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..

Monday, 29 January 2018

Planning My After-life (But I'm Not Dying!)

This blog entry has been inspired by the works of ::Caitlin Doughty:: and the Order of the Good Death.

For a long time, probably since I went to my grandmother's funeral as a child, I've thought about how I'd like my own funeral to be. It is probably a total 'Goth cliche', but when other girls planned their ideal wedding, I was thinking less about white carriages bedecked with red roses... and more black horse-drawn hearses bedecked with white lilies. 

I'm not suicidal or dying or anything, and hopefully what I'm writing about won't be useful for a few decades still (my grandmother lived into her '90s, as did several of my more elderly relatives), but I think about these things anyway. 

Some people might find that depressing, but to me it offers the comfort of some level of control over the finality of things - how I'll leave my 'last impressions' on the world, what my legacy will be.  I guess it helps me also accept my own mortality and the finality of death (even if I joke about being an 'undead vampire' a lot!) and perhaps if I share my thoughts on what I would like to happen to me, then it might help clear the stigma about planning for what happens after your own death. Hopefully openly talking about, and blogging about, what I want to happen to me after my death, is a little step towards encouraging death positivity - a healthy acceptance of death and dying as part of the natural way things happen. 

It must be awful for the bereaved to have to try and plan a funeral as well as be in the early stages of grief, so I also want to have that planned out to save those who remain after me the hassle and bother of having to come up with an apt way to do those things, especially as it's probably quite clear to those who know me that I both admire some funeral traditions, and dislike others, and that it might not be clear to them which I'd want, and which I wouldn't without actually leaving some sort of document behind. Funerals can also be very expensive. Funeral plans exist, and there are ways to pre-pay for your funeral in advance, and this is something I really think people should look into. Monuments can also be quite expensive, and as I want something fancy (more about that later), I want to have mine made while I'm still alive, but I suppose it is possible to make other financial arrangements for a monument.

One issue for me is that I am most likely going to be the last of my immediate family. I couldn't have children even if I wanted to (and I don't) and with the rest of my family, I am either rather deliberately estranged, or much older, with the exception of my adopted sister. As such, other than my partner, I don't have much in the way of immediate family to plan things when I die, and that might make for some legal issues, whereby those who know me best might not be my legal next of kin, especially if I outlive my partner and sister. If I have things planned out (and potentially paid for) before my demise, it might make ensuring my wishes are carried out a bit easier. 

What happens to someone after death actually has a LOT of stages and elements, and I've pondered about a good deal of them. 

One thing I've been considering is what of me I'd donate to science. If there's any parts of me that are useful to medicine or science, I won't be using them any more, so I'd quite like to donate them - however, if I get mangled in a car wreck, I might not be much use for spare parts, but I might make an interesting scientific case-study for understanding exactly what happens if you get hit by the intercity coach or something, but that could also be something already well understood and researched, but if I gave my corpse up for research, I might not get buried at all! I also have spiritual thoughts about whether some of energy would linger on in whoever I get donated to, and that it's one way to live on a little after death, but then what if I would accidentally haunt the recipient? I have heard stories about people who, after transplants, started having eerie connections to their donor, and that honestly bothers me (although quite a few people reading this are probably rolling their eyes and thinking I'm being needlessly superstitious!). It's something I've pondered, and it's made me wonder exactly what bits of me I'd be OK with being reused, too. Perhaps the brain is the seat of our self, and to some it is the heart, so would it be better that those things decompose with the rest of me, to acknowledge the finality of me as myself being gone (I believe in reincarnation, but, to me, reincarnation isn't a direct transfer of consciousness), or would it be better to have my brain preserved in a lab somewhere so that something of what made who I am remains (and could be useful in studying eccentrics with neurological disorders!). It's not something I've fully made up my mind on - organ donation, and donation to science are both things I feel are a good idea, but the nuances of it aren't something I've finalised. 

