An Exploration of Dark Paganism

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Gothic Paganism - an Introductory Essay
by sade sindar-wolfkitten

Gothdom embraces all religions, all denominations and all races, but it is not a religious movement. Many Goths are atheists and a sizable minority are new age spiritualists, Wiccans or pagans, Thelemites, and members of other alternative religious groups. Basically Goth is not about religion, but with the imagery of religion.

Modern neo-pagans follow a path based on the ancient agrarian traditions of pre-Christian Europe. Many have the Great Mother Goddess and Her son/consort the Horned Lord as central deities. Pagans look to the Old Religion, folk practices and customs of times gone by. There they find a faith rooted in the natural world, in the cycles of the seasons and the phases of the moon.

Why then gothic Paganism? Most (though by no means all) neo-pagans - from Druids to Church of All Worlds grokk-ers to eco-feminists - come from the baby-boom generation. Their 'rainbow' approach to life carries over, creating a pagan path that focusses on the summer side of the year and the light side of the Wheel. This has earned the derogatory nickname of 'Bambi Wicca'. That sunny mode also serves as a protective coloration of sorts; many in the mundane world still unfairly view pagans as satanic baby-killers.

Yet with the gothic emphasis on darkness, combining a gothic outlook with the standard pagan path does not always flow naturally. When a goth first experiences the pagan scene they may feel they do not quite fit in entirely. Goths carry a darkness which is not evil, but rather melancholy and mysterious. This can be jarring when combined with the celebratory, tie-dyed outlook of the 'average' neo-pagan.

When asked for their thoughts on the subject, those identifying as both gothic and pagan said things like this:

Gothic Paganism holds different set of archetypes.. an acceptance and celebration of the darker aspects of human existence and the universe in general. (It) embraces the darkness as a normal and natural balance to the light.. a celebration of the full Wheel, rather than (just) the growth/creation cycle and "tolerance" or grudging "acceptance" of the decay/destruction parts of things.

Darkness is The Shadow within. Dark implies hidden, ancient; possibly terrifying and cruel. It doesn't however equate with evil. Darkness and light are complementary. Change, wildness, the unknown; sorrow, anger, and culturally unacceptable emotions; the setting of limits; the responsibility of the individual to speak the truth even if it's uncharitable - these "dark" aspects, the "housecleaning" functions of the magical world, are the focus of Gothic Paganism. For those in Generation X and beyond, a darker outlook on life is almost unavoidable. They will spend their entire lives in the shadow of the baby boom, after all. And while the 60s opened up many avenues that allow things like goth to exist, the 'don't-worry-be-happy' ethic seems somewhat ludicrous to those struggling to make their way in the 90s.

Perhaps it has to do with the coming millenium. Granted that it is an arbitrary designation; still, it carries a certain psychic freight in the subconscious of millions in the western world. We are poised on the edge: the gateway between one thousand-year span and the next. Pagans know that at such junctures the veil between the worlds becomes thin; is it surprising then that such a turning point is bringing in a mode of practice and belief that has more to do with Samhain than Beltane?

At Samhain, the Green Man becomes the Lord of Death. He crosses into the Other World, the Dark Half, the subconscious mind. This journey is the same as Inanna's descent, which can be seen as an allegorical confrontation with one's inner demons. The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes similar ordeals.

For gothic pagans, this introspection is the central focus of their path. We gather and commune with those who are most like us. Similar tastes are what brings us together. We support each other through underground 'zines, net-groups and gothic gatherings such as Convergence and Spellbound. And as we find others like ourselves out there, we are discovering we share a reverence for the wild places left on this earth and the creatures that inhabit them as well as those solemn elysiums that serve as the final repository of by-gone eras.

We do not scorn the midsummer bonfires or the Maypole; but when the drums have died away and the fires burnt down to coals we will be there. We will walk through woods and cemetery, with shadows for our familiars, conversing with those fae spirits who find the sunlit world too choked with human thoughts and emotions. We will light candles and burn thick resins in our solitary chambers long after the mundane world is asleep. And we will honor Death, the Sandman, and the Crow as modern expressions of ancient archetypes.

"Death makes angels of us all / & gives us wings / where we had shoulders / smooth as raven's / claws... "
- Jim Morrison, An American Prayer

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