Witch-Faerie Academia

“Dark Academia” has pretty much taken over our social media feeds. And in some ways, we’re totally here for it.

Academia with a bit of the gothic swirled in? Nights locked in libraries while thunderstorms rage? Falling head over heels for a book? Velvet and old paper and maybe a ghost or two?

In internet terms: “it me.” Or, “it us,” if we’re being precise.

We should love this, right?

And mostly, we really do. But the thing is, there’s also quite a bit about it that we don’t love.

For one thing, we rebel hard at the word “dark” here – it’s unspecific, hard to define, and has historically been used as a way to downgrade whole groups of people. We long for the day we find a really good substitute. (For the long version of why this usage of this word kind of sucks, scroll down to the bottom of this post for a footnote lifted out of Brittany’s dissertation on Gothic fairy tales.1)

For another thing, a lot of the stuff that comes up alongside the academia part is presented as painfully rich and exclusively white. Which, frankly, is often what academia is like, but it’s not the version of academia that we want to re-create at Carterhaugh. We love the romanticization of studying literature… but we hate the idea that the only Romantic way to get there is through getting (or mimicking the trappings of) a fancy degree. It’s all so Eurocentric, so erasing.

And honestly, it lacks imagination.

Also, if we see one more room full of Greek statues or a haughty white boy in creased shorts and a sweater glaring we’re going to scream. Academia is so much more than smug bros sitting around quoting Titus Andronicus because they think it makes them sound sophisticated and mysterious. (Even if Shakespeare is indeed deeply awesome.)

(Real talk: Sara, who is never on Instagram, asked Brittany if pictures featuring “haughty white boys in creased shorts and sweaters glaring” are actually being tagged with “Dark Academia,” because she didn’t really believe that people were doing that. At which point, Brittany inundated her with copious proof, so now we’re both screaming.)

The ever-awesome Lindsey, however, recently made a WONDERFUL discovery. Apparently there are all these OFF SHOOTS of “dark academia”… and those include WITCHY academia and FAIRY academia.

Just read this:
Witchy Academia is an aesthetic that revolves around folklore, the pursuit of reading, writing, and casting spells, and a general passion for potion making and spell casting […] Said Academia’s research specifies in witchcraft.”

*Victory cackle* Much MUCH better! We get rid of the word “dark” and still get the gothic feel, we expand what academia can be to focus on actual research… the fun kind. Yes!!

This, of course, prompted us to go one step further and muse about what witch-faerie academia would look like. Because that’s US, right? If you’ve been around here long enough you’re well aware that we embrace both sides of the coin, witches and fairies, BUT ALSO that we’re far more gothic than twee – we like our fairies with a bit of bite. So witchy, fairy, AND academics? Yeah, we’re 100% there for that. Here’s how we see it –

Music:

To celebrate the discovery, we made a playlist. Because obviously.

And then we made a 100% instrumental playlist (for those long research nights, of course!)

And here are five things per category that we think rep the brand pretty well –

Books:

  • Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
  • The Night and Nothing Series by Katherine Harbour
  • Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
  • A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (okay, not EXACTLY witches or fairies, but close enough!)

Films/TV:

  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • Carnival Row
  • Penny Dreadful
  • Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast
  • Mary Shelley

BONUS: Little Witch Academia!!

Style:

  • Black black black
  • Long skirts
  • Velvet blazers
  • Long necklaces
  • Big earrings

Objects:

  • Antique books
  • Cat Imagery
  • Teacups
  • Broken mirrors
  • Pressed flowers

Symbols:

  • Keys
  • The Moon
  • Sigils
  • Roses
  • Rings

So what do you think? Are you on board with our witch-faerie academia aesthetic, or do you have one of your own? Tell us all about it in the comments!

