My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Paganism, Fantasy and Life

Originally posted to LiveJournal on March 16, 2008, 14:10 - this one is a touch ranty! 

I have slowly distanced myself from modern paganism, as I see to much focus being placed on the mythology, fantasy and ‘dressing up’ aspect, too much focus on the legends, regarding them as reality rather than symbolism, and too many people turning up to rituals in elaborate costume, fairy wings, pointy ears and all. What is with turning up to rituals in fantasy gowns? I have nothing against self expression and more exotic clothes - I've my fair share of flowing gowns and anachronistic clothes, and I love expressing myself through my dress sense (I have even taken part in a stereotypically witchy photoshoot that I instigated)- but I think there is a time and a place, and there is a line between expressing oneself through one's dress sense, and walking around in fantasy-fulfillment, and I think some of it IS fantasy fulfilment. 

Paganism is path that means you HAVE to face reality, because at least in my path, the Universe is the divine, and to run from reality is to run from the divine. If one is running around as if one is Lord and Lady Sparklemoonrainbow of Avalon, in diaphanous gowns and knightly attire, that is all well and good if you're at the Renaissance Faire, or if it's a bit of role-playing, something fun to do once in a while, but it's no good if you are trying to live a fairy-tale in the real world twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year. There is enough wonderment in the natural world without needing to add to it.

There is a difference between injecting some colour and spice into one's life, and trying to improve one's actuality, and running from one's life into a fantasy. I've fled into escapism, and I can say from experience it's a really unhealthy road to run down, because it is burying one's head, like the ostrich* supposedly does, in the sand when the lions are getting nearer, and as the lions get closer, the distance between you and reality has to get larger for them to seem further away.

Paganism is a theology, a disorganised religion. It is one path of spiritual development and it is no more a fairy-tale than an any of the organised religions, perhaps less for those who do not believe in a specific mythos or anthropomorphic deities (Mind you, to an atheist, it is all a fantasy). Many Pagans bitch about organised religions, but organised religions actually take themselves seriously - even if some members are a bit out-there, but every group has it's percentage of the less-than-grounded-in-reality- and most use their religion as a framework to try to understand reality rather than escape it. 

Fantasy and science-fiction are a big part of my "geeky" life. I have nothing against fantasy, it serves as a lens with which to talk that which is beyond everyday life, as well as functions as escapism from reality, but it is NOT reality, and I see too much of it in Paganism. I don't even think escapism is always bad, as sometimes it is good, but in moderation, but not if it takes over one's life, and religion should not be a form of escapism, but for too many it is

If Paganism is meant to be a path of spirituality, then surely it should be concerned with the real, and not be an escapist hobby. Paganism may in many aspects deal with concepts like magic and spirits, and things not mundane (which I tend to approach half with skepticism and half with belief), but it is meant to about the real world, the one we live in, and should be focused on that, not on some escapist ideal world of maidens and bards and such. Pagans live everyday lives, with everyday jobs, and their faith should be a part of that, not an escape from it. Everyday reality can often be very bleak, but it is better to improve it with faith than to escape to faith, because then that faith is not faith at all, but fantasy.

So much Pagan merchandise is decorated with dragons, fae, unicorns, elves, griffins, and other mythological beings, and very many Pagans really believe in these entities, and it seems as if nothing is being done to promote an understanding of what these creatures are –metaphors, symbols, and old superstitions, meaningful, but not necessarily literally real. I don’t have any dragons or fairies on my altar. I don’t think they’re real, and I don’t see having lots of unreal things in a practice about the very real world around us as a help. I have had daffodils, daisies, roses, leaves, plenty of plants on my altar, but they are real, they are of this world, and are parts of nature. I think too much fantasy can get in the way of really connecting, really being part of the world -because it becomes a way of escaping the world.

