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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Preconceived Notions and Being a Goth Pagan

  I've been thinking lately about stereotypes and the way that preconceived notions and expectations shape our larger pagan community. Pervasive buggers, you know, stereotypes creep in where we least expect them. Just when we think we're in a safe place, a place free of preconceived judgments, bam! we run headfirst into one. We all experience this, I think, some of us to greater degrees than others, depending on who we are and what we identify as.
   There is a certain anonymity on the internet. To many people I'm just a name, a collection of words, without features or description. In some cases without even gender*. People who don't know me in person or who don't know me well may, and sometimes do, have very specific notions of who I am or what they envision me as. This preconceived image is sometimes very far from reality. How would you picture me, if you don't know me? You might be quite surprised by the reality. I rather imagine the same is true for most of us.
    This can become a shield, a place to hide where our true identity is not shown especially when we know that Self will draw criticism or ridicule. People can create entirely new identities, make themselves into what they wish they were rather than what they are. It can allow us to interact with people who might otherwise never speak to us based on real life qualities, such as dress or appearance. The anonymity of the internet not only allows us to create our persona for others, if we choose to, but it also can make us a blank slate to others which they then imagine as they see fit.
    It can also, conversely, encourage people to express their prejudices without realizing they are speaking directly to someone in the group they are mocking. As part of several subcultures and marginalized groups I've gotten used to it, although it does still occasionally bother me. I've lost track of how often I've seen people within the wider pagan community making off-hand comments that belittle or make fun of groups I belong to. Words are weapons, and casual words can be far more painful than intended.
   I am Goth and I am pagan. I have been pagan for a few years longer than I've been Goth, and one has nothing directly to do with the other, but both are important aspects of my life. Both are part of who I am.
  I have been told, years ago, by someone I respected very much at the time that I need to stop dressing like a stereotypical witch because it made all witches look less respectable.
  I have been told that people like me are why others don't want to call themselves pagan.
  I have been told that when I get a bit more experience or have been pagan for longer** I'll outgrow wanting to wear black
  I have been told that it's sad that I want attention so bad I'm willing to play into the stereotype.
  I have been told that no one will take me seriously as long I keep dressing Goth.
  I have been told that I must be a Satanist, not a pagan, or I wouldn't dress that way.
  And on and on and on.
  There seems to be an assumption that if you are Goth and pagan you must be a newbie, and seeking attention, and not very serious, and confused, and melodramatic. Goth pagans are rarely taken seriously in my experience and are very often criticized, even publicly shamed, for their perceived insincerity, youth, inexperience, and negative reflection on the rest of pagandom.
  Let's be clear here. Goth is a subculture based in a variety of things including fashion, music and a certain macabre aesthetic. It reflects what I like and what I am comfortable with. Paganism (Irish Reconstructionism and witchcraft) is my religion. It reflects a certain worldview, cosmology and core set of beliefs. The two, subculture and religion, are not at odds and I have found they go well enough together in my life. Why my fashion choices and taste in music bother some of my coreligionists so much kind of baffles me, but I think its only fair if I can accept pagans who like Country music and denim, or Pop music and tube tops, then my personal tastes can be accepted or at least ignored.

   I'm proud of who I am, and I think I shouldn't be judged on my appearance, anymore than anyone else should be. I also think that the idea of paganism being accepted by the mainstream if we all just dress and act like the mainstream is a dangerous myth. Not only does it encourage us to try to enforce homogeneity within paganism which destroys our beautiful diversity, but it sells us a false hope that if only we act normal enough we can be treated just like the religious majority. Not because we have equal rights, not because we deserve equal treatment, but because we fit in so well that they like us enough to give us what we deserve. Think about that for a minute. Really think about it - do you want equal treatment because its owed to you, or because the powerful people decide they feel like doling it out like a table scrap?
   Sometimes generalizing is necessary, but its worth considering that if you don't personally belong to a subculture it may be unwise to think you can pass judgment on that subculture. So many of the hurtful things that I see being said are rooted in ignorance and misunderstandings that could be avoided with a bit of open-mindedness and a willingness to listen. It is also worth keeping in mind that sometimes the person who most looks like you expect a certain "type" of person to look may in fact be the least like your expectation.
  It is worth remembering when we find another person's ways confusing, as Neitzsche said "You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

* I have been mistaken for male on multiple occasions in discussion groups and on email lists, because of my name.
** I've been pagan since 1991 and Goth since around '94-ish. At this point I think its safe to say I'm not going to outgrow either.

Copyright Morgan Daimler


  1. I tell you what, living in Ireland and having people like you making progressions into Irish Reconstructionism is like living in a museum. Probably something you have never considered or the fact that we find folk like you rather tiresome.

    1. Folk like me....
      That's a rather broad statement. Not born in Ireland? A different sort of pagan from your approach? Goth? A witch?
      I'm genuinely curious what it is that you find tiresome about me.
      I have certainly heard my Irish friends complain about the way tourists make them feel, but I've never had that particular complaint directed at me, so it does make me wonder what I may have done, in this blog in particular which isn't even directly discussing Irish paganism, that you find offensive.

    2. "Probably something you have never considered or the fact that we find folk like you rather tiresome."

      Perhaps a nice, long nap would be in order.

    3. Thank you A Heron's View for editing your original post to clarify a bit what exactly it was about me that was vexing you.
      I've been seriously contemplating your words, and I honestly don't even know what to say to the idea that Ireland is a museum. I'm certainly sorry you feel that way because of other people, but it is about as far from how I view the country as words could make it.
      As to the Reconstructionist bit, its just how approach being a pagan honoring Irish Gods. I do incorporate the modern living culture, not just the history and myth, but I can't change that I'm not Irish-born or living in Ireland. I was raised in the Irish diaspora in America as the grandchild of an Irishman, and I'm proud of that. You can take an Irishman out of Ireland but you can't take Ireland out of an Irishman, and my grandfather and father taught me to be proud of the culture even if with a degree of seperation. And I don't believe the Gods care where I am when I honor them, nor what I happen to be wearing. I'm sincere in worshipping them and in respecting the Other Crowd, and I'm passionate about the translation work I do. I think that matters more than the geography of my birth or the particular approach to paganism I have.

  2. I discovered your blog recently, while curious if such a thing as a gaelic-heathen existed. I've mostly associated with Norse-heathens and they generally don't like to hear anything about syncretism in their midst. I've only recently decided to take a serious (adaptive) reconstructionist approach to my practice and it is nice to know I'm not alone in the less prolific pagan paths. :) I also consider myself goth, but I was pagan for a long time before claiming a goth identity. I was always drawn to the darker things, and my style as a teen was sort of goth-hippy-gypsy-esque, but I never embraced the goth part until after marriage. I don't always dress the part, I am more of a weekend goth, but this is only because it's easier for me to fit into the professional world walking the line of eccentric rather than going all out :p Sorry for a long ramble in the comments! I just had to say all of that :)

  3. Isn't it funny how that no matter how different someone may dress or what they listen to or even identify with when you are in the company of someone not wearing a mask you can automatically feel that they are "your people" :-)

  4. I do not believe you can be truly in touch with the goddess Morrigan without being in touch with the darker, "Goth" side. I am sure this goddess would never have a whit of concern for what anybody thinks of her attire, her "darker" aspect. Our world has been so "washed white clean" with Christianity conformity, it is refreshing to see people getting back to the individuality of our ancients.