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..

Friday, 30 January 2015

Graveyards, Mortality and Snow

Back in early January, I went on one of my lunch-breaks to a Chapel Yard cemetery in Inverness. I had an extended break, and had time to take the bus from work into the city and then have a quiet stroll. When I got back, one of my colleagues was asking where I'd gone on my break, and when I responded with a graveyard, asked me if I was visiting a relative, and then got surprised when I said that I was just there for a quiet stroll, and thought it would be quite morbid. I think this is a fairly standard reaction from most non-Goths, and some Goths too, and visiting graveyards for reasons other than visiting a specific grave or for a funeral seems alien to a lot of non-Goths, and quite normal to a lot of Goths. I had to get back to working, and so didn't have time to explain to my co-worker exactly what I find appealing - I just said that I liked the peace and quiet, and I didn't have time to take a bus out to the park.

Snowy graves at Chapel Yard Cemetery, Inverness. Phone-cam photo by me.

The full answer is a bit more complicated. 

It is mainly because I do indeed find graveyards peaceful and quiet. Unlike public parks, they get very few visitors. Usually, I am the only person there, and I am unlikely to be disturbed, which gives me time to be alone with my thoughts and away from the rest of the living.  I guess the fact that most people find them morbid, if not outright creepy, is one of the reasons that they remain a place of solitude. While I am an outgoing person, extended social interaction does tire me, and I need time alone to recuperate. Visiting a graveyard does not quite guarantee me brief isolation, but it is most usually solitary enough - some are more frequently visited than others, and I've been to a couple with paths straight through them and thus people using them as thoroughfares, but the Chapel Yard cemetery at the end of Academy Street in Inverness is at least not used as a short-cut, even if it is bordered by two busy and converging roads. Actually, considering its situation, it is surprisingly quiet, something which I attribute to the high walls surrounding it and the numerous trees, shrubs and hedges.

More snowy graves, photographed by HouseCat

Graveyards often have quite interesting masonry and sculpture - old mausoleums, grave-stones and markers, old walls, etc. I like these on aesthetic grounds, but they also serve as a reminder to put things in perspective: as Hippocrates said, "Life is short, art is long" - not just that the physical artefacts of human crafts outlive their makers, or that our deeds can outlive us, but that life is short and that learning any skill, or practising any art, or really doing anything well, is time-consuming and it is important to manage your time wisely - and that includes taking a break from things so that when you go back to them you are more productive. Yes, the graves are very much a reminder of human mortality, but rather than depressing me, this inspires me and reminds me to always live life like I will be struck down by lightning or traffic the next day; I try to make the most of things, avoid leaving things unsaid, and do my best to fill each day with experiences and productive activities.

Interior of mausoleum, note extinguished torch
carving on the far wall. Photo by the HouseCat

Death does not depress or frighten me; yes I wish to accomplish certain things before I am gone, but the fact that I will be gone does not upset me, and never really has. I don't believe in an afterlife, and my view on reincarnation is more that my soul will be recycled, and maybe the next thing I am made into will retain little flashes of me-ness, the way recycled paper sometimes has little bits of still-legible text or flashes of colour, but mostly that which makes me the person I am now will cease to be. These things have never scared me; it just seems logical that all things are born, die, and get recycled one way or another, even if its just the physical recycling of decomposition. Maybe this is why I am attracted to the Gothic; death does not terrify me, not even the prospect of my own demise, instead it just seems like another part of life, and therefore I am not put off the macabre, and if anything just as curious about it as I am anything else. Suffering frightens me, but not dying; being dead seems to mostly be awful for those left grieving in the absence of the deceased, and be merely oblivion for the one who has died. As such, reminders of death, such as graveyards and skulls, don't upset or make me miserable.

Details of the graveyard, with interesting carvings.
Photo by The Housecat, collage made in PicMonkey

Graveyards are also often rare green spaces in urban areas; especially those that do not come with much parkland, or come with parkland that is just flat grass for sports with little in the way of trees and shrubs. I often see a wide variety of birds, and sometimes animals - I often spot hedgehogs and squirrels in graveyards. Sitting on a bench and observing, or going for a quiet stroll, is one way I can get in my dose of "nature time" - something I need to keep myself grounded. For places associated with death, they are usually teeming with life.

I go to graveyards to find solitude, peace, perspective and life, and usually I find it in those places, even if they are places of death for others. 

