It’s two years since we lost David Bowie. I was going to write something to mark his birthday; but then I realised that it was his death that did it. There was that sudden gaping absence in world culture, announced in the cool, neutral tones of the BBC as I was getting ready for work. Then, over the next few days, came the realisation of his astounding courage and artistry in the face of death. The sense of loss just grew and grew. It caused me – and many others – to begin creating again. It’s almost a cliché now to say that his death inspired many to recommence journeys we thought we weren’t good enough or brave enough to make. It was as if a warning bell rang out: do it now, do it before it’s too late.

The internet abounds with personal accounts of projects that were picked up again after 10th January 2016: artwork produced, novels written, dances inspired, songs sung as a direct result of his death. Millions, young and old, urgently reclaimed aspects of our personalities when ‘something happened on the day he died/ spirit rose a metre and stepped aside’. I’m no exception. A lot of people have mentioned a strange sense of precognition too; and so it was with me. A few weeks before his death, after years of not paying much attention to his oeuvre, he was in my head again. I was unaccountably humming his tunes – particularly ‘Time’ and ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide.’ I had remarkable dreams.

Of course, I’m a child of his era. In fact, an account of one of the many ways he affected me is available in ‘My Bowie Story: Memories of David Bowie’ ed. Dale K. Perry. And like all his other fans, I sought out the culture he was so passionate to share, the philosophies, the artists, the singers and writers. My young teenage self tried to keep up with him: to read William Burroughs, understand Buddhism, buy a copy of Nietzsche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (and leave it on the shelf for years). I was thrilled to recognise the themes of Orwell’s ‘1984’ in ‘Diamond Dogs’ and took delight equally in Iggy Pop and Brecht/Weill cabaret songs. There still seems no end to the labyrinth of Bowie’s influences. Which brings me to Aleister Crowley.

Now, Bowie is well known for his early fascination with Crowley. He later publicly disowned this and said he thought Crowley was a ‘charlatan’ and that he preferred Israel Regardie’s work: a rather casuistic quibble, seeing as Regardie was actually Crowley’s personal secretary, transcriber and disciple. In an interview in 1995, Bowie admitted that in his early days, ‘My overriding interest was in Cabbala and Crowleyism. That whole dark and rather fearsome netherworld of the wrong side of the brain … and more recently I’ve been interested in the Gnostics.’ Of course, Bowie had a compulsion to play with our expectations about his public personae so we can never truly be sure of his stance on any given issue from one statement to the next, but it looks as though he wanted us to know that he moved on from the limitations of Crowleyism to something more universal. Nevertheless, his work is a rich field for research into its Occult content (this isn’t the place to dive in, but Peter-R Koenig’s interesting essay, ‘The Laughing Gnostic’ is well worth seeking out at

The extraordinary imagery in the videos for ‘Lazarus’ and ‘Blackstar’, however, released not long before his death, brought us right back to that early obsession of his. The videos were crafted in part by the director Johan Renck, a self-described ‘fan’ of Crowley, and have been widely identified as containing references to Thelemic rituals. Bowie even wears a striped ‘astral travel’ outfit, similar to the one in the famous 1976 photoshoot by Steve Schapiro (in which he is shown sketching the Tree of Life). Bowie loved to explore and shock: above all, to ignite ideas, to teach, to incite curiosity in the minds of others. He undoubtedly approved of and encouraged Renck to elaborate this Crowleyan imagery. It seems to me that he wanted his audience to seek meanings through these symbols. Typically, he didn’t want to define or confine those meanings.

Anyway, those symbols got to work somewhere in my own unconscious mind and, as any good ritual magic should, set off a series of coincidences which brought me to write ‘The Compact’. Although Bowie isn’t in it – I wanted him to be, but felt far too delicate about putting him in – it was nevertheless rather a surprise when I discovered a young Aleister Crowley was there, ready to walk onstage and take a large part in the proceedings. If anyone objects, well, David Bowie made me do it.