One could says that Goth is an artistic movement centered around music and fashion. That said, the Goth culture is so diverse that it defies definition. Though Goths are often (nearly always, in fact) stereotyped, Goth means different things to different Goths.
One observer of the Goth culture puts it like this:
I would like to make a quick point that Gothic is the same as goth, Gothdom, gothik etc. The only difference is noun or adjective use. Capitalization is often arbitrary. There is no general distinction between these terms. Any distinction made is often particular to a certain person or group who might use a different term to designate one of the different levels of involvement or divisions of gothics. For our purposes, we’ll say these words are all intended to mean the same thing.
Gothic: Of or pertaining to a literary style of fiction prevalent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries which emphasized the grotesque, mysterious, and desolate: a gothic novel. [This is the relevant definition in the dictionary. Think of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the works of Edgar Allen Poe.]
But what does gothic mean in regards to the group of people? Here’s where it gets confusing. There are things that many Goths like that are not gothic (Industrial or Classical music). There are things that are gothic that many Goths dislike (vampires, interest in death). There are things that some people think are gothic that are not gothic (bands like Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails), and there are things that do not call themselves gothic even if they are considered gothic by most people (bands like Sisters of Mercy and Dead Can Dance). However, there’s no Grand Gothic Judge to decree what is truly Goth and what is not, although there are plenty of people who claim to be it. It’s an ambiguous label with many people using it that don’t understand what it means. The people who do understand it often have many different definitions.
– Source: Alicia Porter Smith, What is Gothic?
Following are a couple of quotes from news articles on Goth culture. See also the Religion News Blog archive of Goth-related news articles.
Media Often Gets It Wrong
Note that the media often – but certainly not always – portrays the Goth culture in a sensationalistic and/or negative way. After all, reports on Goth culture tend to appear in the news media in connection with someone’s criminal activity. See, for example, Murder case prompts discussion on teens’ fascination with `gothic’ lifestyle, written by The Mercury News in connection with the murder trial of teenager Scott Dyleski.
Fox News on Oct. 22, 2005, interviewed Goth musician Voltaire – author of the book, “What is Goth?“ regarding the Dyleski case:
It should be clear that one can not form an accurate opinion of the Goth culture based solely on media reports. Hence we refer to our research resources on the subject.
You’ve seen them in the parks or at the mall, wearing black nail polish and lipstick or ripped tights and combat boots. Some have purple hair and strange tattoos. Others hang out at cemeteries or listen to music with lyrics about death.
These are Goth kids, teenagers who dress differently so they may appear mysterious to others or are secretly or openly obsessed with the [tag]occult[/tag], said Gordon A. Crews, associate dean of the School of Justice Studies at Roger Williams University in Bristol.
“Why all the black? What most of them will tell you is, ‘We don’t exist to you anyway.’ The black is a way of being on the other side. It is a way of separating,” he said.
Crews, who has written books and articles about the occult, [tag]satanic[/tag] involvement, gangs and school violence, presented pieces of his research on Goth behavior during a seminar for law enforcement officials Wednesday at the university’s conference center on Anthony Road. About 30 officers from around Rhode Island and as far away as Boston attended the program.
Crews, a former police investigator, became interested in studying the Gothic movement in 1987 after he discovered an unusual mural inside an abandoned house while he was leading a pack of bloodhounds through the woods in the South. The mural depicted Satan grabbing baby Jesus from his mother. The following day, he returned to the house to find it had been burned down.
Since then, he has researched Gothic activity and interviewed people who follow it, including a man who claims to be a 450-year-old vampire and sleeps in a coffin. The Goth movement grew out of the 1970s punk trend and became popular in the late 1990s, at about the time school shootings were becoming more frequent. Some school shooters, like Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who killed 13 people before committing suicide at Columbine High Schoolin Colorado in 1999, have been described as Gothic.
Most Goths are young, white and intelligent, and many teens use the behavior as a protection mechanism, Crews said. They may feel ostracized by other social groups, so they dress and act mysteriously in an effort to be feared by others.
“What they will tell you is they would rather be left alone than be bullied or attacked,” he said. “It is up to the individual to define what Goth is for themselves … The mentality is, ‘I want to be left alone but I want to be seen. I want to see the shock on other peoples’ faces,” he said.