Thursday, 29 January 2015

5 Style Lessons I Learnt From Lolita Fashion

Lolita fashion, when done well, can be incredibly elegant and beautiful, and over the years, the Lolita community have been very good at putting together information that helps newer Lolitas join the fashion and learn how to put together some really amazing outfits. I've learnt a lot over the last couple of years (and still have more to learn!), and I've noticed how there are things I have learnt from Lolita fashion that carry over to Romantic Goth and other anachronistic and ornate fashions. Here are a few of those things.

Photo from autumn by Raven of Chance Photography
 ♛ Wig: eBay ♛ Head-dress: Alice And The Pirates ♛ Blouse: Zanzea  ♛ Necklace: Restyle.Pl 
♛ Gloves: Accessorise♛ Skirt: Restyle.Pl ♛ Tights: H&M ♛ Shoes (not visible): TUK 

1) Bad lace can ruin an outfit, good lace can make one. 
Good quality lace can make an outfit look really special, add lovely layers of detail, and really be something wonderful in an outfit, bad quality lace can make it look like you are wearing something from a halloween outfit, and undermine the effect of the rest of your outfit. 

If you are going to wear lace, try and get the best quality lace you can afford. Cheap, scratchy lace - often poorly made, or cheaply made raschel lace is something that seems very costume-y, and tacky. There are several Lolita sites which have guides to lace quality - it's certainly worth googling. A lot of Goth fashion, even the more expensive pieces and brands, often use cheap and scratchy lace, and it is something that frustrates me - especially when I find a design that is nice and otherwise well constructed, but is let down by the quality of its lace.

Stretch lace can often fray, and is also often best avoided if you are wanting something with longevity - the elastic threads within the lace tend to snap, or fray at the seams, and you end up with little threads of elastic poking up everywhere... If I particularly like an item, when this starts to happen I will pick out every last elastic thread until the stretch lace has become just lace, with no stretch, but that is a very obsessive and time-consuming labour of love, and I would not recommend it!

2) Get the right petticoat or crinoline for your skirt or dress
In Lolita, the main skirt types are A-line and cupcake, with some empire waisted dresses and tea-length dresses in the mix, and in Romantic Goth, there's a lot more variety. Whichever fashion you wear,  if it incorporates skirts that need pouf to work, it is important to get the right sort of petticoats, underskirts and under-pinnings. I've seen too many otherwise beautiful outfits where the drape of the skirt has been interrupted by the hoops of their crinoline as there's not enough layers between the outer-skirt and hoops, or where their petticoats are too short for their skirt and the skirt has changed direction part way down, or where someone has tried to stuff too many petticoats under a skirt that just wasn't accommodating to that much pouf.  There are tutorials and information pages on the internet picking the right ways of getting your skirt voluminous for all sorts of skirt styles, whether you are into re-enactment historical accuracy, or picking a good bell-shaped petticoat for a cupcake skirt.

3) Think about visual balance
In Lolita, which has puffy skirts, curly wigs, and often chunky shoes, balance is important - in fact, the curly or voluminous wigs and chunky shoes are often there to counterbalance the visual effect of skirts with considerable pouf. This is codified into the 'rules' of Lolita, and this balance is an integral part of the fashion.

This concept is easily applied to Goth and its hybrids as well - if you are wearing, say, Cybergoth hair extensions, then the fluffy leg-warmers and chunky boots help balance this out, if you are wearing a big bustle-skirt, a fancy up-do for your hair and plenty of hair-ornaments can help balance that out, etc. The basic idea is that if you wear something voluminous at the top of your body, you need to balance it lower on your body, and vice versa. Chunky boots (from the platform Mary Jane heels I wear with Lolita to big stompy New Rock boots) can really help with this balance. 

4) Accessories can radically change an outfit
I have seen outfits based around the exact same dress that look radically different because of the choices of wig, tights, jewellery and other accessories. As Lolita fashion has a focus on specific prints and dresses and these are often tagged and/or labeled on people's 'outfit of the day', I have become accustomed to noting when the same dresses come up even when they are styled differently, and have started really noticing just HOW different an outfit can be even if it includes a few of the same items as another. 

I would suggest experimenting with different accessories and layering with a few key pieces to see the different looks you can create.  I think this is a good way to keep variety in a limit wardrobe, or to create variety on a budget. 

