Practical magic 

Local witch pens the definitive Goth and Pagan primer

At this particular moment, Colin Smith, aka Raven Digitalis, doesn’t really look the part of a stereotypical Neo-pagan priest. In fact, Smith is currently running errands—returning some “Sopranos” DVDs, picking up a gift at the liquor store—and appears strikingly normal. Or, more accurately, frazzled on the eve of his first-ever book tour.

“Getting ready for this tour has been crazy,” he says, driving a beige sedan through downtown Missoula, wearing black slacks, a black T-shirt and, for him, subtle blue eye makeup. “And the worst part is that I’ll be traveling during the time when Mercury is in retrograde, a time when travel is usually disrupted…The only thing I can do is offer a lot of prayers to Thoth, the god of mystery and magic, and try to use those powers to my advantage.”

The way things have been going for Smith lately, he must be harnessing a lot of strong powers. The familiar local follower of Neo-pagan witchcraft (see “Brewing over Hollywood,” June 30, 2005) has recently released his first book, Goth Craft: The Magickal Side of Dark Culture, published by Minnesota-based Llewellyn Publications. The book purports to be the first to definitively compare Goth and witchcraft, exploring exactly how the two compliment one another. It’s hitting stores nationwide just in time for Halloween, and to promote it Smith’s spending two weeks this month plane-hopping to Chicago’s Gothic Fest, which attracts approximately 2,000 attendees, then to Minneapolis, San Diego, Hollywood and Baltimore before flying back for events in Missoula.  

“Many people are drawn to either lifestyle, but aren’t sure where to go from there or what exactly it all means,” says Smith. “I’m hoping this book can bridge the two together, expand people’s perceptions of both lifestyles and, ideally, enrich their own personal experience.”

Smith’s first draft of Goth Craft was more than 150,000 words, prompting Llewellyn to trim it to 95,000 and guarantee him a second release next year, tentatively titled Shadow Magick Compendium. But looking through Goth Craft, it’s hard to see what Smith could’ve possibly left out. The handsomely packaged 300-page book tackles both lifestyles in the same accessible and thorough approach Smith employs in interviews—“You know it’s okay to ask about anything,” he says at the start. “I’m used to it”—and serves as a veritable encyclopedia for the uninitiated or uninformed. Chapters cover everything from historical origins of rituals or terminology to vast contemporary applications of Goth and Pagan ideals. Consider this sampling of factoids:

•There are at least 26 variations to Gothic style, including Deathrockers and MetalGoths, FaerieGoths and Fetishists, GlamGoths and Gothabillys, Gravers and Gutter Goths, Rivetheads and Vampyres, and NotGoths and WhiteGoths. All 26 receive their own detailed scouting report in the book.

•Various body piercings and decorations in Gothic culture contain important symbolic meanings. For instance, applying an “eye-bar” with makeup covering both eyes and the bridge of the nose can “strengthen the astral third eye,” leading to increased perception and psychic prowess.

•Some common elements of witchcraft are still used in magic today, including the conical hat (representative of the witches cone of power), cauldron (representative of the Great Goddesses’ womb) and broom (used to sweep unwanted or stagnant energy from circles).

This last tidbit exemplifies Goth Craft’s amenable tone. Smith isn’t afraid to confront mainstream misperceptions, identify how they evolved and then “dispel and move onward with the facts.” That said, his book’s not intended to convince everyone of Goth and Paganism’s virtues, but offer tools to those curious in learning more about the lifestyles.

“Many people think that Goth culture is just a fashion, but the fashion is, in actuality, just an extension of the psyche,” he says. “Many people think that witchcraft is just all about spells and getting what you want, but spellcraft is just a very small part of magic. Individualized spirituality is always the most important element of any magical path.”

Beyond dispelling misperceptions, Smith is most proud of how Goth Craft bridges the emotional gap between Goths and Pagans.

“I think dark culture addresses darker emotions like sorrow, and witchcraft addresses emotions through magic and self-reflection for purposes of progression and self-evolution. Both lifestyles are healing and quite similar in that sense, even though most witches are not Goth and most Goths are not witches…There are ways to utilize magic and spirituality in conjunction with emotional states, particularly sorrow, and I get to cover that pretty extensively in a way that I think helps both sides.”

At the end of his interview, Smith stands in a room full of empty suitcases and scattered clothes. He’s anxious to meet with fans on his tour—the publisher already reports 10,000 orders of Goth Craft—and he welcomes the ongoing opportunity to set the record straight on the true nature of Goth and Paganism. 

“Simply lumping these two things together and calling them evil is a perfect comfort for some people,” Smith says, “That way you don’t need to actually research something accurately or open your mind.”

Smith’s made sure that those who do open their minds have a reliable resource to turn to.

Raven Digitalis appears at Barnes & Noble Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 6 to 9 PM to read from and sign copies of Goth Craft. He’ll also appear Tuesday, Nov. 13, at 5 PM at Shakespeare & Co.  
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