Monday, 14 March 2011

Symbolism in Goth culture

Goth clothing and jewellery is often layered with mysterious occult signs and symbols. Pendants featuring the designs below and many more are widely available from as little as £2 from gift shops and market stalls the world over, making this an easy aspect of Goth fashion to imitate. However, I personally would not recommend piling on a bunch of occult or 'scary' symbols without having some knowledge of what they might mean to others.

Source: Tumblr
The ankh, also called the Ansata cross, is an Egyptian symbol, which was considered to be the 'Key of Life'. It was sometimes inscribed upon tombs as it was believed to awaken the souls of the dead to a new life. The cross and circle are masculine and feminine symbols respectively, and combining them within one symbol represents fertility and creativity.

The 'loop' at the top of the ankh also symbolises the sun on the horizon, suggesting reincarnation and rebirth. This meaning of the ankh is the most widely used in the various 'dark' subcultures, as rebirth suggests immortality or eternal life (making the ankh a popular symbol in the vampyre subculture).

Skull/skull and crossbones
The skull is most commonly used to represent death and as a reminder of mortality, but in some ancient cultures the skull represented life and the embodiment of consciousness. In Elizebethan England, the Death's Head Skull (a skull missing the lower jawbone) was used as the emblem of bawds, rakes, prostitutes and sexual adventurers - many of these characters would even wear a death's-head ring to advertise their propensities. The ring could be rotated to hide the skull in polite company and to show it when facing a potential conquest.

The skull and crossbones is most often used in the form of the Jolly Roger, to represent the recklessness and danger of pirates. It may also be used to symbolise poison.

The crucifix (a cross with a representation of Jesus's body) is a principal symbol for many groups of Christians. It emphasises sacrifice to bring about redemption. It is often considered to be a tool for opposing demons, as well as warding off vampires and other evils. It is often worn ironically in Goth subculture.

According to the Bible, Jesus died in suffering on the cross to redeem the sins of humanity. The cross as a symbol is a representation of the instrument of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It reminds Christians of God's act of love in Christ's sacrifice, and of Christ's victory over death. As such, it is often used to represent resurrection, eternal life or immortality, since through death and resurrection Christ conquered death itself. Like the crucifix, it is believed to repel vampires and other demons, and may be worn ironically by Goths.

Iron Cross or Germanic Cross
The Iron or Germanic Cross was a military decoration of the kingdom of Prussia and later the symbol of the German army. It is a black four-pointed cross with white trim, the arms widening towards the ends. In modern times it has become a popular symbol amongst bikers, hot rodders, metalheads and skinheads (and Goths), using German militaria to promote a tough image or as a symbol of rebellion.

Upside-down cross or ankh
When a symbol is worn upside-down, the meaning of the symbol is reversed. An upside-down cross does not always mean that the wearer is a Satanist. The cross symbolises resurrection and eternal life; if the symbol is reversed it represents eternal death. The ankh also symbolises immortality or neverending life, and so worn upside-down would also stand for eternal death.

Red rose
Red roses symbolise romantic love and passion, and have the added Gothy bonus of being the colour of blood. Clothing or jewellery with this design is more likely to be worn by Goth girls than guys.

This is a personal one for me, as I have a bat tattooed on my arm! In Western culture, the bat symbolises death, destruction and despair - but in China, the bat is a symbol of good luck, good fortune and happiness. The bat is also a symbol of rebirth. Like the skull and spider, it is a common motif in Goth fashion but may provoke a negative reaction amongst members of the mainstream who believe it is a fearful thing.

Bats have strong family ties and are known for being nurturing and communicative. The bat is also associated with medicine. In folklore, bats have been described as familiars for witches, and are of course associated with vampires.

The serpent or snake represents knowledge and immortality. If crawling through the eyes of a skull, it means secrets, and knowledge that persists beyond death. The serpent may represent vengeance, spite, or deceit; as the snake that tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. The forked tongue of the serpent is a reminder that there is one truth but many lies.

