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..

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.


  1. I dislike the mixture of symbols that I'm seeing in this trend. As you've noted, the combination of Satanic symbolism with Wiccan and other religious symbols is just absurd. Considering there's such an abundance of symbols for each religion, I don't see why designers couldn't just use one single, cohesive set. It's just a weird mod podge of cultures that have no real connection and the slogans are pretty messed up and juvenile.

    I'm not a pagan, I don't do religion. I studied the philosophy of witchcraft when I was an undergrad in uni and it was sufficient enough for me to realize there are little to no real, traceable connections to the European pagan religions that were snuffed out during the witch hunt. Wicca itself is a very, *very* new religion. It only gained protection as a real religion in the US during the 1980's and people are still fighting for their rights to be treated equally. What being Wiccan is varies between so many practitioners as well; some people will protest that they can fly and have the power to change peoples minds, whereas others claim it's just nature based and spell casting is likened to the Christian form or prayer. I think it's these inconsistencies and the fact that the religion is so young, that makes it difficult for people to acknowledge it as a real religion and not some kind of weird cult or passing fad. So that being said, it really doesn't surprise me that we've seen newer trends utilizing Wiccan symbols with no real regard to their meaning or origin. People just aren't taking it seriously enough.

    When you think about it, it's actually not much different than wearing crosses even if you're not Christian, or how the swastika at one point actually was a positive symbol. All symbols will be adopted and used (often subversively) for different reasons, and I would just as much expect to see that in fashion. If you feel offended by some of the material you're seeing, particularly the kind of "trust no witch" crap, you should voice your concern to the company.

    1. A lot of Neo-Pagans seem to have got their history from Margaret Murray and earlier writers who wrote about a continual witch practice, and it's been since refuted by better scholars with access to greater information. I think Prof. Ronald Hutton wrote the best easily read history for the lay-person in 'The Triumph Of The Moon' (my copy is signed by him, to me!). What I was trying to communicate (but may have muddied) is that the fear of 'witchcraft' is centuries old, but is a fear of practices that never really happened, not even amongst groups like the 'cunning folk' in the fens that practiced a form of folk magic in times gone by. The /fear/ that powers hatred and discrimination now has little relation to what we actually do, or who we are - it does not take into consideration that we are a disparate cluster of mostly poly- or pan-theist folk with an Earth-based/nature-based philosophy who don't even believe in the existence of a devil. Personally, I think the people who are convinced they can fly and do mind-control are delusional; like all religions, maybe more-so for not having any orthodoxy, we attract our fair share of those who are mentally ill, who sadly get enabled in their delusions rather than helped.

      I probably will voice my concerns to some of those producing the more offensive stuff. I expect to see symbols co-opted by fashion. Personally, I don't like it, especially as a lot of mass-produced fashion is produced by ways that are harmful to the Earth or Mother and to those who inhabit her, so I really don't like that. I'm less upset when some-one makes something themselves, as long as they don't make something outright offensive, because even if they don't personally believe in the significance, they aren't supporting an industry that is desecrating it in the name of a quick buck. I don't wear crosses as I feel that I would be a) possibly giving people the idea that I'm a different religion to the one I am b) some Christians may be offended by a Wiccan or any non-Christian wearing their symbol and I don't want to offend them c) I'm a Catholic apostate and I don't want to wear the symbols of my past and d) it would be taking up space that could be used to display something I do agree with.

  2. Far too many people take religious symbols and simply use them to shock, rather than actually show respect for the religion the symbols represent. This immature desire to shock does far too much damage to the stature and reputations of those who follow their beliefs respectfully.

    I struggle with this somewhat as a horror writer. We have creative license when creating fiction and I wouldn't have it any other way. I feature a teenage witch in one of my pieces and portray her as seductive in her attempts to capture the love of an older man. Still, I also focus on her immaturity but portray her as a decent human being and certainly not evil.

    While the story of Hansel and Gretal might be fun, I feel it's important to showcase Wiccans and witches in a realistic light.