5) Use small splashes of contrast to add to the coherency of an outfit.
This is often done with the use of a complimentary or contrasting colour to the main outfit colour - for example gold with a pink and white outfit, or white or blue on a black outfit - something that both stands out from the main colour(s) but looks good with them.

For example, a Lolita might be wearing a pink dress with white trim, white socks, white blouse and pink head-bow with white trim. In this case, the main colour is pink, the accent colour is white, and it would be the use of white trim on the dress, white socks, and white trim on the bow that create the visual coherence. That dress, though, might have a print with gold on it, and to make sure that gold doesn't seem out of place, the Lolita might chose to wear pink shoes with gold bows, some smaller gold-coloured and pink hair decorations, golden jewellery, and a golden-blonde wig. The little touches of gold would then be giving the visual coherency to the outfit.

This can be achieved in Goth just as easily. If you are wearing a black jacket with red trim, you could wear a cuff with the same shade/hue of red on it, or red and black boots - just little touches of red here and there in the rest of the outfit. If you are wearing say a dress that's mostly black and silver but with touches of purple, you could wear accessories that include both silver and touches of purple, such as a black velvet choker with silver pendant, but with a small purple stone. 

Injured Knee

A few years ago, I fell down the stairs and damaged my left knee, both ankles and my right wrist, and was left with a slightly weak left knee with a twinge. Tuesday two weeks ago, I slipped on the ice in the snowy weather, and hurt my left knee some more, but I strapped it up can carried on, and then on Friday I tried running for a bus, felt something go, and realised I had really hurt my left knee. I spent that Friday hobbling around with a cane because I could hardly put weight on my leg, and even strapped up and not doing anything, it hurt.

Two ladies on two different busses insisted I should go to the Accident & Emergency room, but I didn't think it was serious enough to bother them with when they would have plenty of people more seriously injured in the ice and snow than I was. All weekend I tried really hard to rest it, and when I did go out, had to walk with the cane again because it was pretty painful walking with my weight actually on that knee.  On Monday, I decided I'd had enough as it wasn't getting better on its own like the average sprain or whatnot, so I called the doctors. I got an appointment for Tuesday lunchtime, and it turned out that I had damaged my lateral collateral ligament (which the doctor kindly drew a diagram of, because I didn't do A Level anatomy and as such didn't know what it was.). I'm to keep it moving, but avoid putting unnecessary strain (especially going UP hills or stairwells, where I'm pushing upwards) and I'm booked to see the physiotherapist. I'm glad they didn't try and give me crutches, because I am useless at crutches, and when I went down the stairs and hurt my legs, it was falling off the crutches that both injured my wrist and worsened my legs! (Maybe "don't give the dyspraxic lady crutches" is in my notes now?)

I'm supposed to be at work on amended duties, according to the doctor, but when I explained, work thought it would be better that I just stayed home for the rest of the week. Yesterday I had to collect my sick note from the doctor's, which, because I am avoiding steep inclines, uneven ground and snow, turned what would usually be a 20 minute walk into over an hour each way on 3 busses in heavy snow (all with the cane). It was not fun.

It was interesting to note how random people talked to me (in a nice way! Not sexual harassment or bothering me about being a Goth! That's a treat in and of itself!) and I heard a lot of interesting stories about how other people had been injured (including a guy who dislocated his knee and knee-cap in car-crash, and a guy who had to have his leg pinned after a van knocked him off his motorbike!) and I felt glad that my knee would get better in a few weeks and that all these people were still alive to tell me about their nasty traffic accidents, etc. The chap in the car-wreck should have probably died, according to how he told it. I felt a bit embarrassed that I'd managed to hurt myself to the point where I can't walk around properly just because I fell on some ice. Ah well, I do have co-ordination and balance issues at the best of times; ice does not help these things. 

The good news is that I now have plenty of time to work on my blog, so there will be quite a few updates shortly. 

The bad news is that I am supposed to be doing a Kung Fu grading at the beginning of March, an this injury will likely mean I don't get to prepare for that, so I will probably have to delay taking my grading now until the autumn grading session (similar to what happened last year). I normally do two different styles of Kung Fu and Capoeira, but at the moment, it would only further injure my knee.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

My Thoughts On The 'Occult' Trend

I am a Neo-Pagan, and came into Paganism via Wiccan and follow a path that can, in many ways, be called Witchcraft, although I prefer other terms in most company because most non-Pagans get the wrong idea about the word 'witch

In many ways I quite like the 'witch' or 'occult' trend in Goth, Nu-Goth and hipster fashion at the moment; I think the aesthetic of long black skirts, ethereal fabrics, layers of long cardigans and shawls and chunky boots and big hats is quite pretty, and as long as it doesn't stray into using my religious symbols, I enjoy how those sorts of things have become trendy, especially as it means more readily available clothes for us Goths! I also find items with pentacles, triple moon symbols, triquetra symbols and similar more easily now, which is nice as it allows me to represent my faith. 

