Lemmy, Bowie, Rickman: In praise of challenging characters

This last couple of weeks have been challenging in terms of celebrity deaths. I’m not usually the type who gets too upset when a celebrity passes away, the ‘closeness’ of a famous person probably has something to do with it. They’re not someone I interact with regularly, I don’t have a personal relationship with them, so while I empathize with the family and respect their emotions, I also don’t get too caught up in the grieving of a public figure.

At least, this is the way that I thought that I felt about it, until this month, when first Lemmy Kilmister, then David Bowie and finally Alan Rickman, all died of cancer. And to be honest, I still didn’t feel it like a stab of anguish, but more like a new emptiness, like discovering a hole in your soul that you didn’t notice before.

I think as a pagan, the role that these men played for me and my development, though each of them were unique, they were united in the same status that I’ve at times relished in and other times utterly despised about myself: the outsider.

In finding other people who were operating outside of the norms of our culture, who thought and acted differently than what was deemed to be culturally acceptable, I found an acceptance.

It’s hard to recall who I encountered first, between Lemmy and Bowie. Lemmy was like the uncle I never had who introduced me to metal music, black clothes and the ‘fuck you’ sort of attitude that I gravitated towards, probably way too early as a child. Although I typically wouldn’t credit Lemmy with being my introduction to occult concepts, he paved the way by introducing me to a bunch of his friends who were. A lot of it was childish rebellion, drawing inverted pentagrams, 666’s on notebooks and vicious-looking band logos, to me this was the wallpaper of a childhood in the 80’s. But it fueled an interest in life and death and the things that exist beyond our perception, in the great above and the great below. I already had a ‘haunted’ childhood, with supernatural encounters that left me confused, scared and curious. Some of the occult themes that I came upon through metal music started to put a framework around what I was experiencing, even after discarding the snarl and scream of the music.

David Bowie was a monster from a faerie tale when I first met him. A villain. I wasn’t supposed to like him, but I did. He was charming, funny, he sang and danced, he had depth. As I grew a little older, I became familiar with his music and especially his persona. He was weird, sexually empowered and of ambiguous gender. He was a threat to the overculture because he was unapologetically himself. He walked the walk. As his Ziggy Stardust persona, I fell in love with his weirdness, and found a deep pool of it within myself. It wasn’t hard to be odd in a town of 700 people, especially for a kid who walked around with Raymond Buckland’s big blue book – even though, I’ll admit, I didn’t really get it until many years later. But with the help of Ziggy Stardust, I learned that there was no shame in being a bit out there, in fact, I owe it to others to let my freak flag fly.

Not least was Alan Rickman, whom I first encountered in Die Hard, though I didn’t know it until I was an adult. But where I first found him was in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in which he played the villainous sheriff of Nottingham. While there was plenty not to like about his character in the movie, he played it so utterly convincingly, with such wit and even humor, that his character stuck with me throughout my life. That’s why I was so delighted to see him appear in the Harry Potter films as Severus Snape, when I was a young adult. I remembered him as the challenging villain and was so excited to see him play that character through the 8 movies of the Potter franchise. I loved the treatment that Rowling gave Snape, with the redemptive, heroic ending and I felt that Rickman embodied his outsider status beyond mere acting… it seemed that he knew what it was like to be such a person.

I thank each of these men for the example of their own lives and what they left behind for their friends, families and fans. For me, they opened the doors to my oddity, uniqueness and spirituality.

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