    1. I love the supernatural fantasy sort of witches, but I feel it is important to draw a line between the evil sorceresses and sorcerers of fantasy fiction/horror and the very different religions of Wicca, etc. and to not try and drag the real religions in for "realistic" shock effect, because it is rarely realistic and just confuses people who don't know about us. I'm happy with, say, Jim Butcher's 'Harry Blackstone' from the Dresden Files having a pentacle, because it's used in context to symbolise the elements, not to symbolise Wicca, or of Charmed having the Triquetra to symbolise the power of three (especially as it's also a symbol of the Holy Trinity, and several other things; it's not ours alone), etc. because those symbols are given a clear in-universe meaning that doesn't try and drag real religion into it - for example the 'Sweep' or 'Wicca' series by Cate Tiernan, that mixes all the terminology of our religion with a lot of teen urban-fantasy stuff. Real Wicca doesn't work like that, and especially to teens who might become interested in the actual religion, it's confusing. I became Wiccan when I was 13, and a lot of the other teens I met who were interested in the religion seemed to have a rather fantastical notion of what Wicca was - they had an idea that it was like something from 'Charmed' or 'Buffy' or these books!

  3. Loved reading this! I can agree that this trend makes it easier for us to find certain items than it was before but I do hate the way certain symbols are used purely to shock and seem trendy. I do not blame teenagers for wanting to stand out but I would encourage them to research some before they indulge into this trend. I hate how everything has become a consuming mania and no real value is invested in this.

    1. Hopefully, when this trend dies down, I'll be able to find things second-hand in places like eBay, and re-make them into tasteful decorations perhaps for my altar-space.

  4. I don`t know if my previous comment was sent, so lets try to repeat everything lol

    I am an atheist and loved reading this! I don`t wear religious symbols or images because I don`t believe in them, and, so, it would be disrespectful to those who do.

    1. Thank-you, and thank-you for being respectful. There are some atheists who think that as they believe religions to be delusions or fallacies, that there is no point respecting them. I feel that even if you think a religion is in error, you should be respectful - yes, one can be critical or disagree, but one should be polite about doing so. After all, I don't think most of the world religions have it right - otherwise I'd follow one of those and not Paganism - but it does not mean I can't be respectful of them.

  5. I so appreciate this article and have a burning question. I'm not the best at summarizing but here I go: I am enamored with the empowerment of the triple moon symbol and am spiritually connecting to nature through rituals. When I was offered by my tattoo artist to add a triple moon to my chest because it fit with my bees that had moon crescents above them I made a snap decision to trust her recommendation. She is also spiritual and practices rituals. Recently, someone asked me if I was Wiccan because of my tattoos. I am not, but have been wanting to read about the Wiccan religion to see if I want to be. But, the fact is I have not done any research yet. Now I am terrified I made an inconsiderately privileged and culturally appropriative choice. I hope it is not emotionally laborious for you to share your opinions on this and if it is, i don't need and answer. I know it is my job to educate myself and in my haste, I forgot that.

    I still love this symbol and the empowerment it holds for connecting to the cycles of nature and for those who connect with their feminine nature, but respect that I do not risk anything by wearing such a symbol.

    If you are up for discussing this, I greatly appreciate any opinions or articles on this.

    1. Sorry for getting back to this so late! I was never notified of this comment and I've only just spotted it while linking this article somewhere. I don't think it's misappropriation. First of all, the moon itself and its phases don't belong to any particular religion, and secondly, it seems that the meaning it has to you is pretty inline with the meaning it has to Wiccans. If you feel drawn to it, by all means do the research - and remember that Wicca isn't the only Neo-Pagan path, just one of the more popular. I think asking Pagans *is* educating yourself; I'm not into the idea that asking a group about things is rude, after all we're the primary source! I can't speak for all Pagans of course, but I think what you're doing is miles away from the issues I've mentioned in this article. You're not using it for mass-produced capitalist ends, you're not doing it as some sort of edgy/ironic fashion statement, and you're not disregarding that it's a sacred symbol. It's not non-Pagans getting our symbols that bothers me, it's when they're used in ways that make things worse for us.


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