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..

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Goth Is Not Inherently Satanic

I got harrassed for being a Goth by a stranger professing the grounds of Christianity, and attempting to convert me away from Satanism as reason to berate me. 

Yesterday, I was out busking in town, in relatively Gothic clothes, wearing my red wig, and playing my usual fare of traditional Scottish, Irish and other European folk tunes, and this  middle-aged man who was clearly drunk came up to me, and started going about how I play "mystical stuff that goes back to the 12th century" (a reference to an incoherent comment he'd made about Greensleeves at me several months ago; I'm surprised he'd remembered it, because I had, until that point, forgotten about it) and then started going on about how I "don't have to wear black, and dye your [my] hair red" (I pointed out that I was wearing a wig, but he didn't seem to be listening) and then went on to get into my personal space and loudly and aggressively deride being a Goth as Satanic, and tell me that he's a Christian and that I should, to paraphrase him 'find my Saviour'. I tried my best to explain that Goth has no religious affiliation and that it is simply an aesthetic preference, but he kept insisting that it was indeed Satanic. As he later went on to inform that he'd been an alcoholic, and then "clean for 2 years" but had "done a runner three days ago", I decided that his words and actions were the product of mental illness and addiction, and not to take them to heart. He said he would pray for me, and I thanked him for his prayers. I decided silently that I would pray for him too, for that after 2 years clean and then relapsing, he finds his way back to sobreity, and that he would get the help and support to do so, and find the inner strength too, because I know addiction is a hard battle to fight. Just as he left, two of my Goth friends came up to me, saying they weren't sure whether to intervene, as he had just harrassed them for being Goths too, asking them questions about their religious beliefs and condemning them to Hell for not matching his. 

It was a complex situation, and even though he railed at us and condemned us, his actions were clearly a sign of his own struggles and I could not bring myself to be harsh with him, and he did give me a £5 note, so at least he was generous as well as religiously harrassing (not that giving me money ameliorates bad behaviour, and I do wonder if he thought giving me money was simply a way to get my time). I didn't know what to do about the situation; I felt cornered because busking generally means I have to stand with my back to a wall to avoid being in the way of pedestrians, and although people were walking by, nobody helped me and I could not see any security guards or police, although I did feel that they might just treat him as another obnoxious drunk, when he probably needed more nunaced help than that. 

This got me thinking that it is a common misconception that Goth is synonymous with Satanism, or at least that it is inherently Satanic, and I feel like it would be productive to break down that misconception.

Goth is simply a subculture that is focused on having an appreciation for the morbid, dark and spooky in music, fashion, art and literature; it has no religious affiliation at all, and Goths come from all religions as well as agnostic and atheists. 

That is the short response, but does not really contain any nuance, not does it explain why Goths sometimes use Satanic imagery, or gives any differentiated understanding of how occult themes tie into the Gothic, and as such does little to shed light on how Goth is not Satanic even though it looks like it could be.

Satanic imagery is used within the Gothic subculture for several reasons.

Sometimes Satanic imagery is used for shock value, especially by those who feel constrained by a conservative cultural backdrop and wish to differentiate themselves as other, as part of something taboo, dark and frightening. Often it is teens who do this, and it is not representative of the wearer's/displayer's true religious or spiritual beliefs, but part of a more complicated process of wishing to separate themselves and create their own identity. Often, this is a passing phase - either because all interest in dark and spooky things is a passing phase, or because they mature into somebody more onfident in their identity, rather than identifying themsleves oppositionally to others. Some people carry this behaviour on into adulthood, but usually this is a behaviour that people mature out of. Often, Satanic imagery used for shock value is not used in a way that is coherent with the actual uses of those symbols within Satanism or the occult, and is often mixed up with symbols from other religious and spiritual groups (I have seen the Star of David and Wiccan symbols appropriated into this sort of shock-value pseudo-Satanism, but that is another matter entirely.)

Some Goths actually are Satanists, but they are a minority even within the Goth scene - these people will use Satanic symbols correctly, and tend not to advertise their Satanic affiliations. Most of the actual Satanists I know personally are not Goths; they tend to be more "nerdy" and less into the theatric and ostentatious aesthetics of Goth. Most of the Satanists I have met subscribe to a version of Satanism where Satan is an archetype of independence, hedonism and suchlike, rather than a deliberately Anti-Christian worship of the Devil. I have never met an actual Devil-worshipper, someone who subscribes to a Christian theology and cosmology, but looks towards Hell and the Devil rather than to Heaven and Jesus - I am not saying they do not exist, just that such people must be quite rare, even amongst Gothic and Occult circles.

