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.

88ca24c8272d60100398ed28346c149a.jpg

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.

TW048_Daedra_2_1024x1024

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.

Advertisements

The Pitfall of Consumer Paganism

I don’t buy “pagan stuff”.

No crystals (mined destructively from the Earth), no chalices or blades or wands or new Tarot decks.

Sometimes I’m tempted, but I don’t do it.

Well, other than candles. I already have enough incense to last the rest of my life, stored carefully so as to remain fresh and pungent.

I don’t take great pride in this, because the fact is that 25-30 years ago, I DID accumulate some of that stuff. I have enough “things” to dress a Focus (altar) and to symbolize all the various qualities and attributes I might wish to include in a ritual. I’m a bit short on ritual clothing, but it’s quite rare that I might need it, and I make do (I have plenty of other costuming, some of which can be adapted in a pinch).

But mostly, now, I simply work with what I have. Or I make stuff from found materials.

And I’m a little torn about this, because I have friends who make their livings selling “pagan stuff”: masks and headdresses and ritual tools and costuming…yes, and candles and incense and statuettes and all that witchy occult stuff that the ritualist may desire.

But I have become a radically minimalist consumer. I have more than enough “stuff”, and feeding the machine that grinds the Sacred natural world into money is not consistent with my values.

The machine named capitalism.

Talking about capitalism and its impacts is complex. None of us alive has even handed-down memories of a time when we did not live under some variant of this system*, so it is hard to imagine how things would work under any other. But as income inequality continues to rise and it becomes clear that all of us but the very rich are to some degree in harness to serve those very rich, it is past time for us as activists, as Pagans, to talk about what it is, how it affects ourselves and our world, and what possible alternatives there could be to this terribly destructive, imminently environmentally catastrophic system.

There are things we need to think about. Like the ideology of constant growth on a planet with finite resources. While the world does create energy and biomass and so forth every year, we strip more than twice as much out of it than it generates annually.

This cannot continue. Whatever you think about the merits of capitalism, it is a fact that it cannot continue indefinitely.

Meanwhile, the desire to consume more by humans across the globe drives spiking energy production and atmospheric carbon emissions, and brings the day that the Greenland ice shelf slides into the ocean and sea levels rise by dozens of feet that much closer.

My point in writing about this is probably already in practice by many Atheopagans, but I’ll spell it out anyway: consume less.

Buy less. Drive less. Travel less.

I know it’s a sacrifice. We are indoctrinated to believe that we “deserve” the “rewards” we can afford with our money.

But it’s not about what you can afford. It’s about what we, collectively, can afford.

As to creating new ways of relating to the Earth and economics, my approach has been to support new models, such as cooperatives and employee-owned enterprises and shareholder rebellions against destructive corporate actions. ALWAYS to support the small local enterprise instead of the corporate monster (no Starbucks for me, thank you). And, as an activist, to fight the destruction locally. Trump has proposed reopening the entire West Coast of the United States to offshore oil drilling, for example, and any implementation of that idea will take place over my literal dead body.

Unlike many in the Pagan community, I am not an anarchist. I do not believe that anarchy squares with fundamental, biological human nature, which is to look up to leaders and create hierarchies. That’s lizard-brain stuff: it’s wired in. All primates do it, and we are primates.

Short term, I am a democratic socialist: I believe that policies and programs should be put in place which ensure that people have access to health care, food, shelter and education, no matter what their economic circumstances. And that funding should flow from those who are most affluent to pay for these services. But I understand that whatever supports we implement for the common people, the MACHINE will keep gnawing away at the Earth for so long as endless growth and profit are the core ideologies of our economic system.

Maybe that’s wired in, too. Maybe the desire for more is just an animal thing, too.

I don’t know whether there is anything that can break the hold that capitalism has on the world. Honestly, it may have to grow until it collapses under its own weight.

But we should do what we can. We should refuse to participate to as great an extent as we are able.

We should resist.

ADDENDUM: I should be clear that I am calling for less consumption generally, not singling out Pagan businesses for not being patronized. I think it is good to support our community with commerce when we can, and with a few questions (“Where was this made? By whom? How were the materials sourced?”) we can identify true local-community artisans’ products, made sustainably, and can avoid mass-produced, imported products which feed the corporate machine. 

It isn’t that I don’t want Pagan businesses to make money. It’s that I avoid playing the consumption game as much as I can, period.

 

*Except for those who have lived under authoritarian state economies such as the former Soviet Union, which were in competition with capitalism and therefore reflected most of its destructive impacts, as well as oppressing their citizens.

 

 

“I Don’t Get It.”

“I don’t get it.” A comment I’ve seen and heard several times in relation to Atheopaganism: “I just don’t get what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it. Why would you do rituals if there is no magic and there are no gods?” (or, “what’s up with these rituals and holidays? Why do you do that?”)

Well, let me explain…

For joy. For wonder. For wisdom. For depth. For laughter. For self-discovery. For connection. For friendship. For solace. For clarity.

For calm. For delight.

For forbearance. For kindness. For fun. For sharing. For passion. For flight. For belonging. For discovery. For pleasure. For creativity. For curiosity. For community.

For surprise. For remembrance.

For, frankly, pretty much all the reasons that people follow any religious path (save promises of an afterlife or magical powers).

That’s why.

All the above are deeply human motivations. We all have them, whether or not we believe in gods.

We are Atheopagans because it adds depth and meaning to our lives.

It feels good. It feels right.

That’s why.