Serpents are often depicted as the guardians of temples and other sacred spaces. When threatened, a snake will hold its ground, using first a menacing display, and then fighting rather than retreating. The snake is also considered close to the divine, representing wisdom or even immortality (clearly a common theme). It may also represent poison - or conversely, medicine and the art of healing.

The pentagram is a five-pointed star, used in Pagan traditions to symbolise earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. The pentacle is a pentagram with a circle around it, the circle representing wholeness. This symbol can represent spirituality and the elements, as above, or can be a symbol of protection.

It can be worn upside-down; however if the top point of the star, representing spirit, is pointing downwards, this is usually seen as a symbol of Satanism. Some Goths are Satanist; some may simply wear a pentacle reversed for shock effect or aesthetic value. Although appearances may be deceptive - in some Pagan religions the reversed pentacle is used as a symbolism of growth.

The spider or spider's web is a common motif in Goth clothing and jewellery, possibly often used as arachnophobia is a common fear, leading to the spider becoming a hated and feared creature. However, the spider as a symbol has many other meanings, including creativity, 'dark powers', dreams, patience and fate.

In various mythologies, the spider is a rain-bringer or story-teller. The spider's web is woven just as we 'weave' our own lives, serving as a reminder that we must be mindful of our choices. In Native American lore the spider is a teacher and guardian of wisdom. In India, the spider is a reminder that things are not always as they seem (a fitting representation of Goth culture, perhaps?).

Eye of Ra
The Eye of Ra or Eye of Horus symbol was often used as a funerary amulet, and is used to ward off evil. Horus was the Ancient Egyptian sky god, usually depicted in the form of a falcon. The eye symbol represents the marking around a Peregrin Falcon's eye. Horus's right eye was associated with the sun god Ra (when Horus was blinded in this eye by the god Set, Ra restored his vision), hence this symbol often being known as the Eye of Ra. The mirror image, or left eye, sometimes represented the moon and the god Thoth.

Grim Reaper
The Grim Reaper is the personification of Death, in the form of a skeletal figure, usually wearing a hooded robe and holding a scythe (used to 'reap' the souls of the dead) or hourglass. Obviously, this symbol represents death.

Celtic knotwork
The Celtic knot is also referred to as the 'mystic' or 'endless' knot. It has no beginning or end, and so serves as a reminder of the endless nature of our spirit. The knot can represent the infinite cycles of birth and rebirth, an uninterrupted life cycle, and can be used as a charm or amulet against sickness or misfortune.

Oh, and on a completely random and unrelated note, this is what I wore for my date on Saturday:
The awkward pose is a result of me trying to show off my slave bracelet and hair falls at the same time! The bracelet was made by my friend Carol. ^^ I did five and a half hours in those stilettos, which I was quite proud of...

Goth gossip: Girls Aloud (blech!) singer Sarah Harding has not only debuted this rather cheesy 'Goff' look for a Carphone Warehouse-funded ad, but has recently been spotted out and about in an outfit described as 'Gothic glam', and is planning a Gothic-themed wedding to her DJ fiance Tom Crane. Maybe I'm being a little harsh, but... altogether now, "POSEUR!"

Listening to: House of Fire - Alice Cooper


Anonymous said...

You forgot my favorite symbol--the Celtic cross, grin! And I like your outfit in that picure. The slave bracelet is very cool! As for the "gothic glam" singer--what's so "gothic" about her? Just because she's wearing dark lipstick, black nail polish and a black dress and shoes? Please! Throw in a few too many spooky symbols, and maybe it would classify as cheesy goth--but I think the writer of that article needs to study fashion history. Goths aren't the only people who don a lot of black and wear dark make-up--maybe they should visit some photo galleries of 1950s starrlets? Or Theda Beara (oops, did I spell that wrong?)? Not to mention goth photo galleries. Or am I missing something once again?

The Green Fairy said...

Oh my gawth I don't wear any of those motifs! I'm not a real goth! :P

ultimategothguide said...

@ The Green Fairy - I said they were commonly seen, not 'you must wear them to be Goth'... :-/

The Green Fairy said...

