In the Villa of Ormen – A Blackstar Analysis

I know this post will be joining the growing pool of over-interpretation of David Bowie’s recent album release. From the Christian right claiming him as Lucifer, to the alien conspiracy theorists suggesting that this is an announcement of first contact.

I first need to make a confession, I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household and was banned from all popular music until I left home at 17. Other than glimpses of an interview or the odd film-clip on the television I had never really looked into the work of David Bowie. Even as I branched out in later life to the likes of Led Zeppelin, Dylan, Cohen, Dead can Dance, I largely ignored Bowie. I mistakenly assumed he was a peddler of manufactured shock-pop for an un-discerning consumer base.

Over the past week, after watching the video clip for Blackstar (the title track) and Lazarus, I have been busily watching bio-docs, reading Wikipedia pages and listening to the Best of Bowie compilation that had sat unplayed on my music devices for 3 years.

The main reason for my interest was the symbology in Blackstar. This post is predominately concerned with providing my, relatively unimportant, thoughts on the title track for the album. If you haven’t already watched the filmclip a few times, this post won’t make much sense.

Part of my recovery from the poisonous indoctrination of the Pentecostal Christian movement was wide reading of anything spiritual I could get my hands on. For someone who has read Fraser’s Golden Bough, Graves White Goddess, the works of Aleister Crowley, Helena Blavatsky, Gerald Gardner, George Gurdjieff and other occultists of the Golden Dawn era, the Blackstar filmclip contains several motifs that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Before tackling the content of the Blackstar filmclip, I need to acknowledge the challenging nature of analysing art of this sort, where there is a suspicion that there may be an occult meaning. Here I am using occult in its true sense, rather than the alarmist catch-cry of the Christian right. Occult just means hidden, and more accurately, where the message will differ depending on the audience.

Art sits in a unique position of power in our society. We grant the artist the right to attempt to change our thinking on a range of issues. When it comes to politics, we know the party either wants to retain their power or unseat the opposition. We expect their advertising and media releases to serve their interests. Religious leaders preach the supremacy of their faith without tolerating dissent. Vegans and environmentalists advocate for change to human behaviour openly. Nothing is more transparent in its goals, if not its methods, than corporations using marketing to sell their products. Artists, however, tend to scare the establishment (religion, government or even economic ideology) because they often manage to get their message through to an audience despite the establishment. The content of the message can be difficult for the establishment to discern, which inhibits their ability to counter, dilute or destroy it before it reaches the audience. This has lead to the death, imprisonment or demonization of no small number of artists over the ages.

It is probably safe to assume that David Bowie had long since passed the point where his art was driven by the market, if it ever was. With his own record label ISO (though partnered with Colombia) and a staggering back-catalogue of royalty producing albums, Bowie was in a position to create whatever he wanted. The recent revelation that he was working on Blackstar with the knowledge of his terminal cancer re-enforces the argument that this album was his own message, un-influenced by commercial drivers. The interview with Johan Renck (Director) confirms that the filmclip/song combination for Blackstar was created as a close collaboration.

So what can we draw from Blackstar? Firstly, I put forward my thoughts for consideration. I am claiming no great intuition to the deeper intent of the artists. Unfortunately, with Bowie’s passing we will never get clarity.

At the macro level, I read Blackstar as a warning about the nature of religion. I know some others have suggested that Blackstar is an indictment of ISIS (yes the terrorist organisation) or even suggested that it is a description of Bowie’s Apotheosis and a call to his worship. Personally, I put both of these in the crazy basket.

Any student of the Tarot will have spotted a few clear corresponding motifs in the film clip. With The Tower, the High Priestess, possibly the Hanged Man making an appearance. As I gave up my reading of tarot many years ago, I won’t comment further but others may wish to suggest the significance of these three cards.

The appearance of Major Tom’s skeletal remains on an alien planet starts the film. A human woman with a mouse tail retrieves a human skull embellished with gold and jewels. The skull is placed in a glass container and later in the film clip it is shown to become part of religious ritual. There is a clear connection between this skull and the catacomb saints brought to the public through the work of Paul Koudounaris. The veneration of these bejewelled skeletons related to a Roman Catholic resurgence between the 1500’s and 1700’s after the Protestant efforts to remove the trappings of the church.

