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, 24 February 2017

Pentacle Shelf (Review)

I bought a pentacle shelf from ::Casdesign:: in Berlin. 

This is the first time I have bought a proper piece of furniture new that isn't something like a cheap folding chair or flat-pack shelf. Most of our furniture has come secondhand from the likes of Gumtree, or been bought in a charity shop, with some of it (like the book-cases in our living room, my study desk, and our corner table) was built by Raven. 

Pentacle shelf by Casdesign, Berlin.

This, however, was something special, and a custom piece. It is a 60cm diameter pentacle shelving unit/display unit. I bought it back in January, as a custom piece and a New Year's present to myself and the house, to function as a display shelf for Pagan objects that don't go on the altar below (not pictured). It cost me €79.95 to have the shelf made - it was made in a workshop by real people rather than by automated machines in a factory, so I was rather happy with the price, especially as this included a custom paint-job. Shipping to Scotland was quite dear, at €22.99 but considering the VAST box it arrived in, and how much it weighed, that is actually a very reasonable transit cost.

For the green I was given a colour-chart from which to quote a colour code, and I chose the colour "Farngrün", which I think is fern green in English. This goes with the green theme to the décor in our living room (which is where our household altar is), and I think is a lovely colour for a shelving unit honouring objects from a nature-based spirituality. The wood was originally stained in 'dark oak' per my request, but once the shelf arrived I realised that this was actually lighter than the furniture that we already had - my mistake - so I stained the wooden parts a darker colour. All the original stain was done in very even coats, any unevenness in staining is my fault entirely. 

The unit is very sturdy. The circle appears to be made of some sort of formed plywood, but it is solid and not at all flimsy. The pentagram in the middle is made from some sort of laminated wood- each leaf of the laminate a millimetre thick, so a very sturdy product. There is also a beautiful grain on the pentagram parts, which sadly this photograph does not convey. I tried to deliberately dismantle the unit by unscrewing it so I could repaint the wood with darker stain, but found out it was both glued and screwed, so it is definitely put together rather permanently. I think it's very high quality, finished to a good standard, and considering what I got for that money, a very reasonable price. 

I actually like it so much that I am saving up for a second pentacle shelving unit - one of their standard models, with a black pentacle over a purple background, which will go in my study, and store items for my personal altar. 

I would rate this product as: 

Construction: 5/5
Quality laminated timber products are frequently stronger than natural timber due to the grain of the laminated being arranged in varying directions, and this has been assembled with joints, glue and screws (not nails!) which seems pretty sturdy indeed. I couldn't even take it apart when I was actually trying! 

Time: 5/5
I payed on 11th January and it arrived on 3rd February. I think it was made in good time, and the only minor delay was in shipping, but that's more due to the sheer distance the shelves had to travel. 

Packaging: 4¾/5
It was double-wrapped in plastic wrap, which I felt was a bit excessive from an ecological perspective, especially as it was shipped in a very sturdy cardboard box with plenty of packing materials, but perhaps a little wasted plastic wrap is better than a scuffed shelving unit, especially when shipping internationally. I feel like I might be nit-picking slightly, but I'm trying to be committed to reducing my waste output.

Edit: Although I only deducted 
¼ of a point for this, I have had feedback from the company about the packaging, which I think should share: all the inside packaging they use is actually reused left-overs from major furniture manufacturers, so it gets one more use at least (depending on if the person that receives the package reuses the packaging again... I try and save packing materials for shipping the things I sell on eBay). Apparently there are also insurance requirements for levels of wrapping; their insurance would not cover mending or replacing a unit unless it is very, very well wrapped indeed. New score: 5/5 for using reused materials. 

Communication: /5
Mostly excellent. The company's primary language is German, but all our e-mails were exchanged in English, which is great as I don't know a word of German. Their translation to English was mostly pretty clear, and they were very prompt in responding to correspondence. I was notified of shipment via Etsy rather than e-mail despite not buying this through Etsy but directly, but other than that everything ran well and I commend them for communicating in a second language with a customer. 

Coolness: 5/5
It's a pentacle shelf, in my own custom colours, and is the perfect addition to my ritual space. Plus that fern green is one of my favourite colours. I have only seen one other company offer pentacle/pentagram furniture, and that is in Australia, so it is something different as well as something for my sacred objects and Pagan things. 

I think I will have to create a room-tour video for the living room to talk about my ritual space and how Neo-Paganism is a part of my life, not just a collection of objects. 