But others take the movement to the extreme. For them, it is a belief system rather than a trend. They are into witchcraft or believe they are vampires. Some practice Satanism, drink blood or mutilate their own bodies, he said.
– Source: ‘Goth’ defined: Seminar sheds light on what is behind mysterious teenage trend, The Newport Daily News, USA,
Oct. 30, 2003
On Thursday nights, David Hart dons a black trench coat, black shirt, pants and boots and heads for a club called The Soil, where heavily pierced patrons emulate Count Dracula and Morticia Addams.
The clothing is clerical garb for Hart, a fiftyish, Christian youth minister from San Diego. He’s one of the few ministers who specialize in reaching out to the music-centered, underground youth subcultures.
In fashion and philosophy, goths style themselves after horror literature. Dabblers content themselves with Anne Rice. Devotees delve into Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker and Edgar Allen Poe.
“These kids romanticize death. They romanticize the blade, the blood that trickles down. They write very, very sad introspective, self-absorbed poetry,” Hart said.
Hart’s Web site, “The Sanctuary,” promotes itself as “a fellowship of Christian misfits — a spiritual alternative for the disenfranchised … We are here for anyone seeking sanctuary and looking for answers in a big, dark universe.”
Hart began his work 15 years ago as a promoter for the Christian metal band Stryper. A former Navy drug counselor who was raised Presbyterian and graduated from the more Baptist-oriented Talbot Theological Seminary, Hart saw teens with profound emotional needs who wouldn’t fit into any church youth group.
Hart started home groups for the goths, who dislike crowds. He urges them to give up drugs, promiscuity, cutting themselves and other self-destructive habits, but he urges their parents not to condemn the whole lifestyle.
Unlike some youth subcultures that believe in God but reject organized religion, goths often reject God but keep religious trappings, Hart said. Most religious goths are self-styled practitioners of Wicca, an ancient Celtic nature religion, he said, while others dabble in spiritualism, a religion that tries to communicate with the dead through seances. Few are Satanists, Hart said.
They can relate to the Jesus whose own friends failed to understand him, Hart said. He tells them that vampirism is a counterfeit of the life given them through the blood of Jesus, that his crucifixion was the piercing to end all piercing.
– Source: Goths: Morose outcasts in dire need of acceptance, Post-Gazette, USA, Apr. 27, 1999
Goth — Research Resources
The divide that has emerged between the goth culture and the Christian faith is not an unbridgeable one. The Christian faith has, historically, included a strongly dualistic element in which the reality of evil and despair is acknowledged. Christianity readily acknowledges a darker side to our existence in a fallen world. This engagement with the nighttime of the soul runs throughout the Bible and the development of Christian thought. The Old Testament contains numerous stories with which modern day goths would resonate with. In King’s the tragic story of King Saul raising from the dead the soul of Samuel, only to learn of his own death, resembles the imagery employed by writers of gothic horror. The Psalms, in particular Psalm 88, in which there is no happy ending, reflect the suffering and sense of loss which the human condition experiences. The Book of Ecclesiastes reflects a sense of despair and futility towards life. In Ecclesiastes life is full of vanity which can only lead to destruction.
In the New Testament the gothic outlook on life pervades the ministry of Christ, culminating, in its most dramatic form with Christ’s words on the cross;” My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken me?’ An engagement with the darkness and despair that attacks human existence is an underlying theme throughout the Gospels. The presentation of this faith by contemporary Christians, however, often places its greater emphasis on the Resurrection of Christ, whilst, largely, glossing over the extent of his suffering. This is perhaps particularly true of the Anglican approach, although even modern day Roman Catholicism has reacted against dwelling upon the Passion of Christ. Certainly, from the viewpoint of a modern day goth suffering in life is glossed over and not taken seriously enough.
The goth church in cyberspace BBC, May 27, 2008
How can a Christian be a Goth? by David Dellman, at GothicChristianity.com
Reaching the Edges by Blayne Greiner with Gail Welborn, Leadership Journal, Summer 2001. Evangelizing the unchurched.
The Revolution The roots and status of the Christian Goth movement.
What is Goth? Collection of quotes showing various perspective on Goth.
