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.
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 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.
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.
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:
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