The company make pentacle shelves in different sizes and colours as well as coffin shaped furniture. I thoroughly recommend them after this very pleasant ordering experience. I will be buying a second pentacle shelf unit, but not until I've saved up more money. I definitely think it was worth the money, and highly recommend getting pentacle shelves from them. 

As to what is on the shelf:
✪ Draped over it is a naturally shed snake-skin. Snakes shed their skins periodically as they grow, and this one was relatively intact, so it now hangs over my pentacle shelf as a symbol of transformation.

Clockwise from top:
✪ Top point includes a pentacle and Celtic knot-work coaster that I sometimes use to place my chalice on if it is actually containing a liquid.

✪ In the upper right compartment there is Raven's crystal ball, and a little pewter Celtic knot-work box.

✪ The right point has a fox's jaw-bone we found in the garden, and an athame belonging to Raven with a bone handle and knapped flint blade. It was a gift to him from one of our close mutual friends.

✪ The right section is empty.

✪ The bottom right point has a raw amethyst chunk and some tumbled stones and crystals that are green. I don't use crystals for symbolic or otherwise associations, and just have them as a reminder of the beautiful things that come from the Earth.

✪ In the bottom section is a sage bundle I was given as a house-cleansing incense, which we will use when we have finished refurbishing the property for its ritually becoming 'ours' (we have done other cleansings already, we're just saving this bundle of sage). There's also a pentagram made of twigs I bought in a market in Cardigan, Wales, and an ammonite fossil.

✪ In the bottom left point is an orange carved translucent stone that Raven uses to represent the sun, and a heart carved from some pretty sort of green stone.

✪ In the left section is an old Victorian perfume bottle I am saving for a special use. It's got perfume residue in it, but it doesn't have a scent any more, sadly.

✪ In the upper left point is a big chunk of quartz.

✪ In the top right section is little statuette of Bastet that I've had ever since my period of obsession with Ancient Egypt when I was about 11, and a stone oil-burner with a pentacle window which I bought at the Thunder In The Glens festival of Harley Davidson motorcycles and biker stuff in general, which is held each year in Aviemore.

✪ In the centre is a hand-made green witch's face, made by the very talented chap at ::Mystery Star:: back when he had a shop in the Harris Shopping Arcade in Reading... I've kept it as a memento of that little haven of spookiness ever since and even re-dyed it after the sun over many years faded it to khaki. It will end up nailed next to the kitchen door as I've always had 'her' by my kitchen doors, but for now it's in the centre of the pentacle until I find a suitable sun-and-moon disc.

This is just the start of what will be kept there, I'm keeping a little bare for now so there is space as I slowly accrue more. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Be True To Yourself

This is something I feel like writing up for the young ones, those in their teens who feel like they don't have a space in the world because they're too different. I'm going to share my experiences growing up, and I hope that I can provide some consolation those who are going through something similar. 

Even though society has progressed quite a bit in many places since I grew up in the late '80s, '90s and early '00s, there's still a level of expected conformity ("be yourself, but not like that"). I have resisted this since my mid-to-late teens after all my trying to fit in failed rather catastrophically - all my attempts to imitate my cool peers and act like the others, to seem like just an ordinary member of whatever demographic my current school had, always resulted in my being exposed as a poseur, and me constantly double-thinking myself. I ended up literally driving myself mad with worry, spiralling into deep anxiety about being found out and exposed as the fraud I was, and deeply miserable because I felt there was no place in the world for the real me underneath the disguise. 

I became deeply, deeply unhappy, self-destructive and quite mentally ill. I descended into my own personal hell, one fuelled also by the abusive and traumatic experiences I had survived, as well as this sense of alienation and the unhappiness I felt in my fake existence. I don't want to recall the exact specifics of how bad it got, but it really was the most awful head-space I have ever been. 

One of the things about me, which I have alluded to on this blog before, but which I haven't spelled out exactly, is that I am neurodivergent. I have Asperger's, which I had suspected for a long time, but it was only about 3 years ago I went to a specialist centre  and was officially diagnosed. It is suspected that I have quite severe dyspraxia, too, and possibly ADHD, but the symptomatic overlap with Asperger's makes it difficult to diagnose, plus there is no NHS service in my region for adults to seek official diagnosis or treatment for either ADHD or dyspraxia. This means there are many ways in which I fundamentally can't be normal, however hard I try to be. 

