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. 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.

The Gothic subculture 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, and 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 (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice 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. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Being Neo-Pagan AND Goth

The problem with being a 'Witch' and vaguely resembling a fantasy witch is that people assume that I'm a witch based on how I look. The problem with that is that their version of 'witch' is often an assumption quite far from what I actually am, and that Goth and 'witch' are not synonyms.

There's several versions of this, and it comes from different mindsets and different assumptions, so I don't want to tackle this as if it is all the same thing. 

The first and most obvious is when non-Pagan strangers ask me if I'm a witch. There are two general versions of this; the one where the asker does not sincerely believe that I am a witch and is asking me it as a mocking question, and the one where the stranger has correlated my outfit with the idea of the fantasy sorceress and genuinely thinks that I might be a practitioner of the occult; and the rarest sort is that some have a vague idea about Wicca and modern Witchcraft and have spotted a pentacle or moon symbol somewhere upon my person, but most of those that ask are of the first two sorts, and of the second sort, they seem to think that I spend my Saturdays sacrificing goats on windswept hillsides or something with the look of fear they give me, and there's a subset of this group who are very intent on saving my soul from the Devil. 

Goth is not a religion, it does not require being a member of any religion, and you get Goths of all religions (Go look at ::Priestly Goth:: and its sister site, ::Priestly Goth Blog:: - the pages of a Pastor, painter of icons, Goth and political blogger. Not the only person who has chosen a Christian religious life that I know that also has a Goth streak!) and of none. I do think that as Goth has a Romantic aspect to it, that it tends to attract people who have a spiritual nature about them, and while yes, there are higher percentage of Goths who are on mystical and occult paths than in the general population (and I include in that Goths who follow the more mystic aspects of mainstream religions, too), it is by no means that all Goths are Pagans. 

I always find it hard to deal with these situations; I usually start with "that's an unusual question" - after all, how many other people has this person asked this question to? Probably not many, if any - and then try and figure things out from there. I don't use the word "witch" very much anyway, as I have explained in ::this:: earlier post, but my answer is going to be very different between someone who says "I noticed your pentacle ring and thought you might be Wiccan" and someone who says "Don't you Gothics (An aside: Gothic is an adjective, not a noun! People need to learn this!) worship the Devil?" I never lie, but I tend to word things carefully to neither confirm nor deny and to steer things away from me, personally. If people are ignorant but genuine curious, then I try to politely explain that they've been misinformed, if they're judgemental and going on a religious tirade, then I extricate myself from the situation. Whatever I do, I'm conscious that it will reflect on Goths as a whole, and therefore try and be as polite (but sometimes firm) as possible and make sure I do not let things devolve into an argument. 

Those who think I am some kind of crazy person and that my clothes and religion are both signs of this probably are not going to listen to any protestations otherwise, so I feel the only answer is to be a calm person and let my actions, and for those who are more than just a judgemental stranger, my life demonstrate that I am not some person wildly disconnected from reality and trying to live some delusion that they are in fact Morgan La Fey or something (there's nothing wrong with the occasional bit of dressing up as long as you're fully aware it is only a costume.) and that I am no crazier or more deluded than any other religious person may be, as there will always be the more militant atheists who try and make an issue of any religion, especially fringe religions. I am of the opinion that as long as a person is not hurting others or themselves through their religious choice, it is of no concern to others and that if you wish to engage in religious debate, it ought to be a polite discourse and not a personal attack. 

Prejudgement from Other Pagans
The Curious Professor Z wrote ::this:: very well-written, researched and thoughtful article on this topic already, and I encourage you to read it.

The most frustrating is probably when other Neo-Pagans think that Goths who are involved in Neo-Pagan spirituality, the Occult and Witchcraft are not sincere about their beliefs or, are coming at it because it is 'spooky' rather than because it connects with them on a deep and spiritual level. I find it frustrating because both Goths and Neo-Pagans are groups who have made choices that have separated them from the mainstream and opened themselves up to the assumptions, prejudice and bigotry of the ignorant, and so I'd hope that from the experience of having been judged and assumed about, that Neo-Pagans who are not Goth would be more inclined to ask questions and judge the sincerity of a person's belief on their actions, not on what subculture they are part of.

I am certainly not into Neo-Paganism as a way to deeper entrench myself in the 'spooky woman' role; this is not some blurring of the lines between everyday life and L.A.R.P. I was pagan before I was Goth, by about three years, although I definitely had Pagan attitudes and ideas that aligned with Neo-Paganism long before that, right from when I was a small child, although I did not know what Neo-Paganism was then.

To be fair, the Neo-Pagans I am currently involved with in my local area seemed pretty open and willing to give me a chance when I joined groups and starting getting involved with the Neo-Pagan community here, and I think that's partly because as the Alternative community in general is small here, people who stand out because they act and dress differently and their thoughts do not align with those of the majority, stick together, whether they're hippies, Neo-Pagans and Witches and other people who practice Alternative spiritualities, Metalheads, Goths, or any combination of the above or people who I haven't mentioned yet. My encounters with Neo-Pagans who have been judgemental have primarily been online. I think the internet is a medium through which some people forget their manners, as there is a distance in typing at a screen that can make people fail to realise there is still another human somewhere reading a different screen at a different keyboard, but not that unlike them.

The other assumption about being a Goth and a Neo-Pagan is that there are other Neo-Pagans who think that we practice curses and magic for evil purposes, that we sacrifice living things and are liable to commit some kind of sacrilegious practice or whatnot, and I think that comes from the same misinformed place as the non-Pagans that think this; they think Goth is somehow linked to 'black magic' (side note: magic does not come in 'black' and 'white'; a growth spell or a love spell can be just as destructive as a diminishment spell or separation spell, and the latter two can actually be used helpfully) and evil practices, and it just is not! It is a common misconception, but it just is not true. Goth does not have any religious affiliation, and does not involve a deliberate desire to be purposefully immoral in any spiritual or more mundane way.

