Goth: Exploring the Darkness
Posted on May 27 2019
Since my wife and I started on this journey, covering jewelry design and the people behind it, we could no longer ignore it. Searching fashion and jewelry on Pinterest and Instagram, one inevitably comes across Goth fashion. They are impossible not to notice: sexy, black, and sometimes creepy and dark, seemingly expressing strong emotions. It seems so out there, yet we don't realize it's a part of our lives whether or not intended.
When I was a teenager in 1980s, attending a typical American high school, Goth was still "punk," defined by trench coats and unusual hairstyles. One of my best friends was a "skate punk," blasting the Dead Kennedys, riding a skateboard, and sporting a mohawk. Hence the Goth clique was there, but I never paid attention, accepting them as something that was just there like the cheerleaders and chess team. Today, I walk through a graveyard everyday, to and from work, without giving it much thought. (That friend is a father of three in California, wearing a suit and tie to the office, working in biotech. Yet, he still craves the music. He is known as a corporate Goth)
The Gothic Cage Spinner by Sjür Jewelry The mechanism spins, allowing you to relax while you ponder life.
My wife and I admire the ornateness and attention to detail associated with Goth fashion. Someone put as much or more time into these works as the couture found in Paris or New York. Reviewing our jewelry selection, we could not help but notice that some of our items offer hints of darkness while others are outright sinister. It's all strangely curiously and mesmerizing. Therefore, now, it is time to ask, “what is all this about?”
The Dark Ages to the Renaissance
Although it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint Goth’s origins, most agree that it started in the late 70’s - early ’80s, emerging from the punk scene in the UK. Gloomy lyrics, dissonance, and imagery from the Victorian era and horror films characterize the music and, to some degree, the culture. Bands like Bauhaus, The Cure, The Sisters of Mercy and Love and Rockets are examples of Goth bands (that I listened to in the '80s and '90s).
The term "Goth" goes back to the Roman Empire: a Germanic people, originating from Southern Scandinavia from the second to the sixth centuries AD. They have no ideological or physical connection to Goth in the present day. Divided into two factions: the Visigoths were the western tribes settled in modern-day France and Spain. The Ostrogoths were the tribes to the east that settled north of the Black Sea in modern day Ukraine. Both tribes contributed to the downfall of the Roman Empire, rebelling against oppression and exploitation.
The period after (ca. 500 to 1300 AD) or the "Middle Ages," was one of severe economic decline, tribal wars, and the plague. Italian scholar Francesco Petrarca coined the term "Dark Ages" in the 1330s, describing the intellectual darkness, superstition, and simplicity until the start of the Renaissance. From 1137 to the mid-1500 Gothic architecture, in the form of cathedrals, made its way across Europe. Compared the classical designs of ancient Greece and Rome, these buildings were literally turned "inside out:" exposing their structural elements on the outside. Stained glass filled the voids between the supporting columns, offering an airy environment rising to heaven.
Notre-Dame (Photo: Shutterbug JB Magers) is an example of Gothic architecture. The key characteristics include flying buttresses, pointed arches, vaulted ceilings, gargoyles, and other ornate carvings. Stained glass was also introduced during these times.
Eventually, many Renaissance scholars and architects reverted to classical preferences of Rome and Greece. In 1550, using derogatory terms, Giorgio Vasari, in his book " The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects" referred to the architecture, originating from the Dark Ages, as "Gothic." He felt that they were barbarians who destroyed the "classical" civilization.
Literature & The Victorian Era
In the 19th century, scholars started to use Goth to classify literature associated mystery and horror in the Northern European medieval setting. Notable authors and works include Horace Walpole and The Castle of Otranto (1764 - considered the first book in this genre), Mary Shelley and Frankenstein (1823), Edgar Allen Poe and The Raven (1845), and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). These books were revolutionary for their time, brilliantly written, bringing dark forms to life, evoking strong reactions, suspense, and emotions. The night was no longer solitary with soothing silence. Now the silence was deafening, and every step was wrought with peril. This literature coincided with the Victorian era, which was one associated with mourning and sadness.
