A Guide for Gothic Clergy

Do you seek to follow and serve the Lord with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength? Well, you’re in the wrong place. Move along. Gothic clergy enter the profession from greed, lust for power, lack of employment options, disappointments in love, to hide from their criminal pasts or simply for the pleasure of defying God from inside the house. Those with a calling to anything other than rampant hypocrisy can see themselves out now.

The career of the Gothic cleric can lead to dishonestly won power, fame and glory, or an ignominious end. Our advice, however, is to see your calling to the profession as a calling to the day-to-day realities of revelling in iniquity, scheming, defying divinity, and enjoying the fruits of your moral and spiritual degeneration to the utmost. Wherever the road takes you, the journey will have been one hell of a ride. Pun very much intended.

Developing an Appropriate Back Story

The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis
‘The Monk’ by Matthew Lewis

Before entering holy orders/starting your own Enthusiastic sect, you absolutely must work up a back story. Entering a monastery because ‘you just did’ is unacceptable. You may take inspiration from one of the following:

  • You committed a terrible crime in your past. What is it? No-one knows. We recommend fratricide (in order to marry your brother’s wife), matricide, patricide, indiscriminate massacre, having a sexual thought that one time, or similar. You may confess it once. This will lead to the mental breakdown of your confessor as he pales and ages before your eyes, overcome by the horrors your soul has disgorged. After this, speak no word of your crime to anyone but prove by your frequent penances and your austere dedication to the rules of the order that the sin has never for one moment left your mind.
  • You were crossed in love. Perhaps your lover betrayed you, perhaps your parents killed them off, perhaps your parents *pretended* to kill them off, perhaps you were in a love triangle and lost out, perhaps the inquisition got involved… there are many paths to religious heartbreak. You could choose to pine endlessly and waste away on a bed of sickness powered by a broken heart but we recommend fostering your rage instead. A bitter heart and a lascivious soul are ever-acceptable accoutrements for the Gothic divine.
  • You saw the clergy as the path to advancement. Not satisfied with temporal power, you seek spiritual control. You’re interested in the power of both life and death, in absolute dominion over body and soul. Your journey through the ranks will be nothing more than a history of betrayal, politics and self-indulgence. Whether you choose the path of the Catholic priest ruling the confessional or the itinerant minister of a Protestant sect, whether you choose to be thought a God or simply God’s vessel… you want the whole world at your fingertips, trembling at your command and jumping to your orders.
  • You were abandoned as an orphan at the parish gates and raised within the monastery’s/convent’s walls. You are, of course, overcome with a sense of your own superiority to the common person and ripe for a bit of demonic intervention.
  • You were the victim of terrible circumstance. Perhaps, the slaughter of your family, the loss of your estates, the defeat of your country in war, a failed political coup or similar. You may be aiming at revenge on the perpetrators or simply displacing your anger onto the innocent as you rail against the decrees of a cruel fate and crueller God. Either way, you’ll want to work on a glower and eradicating any trace of compassion from your soul.
  • You are queer and the opportunity to live in a same-sex community free from the demands of marriage and cisheteropatriarchal society was an opportunity too good to be missed. Be prepared for some homophobic ‘hero/heroine’ to come in and swoon all over the shop crying about ‘the children’. Just ignore them and keep living your best life. There’s an orgy at 5 after all, and they’ll be quite happy if you just leave them to look mournfully out of a window and tut about the state of society.

Professional Skills

The Monk (Le Moine): Film Review – The Hollywood Reporter
Vincent Cassell as ‘Ambrosio’ in Le Moine preaches to the congregation

If you are determined on becoming Gothic clergy, you will need to develop some suitable professional skills so that you can both avoid early detection and facilitate your grandiose/revenge-filled/salacious plans. We recommend choosing at least three of the following abilities to become a master in the Gothically clerical arts:

  • Develop a piercing eye and a gimlet stare. Sinners should feel like you can hone in on the smallest indiscretion in the darkest corner of their soul from 100 paces. You can use this to torture them, gain control over their families and fortunes, or discover a comrade in arms. Your choice.
  • Perform a sermon with the gusto and rhetorical force of a divine visitant. You should be able to harrow your hearers with tales of hell, raise them to ecstasies with your discourses on redemption, and move them to tears with the eloquence of your divine description. If you use your speeches to win hearts or inculcate unreasoning fear in order to control those around you, all the better. Bonus points for artful (demonic) sophistry leading all who hear you into a spiral of iniquity and/or despair.
  • Control the confessional, control the sinner. You should wield an encyclopaedic knowledge of all possible penances and exactly why the poor soul confessing to you should do exactly what you say. Rule the confessional, rule the king. We always advocate aiming high.
  • Dramatic deployment of habits. Every Gothic cleric worth their salt should be able to silently appear, robed and mysterious. Bonus points for dramatically looking up from under your cowl with a gimlet eye (see first bullet point), swishing your robes/capes theatrically to indicate the eternal damnation of your interlocutor, and telling the rosary with devastating and menacing precision.
  • Forging miracles. A miracle forged is a soul controlled and very useful in recruiting young, wealthy and foolish novices. You may wish to start small (perhaps a crying statue) but should look to progress to, at the very least, stopping fountains with a prayer, resurrecting the ‘dead’, and reproducing the fires of hell in an inquisitional cell.
  • Choral harmonies. What? Singing can be evil too.

Clerical Plans

THE MONK (1796) by Matthew Gregory Lewis. | Иллюстрации
Ambrosio and Rosario/Mathilda in ‘The Monk’

Once you have developed a suitable back story and the necessary skills to survive convincingly as Gothic clergy, it is time to live out that best life we were talking about. There are some difficulties inherent in the clerical life (depending on your chosen branch), which it is worth bearing in mind. If you belong to a monastic or conventual community, there may be issues with flexibility of movement (learning and even building secret routes of egress and communication is recommended). Religious hierarchies must be climbed and you may find yourself under a tyrannical sway before you can be the swayer (toadying up and liberally applied poison are tried and true solutions in such situations). For anyone within the Catholic Church in the 18th century or earlier, you need to beware the inquisition (unless you choose to sit upon it). Our advice: betray first, ask questions later. Better them than you and the best way to survive the Inquisition is to never enter it. If you choose to start your own Protestant sect, you may also find yourself hunted by the Inquisition or facing other State persecutions – stay mobile.

While these difficulties should be bourn in mind, there are a wide range of possibilities open to Gothic Clergy. We’re sure you have your own ideas but if you need a little inspiration…

  • Are you interested in politics, why not use your privileged position to bend the ear of a Queen/Lord/Robber Baron. You may bend such an ear in any number of directions: to obtain personal pardons, receive lavish emoluments, control or influence political decisions, win land for the ‘Church’ (i.e. you) or turn the tide against your enemies
  • Are you interested in seduction, why not use your oratorical skills and fascinating eye to win over novices, fellow clerics, attractive parishioners, the local lord/lady… You may enjoy building a tunnel to the (mysteriously) adjoining community of the opposite sex allowing for one large bisexual commune. You may also enjoy ecstatic group moments blurring the line between worship and … other things – very popular in Gothic convents and Enthusiastic movements.
  • Are you interested in money, why not think out of the box and use your monastery/convent/cult as the base of an unimpeachable band of robbers. You can also tax the heck out of the surrounding peasants. Tithes are your friend.
  • Are you interested in power, why not combine the church with a little devil worship on the side. Magic potions, demonic crypt-based ceremonies, deals you can’t take back. Live a little. (Die a lot).

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Enjoy yourself as you see fit. The Association of Gothic Clerics are not here to tie you down with rules, orders, rituals and requirements. That’s for our more ‘legitimate’ brethren. Go live your worst lives. Better hope God doesn’t find you.

Disclaimer: This Gothic Guide refers to the depiction of clergy and those in religious orders in Early Gothic texts. There are many references to non-consensual sexual practice in those texts but I have not included this in guide for obvious reasons.

Published by SamHirst

This started off as a story blog to share the little fictions that I like to write but it's turned into something a bit more Goth! I'm Dr Sam Hirst and I research the Gothic, theology and romance and at the moment I'm doing free Gothic classes online! We also have readalongs, watchalongs and reading groups. And I post fun little Gothic bits when I have the chance. Find me on twitter @RomGothSam

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