As per usual, I remind people to check their assumptions, or rather, to try and avoid assumptions and to approach things from a place of learning. Goth is a subculture encompassing fashion, art, music and an appreciation for darker things; it is not an anti-moral code, a religion or a cult and has no bearing on what a person choses to be their religious, spiritual or atheist path. 

12 comments:

  1. Very well put. I think you have summed up the situation quite well. Still, it's no wonder that some people are misinformed and even judgmental toward us when you consider some of the material that's out there.

    Have you ever seen the "God Hates Goths" website? It's deliberately misleading and one of the most hateful diatribes against us I've ever read. With religious organizations such as the one that runs that website promoting such misunderstanding it's no wonder people don't understand us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "God Hates Goths" is a satire website; it's not meant to be taken seriously. Unfortunately they've done a pretty good job of mimicking those they're mocking, and it's not always obvious that it's satire.

      Delete
    2. I suppose that I should consider that good news, but that website does such a good job of mimicking local religious fundamentalists that I have long taken them seriously. Thanks for setting me straight on this.

      Delete
    3. That's OK :) I initially thought they were serious, too. I think I'd just come from seeing so much /actual/ insane hatred like that. It's sad that there's real versions of that sort of thinking.

      Delete
  2. This was wonderfully written. From my experience people tend to believe Goth is anti-religion because of artists like Christian Death (though I personally find many of Rozz's criticisms of mainstream religion to be valid), as well as claims from other Goths that certain religions don't belong. Like you I try to be respectful and set a good example for the subculture and politely dispel the person's inaccurate notions of Goth.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think the inaccurate labelling of Marilyn Manson's output as Goth by mainstream media also has something to do with it! I think it is one thing to have a critical viewpoint of mainstream religion (personally, I think organised religion is often a bad idea, and as a Christian apostate, I have my own criticisms of Christianity that lead me to find another faith) but it is another thing entirely to be deliberately anti. I think there does tend to be a certain level of critical approaches towards religion (especially Christianity, as I think a lot of Goths have come from a Christian back ground, and I have met many who have had an unpleasant experience with the religion they were brought up with) but on the whole I have found the subculture, or at least the more reasonable and mature members of the subculture, to keep their criticisms within the bounds of reasonable debate and polite critical discourse rather than hatred and offensiveness, and to at least be respectful and tolerant of those within and without the subculture who have chosen differently.

      Delete
    2. Agreed! As someone who also had horrible experiences with Christianity, I can totally relate to many of those criticisms. Personally, the Goths I've spoken with online (I live in a small town) are very tolerant towards religions like Christianity even if they don't agree with it. Goths who claim certain religions don't belong should simply be ignored in my opinion.

      Delete
    3. Personally, I don't like just ignoring people that cause a problem; it becomes ingrained in certain corners of the community if it isn't challenged, and while those who are told they don't belong in the community because of their religion should just stay regardless and certainly not leave because of the intolerance of the few, there need to be more voices saying that YES, you can be a Satanist and Goth without being the epitome of proving our haters right, or YES, you can be a Christian and a Goth, or a Muslim and a Goth and that having a traditional religion doesn't mean having to have conservative or mainstream tastes, etc.

      Delete
    4. That's a good point.These issues need to be addressed, and sometimes ignoring them doesn't always work.

      Delete
    5. I'm trying to address how Goth is not always the inclusive subculture it ought to be, and how Goths should reconsider any prejudices they might have as to the "type of person" who might want to become Goth.

      Delete
  3. A thoughtful article on a difficult subject. Its interesting for me to see where things are these days. Back when I first got into paganism, in Norwich during the early 1990s, I was a young fan of grunge and industrial metal. Goth was more separate subculture then, and whilst I had some Sisters of Mercy on vinyl, did not consider myself a part of the Goth scene. That came later.

    I've been a part of many subcultures and dressed in a variety of ways. I have to say that goth has been the look that of them all drew the most unwanted attention from the public.

    As for my attitude towards other faiths. Personally I embrace the anarchist aspect of all faiths and reject their authoritarian interpretations. In this way, in addition to paganism, I embrace Chaos magic, Thelema, a gnostic Christianity, study Qaballah, Taoism, Buddhism, Tantra and Vodou, and indeed as many cultures as I can.

    The equating of white with good and black with bad is a particularly European trait, and pretty racist in my opinion. In most other cultures white is the colour of bone and therefore death, whilst black is the colour of the fertile soil. Of course the soil and fertility gods tend to be chthonic so the lines blur anyway, but you get my meaning...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I responded to this at length with an interesting (at least in my own opinion :P ) discussion of mourning colours across time and cultures - white was the colour of mourning in medieval Europe, and is apparently still used in some parts of Southern Europe.

      I can see why black was a "negative" colour in Northern Europe, where it is the colour of the night and all the things that might lurk within, especially in countries with long nights and short summers. Giving that a moral judgement is not something I personally ascribe to, though - to me "dark" does not equate with "evil".

      I don't know how these colour + morality links got associated with human skin tones (as even I, who am at the palest end of the spectrum am not truly "white" but a sort of greyish pink, and even very dark-skinned people are actually a very rich brown and not "black"...)

      I think there's just SO many negative associations and assumptions with Goths. When I was a hippie, people asked if I took drugs, was vegan and asked me lots of political questions, but they never aggressively harassed me, but as a Goth not only do I get rude stuff shouted at me in the street, I get asked if I do all sorts of immoral and sometimes downright perverted things, and all because I wear black "spooky" things. It puzzles me.

      Delete

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