Queen Victoria in 1875. Photo from the (UK) Royal Palace.
As a child, Alexandrina Victoria (1819-1901) received a locket from her mother that contained a lock of her late father's hair, offering a physical link to him. Inheriting the throne at 18, she became the Queen of England (1837). She married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840. Prior to their engagement, in love, the young queen asked the prince for a lock of his hair, which he obliged. Encasing it in a heart shaped pendant, she wore it continuously for the rest of her life. As a romantic and deeply attached to her husband, she preferred jewelry of a sentimental and symbolic nature rather than a monetary one. Prince Albert was passionate about fine jewelry. He designed and commissioned many magnificent works for her, which she enthusiastically acknowledged in her journals.
The Present Day
Today's Goth can be complicated, depending on one's perspective. Although find inspiration from the Victorian era, there are no set rules. Goth is extensive and decentralized. It branches into Cybergoth, Steam Punk, Gothic Metal, and Gothabilly. Social Media makes it even more difficult to understand, offering many interpretations.
Moreover, Goth often fuses with other genres, such as anime, vampires and science fiction. People are drawn to the darkness culture for many reasons: coping with tragedy, looking to fit in somewhere, rebellion, and non-conformance. For others it's something much simpler: a friend or group of friends are into it, or they like the music.
Inspired by The Game of Thrones -"Fly a Dragon" Sterling silver pendants from Vera Bublyk's Dragon Wings Collection.
Goth today is not so much about embracing and living in the darkness but rather acknowledging it. Counter-culture or alternative existed throughout history. Today with the internet, it is no longer exists on the fringes, making it easy for the like-minded to find each other. Although still not in the mainstream culture, Goth runs parallel to it. Some are on track 100%, and others jump in on the weekends, dressing up for concerts or special events. Yet, Goth routinely appears on center stage for all to see: Batman's overt dark tones and Gotham's skeletal buildings, exposing steampunk inspired mechanisms. Game of Thrones is another example, capturing Dark Age mysticism and imagery. The fierce dragons, castles, and the Iron Throne, dark and with sharp edges, are overt references.
Norwegian Gothic Jewelry
Living in Scandinavia, it's easier to understand Goth's foundations where darkness is a fact of life. The original Goths (thought to be from southern Sweden) preceded the Vikings. Although the ancient Goths and the ones in present-day Scandinavia are not connected, except in name, they may have experienced the darkness in the same way. The long winters are little changed, affording only a few hours of sunlight per day from late November to early March. The never-ending night and cold alter emotions and the way one perceives life, expressed in art, music, and fashion.
Sjür Jewelry's Gear's Pendants and chain, entirely by handmade in Norway from Sterling Silver. These are my personal favorite since I studied Engineering and enjoy the Steam Punk.
In the Goth world, the jewelry and accessories stand out against a mostly black background. Sometimes fabrics (or hair) can be red or purple. Silver dominates the choice of metal. Others opt for white gold and stainless steel, offering the same effect. Goth design draws influence mainly from the Victorian era, the Middle Ages, and ancient Egypt. Bats, crosses, skulls, bones, cameos, and filigree reoccur. The jewelry offers protection, makes a statement, or mournes the loss of someone close. Crystals are also prevalent, guarding against negative forces. Note that the beforementioned is not all-inclusive. There are many inspirations and purposes within the Goth sphere.
One does not have to draw lines between the universes. Corporate Goths can subtly integrate the darkness into our daytime attire, letting kindred spirits know that darkness is our friend.
Acknowledgments and References
In addition to the references listed below, John Zohar (34) of Skull Flow accepted an interview and offered us insight. Popular amongst the Goth, his online store offers skull-themed clothing, jewelry, home décor & accessories. He offers a 15% discount to our readers (code: GOTH15).