The World According to Goth Indepth article by Marcia Montenegro. First written in 2005; adapted and modified from author’s article in The Christian Research Journal, Vol. 29, Issue No. 1, 2006
The Goth Bible by Nancy Kilpatrick
From their historical origins as a Germanic tribe in the sixth century who fought along side the Romans against the Huns to their current incarnation as creatures of the night, The goth Bible presents the most complete and broad perspective of this society, culled from hundreds of interviews with bands, artist, designers, and goths from all walks of life.
Goth Chic: A Connoisseur’s Guide to Dark Culture by Gavin Baddeley.
Goth Chic is the first book properly to explore Gothic culture in the modern world. Gavin Baddeley examines all facets of the culture, unearthing hidden gems from the underground alongside better known manifestations, including horror comics, fetish clubs, Goth rock superstars and cultists.
Goth : Identity, Style and Subculture by Paul Hodkinson
The most scholarly of the books devoted to gothic subculture to date is Paul Hodkinson’s Goth: Identity, Style, and Subculture, and as such, it is the first of a number of academic books slated to be published in the next academic year (St. Martin’s Press and Duke University Press also have gothic books in the works). Unlike most of the work written about goths for broad audiences, Hodkinson’s take on the gothic subculture is careful, clear, and well argued. At the center of his analysis is a key theoretical assumption of subcultural scholarship: subcultures are posed against a consumerist mainstream (e.g., the culture industries) and thus are primarily resistant in nature. To the contrary, through interviews, surveys, and participant observation, Hodkinson beautifully demonstrates on empirical grounds how the gothic scene is premised on a familial logic and “has been thoroughly reliant upon media and commerce in a variety of forms.” It is not so much resistance as much as it is a sense of belonging that motivates people to freely associate with the gothic scene. To be sure, Hodkinson’s status as an “insider” in the UK goth scene poses some limitations; for example, his celebration of the skinny, feminine body-ideal as liberating to some “skinny” goths fails to explore the misogynistic norms that also structure this element of gothic style (48-56). Nevertheless, Hodkinson’s erudite, empirical study of the subculture is detailed and thorough, and serves not only as an excellent resource for popular culture scholars, but also as a model exemplar for students writing dissertations and theses. And regardless of what he has to say about goths, Hodkinson’s excellent literature review of subcultural scholarship in the second chapter is well worth the publisher’s retail price. – Source: Oh My Goth! by Joshua Gunn, Journal of Popular Culture. Volume: 37, Issue: 1. 2003. Page: 136ff.
What is Goth? by Voltaire
What Is Goth? is a humorous, self-deprecating look at Goth culture from the inside out. Imagine The Preppy Handbook colliding with Charles Addams. Then add a lot more melancholy and a lot more spooky. What Is Goth? dispels the false stereotypes and reinforces the true ones surrounding Goths and Goth culture. “To the mundane,” Voltaire writes, “Goths are weird, black-clad freaks who are obsessed with death; they are sad all of the time. Take a closer look at the Goth scene, however, and you will find a rich tapestry of ideas and practices and a menagerie of colorful characters.
Xnethgoth “[A] discussion list that provides a platform for Christian Goths to discuss issues pertaining to Gothic culture.”
News and News Archive
ChristianGoth.com “Serving the Christian Gothic Community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ A friendly site with a good collection of resources, including commentaries, encouragement from the Bible, eCards, and other goodies.
The Goth Eucharist
The service is candlelit with a specially written liturgy and uses a variety of modern rock and as well as classical music. The structure of the service revolves around the baptismal candle and reflects a serious engagement with the depressing and darker sides of our lives before moving towards a position of hope and happiness found in the empathy of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Goths for Jesus “A light shining in the darkness”
Goths for Jesus is an alliance of Christians involved in the underground alternative music subcultures, like Goth, Punk, New-Wave, Indie, Industrial, etc.
We exist for two primary reasons: To spread the love and the message of Christ to others in this culture, and to provide a gathering place for like-minded Christians to edify, encourage, and fellowship with one another.
To join together in showing the love of Christ to a lost and rejected generation, eliminate stereotypes and view all as valued individuals, as well as provide a place of refuge and hope for those who refuse to conform to the mainstream.
A Study of Gothic Subculture: An inside look for outsiders A well-presented wealth of information, including faqs, news- and other articles, definitions, and a message board.