Sometimes people mistake Neo-Pagan iconography and symbolism for Satanic imagery, for example confusion can arise over the use of pentacles and pentagrams (and their inverted variations), and this is exascerbated by the misuse of these symbols (please read ::this:: article on the 'occult trend' I wrote earlier this year). Neo-Paganism is a religion that has no concept of an adversarial dichotomy, with no Hell or Satan. Some people hold the belief that all things other than their specific religious path are Satanic or at least a distraction or deception from what they see as the truth, but outside of that belief structure, there is little in Neo-Paganism that could mark it as anything Satanic, any more than say, Buddhism or Hinduism; it is a completely different belief system to any of the monotheistic faiths. As Goths often have an interest in the spiritual, and are apt to look outside conventional spirituality for answers, there are quite a few Neo-Pagans within Goth, but again, not all Goths are Neo-Pagans, and not all Neo-Pagans are Goths (quite a few dress very 'mainstream' and others -a significant proportion- are more inclined towards Hippy and 'Bohemian' aesthetics.).

There are some people who feel badly hurt by Christianity, or who see it as a destructive force, and who use Christian symbols and anti-Christian symbols as a critique of Christianity and the power of organised religion; sometimes this falls into the territory of shock-value, and sometimes it is done with more refinement and nuance, but this is not unique to Goth, even though it does exist within the Gothic subculture, nor is it something you have to engage in as a Goth. Goths tend to be people who have been outcast by the traditional community structures, and that can include the Church, and/or people who use Christianity as an excuse to harasss people they disagree with (a bit like the man in my opening paragraphs) - as such, there are probably a greater percentage of Goths who do this than non-Goths. Personally, even as an apostate, I find this sort of thing can often be more harmful and rectionary than productive. I don't think religions should be beyond criticism or critique, but I do think that there ways to go about doing this, and there are ways that are just rude and mean, where the message is lost in the missive.

There are, of course, more than these four contexts, but these are the four most common contexts and reasons for the use of Satanic imagery within the Gothic subculture. Sometimes it is used in the traditional way it was used within Gothic horror; as a symbol for various evils or villainry that a good person can come across, for example.

The use of Satanic imagery is not inherent to Goth - the use of dark imagery is, but not all dark imagery has to come from the cultural/religious context of Heaven and Hell, God and the Devil - there are plenty more traditions to draw from, and a lot of Gothic imagery comes from European folk-tales, sometimes more entwined with Christianity. The imagery of death, decay, transience and similar are part of the human experience, and appear in different ways across all cultures. There is plenty of positive Christian iconography used in Goth as well - but that is a topic for different blog entry entirely (and something I would quite like to write about, and get some of my Christian Goth friends to write guest posts for, but that is for a different time). Not everything dark is Satanic even in a Christian context; the Bible is full of stories about people who had to overcome pain, suffering and violence, and the very concepts of martyrdom and Christ as crucified saviour involve death and sacrifice; not everything that is dark is inherently negative.

Goths are not synonymous with Satanists, we are not a group who worship the Devil or are anti-Christian; we are diverse with diverse perspectives outside of things that are actually Goth (of which specific religious affiliation is not). There are quite a few Goths who are Christians, and there are Goths who are Jewish, Muslim, and members of other monotheistic faiths. There are even Goth priests - check out the ::Priestly Goth Blog:: for example. You cannot tell someone's religion by their subcultural affiliation. 

Side note: if you wish to convert someone to your faith, condemning them and berating them will have the exact opposite effect; you are more likely to drive that person away from the religion you profess than convert them. 

9 comments:

  1. I've had this experience to it is uncomfortable to be in that situation. Especially when the person is hell bent on their opinion and berates you because of what you wear and what they think you are. I've had Jehovahs witnesses tell be I'm in league with Satan and must repent for my sins. I was wearing a pentagram necklace and that was in their line of fire. It's irritating when someone judges someone just because of how they look. Even Christians I know have told me this, but now I tend to zone out whenever someone mentions this to or I just walk away and ignore them.

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    1. I know a Mormon Goth, but I don't think I know any Jehovah's Witnesses that Goths. I know at least one Jehovah's Witness, but she just compliments my wigs and thinks my outfits are pretty! I wear quite a few pentacles, both as a protective ward and as a symbol of my faith, but I know the "protective ward" can back-fire if visible; it seems to make me a target sometimes. I usually walk away and ignore people who try this sort of thing at me, but because of my location and because I was busking, this was not as much of an option this time.

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  2. Yes, yes, yes. You make a very important point.
    As a Christian who is very much 'Gothically inclined' I agree strongly with what you have written. When I told my friend (who is also Goth and interested in the occult) of my religion, she was very taken aback about the fact that yes, there are Goths who are Christian/ Jewish/ Muslim/ etc.
    I am always slightly saddened to hear of people assuming that because you dress in a certain way or are interested in certain things such as certain music (Though what is worrying about folk music I am confused about!) you must be, for example, Satanists or need to be 'saved'.
    Whilst I do not and will not partake in religions that I do not follow or necessarily advocate them, I have respect for all, no matter their religion, and do read about them, especially paganism, because I want to find out as much as possible about the world.
    I admire your attitude towards this occurrence greatly - we need more people in the world like you! Patient and willing to explain things (even if the receiver may not listen!) without bursting into expletives. Thank you!

