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Monday, 21 July 2014

The Occult Trend: Non-Religious Symbols for the Secular

EDIT: I wrote this article running late for a deadline, and the end result I was unhappy with as it failed to convey the points I was trying to discuss properly; I've since overhauled it completely, though I've left the two first comments below (made below I updated the article) for posterity.

I find the current trend in alternative cultures for occult symbolism interesting; though it originates from loftier concepts of alchemy and witchcraft, it has brought fashion brands and symbols such as the St. Peter's Cross and the Sigil of Baphomet which were once derided as too 'mall goth' and intentionally provocative to wear back into popularity. From Blood Milk's dark romanticism to Killstar's pop culture blend, companies are joining in on this enthusiasm and drawing on paganism, ancient Egypt, western esotericism and witchcraft in their inspirations.

This most recent trend is just the newest in a long history of Goth borrowing from religious and spiritual movements; ankhs and crosses have become something of a cliché within the subculture. As far as I've seen the general consensus seems to be that practitioners are happy with this when done respectfully, but I know several bloggers who have stated that they don't personally feel comfortable doing so when they don't believe in the spiritual beliefs the symbol represents - indeed, many of my non-goth friends feel similar, either because they follow a religion of their own or just don't want to. There's a lot valid reasons for not wanting to adopt symbols representative of beliefs; I wear a lot of religious iconography quite happily (primarily the cross, the ankh and pentagrams, amongst others), but inaccurate usage of symbols (such as all the clothing with pentagrams and 'hail satan' slapped next to them) peeves me, as the designer has clearly not done their research, and considering this is another lens through which we view these cultures I think it's important to get them right.

So for those who have made the decision to avoid religious and spiritual iconography but still like aspects of the occult trend, I've compiled a list of alternative suggestions below -

Source one, two, three, four and five (which I've lost).


The Mutant Stomp Friends called it when she marked moons as the symbol of 2014; they've become very popular for their simple form and cyclic nature. Wiccan belief invests a lot of meaning into this aspect of the moon, as have cultures and religions worldwide; from the Greek Artemis to the Mayan Moon Goddess, the moon can be seen from everywhere, and is open to everyone.


Initially conceived as a playing card deck, Tarot has become the most well known of western divination systems (I've been slowly learning over the past half year); the Rider-Waite deck is the best known of the adaptations, with cards representing dualistic concepts through the rich imagery. Noctex used the Death card in their Tarot Leggings, and I like the idea of a tarot card back patch by Black Craft Clothing (now sold out), which would make a good DIY for the card you feel a connection most with.

Oddities and taxidermy

Though I know some folks aren't comfortable with the use of animal bodies for display or decoration (and plenty find it outright creepy) I'm a big supporter of the revival in taxidermy and oddities; in the same vein as wearing fur, if it's vintage or sourced ethically I'm happy to enjoy it. There's plenty of bone and preserved jewellery out there, but if you're a bit squeamish there's also lots of taxidermy jewellery mould pieces such as this on etsy.


Current DIY plans; planchette earrings out of guitar picks. Originally a mundane parlour game, Ouija boards became part of the spiritualist mania that swept the 19th and early 20th centuries in the face of scientific advancements, and the movements made across the boards were supposedly the result of ghosts; they were later debunked as the result ideomotor movements along with the exposure of many of the noted spiritualist figures - which is a shame, as Ouija boards are fascinating things.


Finally, if you really want to adopt the trappings of the esoteric without any ties, H.P. Lovecraft's Old Ones may be a solution. Though an awful lot of Lovecraftian merchandise is deliberately cute or humorous to contrast with the subject matter, the unimaginable horror of Cthulhu's awakening and the extensive mythos the author built around his creations is probably as goth as it gets. And, as I constantly remind myself when I read the short stories too late at night, mercifully not real (I hope).