1 FOOTNOTE OF DARKNESS: “I have significant problems with the use of the word “dark” to describe what I view as the inherent Gothic aesthetic in fairy tales and fairy legends. As Angela Bourke points out, “'[d]ark’ was of course a favorite adjective of colonial discourse, simultaneously suggesting ignorance, superstition, crime, and the skin color of African and Asian peoples, as well as the growing contrast between town and country as streets were lighted first by gaslight and then by electricity” (Bourke, “Reading” 560). I have avoided this word throughout this dissertation, but use it here, in quotation marks, because it seems to be the word of choice in contemporary discussion of modern fairy tale and/or fairy legend adaptations that lean heavily on Gothic aesthetics. This is, of course, yet another reason why more scholarship must be done regarding what precisely these adaptations are tapping into.” Or, in non-academic speak: we’re not trying to suggest that we should all purge the word “dark” from our vocabularies, just that it would be great if we were all a bit more thoughtful about how we choose to use it. It’s about saying what we mean more precisely and, when we mean edgy or anti-twee or grim(m) or whatever, finding other ways to express that that aren’t tied up in colonialist thinking that equates dark with bad or deviant. Things can be dark when there’s no light (i.e. a “dark wood”), but maybe let’s try to find other words when we mean bad or edgy.

Comments

  1. Linda Costelloe

    I like your witch-faerie academia, but I have to confess that I also like what you call twee fairytales. I like to have some sweet faeries thrown into the mix. I just can’t help myself! 🙂

    1. stella

      i really love your remarks, specially being brazillian: we simply don’t have all that eurocentric century’s old library kink, it’s tropical, honey. and faery, almost cottage core academia just makes so much more sense. with that said, what exactly are “cats” doing under the category “objects”…?

  2. Carrie Birde

    Yes, yes, yes, and thank you — I’m on board! So glad I stumbled across your Caterhaugh School! Can I add Ellen Kushner’s novel of “Tam Lin”? And I wonder if you’re familiar with Martin Shaw — folklorist, mythologist, and story-teller? Fabulous!

  3. Kathleen Prophet

    I love everything about this! So sooooo generous on all levels. The Play list is GORGEOUS! and yes for the wordless music because my mind cannot have words when it is working.

    I do want to touch lightly, yet passionately, about my relationship to the word ‘dark’. My creative soul rises from the depths of its wild tangled bramble in the realms of the night… and for me, the darkness… which is everything about what that word denotes. It is the opposite of the LIGHT! which I have shunned and the drive of everyone towards it. It is what is hidden in the mysteries as well as what is hidden in the night when one cannot see and thus all is stirred to FRIGHT!

    IT feels to me as if this is more of an academic discussion that relates dark to black people and people of color… or light to white. But that is not the way of the realm of magick the olde pagan ways of the past or present. I will clarify when I use it, but I will not pull away from its use. I do understand, because I refuse to use the word ‘God’. Refuse! But darkness is where I live and so I cannot shun that word… and for me dark eros… is dark matter that which holds the universe together… a tryst of eternally bound lovers of creation!

    I was attracted to the words: Witch-Faeirie Academia, and have to admit I did check to see if this is what you were offering a new program/school… for it is what I live and am… though for me the word Academia is not “it” never has been, never will. It is what has destroyed both Witch & Fae… yet as you present here, books surround me and are some of my greatest allies. I pour over the tomes of magick and tales of old and those breaking through again today. It is a study for me. A hot pursuit! But fuck academia! which has cursed more people than it has helped.

    Perhaps it too is a paradox… which you are presenting. And perhaps this the great work… the great reclamation and the weaving together of the good bad ugly dark light and academic folk magick. Whatever it is, you have struck a deep chord in me… as I write this to the playlist which carries these words to you.

    Gratitude to you both for your whimsical wild deep hearted imaginations and the realms you herald from.

