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..

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Craig Dunain Cemetery

Yesterday I walked up out of the city up to the old Craig Dunain Hospital buildings, being guided by some friends. Craig Dunain Hospital initially opened in Victorian times as Inverness District Lunatic Asylum, and remained a psychiatric hospital right into the '90s when they transferred all of that to the New Craigs buildings just down the road. Craig Dunain hospital has a long, and fairly well documented history. I have lost several hours to trawling the web and reading about it, and looking at photographs of the hospital at different points in its history. Anyone who has an interest in Victorian 'Lunatic Asylums' should look it up, because its history is also one of the transition from the Victorian style institutions (of which Craig Dunain was apparently relatively progressive, especially in the promotion of eating for health and the use of time in the parkland and gardens surrounding for its therapeutic qualities - something that is once again being seen as valuable to mental health recovery) to modern mental healthcare, as the site was used until relatively recently, and was more shifted along the road to newer buildings than really closed. 

Photographed through the wire fence. Photo by Housecat
I have been up to that part of the city before, but not all the way to to the old hospital complex, and I was amazed by how huge it was, and what a beautiful old building it had initially been before time, neglect and several fires took their toll. Having seen old photographs of the interior, it apparently initially had quite lovely Victorian details, some of which were in a Gothic Revival style. Having looked at more recent photographs by an urban explorer at ::this:: page, it looked like some of the interior survived until 2003, but having been heavily altered over the years. Now it looks like it was entirely gutted, presumably by the fires, and parts of the roofs have collapsed, and looking from the outside through some windows, it looks like there's nothing left of the interior and it's just a shell. Either way, it now gives me the creeps, despite being the kind of architecture I quite like - maybe it's just all the fire-damage and scaffold reinforcements that tell me it's now an obviously dangerous and unstable ruin, or maybe it's the local stories about the place, some of which are quite grim, or maybe it's because other people have told me they've been in it and it's definitely haunted by some rather restless spirits, but it certainly had a sense of great foreboding. I stayed at the roadside, outside the perimeter fence - and even that felt too close sometimes.

As the photographs show, it was a cold, frosted and snowy day, with lots of icy paths for me to slip on, and a pale and wan sun. It was, at least, not too cloudy a day, just one where the sun never rose particularly high, and rapidly dipped low again behind the hill. There was settled snow on exposed surfaces, but underneath the tree cover, it was just cold, with a slight mist or low cloud. 

Snowy Ground. Photograph by Housecat

Beyond it, it what was once part of the hospital's parkland, beyond some woodland, is a small cemetery. Beside it is a plaque explaining a bit about its history, and a proper military memorial for one person interred within the cemetery who earned the Victoria Cross in Victorian times, but was left severely injured and suffering from what would probably be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder today, and ended up institutionalised in the old Craig Dunain and buried somewhere within the graveyard in a pauper's grave. 

Looking over the graveyard wall. Photo by Housecat

There only appear to be two grave-markers still standing in the graveyard itself, but there's mossy mounds that look like broken graves rather than tree stumps, and my friend assures me that there used to be more grave markers. According to a quote on the plaque from when the cemetery was new, it was built "for the interment of patients not removed by their friends" - it seems so sad that there were enough people who died at that hospital and were not collected for burial by friends and family, and instead were interred here. There seems to have only ever been a handful of stone markers - indicating that some at leat did not have pauper's graves, as stone memorials have always been expensive - but I guess the majority had simple wooden crosses that have long since rotted away. Apparently much was done to make the graveyard a pretty floral garden with nice trees, but the trees rapidly over-took the garden, especially as much of the trees are yew, and yew kills whatever is beneath it. There are two enclosures, one with an external gate, that I presume was the initial cemetery, and another of equal size beside it, which I presume was an extension, and is accessed internally. The cemetery was closed in 1895, when they ran out of space. I don't know what happened to people who died at Craig Dunain after 1895.  

A remaining marker, a stone cross. Photo by HouseCat

Nearby in the woods are three small crosses, lanterns and floral tributes that seem to be from the last year or two, and perhaps are markers for scattered ashes, or as there is a pet cemetery for the pets of patients and residents of Craig Dunain, and of what appeared to be 'ward' pets, maybe the crosses mark further pet burials. I didn't take any photographs of the crosses, or of the pet cemetery. 

The dividing wall between the two enclosures.

It seems sad to me that these people seemed almost forgotten at the time of their deaths, at least by people outside of the hospital, and that now there is little to remember them by except for the wall and some trees - only two markers, most graves without anything recording the names of those buried within. It is not that they are from so long ago that time has forgotten them - there are plenty of markers in the cemeteries within the city that still have names from before 1864 when the hospital was first opened. I have read that in times past, families would basically abandon relatives deemed insane, and carry on as if they had never existed, bound by the stigma around mental illness and behaviours then not socially acceptable. I wish someone would go through the old hospital records, because there must have been some record, even if it was just for the expense of hiring someone to dig a grave, and to place a plaque by the cemetery listing all those buried within, so that they don't remain forgotten. 