Other suggestions I have are eyes, alchemic symbols and Ancient Egyptian inspiration (just get your hieroglyphs right!), but properly consider what you're comfortable with using before wearing it; no one should wear anything they don't feel is right for them no matter how widespread its use is. In reality, there's plenty of motifs you could incorporate in if you feel that you want to include symbols in your style. Of course, there's also nothing wrong with the simplicity of unadulterated black.

What's your opinions on the occult trend? What motifs, symbols and iconography do you use (or avoid)? Please feel free to voice your opinions if you feel that any information within this post is inaccurate, but also please respect that my decisions and those of others are their own, and treat them respectfully even when disagreeing.



  1. I enjoy spiritual motifs, although being someone who has quite a wide and open spiritual belief I do believe in the power of symbols. Most of the things I wear such as ankhs have spiritual or personal meaning to me, but I would not judge anyone for wearing it just because it was not of their belief system, as long as they were not doing it to mock or insult. I think everyone imbues a symbol they wear with their own personal meanings, and what it symbolises in their onw life.

    1. I do indeed believe in investing your own symbolism in iconography, and this is one of the reasons I'm comfortable with wearing a lot of religious symbols; people have different feelings about this, however, and it was with this in mind I created the article (which, I've decided, needs a lot of cleaning up as it doesn't convey some of the points I wanted to make as well as I'd hoped).

  2. Well, it's my understanding that the creation of the ouija board was primarily for profit-- reacting on the trend of spiritualism during that time. Sounds familiar, right? Heheh.
    Heck even the all seeing eye is smack dab on the currency on the U.S.

    I feel like it's an act of futility to be aggravated by something like this; it strikes me as more of a pride issue than an act against spiritualism. Ultimately, the strength of my belief is not affected by someone's enjoyment of certain motifs. As long as I can believe in peace, I will do the same for whomever.

    1. The Ouija board was initially created as a 'harmless' parlour game, but was later used as a means of contacting spirits (similar to tarot); the spiritualist phenomenon itself was itself used as a means of achieving fame and fortune for supposed mediums. In reality all spiritual and religious movements can be considered as such if you employ a cynical frame of mind!

      I don't necessarily object to any belief or symbol being used by a trend, but I do think that there is problems in inaccuracies (which is something I find irritating rather than 'an act against spiritualism') as the designer has clearly not done their research properly and hinders my appreciation - furthermore, consumerism and fashion is another lens through which we view the world, and thus I think it's important to get it right. I created this article because I've seen some bloggers stating that they're personally uncomfortable with using iconography from systems they don't believe in, which, though you and other may not find it offensive or hinders your beliefs, they have invested thought into - which is a personal decision to be respected in itself.

  3. great thoughtful post! and thanks for the mention! I see today's cult trend as ironically referencing the original "satanic panic" of the 90s. This is more obvious with the satanic kitties and giant overblown 666/satan/pentagram/eeevil stuff. In the 90s, the occult trend was piggybacking on the New Age trend, which, judging from all the new age bookshops that have closed in the last 20 years, is dead. The original occult trend was genuine, today's trend is not. nothing's genuine's all hipster irony. Says me, anyhow. I personally love irony and love the trend.

    1. Yeah, I agree completely; I don't particularly like seeing al the 'satanic' imagery that is stuck on everything, as it just seems childish and trying too hard - but then again, I didn't grow up when Satanism was an actual reaction against Christianity, nor when the Satanic Panic was very real. I get a little annoyed with the hipster irony trend sometimes, but that's a personal taste and I can appreciate it too.

    2. Also - thank you, and you're very welcome!

  4. I don't like the way the current trends are associating Neo-Pagan and Wiccan symbols such as the pentagram with anti-Christian Satanism, and I do wonder how the LaVeyan Satanists and others feel about this trend, too. As someone that is very much into Neo-Paganism, Wicca and the Occult, and who has been practicing for the past 12 to 13 years, I don't like seeing my religious symbols distorted into childish "ooooo, look how daring I am wearing this occult/Satanic stuff!", as I think that it's a form of desecration. I get especially grumpy when stuff that is NOT actually to do with any kind of anti-Christian evil is depicted as such.