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    1. When I was a babybat and recent apostate from Christianity (of a High Anglican and Catholic upbringing), I was astonished at there being Christian Goths because I thought all Goths would be against all forms of the 'established order of things' but I've since become a lot less ignorant (funny what over a decade of being Goth can teach you :P ) and realised that most Goths aren't the dedicated 'rebel' my teenage self was. Now, I only wonder sometimes how well tolerated amongst their own religious communities these Goths are, as I've even had problems as a Goth amongst Pagans!

      I agree with you on having respect for other religions, even if you do not advocate or partake in them. I have a lot of respect for Christianity despite being an apostate, and a lot of people assume that as an ex-Christian I must be vehemently anti-Christian, but I'm definitely not.

      His objection to folk music seemed to be that in his eyes it is Pagan, or at least tied to Paganism and mysticism of some sort. A lot of the tunes I play are hymn tunes (there's some really beautiful ancient French melodies that have become hymns) so I don't understand his problem.

      I tried my best to be patient with him, but I am not a saint and I did start to get rather exasperated. I think he was far too drunk to listen and comprehend, so whatever I was saying was not quite registering.

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    2. Yes, when I first fell in love with the subculture I was worried that 'Oh no, I cannot possibly be like this because I'm Christian'! How wrong I was!
      Unfortunately the main view of people outside the scene (and very occasionally inside) is that the two things are very oxymoronic and you cannot be both. Hence why I tend to tone it down a fair bit for Church (CofE) and my, very religious, though pretty liberal, wider family.

      Ahh, I see. What you play sounds lovely and it does sound like he was a little too drunk to understand. I do not blame you for getting exasperated! I know I would have been the same.

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    3. I'm all for dressing for the occassion. There are usually ways to be yourself within a framework based on what is acceptable.

      At some point, I ought to record myself playing the recorder, whistle and flute... I don't know the first thing about recording things though!

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  3. These misconceptions about us will probably continue forever. That said, there are times when I have to be careful showing my goth nature. One such time is coming next week. I take care of a couple of cemeteries, which I enjoy. The people manage them are mostly fundamentalist Christians with whom I disagree on many issues. Next week will be Southern Memorial Day and they have services here. If I wear black at all it will be a plain black t-shirt with blue jeans. That keeps my appearance quite non threatening to them. It's not in my best interest to turn them against me.

    As for the satanic graphics, I find that it's fairly prevalent in the black metal scene. Some of it may be for shock value but I believe that a lot of them take satanism seriously. Some of these people, although metalheads, also identify as Goth. There is one band I have in mind whose videos I don't watch because of the graphics. I'm pagan and don't even believe in a devil; still, I find some of these videos disturbing.

    Congratulations on handling your encounter with that man so well. I think it's incumbent upon us to show that we as goths, can rise above other people's poor behavior.

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    1. I don't want to appear a saint; I did get a bit annoyed and exasperated with him, but I did /try/ reason rather than anger. It's frustrating because I hear this sort of thing a lot. I just wish I had been able to get a word in edgeways and really explain myself.

      If I am going to a church service or to a more conservative event, I tend to tone down the Goth and wear something from my work-wear; it will be jewel tones and a black velvet skirt, probably with tights to match my blouse and sensible shoes - something that looks "dark colours to be smart" rather than "dark colours to be Goth", and as I have green hair, I would probably wear one of my naturalistic wigs.

      I am not much of a metalhead, so cannot really comment on what metal bands do with their Satanic imagery. The metal bands Raven likes tend to only dabble in Satanic imagery in order to criticise organised religion and Christian institutions rather than be actually Satanic, but he's not really into black metal or Satanic black metal. The only "Satanic" looking thing I have is a Colours To Shame band t-shirt which I got as a souvenir when I was invited to a metal gig, and I only wear it is a gardening/chores t-shirt because I don't feel like the imagery is something I am aligned with.

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  4. Hy! You did write it and explain it very well! It is sad that so much Goths are being harassed just because the way we look. A lot of people need to categorize other people, it's much more simple then to get to know them personnaly! A lot of people need to have a very simple intellectual "map" of the world in they heads: this is white and this is black, this is good and this is bad... Unfotunately, it's not possible to categorize anybody, and most of the time, the world is not a black-and-white picture, it's often very grey... But it's much harder to cope with a "foggy" picture rather then with clear black-and-white categories. Sadly, the black-and-white mental map does not correspond to the reality of our world.

    Personaly, I am a Jewish Goth, I am practicing my religion and see it as being part of me, of my life. It doesn't mean that I agree with everything everywhere with every Jew, it just means that I try to make around me the world a better place to live in. You know how difficult this is... And when, for some reasons, you are a Goth... oy oy oy, this can be missunderstood from everyside of your community! A lot of poeple are so used to their too narrow frames that everything that cross these borders is considered as being "wirred", and you get criticized a lot.

    You know, since I was a teenager, I use a "different" way of clothing on purpose to get the right friends: the ones who did cope with a "different" appearence are interesting people who I wanted to know! All the others who do not want to see "different" people around them: I don't waist my time with them. (But this is not the reason why I am a Goth.)

    So, I hope that we are together making all these frames a bit wider even if we live in different countries!

    Hugs from France, Mirjam.
    PS: excuse my mistakes in english!

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