Conflation with Anti-Christian 'Satanism' 
I don't like the way the current trends are often associating Neo-Pagan and Wiccan symbols such as the pentagram with anti-Christian Satanism, and I do wonder how the LaVeyan Satanists and others feel about this trend, too. I don't like seeing my religious symbols distorted into childish "ooooo, look how daring I am wearing this occult/Satanic stuff!", as I think that it's a form of desecration. I get especially grumpy when stuff that is NOT actually to do with any kind of anti-Christian evil is depicted as such, and unfortunately a lot of it is. 

I see inverse pentacles, I see pentagrams and pentacles (point up) being depicted alongside slogans such as "hail Satan" when point-up pentagrams are primarily associated with Wicca, and were once used in Christianity (see ::this:: primer I wrote about pentacles and pentagrams). I also commonly see the 'Goat of Mendes' inverted pentagram with a goat's head and hebrew writing in the circle surrounding used, commonly in contexts trying to appear Satanic. This 'Baphomet head' symbol known as the 'Goat of Mendes' is nothing to do with my religion, or Satanism, but is from the Cabalistic and Goetic works of Stanislas de Guaita and Eliphas Lévi, with de Guaita being responsible for the artwork, and Lévi for the rites associating Baphomet as the Goat of Mendes and positing that there were links to the witchcraft the Church deemed 'satanic' in earlier times, with the goat symbolism theoretically being a carry-over from earlier Pre-Christian Pagan ritual, and in either case, is not really used in the branches of Neo-Paganism that spring from Druidry or Wicca, but sometimes in those that have closer ties to late 19thC Occultism. People just see the goat and the pentagram and see 'Satanism' - and not even one related to LaVey's Church of Satan, but one based in countless horror movies and novels, and a tradition of 'evil witches' older than the Malleus Maleficarem

It fuels the fires of a hatred for an almost non-existent version of witchcraft that has burnt for centuries. In some places, people accused of witchcraft are still killed for it, and a few centuries ago, one of my ancestors in Britain was hung for it. Witchcraft was only made legal in the UK in 1951, when the legislation banning it was replaced with the Fraudulent Mediums Act, and in 2008, more up-to-date consumer protection legislation. Have a look at ::this::.  

The groups of female witches who gathered under the full moon to copulate with the devil, sacrifice children, work curses on behalf of the devil and kept demons disguised as animals never existed, not any other local variation on that theme. They are part of a Christian nightmare, not part of any current or historical witchcraft or Neo-Pagan practice. I am sure that terming groups of Wiccans and Neo-Pagan witches 'covens' has come from these types of historical envisaging of witches, as has the use of the 'besom' or traditional broom in ritual (it's used for sweeping the area in ritual purification; it doesn't fly), as does some of the iconography of depicting part of the dualistic divine as 'The Horned God' (although there's plenty of pre-Christian symbolism and iconography in there too. He usually appears like a version of Pan, but with antlers) and a few other things were found inspiring, but we are by no means anti-Christian satanists who stay up late at night to sacrifice goats and people to our dark master and blight the lives of others. 

Our Symbols are sacred, and should be given that respect
To me it is blatant appropriation of sacred and religious symbols. I have been devoted to my faith for 13 years. I often use pentagrams, triple moon symbols, and similar as an identification of my faith to others, as part of my rituals. There are pentagrams on my altar cloth, on the carved wooden one that sits as altar centre piece, there are pentagrams on my rings (one for each hand) on the two oil burners on my altar which are only used for rituals. I know the pentagram has uses in other religions and traditions (I wrote a whole article on the symbol ::here::) but the context of this trend is 'occult' and in that case it is a symbol that is not just an icon meaning our faith, but a magical sigil that is has power in the very act of being drawn (I use it in spells), protection in its wearing, and very specific meanings that tie in very deeply with the cosmology of our faith. It's not just a pretty design. My faith is not here to be dragged into mass-market consumer capitalism. 

