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Ashes to ashes (Yet it was not consumed)

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Yet it was not consumed

OKLAHOMA CITY – It was Ash Wednesday morning. The first day of Lent. And the young boy leaned over to his mother and asked, “Do the ashes coming from the burning bush?”

A perfectly reasonable question from a four-year old sitting in church and waiting to have ashes – in the form of a cross – put on his forehead.

The mother chuckled and said “no.”

A Catholic priest puts ashes on the forehead of a man in Houston, Texas. (Marie Mentesana / Red Dirt Report)

But it actually makes sense in light of recent events, particularly the “Blackstar Event” I wrote about recently, in the wake of David Bowie’s death exactly one month ago today.

After all, when you think about it, in the third chapter of the Book of Exodus, when Moses goes to Mount Horeb – the “Mountain of God,” he encounters a “burning bush.”

The thorn bush “was burning but it was not consumed” (Exodus 3:2). The angel of Lord appears in the bush and, later, God, or Adonai, reveals his identity to Moses.

Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson, in interpreting the burning bush encounter through his knowledge of Kabbalah, notes that the symbolism of the burning thorn bush, is really about humans and their “yearning flames” that are seemingly “never quenched.” And that “the deepest truth of G-d is experienced in the very search and longing for Him.”

“All humans are compared to trees and bushes,” writes Jacobson. “Just like trees and bushes, we humans contain hidden roots, motives and drives buried beneath our conscious self. Just like trees and bushes, we also possess a personality that is visibly displayed, each in a different form and shape.”

Continuing, Jacobson writes: “All of us ‘trees and bushes’ possess a fire burning within us; a yearning for meaning, love and wholesomeness Just as the flame of a candle is forever licking the air, reaching upward toward heaven, so too each of us long to kiss heaven and touch the texture of eternity.”

This brings us to Bowie’s “Blackstar,” which hauntingly begins with the lines: “In the villa of Ormen, in the villa of Ormen / Stands a solitary candle, ah-ah, ah-ah / In the centre of it all , In the centre of it all …”

Back to Mount Horeb – the Mountain of YHWH

Exodus 3:14 states: “And God said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you.”

I’m the Great I Am,” Bowie sings on “Blackstar.”

And you know what? Those black ashes on the forehead remind me of a "black star." 


At a time when David Bowie was on the ascendance, in the 1970’s, the act of having ash crosses worn on the foreheads of churchgoers (connecting the body with the spirit) began to occur, a practice that began in the 11th century and linking to the Book of Daniel where “fasting with ashes” was a sign of penance – and penance being the dominant theme of Lent.

Again, ashes acting as a “multi-sensory way of connecting faith to the body,” as TIME magazine reported.

So, this morning, on a small table in the front of the church there were four bowls, all containing ashes, black in color. Two lines. Four points. Made on the forehead where the third eye would be, or the pineal gland, which is celebrated at the Vatican with a pine cone.

Looking at these four bowls, I thought of the four elements: Earth, Air, Fire & Water. And then there is the fifth element - the quintessence - "ether," known by the alchemists of old. Also referred to in Hindu and Theosophical texts as "akasha."

Trying to decipher the occult messages on Bowie's Blackstar album have been fascinating and engaging. 

It is overwhelmingly clear that Bowie made the most minute preparations in the months leading to his death on January 10, 2016. I found it interesting that the leading British music magazine, MOJO, featured Bowie on the cover of the January 2016 issue (printed before his death), featuring two Bowie cover stories - "Bowie: Blackstar Gazing" and "Scary Monsters Anniversary Special."

The cover image of Bowie is him in his circa 1980 Pierrot costume, which features prominently in the Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) album art and in the (then) groundbreaking "Ashes to Ashes" video, which was released in August, alongside the radio single which hit number one in the UK and only 101 on the US charts.

I remember "ashes" being quite prominent in 1980. In addition to being hot as hell that summer, it was in May of that year that Mount St. Helen’s, in Washington state, erupted. All people talked about for the rest of 1980 was about the ash from Mount St. Helen's.

Ash. Ash. Ash. I've been hearing that word a lot lately.

I’ve noted the significance of the 1980 volcanic event several times, particularly last spring with “Fire on the mountain” (April 7, 2015); “Going underground” (April 23, 2015); and with “Tumbling dice” (May 6, 2015).

It is that final Mount St. Helen’s-related sync piece, "Tumbling  dice," that I start off by talking about a particularly amazing Camper Van Beethoven song called “When I Win the Lottery,” a track on that band 1989 album Key Lime Pie.

At the time I wrote: “Singer David Lowery, one of rock n’ roll’s better songwriter/balladeers, tells the story of a marginalized redneck who talks about all the things he’d do if happened to strike it rich in the lottery. He’d buy the girls silver-plated six shooters and fine French perfume. He’d make the people in his town – those people who look down on him – name a school or park after him.

But the guy in the CVB song is also a bit of a fatalist, knowing that “when the end comes to this old world” that God “won’t take time to sort your ashes from mine” and that despite the perception that people are “all good” or “all bad” isn’t so clear.

Lowery sings: “Cause we zig and zag between good and bad / Stumble and fall on right and wrong / ‘Cause the tumbling dice and the luck of the draw just leads us on.”

As I listened to the line “this old world,” a video I was simultaneously watching addressed the idea of the  planet Saturn and its alleged connection to the CERN Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. 

“You have to understand, astrologically, spiritually, there’s a huge, huge connection between this world and Saturn.” The word “world” in the video synced up exactly with “world” in “When I Win the Lottery.”

Curious, looking at that some months after the fact.

Ashes ... and out of the ashes? Rises the phoenix. Rebirth. I really think that these synchronicities (Bowie's death from cancer (69) coinciding with the "discovery of a ninth, "Planet X" planet) are pointing to the notion that humanity is beginning to go through tumultuous times that may last many years. But that "something wonderful" will come out of it. Reborn. A new age. 

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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