[I didn't want to admit it, because I am worried that in doing so, people will just see me as someone with Asperger's, and this will be used to overshadow and 'explain' me away, as if all people with Asperger's are the same, and as if Asperger's is all there is to me]

When I was a teen, I didn't know why I was so different, struggled so hard socially, why I everyone seemed so alien and confusing to me, why it seemed like my senses were so much keener than others, why crowds seemed so awful and chaotic to me, why I couldn't see the logic in other humans, why everyone seemed to think, in some fundamental way, differently from me. I sought out explanations, some quite fanciful, I will admit, but they were all lacking. I tried my best to blend in, to capitulate to the rather socially conservative expectations being put on me , to be what others wanted, but eventually I realised that this was impossible. Some of it is my inherent nature - Asperger's, bisexuality, my being essentially agender, these are inherent traits - some of it is something between personality and choice, where my underlying nature probably contributes significantly, but ultimately it is my choice; I'm Neo-Pagan, I'm Goth, I'm a Romantic, I'm a little bit "hippie", passionately green, and have a lot of 'eccentric' tastes and interests, some of it was just my background; there are people who don't have much care for immigrants and their children, or for those who are poor, or come from unconventional families. 

Even if I made all the "normal" choices, I would still be innately different - I still was, when I tried to - and I was miserable because I was suppressing all the things that made me happy. If you cut yourself off from the things you enjoy to fit in better, all you'll do is limit your own happiness, and probably still not fit in any better, or at least, that's what happened to me. Eventually, at about 14 or 15, I gave up pretending and ran headlong into being different. Sometimes I was awkward, obsessive and a bit cringe-worthy growing up (I'd get a bit obsessive about fandoms, and was also a bit of a 'weeaboo' for a while), sometimes I did things out of petty defiance, and sometimes I took 'flying my freak-flag high' a bit too far, sometimes I experimented with different identities trying to find my own, but eventually I levelled out and found myself. I do think there's a place in the world for tact, for moderation (especially as I have obsessive tendencies), and situational awareness, but I learned that there are always ways of being true to myself. 

I learned a lot. I realised that often the world will not just automatically make a space for those who are a little too different, so it is up to us to make our own spaces, and to seek out the others like us. I learned that politeness, compassion and competence can get people to see past difference, especially with patience and kindness. I came to see that being true to myself, and giving myself the freedom of divorcing myself from the pressure to live up to other's expectations, was the key to my happiness. I learned not to really care anymore about the opinions of strangers and busybodies, and to live for myself. Life wasn't about external acceptance, and my self-esteem was no longer predicated entirely on validation from others. 

I also met other people with common interests, and while I will say that my self-worth comes from inner acceptance, it is certainly easier in life when you have support from others. I'm naturally a bit of an introvert, and not the most actively social individual, but even I have found a value in community; a tree can be strong and sturdy on its own, an ancient solitary oak living hundreds of years, even over a millennia, but a whole forest is something else. Goth and Neo-Paganism have been where I have found like-minded individuals, and a sense of homecoming; certainly I'm different even from other Goths, and Neo-Pagans, and will probably always be something of an anomaly in all situations, but this subculture is where I've found my people, and there's something to knowing I'm not completely alien in this world. I don't have to pretend around other Pagans and Goths, I don't have to hide who I am. 

I also learned that it was a waste of energy and time, as well as quite misguided, to be consumed with bitterness at the rest of the world, to define myself by opposition to others, to rail against the "conformists" as terrible people, and bristle with defiance. Instead, I would focus simply on being myself and doing what I enjoyed. 

What this little bit of autobiography is trying to say is this: be yourself, live life for you, and don't let the world break your spirit if it wants you to be something you're fundamentally not. This world has many strange people who are proud of being strange, and who have found, or carved out, their own niche, and have happy, successful lives - even if some of them measure success by different yardsticks. Often the road less travelled is a harder, rougher path, but it is worth it for what you find on the journey. As long as you aren't hurting either yourself or others, do what you enjoy and live life your own way. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Radio Carol?

I have been interviewed on two different radio stations; BBC Radio Scotland (NATIONAL RADIO! Terrifying!!) and on the podcast/internet radio page Cemetery Confessions, where I was a guest in the discussion as well as specifically interviewed.

My name is Carol (by abbreviation), hence the title. I tend to use 'The House Cat' on this blog rather than my full name, but that would sound odd on those platforms for people who don't know me.

You get to hear what I actually sound like, which means you hear my awfully polished English accent. I live in Scotland, but I'm not Scottish, I'm 'Franglais' - French-English. My French accent got pushed out of me by the time I'd hit my mid teens, sadly. I'm a bit self-conscious that I now sound a lot posher than I actually am; I'm not upper-middle-class. I was raised in poverty from a working class background, but ended up attending a private school on scholarship which is where I got the polished speaking voice. I think this was also made more apparent by my deliberately trying to enunciate clearly to make sure I was understandable. 

