Out of the many curated corners of social media, one niche oozes divine with the most uncalculated, feral joy. One -core, out of all the -cores, has the precise delight of making us feel like a morning toad who has just rolled out of its hovel, and flown to the moon on the wings of a dragonfly. Welcome to goblincore.
“To me, goblincore is the feral side of fairytales,” says Katie, 23, a.k.a. @mountain.hag. “When you look into the lore of ‘faery’ [the old school English spelling for ‘fairy’] (really kind of just how the Irish refer to 'those little f*ckers' i.e. nature spirits with a questionable sense of humor), the line between goblin and fairy becomes blurred.”
Today’s world sees fae folk as totally Disney-fied. But goblincore swoops in on its bat wings to reclaim the feral—and “the more specifically chaotic” part—of its roots with a sense of community-based individualism. “On an average day,” says Katie, who lives in an eco-friendly cottage and hangs her clothes from a stick, “my goal is to look as if I oozed out of a tree root or am ferociously guarding my favorite puddle. Tear in your favorite blouse? No problem, make it fashion. Find a shiny rock that catches your eye? Hang it from your ear on a piece of string. It is so much less about impressing other people and more about adorning yourself in the trinkets you've scavenged that mean something to you.”
As anyone who was once a seven-year-old that talked to the wind—and pooped in a dirt hole to let the ghost wolves know they, too, can trust you—may understand, goblincore is more than an escape. It’s the place we’ve been waiting for in (the increasingly formulaic) digital realm for the past few years. Which isn’t to say while it is curated, its curation focuses less on conventional forms of clout and more on celebrating the natural come-what-may confetti of Ma Nature, and of recreating it by kindly asking you to “duet this video as a mushroom”:
A quick perusal through the #goblincore hashtag on Instagram and TikTok reveals videos of many young people embracing the life of trolls, mud, and shires, often with an aesthetic and lifestyle that operate in tandem with cottagecore, which can hang out on the same mossy log but is a little more at home in a pastoral-Victorian-teacup-sipping space.
“I find cottagecore to be more focused on an idealized agrarian lifestyle,” says Katie, “When I began dressing this way (back when I was about 15 or 16), the names for these fashions or lifestyles were entirely different. So, sometimes I wonder if the names and classifications are entirely relevant. [But] I do think the intersection there lies in a love for nature.”
Everything from a choice pair of elf ears, to a hat you made out of an acorn cap is also fair game, and classic gob.
Of big goblincore importance: mushrooms, with their thousands of sexes. Goblincore defies modern gender norms, which makes it a welcoming habitat for those living beyond the binary. “For me, as an autistic nonbinary individual, I find goblincore as a safe community,” says Sküg, 19, who is also the artist behind this Reddit-destined masterpiece:
“It's difficult, as an autistic person, to explain my gender and what it feels like,” they told VICE, “I identify as a goblin since to me, goblins are little sneaky critters with no real sense of gender identity. They just collect and steal things and hang out in the woods. Another thing I find to be a big part of the goblincore community is wanting to escape society and live in the woods. Part of this is wanting to get away from all the societal standards that are set in place.”
“I identify as female,” says Katie, “and I can only provide insight into my experience as a cis-gendered woman. But, I think that challenging what is traditionally ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ is absolutely intertwined with this style. In an aesthetic that is so entrenched in the fantastical, of course things are going to be topsy turvy. 'Reality' (whatever that is) is never what it seems, and the gender binary goes out the window right along with it.” In her case, that meant eschewing the expectations of the Nuclear Family suburbanite settle down to live like Walt Whitman 2.0—an option which, she points out, comes from a privileged socioeconomic and racial vantage point, but which embraces many of the anti-capitalist practices our planet and its critters can certainly stand to benefit from.
“The fantastically feral [aspect of goblincore] has been incredibly empowering in seizing my individuality as a person, rather than focusing on generalizations commonly associated with gender,” she says, “I think for the most part, young people these days are tired of being told what they need to do and look like in order to be successful”—especially in light of the pandemic. “At the end of the day, [there's] the idea that continuing to blindly participate in systems of oppression will result in our happiness and stability, or [the choice of] deriving fashion and lifestyle inspiration from nature and simplicity. I cannot stress enough how immensely privileged I am to have the option to choose [the latter], but it is something to think about.”
So where does one start on their own goblincore journey? In terms of the aesthetic, Katie cites Jackalope Jane Varieties, Gibbous Fashions, Wolftea Creations, Trash Fairy's Den and “all small businesses run with sustainability at the forefront!” as primo goblincore, while emphasizing that whatever goblincore can be whatever that word means to you, as you wade through your moonlit swamp. Much like a badger gnawing on the carcass of a deceased squirrel in a meadow, goblincore is about nibbling at the beauty of our planet’s detritus to create something new and exciting. It’s chaotic, but it’s not about empty chaos: It’s about harmony. “I think that the idea of being a small woodland entity brings a sense of peace,” says Sküg, “Especially for nonbinary folks who are struggling to understand how and where they fit in, in a society that works against them.”
We raise our goblet in cheers, and invite ye to wade on over to this side of the lily pad for some choice but humble goblincore offerings. There will be worms.
Your new WFH desk companion
If you can’t make it to the woods (as in, deep Yoda swamp slug woods) on the reg, bring the woods to your desk with this little felt banana slug. It’s also a great gateway present for someone who needs to learn that bugs are our friends.