I believe in reincarnation, a I mentioned above, and that our bodies are just temporary vessels for energy that goes through endless cycles of life, death and rebirth, so I don't feel like I need to have specific after death treatment to ensure a specific afterlife, and my beliefs in regards to such things as ghosts is that ghosts are real, and if you become a ghost or not depends on factors like having unfinished business or a particularly traumatic death, so that wouldn't figure into funerary rites for me. I know some other Pagan paths do have these traditions, and include things like burial goods, but I don't believe in a permanent afterlife place where I need to pack stuff to take with me. This leaves my funerary options a lot more open. 

To me, reincarnation is more like 'spiritual recycling', and in line with that, I also think that the natural literal recycling of a corpse into decomposed mush that feeds further organic life is important. This is the one aspect of what happens to me that I feel strongly about. I don't want to be embalmed; embalming fluid is bad for the environment, and I want to decompose properly. Tidied up so I don't look too awful at my funeral is one thing, but preserved is another. I have no need to lie 'in state' like I'm royalty or Lenin, and I don't feel like decomposition ought to be kept at bay, because it's part of the cycle of life - life feeds on the death of other things, that is how nature works, and if bacteria and the creepy-crawlies in the ground eat me, then that's as nature intended, and hopefully I'll fertilise the ground. 

Wanting a natural burial has many aspects - I don't want a plasticised casket full of synthetic fabrics and foam upholstery, I don't want to be embalmed, and I don't want my coffin to be made out of stuff that's heavily plastics-based or would otherwise not rot well - ordinary wood would suffice (wicker or woven coffins are another option, but they don't look traditional enough for me). That's something I'm very certain of. If my coffin needs to be fancy, they can put a pall over it and some nice flowers. I also wonder about how deep a natural burial should be - will it be 6 feet under, or is it more shallow so that the worms and bugs can munch? Do 'natural' cemeteries allow for monuments as well as trees/plants planted as memorials? Etc. etc. 

Another thing for me to consider is where I would like to be buried. Most of my favourite cemeteries have ceased to take new burials (and usually ceased to do so somewhere around 100 years ago), but most modern cemeteries don't have the same ambience as older ones, because tastes in memorials and headstones have changed (glossy stones, gilded letters, and one of three basic forms with some decorative etching seems to be the norm in many parts of the UK now) and many modern cemeteries I have visited are very linear, organised on a neat grid, and without the interspersing of shrubberies, landscaping and paths that some of the older cemeteries, that were organised, but still had a park-like feel (like Tomnahurich Cemetery in Inverness) do. Some of them seem genuinely depressing rather than simply sombre and reverent - rows and rows of very similar headstones with just grass, plastic flowers, and a grid of gravelled paths, which seems very impersonal, even with the personalised messages on the headstones. As much as I love old churches, I wouldn't want to be buried in a church graveyard.

One thing I am pretty certain about is the design of my headstone. I want it to be circular, I want it to be a stone that will weather nicely over time, and I want it to include an Ouroboros symbol - a serpent eating its own tail - as a symbol of the infinite cycle of destruction and recreation. I would also like a pentacle, as a symbol of my faith. I also want it to be Gothic Revival in style. That's pretty specific, so it's something I would like to commission while I'm still alive, partly as it would be quite expensive for those that remain after me and partly so I can make sure it's exactly as I'd like it. I will leave the face blank, so those who survive me can have whatever words they like inscribed on it, but I want the framing ornament to be quite specific. Maybe it will sit atop a pile of stones in a small cairn, maybe it will stand alone, such things as that, I haven't figured out.

When it comes to the funeral, in many ways, funerals are for the bereaved, not for the deceased. I don't want talk of heaven or God in the conventional meanings of those words at my funeral - for a start, my friends are too diverse in their beliefs for that, and it's also not what I believe in. I would like to write a letter of 'last goodbyes' to be read out at my funeral, and I suspect as my partner and I are Pagan, and much of our friendship circle is, that while we have diverse cosmologies and theologies, Paganism is more orthopraxic than orthodoxic - we are more united by practices than beliefs - so there will be certain elements of Paganism there. I don't want to dictate what those survive me do to best deal with my passing. How I want to be buried is important to me, but whatever rite of memorial others chose is for them, not for me.