I apologise for photo quality; they were taken on my smartphone rather than my proper camera. Photographs edited in a combination of GIMP, which I am just learning to use, and PicMonkey. 

Friday, 26 December 2014

Inverness Churches, Dark Skies and Winter Weather

These were taken before the Christmas holidays, when I was on my lunch-break from work, having taken the bus into town. I have a later lunch than most, so it was mid afternoon when I went for my break, and the weather was rolling in to get dark early - earlier than the roughly 3:30 time the sunsets seem to start in the depth of winter here. Inverness is surrounded by hills and mountains that significantly raise the horizon, meaning that the sun has far less distance to go to set, plus, for American readers, we're a wee bit further North than Sitka in Alaska (for comparison's sake) and to European readers, we're similar to Yaroslavl in Russia and a bit south of Gothenburg in Sweden! Anyway, the general result of the cloud and latitude and season was to create some rather atmospheric lighting and I took the opportunity to take these photographs in the city. 

Photograph by me. 

This is the Free Church of Scotland on Bank Street, as seen across the graveyard of the neighbouring Old High Church. I think this is the first photograph I have taken of it from this angle. The clouds rolling in are pretty dramatic in this photograph, and I think it best captures the weather. 

Photograph by me

I took a few photographs of the church tower from very similar angles that day. I read in the papers recently (I think it was the Inverness Courier...)  that the congregation can no longer afford the insurance, and that it may have to close. I think that would be a vey sad fate for what is a very beautiful and very old building. I hope that their fundraising goes well. 

Here is the same building again, this time in colour, and from an almost identical angle. I think in colour the low sun is more visible, and the warm reds of the masonry. It's a lovely, lovely old church and has been a city landmark for centuries - I really do hope it manages to get funding both to remain open and keep the building in good repair. I am not Christian, but I do appreciate good architecture, and I do appreciate the role the various churches have in the community locally (I know that they run a lot of local charitable ventures, and are linked to the food-bank, etc.), so things like the possible closure of this church make me sad. 

Monday, 22 December 2014

Last Night I Led My First Group Ritual

Last night, I and a group of close Pagan friends celebrated Solstice together. It is not the first time I've been in a group ritual, or involved in the planning of one, but it is the first time the entire ritual was my responsibility.  

A big responsibility. 

I take my faith quite seriously, I take the Divine seriously, and I feel like that leading a ritual involves some big things to be responsible for - I am responsible for being suitably respectful to the Divine, for leading a spiritually fulfilling ritual, for making sure there's no fire hazards and basic and simple risk assessment. 

The last is the most practical and the most easy; place pointy things on the altar where people aren't liable to accidentally cut themselves, check for allergies to incense, make sure the ritual space is free of trip hazards, and remind those participating who have long hair that I once set part of my then-long hair on fire accidentally because it caught in the flame of a candle, and make sure said candles and incense aren't liable to incinerate either my flat or my friends! I personally have co-ordination, proprioception and spacial awareness difficulties for neurological reasons, so I have to be extremely careful around fire and sharp implements. 

The first two were a bit more difficult, and required a lot more thought and research. I didn't really want to do a ritual that was from a book (although I have quite the library of Pagan texts) or copy someone else's ritual. I wanted our ritual to be personal to us, but I also wanted it to be respectful and successful as a spiritual experience and a seasonal marker. I watched a lot of videos of rituals on YouTube, and thought about each one very carefully, analysing what worked and what did not, and realised that a lot of rituals seem a bit like amateur dramatics done by the less talented, and started feeling like a clergy role in any religion requires certain talents and learnt skills, and that perhaps even for an adhoc role leading an informal event, I am not the best person for this. The established religions have centuries of ritual tradition, set liturgy and thorough training for their clergy - Pagans don't; we mostly have a few decades of tradition-building, a bit longer for groups derived from Druid-revival groups from the 18th and 19thC, and also those from the older Occult orders, but dedicated Pagan seminaries are small and rare, and people who become Pagan clergy from a more 'home-grown' background very common. There's a distinct dearth of legally recognised Pagan clergy, too, but that is another issue for another day. 

My background before Paganism is a mixture of Anglican and Catholic Christianity, and that sets a very high benchmark in terms of ritual expectation! As a Pagan, most of the rituals I have attended have either been as part of a teenage coven that was more of a learning experience than a ritual group, and at public rituals hosted by experienced leaders of working groups, and mostly Druids, whom I respect greatly, but are not the same on the path ( not the same 'denomination' to non-Pagans) as mine. 

