We’ve been going over the internet aesthetics of the 2010s-2020s for a while now. We’ve talked about how Angelcore is low-key feminist, the pros and cons of Cottagecore, and even the misogyny that surrounds the E-Girl aesthetic. All of these aesthetics have a complicated relationship with the world we live in today because, as a manifestation of culture and what our shifting society values, each aesthetic is more than aesthetic. But from our current roster of aesthetic deep dives, Goblincore is unique in the fact that its complications are in the past.
It wouldn’t be too far off to say that Goblincore is an odd man out among the aesthetics that came out of the late 2010s on sites such as TikTok and Tumblr. If Cottagecore is the image of a dainty young woman in a pastel blue apron dress, Goblincore is overalls, sturdy Doc Martens, and a notebook filled with sketches of plants that can be foraged from the untamed woodlands of North America.
It’s a more down-to-earth aesthetic that has a very fun-loving, wilderness explorer attitude that the Scouts would be proud of. Since the aesthetic became popular, it’s started to draw hundreds of Gen Z-ers, who would normally be plastered to their screens, out into the forests, or even just to empty lots near their own backyards.
But there’s also something dark and primeval about Goblincore that isn’t quite as gothic, or as gentrified, as Dark Academia but isn’t as carefree and frivolous as Cottagecore. Instead, the aesthetic blends fantasy and a love of nature with a spirit for activism that draws attention to black history and sustainability.
What Is Goblincore?
The Aesthetics Wiki defines Goblincore as an “aesthetic based on the appreciation of aspects of nature not typically regarded as beautiful.” This means frogs, moss, earthworms, and random bits and bobs of shiny things collected by its practitioners. This sheer love of clutter is how Goblincore gets its name.
The ‘goblin’ in Goblincore evidently draws from the behaviors associated with a mythical creature known as a goblin. Described as small-statured, greedy creatures, the goblin originates from Germanic and British folklore. Stories of the goblin portray the creature as a mischievous spirit whose scheming ranges from harmless pranks to serious bodily harm. That said, it’s the child-like spirit of the goblin that has been adopted by thousands of Gen Z-ers on the internet. The goblin is now a symbol for the simple pleasure of childlike activities such as bathing in the rain, sculpting mud, and keeping strange, yet somehow intriguing objects. All of these being super Goblincore.
‘Goblins’, which is what Goblincore practitioners call themselves, place a particular importance in gathering and hoarding habits. It’s a very cluttered aesthetic, like the 19th-century maximalist design philosophy of stuffing your house full of knickknacks except instead of Chinese porcelain, Goblincore uses what we would normally think of as trash.
Remember Tinkerbell from Disney’s Peter Pan? In her own series, she’s often seen gathering random objects that have been discarded by humans. In ‘Goblin’ speak, these lovingly collected objects would be called ‘shinies’ and added to a treasure trove of other mundane knickknacks like shiny spoons, buttons, smooth rocks, and snail shells.
This small chest of shinies was shared to r/goblincore by u/idiot_toad. It includes plastic animals, loose beads, D&D dice, and rings. Notice how Goblincore ‘shinies’ are rarely objects with any conventional value? This is because Goblincore teaches its followers to find beauty in objects we’d normally disgard as trash. It’s equal parts sustainability effort, a rejection of uninhibited consumerism, and overall, just a really wholesome attitude towards material objects.
Or as a proper goblin like u/tabyrinth would say: “As far as I know people just like creeping around the woods and picking up cool rubbish.”
Goblincore isn’t without its detractors, though. Everything that exists on the internet has been vibe checked for being problematic and this woodland aesthetic isn’t an exception. There have been concerns from the Tumblr community (because of course, it’s Tumblr) that Goblincore is anti-semetic due to how goblins are ‘Jewish coded’ in media. Case in point, the bankers of the Gringotts Wizarding Bank from the Harry Potter series.
But as Ronald James, author of the paper “Knockers, Knackers, and Ghosts: Immigrant Folklore in the Western Mines“, pointed out, goblins have their roots in mythology, not anti-Semitism, and whatever associations they may have had with Jewish hate does not exist in the New World given differences in culture.
So, feel free to take notes as we break down the essentials of the Goblincore aesthetic.