I was obviously joking :P

ultimategothguide said...

Sorry. I was obviously PMS-ing. XP Also I had to delete and re-write this comment because I can't spell.

And really? Not a single bat or skull lurking ANYwhere in your wardrobe?

The Green Fairy said...

It's all good. Ahh.

Well, I think I still have this weirdo plastic bat ring thingo that I got in an under the blue moon show bag one time but i never wear it and I dunno where it is :P

Skull...I used to have a pair of jeans with a massive skull patch on them back from my metal head days but i gave them to a friend to customised and never got them back :p

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm a big fan of your blog and I thought I'd bring up something interesting- an inverted cross can also symbolize St. Peter, who was crucified upside down.
Here's the wiki page about it, if you're interested.

Emily Lynn G. said...

Very cool, but I've always found it a pet peeve when people wear symbols of (at least modern) religions they don't believe in or if the object has meanings they don't understand. So people should be sensible and do their homework. Not that i don't find symbols of past religions or the occult very fascinating, I do :)
For example, rosaries are very nice and I own a few but aren't intended as necklaces, so whenever I see that misunderstood I grind my teeth.
I have a few crosses (being Christian and all) but also a few other symbols I've found on the floor and things (yes, I'm a scavenger and a pack rat) like a symbol with one triangle in another. It looks like a star of David from one angle, its 3-D, and no its not a Satanic star.
Another one looks like a weird Egyptian symbol, an eye shape with a short rod going down one end and another longer rod one going down beside it.
And I've also been partial to things like the Zodiac, I have a Chinese pendent with the character for 'Pig' and I'd love a Scorpion pendent for Scorpio.
A very educational post, I should look into my more unique pieces and try to find their meanings :)

Emily Lynn G. said...

And on that Goth Gosspi, ohmygoth, poser XD lol oh well

siouxsielaw said...

Ahh. The bat. I almost got a bat tattoo. Still might. My bat yoga bag has caused me many problems at yoga. I had no idea yogis would react so negatively to images of bats. I guess I need to take up tai chi.

Unlacing the Victorians said...

What an informative post! I've always wondered what the hang-ups were on certain symbols, especially the cross, the ankh, and the Celtic knots (although I guessed the cross was usually used ironically...)

Maeam said...

*Sigh* I'm a HUGE fan of sumbols, as I even create my own and I hope to have many in my closet/collection one day. One of my most favorites is the cross, even though I'm not Christian. I used to wonder if I should wear symbols that aren't part of a religion I follow, but...really, I don't see anything wrong with it. The cross, to me, doesn't automatically mean you are a Christian. And in my case, I would only be wearing it because I love the symbol itself, not what it represents, and that is usually if not always how I take symbols. I even love the swastika symbol. It doesn't automatically make me a nazi, not to mention in different cultures it means different things.
So...I'll wear what I love! I'll just be ready to confront and defend my opinions. *Nods* I'll even show proof (good ol' Wikipedia!) if I have to.

Black Rose said...

I'm reading back posts because I love your blog.
One thought on the subject of the symbolism of the bat-
For the Sufis in medieval Spain the bat is the symbol of hidden wisdom. And the bat forms part of the coat of arms of Valencia, of Borgia fame.

Anonymous said...

The upside-down cross is not really a satanic symbol, it is what most people associate it with when they see one. However that is rarely the case, for example, the one man who is so satanic he has a chair with an upside-down cross on it is... the pope.

ultimategothguide said...

@ Anon - yeah, I read that online somewhere after I wrote this post. *facepalm*

Glad I never bought an upside-down cross in my oh-so-spooky babybat days, because right now I'd be embarrassed.

LovleAnjel said...

Thanks for the post! I love hearing about the different meanings of the symbols.

I also am in awe that you did five hours in those heels. Ouch.

Anonymous said...

you mean its okay to love bats and skulls?!?!? lol
and i just wanted to add that an upside-down cross is also the cross of saint peter who chose to be crucified upside-down to show humility. so that just another meaing for it, just saying...

-Miss Grave

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