/Pentacle energies and having his music distributed in the format of the LP, or long-playing vinyl records, also referred to professionally and affectionately as “discs”.
above left: detail of the Queen of Disks card from Thoth Tarot -
concept by Aleister Crowley & artwork by Lady Frieda Harris
above right: detail of photograph from the film The Man Who Fell to Earth - director of photography Anthony B. Richmond
As far as the archetype of the Queen of Disks, the image often represents an individual who having completed a long and difficult journey, eventually arrives in a fruitful, and prosperous place where they may clearly access and manifest their visions. We hear echoes of this journey throughout The Man Who Sold The World, and in quotes from Bowie such as “Religion is for people who fear hell, and spirituality is for those who have been there”, and see this process unfold throughout his subsequent four and a half decades of artistic and musical work. Some other characteristics of this persona are benevolence, generosity, and the need for a focus on physical nourishment, which if ignored may cause an inclination toward substance abuse. Again, we find these connections quickly in viewing various times in Bowie’s life, such as his lightness in collaboration, fostering, and rehabilitation of fellow musician Iggy Pop, who described Bowie as “…more of a benefactor than a friend in a way most people think of friendship. He went a bit out of his way to bestow some good karma on me.”, and also in the darkness he experienced in his well documented struggles with addiction for some time, where at one point he subsisted for months on a diet of milk, red and green peppers and cocaine.
These events from David Bowie’s narrative also point to a core concept of the individuation process in that it is a evolving work of integration and balance, as most qualities hold light and darkness, suffering and joy. With the archetype of The Star, the ability to connect with and channel advanced intelligence thrives by staying centered and connected with the earth via processes such as art, music, literature, and connection with others, the intense, primal energy of The Devil may be tempered with humor, and the philanthropy of the Queen of Disks sustained by the practice of self-care. If we view ourselves as physical, intellectual, emotional, an spiritual beings, we can see that nurturing and expression of these elements in a balanced way has the potential to support a life of wholeness.
I often experience the personal freedom, empowerment, and expansion that results from a focus on individuation as well as awareness, contemplation and integration of archetypal energies of the Tarot, and I am honored to witness and collaborate with others on engendering the shifts they desire in their lives by exploring these areas in our sessions. I welcome working with those who wish to initiate this type of process, and I look forward to continuing the journey of mystery, enlightenment, and evolution.
written by Mark Barone MA LMHCA
with much gratitude to;
Christina Pazsitzky - christinacomedy.com
Christiana Key, Delphic Oracle -facebook.com/TheDelphicOracle
Kiki Erickson - www.kikierickson.com
Sarah Taylor - integratedtarot.com
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© 2016 Mark Barone MA LMHCA
Catalyst Psychotherapy and Consulting
Seattle, WA catalystpsychotherapy.com