The results of a quick Twitter poll saw Ziggy Stardust win over Sgt. Pepper’s and Led Zeppelin: 4. So that means we’re going to do a tarot reading for Ziggy! That probably won’t be weird at all. I’ll be using the Alchemical Tarot. The artist, Robert M. Place, actually sells this deck himself. And his website has small scans of every single card. Check that out here.
The first song! If it’s been a while since you heard it, this song is basically about the world ending. There are only five years of resources left on the planet. The narrator (presumably Ziggy but who knows?) describes all the people he sees reacting to the news.
8 of Wands “The Woodcutter”
Place writes that this card is about “cutting back.” That makes sense if the song is about a dire shortage of food and other supplies. However, wands are usually associated with creativity and magical Will. So a cutting back, in the card’s case, usually means preparing for something major. That means we’ve immediately hit upon something I’d never thought of: the emergency is necessary in Ziggy Stardust. Without the panic, Ziggy’s story would never have happened. We’re all sick of the idea that bad times make good art, I know, but sometimes that’s true. That’s what’s happening in this song.
Next song! “Soul Love” is basically a catalog of kinds of love. It also muses about where love comes from and the desire for “fusion” or togetherness.
2 of Swords “Duel”
Swords are the intellectual cards. The blade itself represents the intellect. Think of a scalpel that cuts things away so you can examine them. A duel, then, would mean a debate, which is what Place says about it. The owl, though, means it’s more about gaining wisdom than beating an opponent. This isn’t a public debate, but a private one. And “Soul Love” is a kind of philosophical debate about where love comes from. There’s a secret here, and the debate is helping the speaker get closer to the answer than silent musing. In the song, notice, we get a “flaming dove” in the place of the owl. The wisdom isn’t just intellectual, but spiritual.
Who’s singing here? We might assume it’s still Ziggy, but the card seems to say otherwise.
King of Swords
That’s one badass bird. It’s a king! A king of the mind. That bird sees everything while it flies above us. So now I’m just assuming the singer is the alien, and that this song is what Ziggy hears on the radio. The next song describes the scene: Ziggy hears a voice on the radio and believes it’s a beneficent alien coming to save us. Here we already see that the speaker may be more dangerous than Ziggy believes. This card is all about confidence, not pity.
Like I said, this song is about Ziggy hearing the voice from the previous song. He describes the experience in ecstatic terms, with someone waiting in the sky for us. Basically the starman is space Jesus here.
The Hanged Man
Admit it: if this had been The Star you would have freaked out a little. It’s the Hanged Man instead. This iteration of the Hanged Man is annoyed about his position. Usually he’s depicted as at peace with his hanging around. The snake is supposed to refer to Mercury, the patron deity of alchemists and other quick thinkers. The snake is holding the man upside down, shaking the coins out of his pocket. Coins are typically representative of earthiness, and the Hanged Man of sacrifice. So here we see an image of losing one’s earthiness to become something greater. This is the moment when Ziggy Stardust is born. The revelation, listening to the alien, has come and gone. Ziggy loses what binds him to the earth. In the second act, we’ll see Ziggy transform in and out of human standards.
It Ain’t Easy
This is actually a cover. Tons of people have covered it, including Three Dog Night. So what’s it doing here?
Six of Coins “Youths”
One child offers a coin to another. The card’s about sharing and trust. The owl appears again, on the coin the boy offers. So this card is the Earth element that was shed in the previous card. With the owl, though, we see that the mystery is returning. The mystery was love, earlier, so how does generosity, mystery, and love affect our understanding of “It Ain’t Easy?” Well, it’s someone else’s song; Bowie uses it here to demonstrate the fall of Ziggy from human to otherwise. The human race is falling down as well. They need a helping hand, and Ziggy thinks he can offer it. All he can offer is love, though. That would be enough, but he lost it earlier.
That’s a good spot to stop for now. When you step back and look at a whole spread, one thing to ask is what’s missing. There are no cups in this spread. We have fire, air, and earth, but no water. Water is the symbol for emotions. So basically what’s happening here is that everyone is mystified that love is absent and we’re all dying — but that’s happening because of the lack of love. It’s a mystery because there’s no love there, and it’s the only thing that could save us, or make our end more bearable.
Ziggy wants that, he’s trying to offer love to humanity. And we know he becomes a kind of messiah figure, so everyone wants what he’s selling. But the love gets tied up in everything else. So, you know. Dang.
So I learned something from this. Ziggy Stardust is basically The Waste Land, but with more sex.
Watch this space for the sequel, finishing the album and trying to put all the ideas together!