Paganism, Gothic Aesthetic, and the Sensibility of Darkness: An Observation
‘Tis the season, so let’s talk about it: it’s a thing, among us Pagans.
Cemeteries, bones, skulls, ravens. Vampires and absinthe and Ye Olde Occulte Symboles.
Dark. Spooky. Sexy.
It scares some people. Particularly non-Pagan, white-light-obsessed Christians and New Age folks.
At this time of year, the Pagan community leaps with particular gusto into the seasonal enthusiasm for skulls and graves and blood. Much of this is because our paths, rather than phobically avoiding the subject of death, actually embrace it as a necessary and inevitable part of the human story. We understand that life is not just light, but is also darkness. That the human experience is not only of joy and discovery and striving, but of horror and suffering.
And sex. In gothic aesthetic, the sex and death frequently go together. Thus the gothic obsession with vampires.
Some of it is our joy in natural objects. Bones and antlers and skulls are cool. For others, it is about the presumed gloomy/spooky/gothic aesthetic of the gods they revere.
Some of it is recognition that we die, and all who have gone before us did, too: it is a time to reflect on and honor our ancestors.
Sometimes I think people get a bit carried away by it. That said, I’ll take it over pastels and polo shirts any day of the week.
But more than anything, I suspect that what this enthusiasm is really about is a hunger for the intensity of experience. A willingness to confront even pain, even sorrow, even death in order truly to feel in a world that commodifies experience and meets suffering with contempt or saccharine platitudes. To take joy in eerie moods and night chills.
Many of our rituals—at any time of year—are about exactly that: to feel intensely and with authenticity.
So when you see goths—real goths, not just people in “sexy witch” outfits they put together at the Halloween store—see them for more than a morbid subculture.
Their way may not be my way, entirely, but they’re honest about who they are and what they want. They have chosen not to pretend. They have chosen to wear their feelings rather than hide them.
That takes courage. So give them some credit.
And who knows? They might be Pagans, too.
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I’ve long been fascinated by goth culture. I have even masqueraded as a goth… for Mardi Gras! May I recommend the book Goth: Undead Subculture, edited by Goodlad & Bibby? There is of course a huge cross mixture of influence between Gothic and Pagan. Note for example, Jason Pitzl. I miss his music podcast.
As a Pagan with goth-y tendencies, I salute you! Not that I go for the full goth look much these days, it’s so high maintenance, but is awesome. I totally agree that both goth and Pagan cultures are about intensity of experience, and experiencing the “dark” as well as the “light”, and finding beauty and meaning (and even hope) in both. This is why I get so frustrated at mass culture that presents goth as “evil” or “depressing” – for real evil, look to men in suits, not goths in makeup. As for depressing, I find that it helps me deal with my depression far better than enforced positivity ever could. I recall a friend once describing Pagans as “goth hippes”, and I quite like that.
“As for depressing, I find that it helps me deal with my depression far better than enforced positivity ever could.”
Absolutely agree 100%.
There’s also an interesting Orthodox Christian gothic subculture where they took the death aspect of gothic and related it to that thing about dying to life and living in Christ. Not my cup of tea, but interesting from an anthropological perspective.