Monday, October 31, 2005


Modern "Goth" culture echoes, in some ways, the fascination in past centuries with the imagery of death, although the meaning is now rather different.

In the Middle Ages, skulls and skeletons were gruesome and frightening, but they were also seen as symbols of the intent to live a good and holy life and attain heaven in the limited time available (or perhaps through Purgatory later).

But in modern times, skulls and skeletons lack these positive associations, and are seen solely as symbols of fear, despair, suffering and evil.

Some modern "Goths" do embrace not only the black clothing and pale makeup, but a "Goth" attitude. For them, the skull-and-blood imagery, and the mockery of religious symbols such as crucifixes and rosaries, expresses their genuine feeling of alienation, sadness and hopelessness.

More often, though -- and this is why I'm writing this on Hallowe'en -- the "Goths" and "pirates" I encounter are tongue-in-cheek. They enjoy wearing the clothes as an outrageous fashion statement, and get a kick out of pretending to be evil and out of making fun of those who take life too seriously. They are not out to actually hurt anyone, and in fact, many of the ones I've met are extraordinarily kind and helpful people behind the silly or outré masks.

Unfortunately this playful sort of "Goth" is sometimes mistaken for someone genuinely interested in evil. As Joe Sinasac comments at Catholic Online, it's easy to focus on "Gothic beasties and so-called black magic", when real evil is much more mundane. "As Hannah Arendt observed," he adds, "evil is often banal, not exciting... Such fears are echoes of past alarms over the Halloween custom of dressing up the kids as goblins and witches. They make just as little sense. Real evil can be much more difficult to detect – and is far more widespread. Also much more difficult to eradicate; a simple exorcism just won’t do."

So the imagery doesn't scare me. I'm more amused than horrified by the "goth" rosaries I've encountered. (Though I can understand how others might see hostility where I see humor, and if so, they're certainly entitled to that opinion.)

Just as with real rosaries, there are tacky and flimsy goth rosaries and there are nicely-constructed ones. Also, just as with real rosaries, there are examples that stick fairly closely to the "canonical" construction of modern rosaries, and there are also variations that don't. I expect most of those (like the one below) are due to an artistic impulse to interpret the design loosely, though I suspect there are a few out there whose makers are simply unclear on the concept. :)

The site that keeps coming up in a Google search for "goth" and "rosary" (and source of the above images) is, unsurprisingly, Goth Rosary, which does have some interesting merchandise, including not only rosaries named after blood types (Type A, Type O, Type AB negative) but "coffin" purses and fragrances with names like "Graveyard" ("The smell of rich loamy soil, fresh green grass with a note of floral..") and "Mayhem" ("The smell of smoke mixed with woods & spice...."). I think my favorite is the bone-colored skull comb.

(By the way, my research also turned up an interesting online article on the history and anthropology of modern "goth" culture (originally someone's term paper) that I found well worth reading.)

Posts in this series:

Death's head devotions
Skully bits
Skulls: the inside story
Skulls: the inside story, part 2
Skulls: the inside story, part 3
Voldemort, part 2
A skull of one's own
More living color