Bowie’s Cross: A Tool for Psychic Self-Defense?

“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?

The first pictures I know showing Bowie wearing a cross are from the set of The Man Who Fell to Earth taken by Stephen Schapiro .

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.

8 thoughts on “Bowie’s Cross: A Tool for Psychic Self-Defense?

  1. There’s no secret and no surprise that Bowie found some degree of comfort in wearing a crucifix. So do millions of others. But it’s beyond ridiculous to suggest it’s a solid protection against evil. And to use The Exorcist as a reference is simply ridiculous. It was a very successful film based on a wholly inaccurate and lurid novel. It has the evidentiary value, in terms of possession and exorcism, of a comic book.

    I’ve been a fan of Bowie’s since 1972, and quite separately, have studied ritual magic, Kaballah, and ‘matters occult’ for decades. Unlike most people I’ve actually spoken to an Exorcist, a particular suburban priest (Anglican or Episcopalian min this case) in dealing with a case of multiple possession. The person in question was my closest friend until her death in 1996. She wore a crucifix for most of her life. I’ve know many people, including priests, who wear a crucifix as a matter of course and engage in evil without batting an eyelid. It’s merely a symbol invested with whatever you put into it.

    Belief doesn’t make a crucifix powerful enough to deter evil, but wearing one, if you’ve been the subject of psychic or psychological attack, serves two purposes.

    First; it serves as a touchstone. Reaching a hand up to your crucifix makes you feel better, and even stronger. It’s a physical reminder to keep your guard up and not go blindly and open-hearted in a dangerous world.

    Second; it’s a reminder that you are not alone. That there’s a community of Christian believers, and experts within the Church, who can help you, guide you, and help heal you if you’ve been attacked.

    It may serve as a warning to others that you aren’t available for spiritual slavery (ie, being cult-fodder) or that you aren’t ready to swallow pseudo-religious bullshit that hasn’t got 2,000 years of existence to prove itself, but that’s entirely secondary.

    Read Fortune’s book again: The key detail isn’t that crucifix, it’s that it was blessed ie: it was invested with energy, with spiritual power, with a spell, a blessing, a magical transaction. That’s the point of getting her to put it away. It was asking her to deny that blessing, the power invested in her protection. It was asking her to submit her will to that of the person asking. To accept subjugation. It’s not it’s shape, it’s what it specifically represented at that particular point in time and place that matters.

  2. Just a second thought here: to Laurie: Please don’t take my strident tone personally. I appreciate and enjoy the things you’ve written. It’s just that the magic/music crossover always gets me worked up. I’m a minor musician with some major magical experience which has left me with some painfully acquired expertise on the subject. As Eliphas Levi says “To practice magic is to be a fool; to know magic is to be a sage.” Over a long and tumultuous life I’ve been both.

  3. I think your reading makes a lot of sense.

    I was attempting — with the Exorcist comment — to show that the “witch lore” Fortune refers to is common knowledge, but use of a cross by someone unaffiliated (even if only by marry and bury membership) with the Church is unusual.

    I did note that Fortune’s “cross had been specially magnetised against psychic attack.”

    I wonder if Bowie’s had as well, but thought it unlikely that he could ask a priest to bless the cross, no questions asked. I can’t see him pretending to be Catholic to get it blessed. Perhaps someone in Bowie’s circle who was a practicing Catholic would have done this for him.

  4. I recently saw an interview with Michael Hall in which he said that David gave him a very special and personal gift on opening night, a personal talisman. To respect privacy, he would not reveal what it was. Intuition tells me it was the crucifix. He knew Michael would need it to play Newton. Can anyone confirm?

  5. A crucifix is not a cross, do not confuse those two things. The main text tells us about a cross and I can see a cross on the photo indeed. Wearing a crucifix (a cross with a body on it) would mean Bowie wanted to remember about crucified Jesus. A plain cross, on the other hand, can have a couple of meanings.

    1. It’s been a while since I wrote these but I remember this was a problem. I was raised to think that the crucifix represented the crucified Christ and no figure presented the risen Christ. But as I got into this, I found that these days there doesn’t seem to be much distinguishing, although I will go back and try to retrace my journey through this question. It’s a good one. On quick review it seems like the comments contain “crucifix,” and I don’t edit those. I remember one instance of a crucifix — on masks during the Outside phase, which I found inexplicably sinister.

  6. Just a further thought here. As an Englishman Bowie was by birth a member of the Church of England, known as the C of E (Church of Everybody). So his provenance for the cross and it meaning is there in the background, so to speak. It means that the resources of the Church were available to him whether he attended services or not..

  7. Intriguing observation,and I wonder if you can help me with a question. Do Englishmen frequently wear crosses? I don’t think I have ever seen it among American Protestant males. Females, certainly. But not men.

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