The way that the "ironic" wear of these symbols works plays on the idea that they're not really threatening because they're symbols of stuff that is bunk, and I don't like that. To me, it's making a mockery of my religion and turning it into a cheap commercial trend, and that feels really awful; it is taking someone's religion and reducing it to a statement of irony (to paraphrase something Fee of ::An Honest Drug:: said to me in discussion of this topic.) and that to me, as a Neo-Pagan, makes me very sad and a bit angry. 

Modern Witches and Pagans face discrimination, both privately and on an institutionalised level
I wear my pentacles every day in public, in varying levels of obviousness depending on situation. I have to think about where I am going, about whether or not I am going to get intrusive and judgemental questions about my faith, especially when combined with my obviously being a Goth. I get asked "are you a witch?" a LOT, and answering that can be tricky when the answer is technically "yes" but more often than not, not in the ways assumed and not for the reasons that assumption was made. When I was a teenager, I had to really battle to be allowed to wear my pentacle at school, when other girls were freely allowed to wear headscarves, Stars of David and crosses, and was theoretically only allowed to wear mine under my blouse, out of sight. There is a school photo where I am staring defiantly into the camera wearing a silver pentacle in plain sight, and my earrings are a pair of pentagram studs; defiance I was punished for.

I wear a pentacle at work, but in a small and discrete way, but in my own time I wear more obvious ones. I have two bags with larger and thus more visible pentacles on; a black one with a purple pentacle that is now purposed primarily for carting religious items to and from the groups I'm part of (I am now part of more working and discussion groups - part of my resolutions for this solar year), or when going to places like Clava Cairns or Craig Phadraig. The other one is a black velvet bag with a smaller pentagram on it, which is just my handbag and where the pentagram is more to identify me to other Pagans (Neo-. reconstructionist or otherwise). I like being visible in my own time; I feel like it is a reassurance and a way of silently but visibly in solidarity with other Pagans, a reminder that there is a community of us, that other Pagans are not alone, not invisible, not all hiding.

When I was new to my faith, and did not know when it was better to keep silence over my faith, and when I was at boarding school and therefore had no place that was really my own to keep my books, etc. I got horrible harassment and some pretty awful reactions from various people, institutions etc. and I still tend to keep it as something I don't mention because the reactions I usually get are either people thinking that I am crazy or that I am evil. There are sadly still people who believe that Neo-Pagans are anti-Christians that abuse children in rituals, (some paedophiles have used it as a disguise and form of intimidation, but that does not make paedophilia part of our faith, just that the cloud of misinformation about Paganism and sense of threat that has been pasted onto our faith by those who do not know or understand us makes it useful to those who would commit evil)  and that's not a good stereotype to exist when you're a Neo-Pagan that works with children. There's also the assumption amongst the more judgemental atheist types that anyone involved with the Occult is easily fooled at best and seriously mentally ill at worst, which is pretty insulting, too. 

Being Neo-Pagan cost me friends I previously trusted telling me they were now afraid of me, cost me having my own family tell me that I am going to Hell, costs me street harassment (even before I was dressing Goth, and even when I'm not) from strangers telling me I'm in league with the Devil, evil, or not welcome around their parts, and it is not something I feel I can safely mention in earshot of the pupils at the school where I work, (but my Christian, Muslim and Buddhist teachers in the past were able to mention this to their pupils without backlash), and very few of my coworkers know. There are still people who I am friends with, but around whom I don't mention my faith because they are made uncomfortable by it. 

I would suggest reading about the suicide of Tempest Smith, and about how the family of Patrick Stewart (a soldier and Wiccan, not the actor) who died in battle in Afghanistan had to fight the Department of Veterans Affairs in America to have a pentacle on his gravestone. There are plenty of other examples, but these two are probably the easiest to find articles on. 

If you are a fashionable young person wearing occult symbols as part of your trendy outfit, on your leggings, say, or on a t-shirt saying "trust no witch" (Available from Black Sails. I'm a witch, and I don't like people wearing t-shirts saying I shouldn't be trusted, perhaps more so if it's in the guise of the wearer playing the 'witch' character making veiled 'threats' as fashion statement.)  and while some very fundamentalist or strict members of other faiths (primarily the Abrahamic ones) may object, most people will assume you are doing it as part of an 'edgy trend'. People are not too likely to assume you are actually one of us, and even if they do, you can quickly tell them that they're mistaken - without lying, without denouncing your own faith. We do not have such privilege.