What It Means to be Gothic
Goths are misunderstood by many . . .
Some people think that Goths, or darksiders as some people call them, worship Satan and/or engage in blood-letting rites that may harm or even kill people. Others believe that many Goths are witches, and that these witches cast spells that are designed to bring people harm and/or promote some evil act. And some people think that Goths and vampires are essentially the same thing, and also that Goths are obsessed with death, suicide, kinky sex and drug-induced rites and rituals.
This article tries to point out what seems to be the current state of “Gothness” and thereby promote knowledge and understanding rather than gossip, insinuation and preconceived notions. Being Goth may be little more than a fad or preoccupation, but it could be much more.
In the book Goth Craft: The Magickal Side of Dark Culture, Raven Digitalis, a self-professed witch, wrote, “In the end, and above all else, Goth is not something someone does. It is something someone is. We are the children of the night, and are damn proud of it.”
Going back a ways, to about the time of Christ, the Gothic people lived in Northern Europe and then gradually moved south into what is now France, Spain, Germany and parts of Eastern Europe. Then they eventually split apart, becoming the Visigoths (western) and Ostrogoths (eastern), who then tangled with the Roman Empire around 400 C.E. The Goths practiced pagan idolatry and shamanism, though many eventually converted to Christianity. As a distinct ethnic group with political solidarity, the historical Goths dissolved some time in the eighth century.
Modern Goths comprise a subculture that emphasizes an enthusiasm for the darker side of life, commonly called doom and gloom; they also study paganism, the occult and witchcraft, or what insiders call the Craft. For many Goths, being Goth is probably more of a lifestyle/and or fashion statement, hence the Gothic look, emphasizing black clothing, pale faces, piercings, elaborate makeup and antiquarian attire, particularly that of the Victorian and Renaissance periods.
Their religious beliefs run the gamut between pagan (multiple gods), shamanism, voodoo, Wicca, as well as the many levels of mysticism in Celtic Druidism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Gnosticism and Judaism, particularly as outlined in the Cabala. Eclectic would definitely be a word to describe Gothic interests in all manner of occult and metaphysical possibilities. If it contains truth, relevance and just plain old esoteric fun, they would tend to be interested, as far as one can tell anyway.
There’s also contemporary Gothic music, the roots of which began sometime in the late 1960s to early 1970s with the music of bands such as the Velvet Underground, Black Sabbath and Blood Rock. This music is essentially rock ‘n’ roll, some of it very hard, essentially heavy metal, and some of it not so hard, emphasizing a melodic, orchestral sound. Musical groups that exemplify this sound are Bauhaus, the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Fields of Nephilim, Motorhead, Marilyn Manson and many others.
One might think that a Goth is a Goth but, as there are many different Gothic bands, there are also many unique types of Goths: Babydolls, CasualGoths, CorporateGoths, CyberGoths, Deathrockers, FaerieGoths, Fetishists, GlamGoths, Gothabillys, Gothic Lolitas, Gravers, GutterGoths, MetalGoths, MopeyGoths, NotGoths, PerkyGoths, Rivetheads, RomantiGoths, SkimpyGoths, SophistiGoths, TraditionalGoths, ÜberGoths, Vampires, VictorianGoths, VintageGoths and WhiteGoths. Every one of these types dresses distinctly, acts in a special way and prefers certain kinds of music, mostly a variation of good old rock ‘n’ roll. One might wonder how they can keep track of each other’s tendencies without a program!
Many Goths identify with the classic portrayals of vampires, particularly the one in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and vampire culture in general. Some of these enthusiasts drink animal blood or donated human blood, but they don’t roam the streets at night looking for people into which they can sink their teeth, making these victims vampires in turn, as the mythos goes. Some actually claim to be vampires but usually in a discreet fashion, shunning publicity it seems.
Some Goths, men and women, practice witchcraft but not the “black magic” designed to dominate, hurt or kill others; it’s called Green or Wild Witchcraft, the practitioners of which try to attune themselves to the changes in nature, particularly the Sabbats (holidays) and lunar cycles, and produce potions and spells that can help and transform others. Such witches perform good, not ill, enlisting the help of the Earth Mother and Horned God (a pagan one, not the Devil), and also maximize one’s intentions (hopefully positive ones, we all hope).
It appears that at least some Goths have a preoccupation with death and/or suicide, though of course many non-Goths do as well. If anything, Gothic philosophy is designed to help the suicidal by using understanding, compassion and positive magic or magick, as they prefer to spell it, as well as prayer and Zen-like meditation. There’s always somebody who cares, as they would tell you. Just ask around.
As well as believing in vampires, Goths also accept as true the existence of ghosts. In the book The Autumn Cemetery Text, an esoteric description of dark culture, the author, a man called September wrote, “Once a person dies, we wonder where they are. Intimate to loss are the invisible, those whom most imaginary creatures do not admit to seeing. God is just such an invisible, ghosts another. Some can see God, others can see ghosts. When something is lost, it is invisible to the seeker, who might find their thieved roses have simply laid themselves upon their doorstep, but in glass from now. Thus are ghosts composed of hope and memory. Ghosts, God, those not Gothic: all are imaginary friends and we save them within our hearts, and so love them until we die and dying end loving, alas.”
As many people do, some Goths use drugs, but mostly marijuana and psychedelics such as absinthe, which could expand the mind in some fashion. But the use of hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine or ecstasy is discouraged for obvious reasons. Raven Digitalis wrote, “Hard-drug addictions have absolutely no place in the Craft; I also feel strongly that they have no place in the dark culture because of their devastating, not healing, effects.”
As for sexual practices, who knows what Goths really do, but they seem to espouse various sexual relationships, including gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex. As a rule, such sexual choices seem to carry little weight with them. However, for those who like to gather with others with similar alternative lifestyles, there are covens and other groups provided for such mingling. Overall, they have a passion and fascination for Love and Death (or Eros and Thanatos), just like the rest of us.
Understandably, Goths just wanna be happy and prosper and learn as much as they can in our limited amount of time, then move on to another plane of existence, perhaps reincarnating, perhaps not.
In a world populated by hate groups, religious zealots, terrorists and criminals of all sorts, Gothic folks appear to be allies in the quest for positive expression and enlightenment. Perhaps more of us should be Goths, young or old. What the heck, wear some black, make your face pale, take a midnight walk in a cemetery or spend the night in a casket. You just might alter your consciousness in a way that brings lightness instead of darkness – or darkness instead of lightness. After all, happiness can be such a drag!
Fields of Nephilim
© 2009 Kelley Marks