A subculture celebrates nature – and all its eerie facets

The hashtag ‘goblincore’ has 568 million views on TikTok. Almost 375,000 posts on Instagram include the keyword. Clearly, the term has a certain and growing relevance. But what exactly is behind it, and why is this trend happening right now?

spookey forest

Perhaps you have already heard of cottagecore – a trend that promotes the revival of the country house style. Cottagecore has recently enjoyed popularity, especially during the Corona crisis and the resultant (temporary?) rural exodus. Its aesthetics are romantic, countryside cottages with either slightly kitschy furnishings or a back-to-nature look, characterized by white linen and natural light. It harks back to the days of grandma with baking, crocheting, and gardening. To evoke a typical cottagecore image, one only has to think of a fresh steaming loaf of sourdough bread set on an unfinished wooden table, and next to it a bouquet of wildflowers in a white enamel milk jug. Very close to nature, but always remaining clean and pretty.

dirty hands goblincore

This stands in stark contrast to goblincore. You can picture it this way: If garden gnomes launched a home decor line, the result would be cottagecore. After all, they are the sweet, squeaky clean little men (and women) of the garden. Accordingly, their tastes are cheery, pleasing, cozy, and clean. By contrast, their filthy cousins, the goblins, are “small and grotesque, mischievous or outright vicious, and greedy,” as Wikipedia puts it. They live in the ground, in caves, while their clothing and décor look rather grubby in comparison. They possess a less romanticized, cruder aesthetic. Goblincore does not trivialize nature but celebrates its authentic, filthy, and chaotic side.

forest trees

One could say that finding beauty in the ugly is at the heart of goblincore. Those elements of nature are typically regarded as unpleasant, such as snakes, frogs, snails, worms, animal skeletons, moss, and mushrooms, thereby forming goblincore’s central imagery. Slippery, slimy, and muddy – it’s the real thing. If you enter the keyword ‘goblincore’ on Instagram, what appears is a color scale that oscillates between earth tones and shades of foliage – rusty red, moss or fern green, and pumpkin yellow are contrasted with woody, brown tones.

slug goblincore

How does goblincore translate into fashion?

If you look like you were just knee-deep in mud harvesting turnips, i.e., mud-colored overalls, corduroy pants, and rubber boots, then you can be considered goblincore-ready. But the trend goes beyond pure aesthetics. Goblincore also takes a clear stand against capitalism’s shopping and throwaway mentality and instead espouses self-knitted sweaters, patchwork coats, noticeably darned and sewn-up rips or holes – all self-repaired, of course. And as for fashion labels, if something new has to be bought, sustainable brands are preferred. Yet, the first choice for goblincore adherents is to shop on Etsy (according to the Guardian, the number of searches for goblincore related items on Etsy has seen a 652% increase in mid-2021 over the same time last year). Or they scrounge vintage shops for items that have already had a previous life.

spookey spider forest

And just like real goblins, they love ‘shiny things’ like gold and jewels. The goblincore aesthetic tends toward crystals and jewelry with mushroom pendants, moss-filled mini-terrariums, amulets with mouse bones, or even snake skeletons.

What is so significant about this subculture?

A veritable subculture has arisen around goblincore, elevating nature and its darker side to a lifestyle. Perhaps this has to do with Generation Z, the driving force behind the trend, and its affinity for genderlessness and non-binary thinking. According to VICE magazine, mushrooms serve as a paradigm, as many fungi have thousands of sexes. “Goblincore defies modern gender norms, which makes it a welcoming habitat for those living beyond the binary.”

forest plants goblincore

There is a long tradition of escaping from the constraints of society, going underground, and living in the forest like Henry David Thoreau. However, the ‘back to the land’ movement has always been about turning away from the fast-moving cogs of technology and progress as an attempt to escape the hamster wheel and the desire to think the world anew. In all of this, Gen Z is particularly versed.

Not only does Gen Z reject outdated gender stereotypes, but it also calls for better stewardship of the environment; the sooner, the better. Goblincore is another step in this direction. If you want to save the planet (or rather ensure the survival of humankind in it), you cannot limit yourself to the beautiful aspects of nature, and you certainly must not be deceived by greenwashing.

mysticical plants

In the minds of the young generation, the climate crisis is the greatest challenge of our time. It is clear that nature has been dramatically affected by humankind and that we are destroying it through the ways we have confronted, cultivated, and exploited the natural world.

Goblincore is an approach that views nature with tenderness and love in its entirety, not just the parts that we humans find valuable. It, therefore, appreciates not only the beautiful but also the rough and vulnerable sides of nature. Goblincore means embracing the transient aspects of nature, understanding the natural world as a system, and living in conformity with the ecosphere instead of trying to dominate it.