    “definition of academia: the environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship.”he spent his working life in academia”

    This last part is the one that needs to go… it has both a sense of elitism and imprisonment to it

  4. Lauren E Reynolds

    Friends, this post absolutely made my day. Witch Faerie Academia literally sums up my life and my best friend in a nut shell without the broad specifics. In defense of the word “dark” I’ve always liked it because to me it represented the in-between spaces that I love and thrived upon: things that are not good or evil but there, the dubious morals associated with faeries, the brutal honest grandmotherly advice of Baba Yaga, the sinister and sparkling worlds of folklore, fairy tales, gothic stories and horror that existed in both the pristine castles of sparkling perfection and daylight gardens surrounded by briers with territorial swans patrolling the ponds and the stormy skies, night-dark shadows of crumbling castles and decrepit manors that have become savagely wild and overgrown with flora, and the dark dark forests stalked by bears and wolves and ravens.
    All that said, I can see how especially from an academic perspective the term is too broad and loose in its definition: With Fairy Academia I think much better fits the term and your wonderful list of books, films etc (I love the Penny Dreadful series or at least I think before they killed my fav character, resurrected them and COMPLETELY DESTROYED what could’ve been a truly EPIC character arc by turning her into a stereotypical reverse-sexist femme fatal monstrous woman stereotype who needed to be slain–you know who I’m talking about) and its been wonderful inspiring!

    Can’t wait to discuss this more at tomorrow night’s Saloon

  5. pam

    So glad you included Horslips in the music mix. Their “Book of Invasions”, along with E. R. Eddison’s “The Worm Ouroboros” and “Fish Dinner in Memison” got me through the 70s. Thank you from an aging goth-witch-fairie hippie!

  6. Annette Pateman

    This discourse is thought provoking.
    I do agree that we should wherever possible be precise with our descriptors.
    The word dark can be overused. It is a powerful word and should be used with
    judicious thought.

  7. Annette Pateman

    I like the term Witch-faerie Academia
    It seems to encompass the study and the interest that is witch and faerie.
    This has been a study for me. I was studying this from a young age without even knowing it was a study. The reading and rereading of fairytales.

  8. Sheena Thompson

    I am 100% on board with this! Also, some additional music you may enjoy that align with this genre: anything by Emilie Autumn and the entire soundtrack for Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the TV show) released in 1998. It’s very gothic/90’s in the best way.

  9. Collette Cumella

    Collette Cumella I love your signature, …”yours in mischief and Magic…” YES we are magic as we let those words fly, writing, reading, laughing!! FAIRIES ARE REAL.!! They live in some zone…but some see them, for good or bad. Good ( the kind that don’t harm me) live in my garden and nurse my flowers. They nag me if I miss watering the flowers. They encourage beauty all around. Witches are real. I am curious to see their power in my life. I am real and powerful, an artist, poet and writer, thank you for your continued encouragement!!!

  10. Meg Macdonald

    Here’s what I really think: these things are the return of the Feminine Mystique. Please bear with me, I’m now in the elderly category and remember everything from the 1950’s forward. Maybe it was second wave feminism, but anyway, caring about cooking, entertaining, decor, clothing and hairstyles, cosmetics and making a home atmosphere was “not OK” for a long while. Now it is again in cottagecore, goblincore or whatever you are calling these environments.
    It used to be serving a perfect souffle dressed like Coco Chanel. Now it’s tea and edible flowers with the aunts from Practical Magic. But it’s the same thing. Women have always decorated ourselves and our homes to express our longings.
    Hold up on the dark. I like being dark. I don’t like the word swarthy but no one has called me that in probably 40 years. Let’s keep dark chocolate and dark nights. Thanks for the forum.

  11. Linda M Willson

    I love Penny Dreadful and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast! Now I shall listen to the playlists. How delightful!

  12. Yvonne Surette

    Thanks for this! I think you should add a Cyber Space category. I’ve always been inspired by Rima Staines, http://intothehermitage.blogspot.com/. She also has a web site, rimastaines.com. She’s a prolific artist and re-creator of fairy tales.

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