I know, in my fantasies, that I'd like to be pulled to my resting place in an ornate carriage pulled by black horses, and that everyone would wear black in traditional mourning, and there would be candles and flowers and and that I'd be carried to my grave by my best friends (which wouldn't work out so well in real life when some are just about 5 feet tall, and some are over 6 feet tall!) and that I'd have a very dramatic, very Victorian funeral, just without the Christian liturgy, but that's what I'd like for myself, and I wouldn't be alive to appreciate it, so there'd be no point. Now, riding in a hearse while I'm alive is a different matter! I want my funeral to be for the benefit of those who survive me, not for me.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

'Goth' and 'Gothic; A Disambiguation

Most of my readers probably already know the difference, but I commonly see the two words used interchangeably, so I feel like a disambiguation could be useful. I guess part of the reason is that the Goth subculture is built upon the Gothic, but Goth is a more complex layering.

The term Gothic comes from the name of the architectural style, which itself was a misnomer. The pointed-arch style which is called Gothic was named so after Neo-Classical styles became fashionable, where the pointed arch style was misattributed to the historical Germanic tribes, whereas it mostly originated in France. The application of the term to things that were a specific kind of 'spooky' came a bit later, with late Romanticism bringing about a certain sort of horror novel, where an atmospheric setting was an essential component as much as supernatural elements, and the setting was often something like an old castle or abbey or such building, and often those buildings were Gothic - because by the 18thC those buildings were already centuries old and a good few had plenty of myths and legends already attached to them. That genre of horror, at that time primarily literary, but with a few illustrations and artworks beginning to emerge, which became the 'Gothic novel'.

As time progressed, the elements of the Gothic novel - the conflict between good and evil, the idea of there being a secret or mystery to uncover, the supernatural entities such as ghosts, vampires and werewolves (or the 'explained supernatural' of the likes of the works of Ann Radcliffe), and the atmospheric setting - got applied to more works in other mediums, such as paintings, poems, plays, music and into the 20thC cinema.

It is this Gothic genre which underpins a lot of the Goth subculture - it has given us a fashion aesthetic, an attitude of dark Romanticism, and plenty of subject matter for songs - however, it has also influenced aspects of metal, and there's plenty of people who enjoy aspects of the Gothic without being members of any subculture too, they just read a lot of Gothic novels and watch vampire movies. Those elements have permeated pop-culture, as well as subcultures, and are very prevalent. Often, when something is misidentified as 'Goth', what has been identified has been an element of the Gothic.

So, what makes Goth different to the Gothic?
I would say - in general terms, with exceptions - that all Goths are Gothic, not all Gothic things (or people) are Goth. The Gothic is the fertile ground from which Goth grew, but Goth is more than just an appreciation for the Gothic, and it has a very specific manifestation.
While Goth is a manifestation of the Gothic, Goth has more elements to it than just the Gothic, and it is something more specific. Most obviously, it has the Goth genre (and it's subgenres/similar enough genres) of music; the stuff that evolved out of '80s post-punk. You can see the influences of the Gothic in the lyric content and imagery of that '80s post-punk ("Bela Lugosi's Dead, Undead..." playing vampires in Gothic horror movies), but there are other visual, philosophical, and musical influences in that genre. Goth as a subculture is an eclectic amalgam of other aspects of primarily Western culture - it's taken from fetish culture, it's got fuzzy borders with the realms of metal (Fields of the Nephilim... ), it's taken horror tropes from outside the Gothic genre of horror (a I know a lot of Goths that are interested in the murderous psychopath sort of horror stories, for example), and it balances nihilism and Romanticism. Goth came about in the '80s, so there's stuff in the Goth fashion/style that's just a darker adaptation of what was popular in the '80s, such as angular makeup and back-combed hair. Goth also grew from punk, so there's aspects of punk thinking, although somewhat less political, in Goth, too, obvious in Goth's emphasis on the resistance of individuality despite external pressures to conform.

