“Did you always wear a cross?” I ask.
“No.” Bowie murmurs. “I only started wearing one a couple of years ago. It came around that same LA period. I just felt I’d been pretty godless for a few years. It’s no great thing, just a belief, or let’s call it the usual force. Or God? Yes, sure. It’s a lukewarm relationship at the best of times, but I think it’s definitely there. It became part of a new positive frame of mind that I have about trying to reestablish my own identity for myself-for my own sanity. And for my son’s sake. — Interview by Timothy White, Crawdaddy, 1978
Every so often on the numerous Bowie fan sites, some one wants to know why Bowie wore a cross. Did it mean he was a Christian? No, so then why?
In one of the first anecdotes in Psychic Self-Defense, Dion Fortune describes being on a retreat during which most of the group suffered nightmares. She felt that one of the group harbored evil impulses. This woman repeatedly asked that Fortune tuck a little silver cross she wore out of view. Now, Fortune had had this cross blessed since the group she was going to was new to her. Only she knew that the “cross had been specially magnetised against psychic attack. Nevertheless, the woman who would have attacked, if she could, felt its influence and feared it” (p. 31) . Fortune adds that this woman was found to have been a witch in a previous incarnation, and just as the witch-traditions tell, she couldn’t abide religious symbols, be around religious paintings, wear a cross, or enter a church.
Although this is no secret — anyone who watched The Exorcist knows that the possessed can’t abide churches or crosses — there it seems a religious response, dependent on the mediation of a priest, and so perhaps not of much use to an unaligned gnostic.
Dion Fortune was a Christian, but if the power to repel evil came from the symbol itself and not from the faith of its wearer, one could have a “lukewarm relationship” with God and still use it as a first-line defense against malevolent magic.
Does the cross itself has magical powers? Was Bowie fighting magic with magic if he took to wearing the cross for the reason Fortune describes?
The Laughing Gnome, the first website to address Bowie and the occult, and one to which other sites refer, doesn’t mention that after leaving LA, Bowie would wear a cross off and on for at least the next 30 years.
The irony of this is that if Bowie wore one as a tool of psychic self-defense, it shows that he took the occult very seriously indeed.
Perhaps later, after he no longer felt “psychically damaged,” he continued to wear it because it reminded him of his vulnerabilities, or second chances, or to stay on the side of the angels: Who knows?
He wears it very visibly in the “Heroes” video. Why? Did Bowie want to make it clear to some of his former associates that he no longer wanted to have anything to do with them?
He wore it in the late 70s , the 80s, the 90s, and the 00s. Once Bowie started wearing high collar shirts (Heathen) or kerchiefs (Reality), it wasn’t visible, but the backstage photos show he was wearing it still. He wore it in 2005 when he performed with Arcade Fire (his top button was opened). Then Bowie seemed to get self-conscious about his neck, even wearing a thick scarf indoors (in photos with son Duncan at Sundance), and during his years in retreat was most often photographed in evening wear, out with Iman.
Here is a sampling of pictures of Bowie with crosses. Once you start looking, you see it.
Photos are used for illustrative purposes in support of text. Should any holder of a copyrighted photo object, I will remove it. Even doing a reverse Google search image rarely reveals a provenance for a picture. The first picture is by Stephen Schapiro. I think the TWD is by Philippe Auliac. The sixth is by C. Simonpietri. The seventh photo is the cover for the Spanish version of David Buckley’s Strange Fascination. The tenth is the cover sleeve for the single “Never Let Me Down.” The angel one is by Denis O’Regan. It’s the 12th picture here.