Felt Banana Slug, $4.99 at Etsy
Get to know the power of a good root
Pagans and Wiccans are welcome in goblincore, too. We’ve got a whole reading list of esoteric library-building staples, but this guide by Arin Murphy-Hiscock is one of the best for learning to commune with the land through herbal magick, and includes “easy-to-understand directions for herbal blends and potions, ritual suggestions, [and] recipes for sacred foods”
The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More, $17.99 $16.55 at Bookshop
Burn some dirt
The Irish really do be loving their dirt. (They even have a field in New York that is forever Ireland.) We support this energy. We, too, will be partaking in the tradition of burning Irish peat and singing Gaelic ballads to our cats.
Peat Incense (16 Pieces), $20.81 at Etsy
You remind of the babe
We must pay homage to THE OG GOBLIN KING, a.k.a. David Bowie as Jareth in Labyrinth, the cult 1980s Jim Henson fantasy film. We love a bildungsroman in shoulder pads, and this one launched a thousand compelling feminist think-pieces that dissect every last Muppet hair of the film. The design of this Japanese poster for the film is a testament to that complexity; it’s cohesive, yet accessible; retro, but timeless. Please, we ask, make it the cover of a Scholastic social studies book. In the meantime, your living room will do.
1986 Original Japanese Labyrinth Poster, $19.98 at Etsy
Carry seeds with you
There’s probably something potentially detrimental about sprinkling poppy seeds willy nilly throughout Brooklyn (do: be mindful of invasive species) but also… have you ever read up on cholera-filled Gowanus Canal history? We’re tossing the seeds. This pack comes with 30,000 of them, so we’ll be tossing until we die.
Super Blooming Poppy Pack, $18 at Uncommon Goods
Fueled by a similar streak of the yarn bombing poet, “these stick-on shelf fungi have been 3D-printed by me and painted to look as realistic as possible,” writes the artist, who is one of many mycologycore decorators on Etsy. This set of five is a cute start, but there's also a wumbo birch polypore shelf that’s big enough to hold two copies of The Doors of Perception.
Stick-on Shelf Fungi, $24.87 at Etsy
Make this your new potpourri
You know how certain middle-class-rich people will take massive glass Pier 1 Imports jars and fill them with shit? Do that, but do it with these faux “writhing ball[s] of worms” that come with their own slime coat.
Writhing Ball of Worms, $35.60 at Etsy
You’re a Nordic goblin
Moomins are a child-friendly pagan launching pad, and pagans are, by proxy, goblins in that they share the same earth-savoring tendencies. Plus, just look at Snufkin and tell me that fool isn’t goblincore.
Moomin Poster, $14.07 at eBay
Grow your own shrooms
Everybody and their quarantined mother was growing mushrooms during the early days of the pandemic. If you haven’t hopped on this bandwagon yet, give it a go with a three-pound oyster mushroom grow kit.
Oyster mushroom grow kit, $11.99 at Etsy
To thine ears be true
We’ve been told these feel very Mr. Tumnus, who cannot be permitted into any more of our lucid dreams. (Also, what’s up with James McAvoy? Where’s dude been?) We love the craftsmanship of these custom ears, though, and the fact that they offer some of the best range in regards to skin color online.
Custom Painted Elf Ears, $45 at Etsy
You’re going to need some kind of way for fastening those elf ears in place. This set of wooden mirrors is a great cluster of reflective action for anyone needing a little wall art, or who wants to feel like they’re falling into a hollow tree stump as they put on their eyeliner.
Organic Teak Wood Mirrors 3 Piece Set, $99.99 at Cost Plus World Market
Suckle the teat of the wood
Since 1987, the goblins at Gaia Herbs have been brewing up holistic herbal supplements with care. The mushroom section abounds, and while the health promises of Turkey Tail are enticing, there’s something so damn cute about flexing with some elderberry syrup in your medicine cabinet. It’s produced in Italy, and is meant to be taken daily for purportedly boosting immune health.
Black Elderberry Syrup, $21.99 at Gaia Herbs
Talk to your plants more
This book is one of those rare cultural items that was at once the pinnacle of its era’s love-thy-green-neighbor ethos, and a piece of literature that changed the way the average (hippie-leaning, granted) American viewed plants and interspecies conscious living. The Secret Life of Plants simply posited the question: Do plants talk? If so, what are they saying?
The Secret Life of Plants (First Edition, 1973), $45 at Etsy
Your new window bouquet
Everyone is going for those 1980s pampas floofs RN, which is very lovely, but there’s also something delightful about plopping down a miniature, moss mushroom topiary intended for a lizard on your own windowsill. Nothing says “Moth and Caterpillar Rager at my place l8r” more.
Galapagos Moss Mushroom, $25.99 at Chewy
Just some medieval coins
Bitcoins? Excuse me, young laird. The only tender accepted in this kingdom is eggshells, vines, and all the 800-year-old Knights Templar coins left behind in our slug trail on the way to Goblin City. FR though, there’s a surprising amount of affordable medieval and ancient artifacts on eBay that are probably cursed.
One Fractional Crusader Silver Coin (Randomly Picked), $13.95 a piece at eBay
If you come into a stupid juicy inheritance
Once again, 1stDibs has pulled up to our doorstep in a 17th-century carriage, sippin’ on a smoothie made of a hundred omakase strawberries, and flaunting their collection of 20th-century Czech mushroom botanical models. Le sigh. A goblin can dream.
20th Century Wood and Painted Plaster Czech Mushroom Botanical Models, $12,085.92 at 1stDibs
Your faithful VICE editors independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. We may receive a small commission if you buy through the links on our site.