    When I was new to my faith, and did not know to keep my mouth shut about it, and when I was at boarding school and therefore had no place that was really my own to keep my books, etc. I got horrible harassment and some pretty awful reactions from various people, institutions etc. and I still tend to keep it as something I don't mention because the reactions I usually get are either people thinking I'm crazy or evil. There's sadly still people who believe that Neo-Pagans are anti-Christians that abuse children in rituals, (which is rubbish,obviously) and that's not a good stereotype to exist when you're a Neo-Pagan that works with children. There's also the assumption amongst the more judgemental atheist types that anyone involved with the Occult is easily fooled at best and seriously mentally ill at worst, which is pretty insulting, too. The way that the "ironic" wear of these symbols works plays on the idea that they're not really threatening because they're symbols of stuff that is bunk, and I don't like that. To me, it's making a mockery of my religion and turning it into a cheap commercial trend, and that feels really awful.

    1. The association of pentagrams with Satanism is kind of irritating (being pretty inaccurate), but it's not really a wiccan or pagan specific symbol, hence the pentagram itself isn't something I really have a problem with. LaVeyan Satanism was very much a reaction to the presence and hypocrisy of the church in everyday life in the 21st century, but as 1666 X 30 points out, the original occult trend was a reaction to the satanic panic; this trend is ironic in nature, so I'm not sure how LaVey would view it.

      I think that's why I'm a little uncomfortable about this side of the trend (because I have noticed that there's a divide between brands like Poison Apple Prints and brands like Killstar); I don't feel comfortable with how it reduces belief systems to an ironic statement. I also don't like the use of religious symbols to promote a capitalist trend (though, cynically, all religions could be considered as part of capitalism).

    2. While the pentagram and pentacle are not Pagan /specific/, from the Wiccan/Neo-Pagan perspective they are symbolic of our religion (not all denominations, but primarily those of Wiccan 'descent') and are widely seen as pertaining to actual Occult/Witchcraft/Wicca groups. I don't have a problem where the pentacle and pentagram are used in other contexts (e.g as symbolic of the 5 wounds of Christ) that are part of other religions/groups etc; what I have a problem with is the use of the pentagram and pentacle as symbol meaning "evil/Satanic Occult stuff", either ironically or in a shock value way, and to see it treated as part of yet another commercialised appropriative trend. I wrote at length about this in an article a couple of years ago here:

      In Neo-Paganism, which has always had its undercurrents of "we are a disorganised religion; we are not like the huge corrupt institutions of the major faiths", there's been a trend towards increasing commercialisation and New Age things and awful tat marketed towards our demographics. It's interesting to see the shift from it being a very private, sometimes secretive religion to one that's got plenty of commercial interest and everything from nonsense pedalled to the gullible to really beautiful ritual objects are now available for sale.

    3. No, it's fair enough that wiccans view pentagrams as symbolic of their religion - I just mean that they're not the only group who's laid claim to it (everyone and their dog has). The use of pentagrams in the context of 'ooh evil 666 satan etc' does annoy me too; I think they can be used within fashion where their meaning is preserved, but it's just irritating to see it used without any recognition of what it does stand for.

      Not being part of a neo-paganism, I always assumed the new age stuff (which I struggle to take seriously) came from within the subculture. As ever, everyone is a demographic to business.

    4. I'm Neo-Pagan, and I find a lot of New Age stuff hard to take seriously, especially as much of it comes with wild claims and is based on an eclectic and rather incongruous mix of pre-existing faiths (often with a rather appropriative and erroneous approach to the parent culture, especially when it comes to Native North American things and various religions of the Asian continent) and stuff that is straight from Victorian and post-Victorian fantasy literature. There's a term in the Wiccan and Neo-Pagan community that is "fluffy bunny" that... is hard to explain in just the space of this comment section, but it has a lot to do with that sort of stuff and the people who buy into it, quite literally.

    5. The very appropriative nature of some new age stuff really puts me off new-age stuff, but it's good to hear that other neo-pagans find it irritating too.


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