Many of these skeletons labelled as saints were actually from people of no religious consequence. Veneration of bones, especially the skull, is a repeated element of religious behaviour as far back as the stone age. The type of dance which is incorporate in the veneration of the jewelled skull in the Blackstar film clip is very similar to that which appears in the film clip for Fashion, released by Bowie in 1980. Fashion can be interpreted as a description of how brainwashed consumers are, blindly adopting the food, clothing and mannerisms that are presented to them. Applying this same thinking to religious worship in Blackstar could be read as a similar indictment of the consumers of religion. There could also be a connection to the shaker sect, which broke from the quakers. Similar shaking forms part of their religious worship.

Towards the middle of the song, Bowie stands against a painted sky holding a book with a black star on the cover. Three passive actors watch him, as if in a trance. It is impossible not to think of the similar propaganda photos and paintings of Mao Zedong holding his red book aloft before an adoring Chinese populous. Can we equate the contents of the book with the black star, to the ‘fascism disguised as communism’ ramblings of Mao? The outcome for the Chinese people, being famine, abolishment of freedom of thought and multiple violent purges would have to be seen as a warning.

Knowing that Bowie was a reader of Aleister Crowley’s work, and that one of the editions of Crowley’s Book of the Law featured a black background and pentagram motif could be relevant. Though when we see Bowie writing in what looks like the same book in the film clip for Lazarus, we could be led to surmise that Bowie is presenting his own body of work for consideration. This can be read with an underlying warning of the consequence, being a Chinese style dictatorship.

The end of the film clip includes a seemingly disconnected sequence where three scarecrow men are tied to crosses in a field of wheat. Christian’s will of course jump to equate the imagery with crucifixion, but that would be a narrow-minded interpretation. For me, this scene brought back images from Fraser’s Golden Bough, with widespread agricultural ritual featuring the sacrifice of a year king in aid of crop production. The sexual gyration of the bound scarecrows supports the sympathetic magic connection. At the end of the clip a dreadlocked, hook (scythe) handed monster appears to kill the scarecrows. This is probably the most disturbing part of the clip to watch. Taken as the standard killing of a male, virile, year king to fertilise the fields for the next growing cycle, it seems self-evident.

We can interpret this sacrifice scene as allegory, for example, society deifies its music, movie and sports stars and then inevitably cuts them down through drug use, suicide or other forms of self destruction.

The piece that I find most challenging in the work is the connection between the wheat-field scene and the veneration of the skull by the women and the priestess. Clearly a women is selected from the group by the priestess, and this activity is cut with scenes of the monster in the field. Almost as though the worship of the skull summons the monster, however, the connection between the two is not clear. This discussion would be much easier if the selection of the woman resulted in a sexual union with the year king, a common piece of sympathetic magic for crop fertility. I wonder if an extended version of the film clip and song exist.

There is so much more in this piece to consider, the solitary candle, the Villa of Ormen, the black star (black sun). No doubt the internet is already filling with papers and posts analysing the work. Ormen, which I first heard as ‘all men’, means Snake in Norwegian and could refer to an attempt by King Olav to force Christianity on Raud the Strong. This makes a lot of sense in the context of this work as a warning about religion. The Christians forced conversion through torture or death in Norway, a particularly gruesome death in Raud’s case.

I look forward to reading the many other interpretations that will come and appreciate any expansion or correction of my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Daniel Kelly

Daniel Kelly is a singer/songwriter from Yass in Australia.
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22 Responses to In the Villa of Ormen – A Blackstar Analysis

  1. Thanks for this. A year on after the release of the video, I’m still pondering over the overall meaning. I’ve read a lot of nonsense, so it was good to read a genuine take on Blackstar.

    Bowie was an artist in all senses of the word so I think he’ll be glad that his final work is no being discussed.

    Thanks again.

  2. Keith O'Connor says:

    Hi there,thanks for your breakdown of Blackstar, and I wonder what you make of Lazarus with his Kabbalah suit. Mail me if you like at keithoconnor74@gmail.com am I shouting into the void? Or am I lighting a beacon fire to guide any like minded entities to converse? 🙂

  3. Daniel Kelly says:

    Hi Keith, thanks for reading. I was watching a Bowie biography soon after his passing and it sounded like he got in with a weird crown in L.A. See here: https://gnosticwarrior.com/david-bowies-gnostic-obsession.html

    What do you mean by Kabbalah suit? It looks like just a stripped suit.

  4. Keith O'Connor says:

    Hi there, I remember watching a few videos about his interest in Kabbalah not long after he died. And on the back of the “Station to Station” album he is pictured wearing the exact same suit as he did 40 odd years later in the Lazurus video. If you google “Bowie kabbalah suit” you will see the new and old pictures side by side. In some of the old pictures you can see Bowie draw a kabbalah tree of life.