The structure for Neo-Pagan ritual often has its roots in Gardenerian tradition and early-to-mid twentieth century Wicca. It's the ritual structure I am comfortable and familiar with, so it is the ritual structure I chose to follow. Filling in that structure with my own words, altering it to fit the season and the group and our resources was my challenge. I also wanted the ritual to have a natural sense of both structure and flow, and to be a conduit for personal spiritual experience, rather than an artistic performance of Pagan symbolism. 

I did not want the medium through which we performed ritual to get in the way of the sacredness that is ritual, I did not want the focus to be on my in the role of 'acting High Priestess' or  the poetry (or lack thereof) of the words I spoke or the clumsiness of my movements around the ritual space, or on people needing to remember their lines, I wanted the focus to be on immanent Divine, on the personal connection to the solar cycles, on the personal connection to the shifting seasons, on the metaphors and parallels we can draw between seasonal change and personal change, and on a connective and spiritual ritual. I did not want the invocation of the elements to just be detached nature poetry; I wanted people to think about the elements as present around them, in them, and invoked less as a summoning, but more as an acknowledgement of their power and presence, the same for the invocations of the Divine.

I also had a lot of time pressures, and I ended up rushing the scripting, which meant that while I wrote a lot of it myself, in the end I had to do what I really did not want to do, and in places use the words someone else's ritual. I used the least I could, but read out from one of Scott Cunningham's Yule ritual - excerpts from the Yule ritual in 'Wicca For The Solitary Practitioner' - for a few sections.

I think the most successful part was when we were free to meditate quietly on what the Solstice meant to each of us, and we all got to contribute our views. I think it being a small group helped those who are a bit more quiet and more reticent to speak up to participate. It also gave me time to stop focusing on whether I was doing a good job of leading the ritual, and connect myself. I don't know how well the ritual worked for the others who participated yet, as I haven't really done a full after-ritual debriefing, but feedback so far seems positive.

Ritual leadership is difficult, and takes works and practice, and I didn't expect a perfect ritual for my first one. I tried my best, and in future I know to be more organised and to script the ritual fully days in advance, not write a rough outline and then fill it in earlier that day, and I am considering doing things like getting a little book stand so I can both keep an eye on whatever ritual text I am working from, whether from my own Book of Shadows, my own script or from someone else's, and hold the Ritual Tools to perform actions. I am also thinking that memorising certain sections, like the circle casting chant, would be a good idea, and help keep the focus on the Divine rather than on enacting the ritual. I need to work on being confident when leading ritual, and letting things flow through me, rather than feeling like I have to be a source. 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

International Winter Lolita Day

There are two International Lolita days, one in the summer on the first Saturday in June, and one on the first Saturday in September.  Personally, I am more of a dabbler in Lolita and prefer dressing in Romantic Goth as there's more variety of anachronistic fashion to choose from, but I certainly rather like wearing Lolita fashion, so I thought I'd put together a co-ord (outfit) for International Lolita Day. 

International Lolita Day was founded back in 2005 as a day to wear Lolita in public, raise awareness of the fashion/hobby/lifestyle that Lolita is, and to try and meet up with other Lolitas. Lolita is not a well known fashion style amongst the mainstream - its more Gothic incarnations often get confused with Goth (understandable, as Gothic Lolita is a hybrid of Goth and Lolita fashion) and the other variants are often assumed to be some sort of costume. I've heard a lot of Sweet Lolitas have people assume that their fashion is some sort of age-play fetish - while I guess it is for a minority, that's certainly not what it is for most sweet Lolitas! Thankfully Lolita does not have the same 'Satanic' and 'evil' reputation as Goth has been ascribed by the ignorant, but it's still not fun when people assume things about wanting to be a 'living doll' or that it is some kind of fetish when it isn't. 

Outfit run-down: ♕ Wig: Coscraft ♕ Headdress: handmade by me ♕ Capelet: Fan + Friend ♕ Chiffon long-sleeve blouse: off-brand ♕ Small necklace & matching earrings: eBay ♕ Large cameo necklace: Rock & Roar ♕ JSK: Baby, The Stars Shine Bright ♕ Tights: offbrand Shoes: TUK

My outfit was deliberately quite Old School and while there were certainly Gothic touches (the skeletal maidens on the cameos, the skulls on my shoes) most of it was of a more "bows and ruffles" sort of style. I wanted to make this co-ord distinct from the very Goth stuff I normally wear. I think my Lolita outfits are improving with both practice and an expanded Lolita wardrobe. The eye-swirls are not typical of Lolita, but they're sort of a signature make-up style for me, so I was not going to leave it out! Any constructive criticism is welcome. I apologise for the photo quality - usually I would get my partner to take pictures, but he was on night-shift and I didn't want to wake him up during the (very short hours of daylight) day just for some outfit picturess! As such, really bad quality selfies will have to do, and there's no full-body shot, only what I could get in the half-length mirror.