BBC Radio Scotland Interview
Firstly the BBC Radio Scotland interview. I was contacted by a represented Kaye Adams Programme to talk about hate crimes against Goths in the wake of the excellent news that the ::Sophie Lancaster Foundation:: has been granted substantial governmental funding to continue their work. I was interviewed alongside two people who have done a LOT more work towards the Goth subculture - Sylvia Lancaster, who is Sophie Lancaster's mother and who spearheads the Foundation and does a huge amount of work to tackle bullying and prejudice, not just against Goths but against all people who are different, and sociologist ::Dr. Paul Hodkinson:: who is a Goth himself and also a researcher who has studied the subculture he is a part of and is one of the preeminent sociologists studying us in an academic sense. 

The BBC Radio Scotland interviews can be found ::here::.  The show is quite long and in different sections, and the section about Goths starts at approximately 1:41:20 (hours, minutes, seconds), and starts with the interview of Sylvia Lancaster. I think it pretty much speaks for itself, and I will not write much about the content here, especially as it is a relatively short section.

I was really nervous about the interview, as it was on live radio, and not just that, but live national radio. I get terrible stage fright at the best of times, and I was literally shaking in the studio before the interview began (and needed the glass of water I was drinking to keep me calm). The first "hi" I say is so meek, with a nervous trying-to-sound-perky tone of voice, and the whole interview had me so nervous that I was talking really quite quickly - I'm sorry if I am a little too fast for some listeners, especially for those for whom English isn't a first language. 

Cemetery Confessions Episode 
I was also a guest on the latest episode of Cemetery Confessions, which is ::here::. We mostly talk about ::an article:: on Darkest Goth magazine. We're quite critical of what was said, but I certainly think the article's heart was in the right place. Even if I disagree with a lot of it, the general push towards Goth being inclusive and keeping away from elitist gate-keeping is a good thing.
I admitted in my discussion that I'm not hugely educated on the music theory and technical aspects of rock music of any sort. This one of the reasons I've not really written much more in the 'Music Monday' category on this blog. I know what I like and that most of what I like falls into genres in and around Goth, but I don't know much about guitar playing, drumming or poking synths - my music education has been mostly classical, and I don't have a deep musical understanding of what I enjoy. 

I was interviewed specifically about being a Goth in the Highlands. I did say that we don't get gigs - this might not be true any more, as one of my friends is trying to get some bands to play here, which should be brilliant. Our community isn't the largest, but it is very vibrant, and because it's a hybrid between subcultures we can get people involved that are outside the scene. I have talked about this at length both in Gothic Beauty magazine and in ::this:: article.

One thing I noticed in retrospective listening, is that I think that some of what I said could be interpreted as a resentment of Christianity; the only resentment I have is to the people and institutions in my childhood who used Christianity as an excuse to be judgemental and restrictive towards me, and those who now couch their prejudices against me in religious terms, although I think is more an expression of their self-righteous and hypocritical bigotry than an expression of Christianity itself, and I know personally a lot of Christians, Goth and otherwise, who are very tolerant and kid people, for whom standing up to injustice and prejudice is a Christ-like action. While I certainly appreciated the artistic, architectural and musical culture of my mixed Anglican and Catholic upbringing, I also did appreciate the sincere faith of those around me, even if it was something I couldn't truly share in myself. 

[One thing I mentioned was how physical suffering is often a component to the path to spiritual attainment in the stories and lives of martyrs and saints, as well as the crucifixion itself, and I didn't mean this as a negative or a criticism, more wondering if that was the origin of the attitude in Western culture for seeing a nobility and spiritual or psychological learning in suffering. As someone who has suffered quite a bit physically and emotionally, back when I was Christian myself as well as since my conversion to Neo-Paganism, I actually found that framework personally helpful. I don't want to romanticise pain as the path to enlightenment, but I found that sometimes I learned the most about myself and life when I was pushed to my limits by terrible circumstances. I don't really know how to express myself well on this topic.]

Again, I was quite nervous, but I think I spoke less quickly than in the more recent BBC interview, but I did stop-start quite a bit - my speaking was somewhat choppy, and I think I got more fluid as the interview progressed and I became more nervous. The interview about being a Goth in the Highlands was definitely marred by my having a cold and breaking out into a coughing fit.