For example, while I'm a Goth because I like Goth music, try and make it to gigs when I can, participate in the club scene (as dwindling as it is where I live), have an attitude with roots in those movements outside of the Gothic that influenced Goth, and I take aesthetic cues from Goth fashion as well as Romantic fashion, I'm fundamentally also Gothic because that is the underpinning mind set - which, in me personally manifests itself in a love for the Gothic as originated in Gothic novels; the ruined architecture, the spooky castles, the ghosts and vampires, the cemeteries, the ancient curses and that dramatic, Byronic sort of decadence... 'Gothic' is the broader umbrella under which Goth shelters. It's also probably the term which should replace 'Goth' in terms like 'Pastel-Goth' or 'Cholo-Goth' which seem to have very little to do with the Goth subculture, but do have a connection to the darker things in life and, at least with Pastel Goth, I've seen Gothic elements like vampires, ghosts, bats and zombies as motifs.

I've seen terms like 'Darksider' and 'Schwarz Szene' to describe the broader miasma of dark subcultures (I'd say 'cloud' but we're being spooky here!) including Industrial, Cyber-Goth, and some parts of Metal, and I don't think Gothic can really replace that, because certainly some of the darkness embraced  in these subcultures is from quite a different angle than that within the Gothic genre - lots of dystopian, science-fiction inspiration exists in Industrial and Cyber-Goth especially, and again, the sort of horror that explores themes of madness, psychopathy, and a generally more 'clinical' (for lack of a better word) look into why people do terrible things, rather than a philosophical or supernatural/religious angle. There are still elements of the Gothic, however - songs about demons, devils, vampires and ghosts, supernatural motifs and a sort of Gothic-meets-science-fiction reminiscent of things like the 'Doom' gaming franchise, it just seems to be less of a thematic core, and certainly less of a strong underlying principle or aesthetic.

[An aside on Pastel-Goth: I've seen the term 'Creepy-Cute' used for what is known as 'Pastel-Goth'and I know that this is probably related to the play on words  in Japanese between 'kawaii' (cute) and 'kowoi' (scary), so maybe that is a better term altogether? I also don't know what this aesthetic is called in Japan, which appears to be where it originated.]

I think the word "Gothic" as a term to describe a person whose personality includes that sort of mind-set, those interests, that sort of aesthetic, is under-utilised, and is the answer for a lot of people who aren't Goth specifically, but want an umbrella to identify with - 'Gothic' is probably the better term. Certainly, it's an adjective rather than a noun, and lot of us are used to rolling our eyes (perhaps discreetly) when asked "so, are you a 'goffik'?" but I think it's the perfect term for people who love spooky things, but aren't so keen on the sound of the genres considered 'Goth' and would rather listen to say, metal or darker classical works, or maybe darker folk or similar, and just can't get into fishnet and backcombed hair, and hate clubbing, and as all Goths are inherently a bit Gothic anyway, we're all under the same spooky umbrella, so it's not excluding anyone by saying they're not a Goth, rather including a wider range of people by saying 'we're all Gothic', and most of the arguments over the term Goth don't really stem form what Goth is or isn't, but whether someone is included or excluded from the category. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

End of Hiatus

Due to the pressures of college and the stress it has been causing me, I have taken an unplanned hiatus for a while, but I'm now back and blogging again. I'm going to try and get a good bit of content uploaded in the next few days. I apologise for having been away from blogging for so long with little explanation. I've been really struggling to manage my college workload, and studying - or rather the 'study skills' aspect of studying - is difficult for me. I'm good at learning, and taking exams, but I'm not so good at time management, understanding coursework expectations, and group work. I'm going to try and keep updating here more often, and I'd also encourage my readers to check out my account @DomesticatedGoth on Instagram. I upload content to that relatively frequently by comparison, and also more varied content (including more Wicca/Witchcraft/Neo-Paganism related stuff.)