    • Daniel Kelly says:

      Thanks, makes sense now. I had seen the tree drawing, but just didn’t connect it with the suit. I get the impression almost everything Bowie did was carefully considered.

  5. Drag0nflyGirl says:

    I think perhaps your anti-Christian bias is poisoning your perspective a bit here, causing you to read into the symbolism things that are a pretty far stretch. Especially the Ormen thing. Ormen is a serpent mentioned in the works of Aleister Crowley, of whom Bowie was a big fan in the 70s. There are other Crowleyan references throughout the video and song. The scarecrow scene would likely refer to the year-king as you stated, IF there weren’t three of them. Three men on crosses is unmistakably a reference to the crucifixion of Christ between the thieves. This is obvious to anyone who examines it with clear eyes.

    • Daniel Kelly says:

      Hi DragonflyGirl,

      Thanks for taking the time to read my article and providing your considered comment. I’m reasonably familiar with the works of Crowley, and while I knew about the time Bowie spent studying his work, Ormen didn’t come up in those I read. A search of http://www.thelemapedia.org also doesn’t reveal orm/ormen as a word in use in Crowley’s magick workings. I did point out in my post that the crucifixion story is the easy/simple interpretation of the men hanging in the field, but the occult world usually is not as it appears.

  6. Mario Mastroianni says:

    Hi there, I really appreciated your analysis and the dots you joined!
    I’m no expert, but I’ve been researching in order to decipher Twin Peaks’ third season, which would have had Bowie in an important role if he hadn’t died during the same lash of time of the early shooting sessions.
    I’m 100% sure that Bowie was referencing goddess Isis, to which the ritual sacrife in the “Blackstar” videoclip is dedicated, and here another detail comes to support my conclusion, i.e. the line about being “free just like that blue bird” in the lyrics of “Lazarus”: in order to reach Osiris’ coffin, Isis turned into a swallow bird, a blue bird indeed, not to mention that the Statue of Liberty there in New York (also mentioned in “Lazarus” as well as in “Twin Peaks 3”) not only symbolyzes freedom, but is also the world’s biggest monument to Isis, goddess of sexual freedom, prostitution, war, fertility, agriculture and immigration.
    H.P.Blavatsky even titled one of her most important books “Isis Unveiled” 😉

  7. Sam says:

    Great article and insights, thanks.

    Interesting find while watching Meetings With Remarkable Men (Gurdjieff biopic.)

    Terrence stamps character mentions going to the “ormen monastery”(?) to die. Its at the end of the clip.

  8. Daniel Kelly says:

    Hi Sam,

    I do remember reading some of Gurdjieff writings about 20 years ago. And my cousin sent me a book of his with a set of exercises to be use on the path to enlightenment. I think the audio snippet here is probably ‘Sarmoung’ rather than Ormen. The Sarmoung Brotherhood often featured in Gurdjieff’s writings (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarmoung_Brotherhood).

  9. Daniel Kelly says:

    An interesting development on this front:

  10. Gemma says:

    The blackstar is just a reference to singularity!
    We were born upside down (dimensional error?)
    The space man suite.. for anyone that has reached the adepts focus, the view from tge singularity perspective, it does actually feel like you are looking through a glass like sphere into space.
    The woman with the tail is the 7th baby girl born to the witches of Roman, the 7th had a tail.
    The whole part about women, was literally talking about feminine energy..
    I’m a blackstar.. the choice we made, all bright and new, excited for our lifes purpose, not a rockstar not a gangster.. a blackstar!

  11. Gemma says:

    Sorry spell check..

    The witches of Ormen *

  12. Gemma Thompson says:

    The scull symbolizes the ego death.. enlightenment!
    We were born the wrong way round.. when we first choose our body, we are pure consciousness, glass like, empty.. in order to get back to consciousness awareness, we have to unlearn all that we were led to believe, this is the ego death..
    The eyes are mentioned so many times, because we are creators.

    This song is a mash up of new age spirituality and metaphysical teachings.. it’s a masterpiece!

  13. Sophia Apophasis says:

    Orman means Serpent. The soul leaves no trail like a serpent. Be wise like serpents. Light is never seen only the illumination of light which is the resistance to light. Light if we did see it would be black, black star is the soul. The eye at the center of it all is the Ineffable Absolute Good of which the soul is an attribute.

  14. Paul says:

    Great analysis. I’d like to add an interpretation I read in an other site which said that the song Blackstar talks exclusively about the papacy being the antichrist. For example the city with the three towers/walls which is possibly the villa of Ormen is Rome. In Zohar think Rome is represented as three towers. Here is the link of the website. If you search a little bit you will find out what I am talking about.

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