We still live in the 21st century, and have the knowledge that brings us. I think it very foolish for people to reject modern science in favour of old superstitions. Things are not necessarily right just because they are old. Humanity is now at a standpoint where it can view old myths, legends, folklore and superstition, and instead of taking it all literally, understand what it means. I do not think we should reject old things because they are old either –things are also not necessarily wrong because they are old- but look at them carefully. There is great power in tradition, in old things. Things gain momentum with time, and meaning, and something of a ‘spirit of time’ like a ‘spirit of place’, and that is not something to be ignored, but that is not to say that to connect with it one has to take everything literally. Mythology is powerful not because of what it says, but what it means  beyond the centaurs and Old Gods and heroes.

I think there needs to be a more general re-assessment of fantasy in Paganism, and the role of fantasy. I accepts that a lot of the modern world is not pleasant, but life has had its dark side in every era, and we cannot improve the world by running from it.

*I know ostriches don't really bury their heads in the sand.


  1. To a very great extent I agree with what you say here. A long time ago I took a course in Cherokee medicine, which was guided and overseen by a Cherokee grandmother. I considered the ideas presented to be very profound, but not necessarily something meant to be taken literally. Still, this group had gatherings that were attended by non-native peoples, who seemed to insist upon eating foods unique to Native American culture. Somehow, I felt that these were missing the boat. The purpose of the course wasn't to pretend that we were something that we were not. It was to allow the truths presented to trickle into our consciousness. Eventually, I moved on to other things.

    As for magick, spirits and the Fae, I feel that I've had some personal experience with these. My relationship with Nature is intuitive and my actions reflect that. There have really been times in my life when I felt that something unseen had been looking out for me. Once I had a frightening experience in the house that I had grown up in. To this day, only something beyond what we understand as natural explains what happened--and I was not the only one to experience it!

    Anyway, I appreciate this post and certainly agree with your main points.

    1. I eat a lot of food from my own traditions (French and English) and a lot of food from elsewhere - Thailand, Japan, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. - because they are tasty, and I think one of the wonderful things about the 21stC is that someone in the UK can eat food from the cultures thousands of miles away, and that someone from those countries can eat food from the UK (and contrary to popular belief, the UK has a lot of delicious traditional foods, it's just that a lot of that tradition got scrambled with things like rationing and the rise of fast food). But I eat it because it's tasty, not because I want to pretend I'm Malay or Thai or Japanese or try and buy my way into those experiences. I just like tasty food!

      Personally,I believe in magic, and the existence of non-corporeal 'somethings' that I don't call spirits or ghosts or fae, because I can't tell for sure that's what they are, and I don't want to overlay a bunch of presumptions over them. Quite recently I saw and heard a very unsettling presence in my living room that was certainly unlike the times in my teens when I was psychotic and hallucinating, and I'm sure there was /something/ there, I just don't know /what/. With Fae - there's the traditional version, and the modern, twee, sparkly butterfly-winged maiden version, and generally what I see is people who believe in little people with pretty wings and elves as from Tolkien, which owes a lot more to 19th and early 20thC fantasy than it does to either more ancient mythology or any actual non-mundane entity. A lot of cultures have equivalents to fae, daemons, ghosts and spirits, and a lot of people report experiences with 'supernatural' entities - but what they actually are is very hard to pin down, and explanations range from mass hysteria and hallucinations to the work of the Devil and extra-terrestrial activity, so I quietly have my own theories, but have very little inner need for certainty on the matter nor necessity to pry into other's experiences and push my own interpretation on them.

  2. I was always disappointed by the 'fantasy and modern myth' aspects of som Neopaganisms - I always thought that, in trying to connect with our preChristian ancestors or feeling greater communion with the Earth, injecting all this fantasy and ideas of what people want to believe old Pagans believed rather and using the evidence to determine what they actually believed just cheapened everything.

    1. I certainly agree with you, and that's a point I should probably talk about in depth sometime. Another thing that bugs me is the false claims of ancient lineage I frequently hear, not by people trying to be deliberately fake, but often by people who don't know about 18th and 19thC neo-Druid groups, Stukeley's 18thC work on Avebury, or even about Gerald Gardener and Aleister Crowley - all important parts of the actual history of the Pagan revival.


    1. I'm not sure why you sent me a link to your (I presume it's yours) poetry, could you please explain the connection>


Please be polite and respectful. Comments containing gratuitous swearing and insults will be deleted.