Goblincore 101: The Fundamental Elements
We can’t just talk about the philosophy of an aesthetic without going into its more visual elements and conspicuous lifestyle choices. The same goes for Goblincore. But the aesthetic’s chaotic nature makes it the hardest to pin down compared to all the aesthetics discussed in this series so far. That doesn’t mean we can’t try, though.
Dark Browns and Greens
The fact that Goblincore is anti-consumerist and anti-rules means that anything goes in the aesthetic. Want to wear neon colors? Sure. Pastel blue silk works, too. Even then, though, the aesthetic’s most prominent mood boards (think Pinterest collages) come in colors that are predominantly hues of dark green and dark brown. It’s a way to harken back to the ‘to the woods!’ vibe of Goblincore.
It’s a palette that’s popular with Cottagecore practitioners as well. But Cottagecore normally only uses these shades of green and brown in interior design. Another key difference is that Cottagecore shoots for a more put-together look that’s dainty and feminine. Goblincore doesn’t care for this. All it wants is for you to feel comfortable when you’re off in the woods gathering pinecones. It’s such a free-spirited aesthetic that many popular TikToks in the Goblincore subgenre feature pointed elf ears.
That brings us to the next essential ingredient to being a Goblincore guy or gal.
A Healthy Imagination
Goblincore fosters a love of fantasy that encourages practitioners to see fantasy creatures walking with them in the woods. To Goblincore, there are fairies and spirits in the woods that require respect when you go to visit their home. This gives Goblincore strong ties to Witchtok, the witch community of TikTok, a subculture that also embraces the darker aspects of nature.
Another community Goblincore is strongly related to is the Dungeons & Dragons one. While not all Goblincore lovers play D&D, many of them do. Plus, the two groups share the use of the word ‘shinies’ in relation to dice (also called ‘math rocks’) and gleefully call themselves goblins for collecting these objects.
But Goblincore isn’t just about a love for adventuring in a tabletop game. The wild child spirit of Goblincore extends to the natural world, in the same way that Cottagecore fans yearn for an idyllic rural life.
A Sense of Adventure
A good goblin loves the outdoors. The aesthetic grew in popularity during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when everyone was locked indoors with nothing but their phones to entertain them. This has shaped Goblincore into an aesthetic that has a distinct wanderlust to it, as if its practitioners are just itching to get out of their houses and set up a tent in the woods.
It’s also why Goblincore attire’s only real rule is to be comfortable. The aesthetic’s lifestyle wants you to go out and collect bottle caps near river banks. No Goblincore outfit involves heels, it’s all boots, Converses, and comfy sneakers here.
A Love of Dirt and Mess
If you’re going adventuring in the woods, you can’t be dainty. That’s another thing with the Goblincore aesthetic: no hyperfeminine aversion to mess allowed.
People looking to try out the Goblincore lifestyle will be sorely disappointed if they are particularly squeamish. The aesthetic is a glorification of the typically disgusting which means you have to actually enjoy getting your hands dirty.
So, if you do go to the woods in search of fae and mushrooms in your comfiest Doc Martens, remember to take some notes from the Goblincore community’s most experienced foragers.
Foraging with TikTok’s Goblincore Community
Goblincore’s advocacy for sustainability, anti-consumerism, and adventure turned out to be the perfect climate for bringing foraging, and the history associated with it, back into the mainstream.
TikToker Alexis Nikole is the most popular forager in both the Cottagecore and Goblincore communities, but especially Goblincore. Nicknamed ‘The Black Forager’, Alexis is educating Gen Z on the history of slave subsistence strategies. As if dehumanizing and working them to the bone wasn’t enough, slave owners also weren’t providing their slaves with sufficient nutrition to survive the back-breaking labor that they were being forced to provide on plantations.
According to “Culture, food, and racism: the effects on African American health“ enslaved people were typically fed from a centralized kitchen or through rations, the latter being more popular because it cut out the expense of paying a cook. Common foodstuffs included in these rations were fatty, salted meat and corn. Scarcity of rations forced enslaved African Americans to hunt, forage, and grow their own food to ensure they didn’t faint while toiling in a slave owner’s fields.
They adapted cuisine and cooking techniques brought over from West Africa towards developing what we now call “soul food“. African fufu became the sweet potato casserole and millet porridge became grits. Meanwhile, lack of access to proper eating utensils gave rise to the practice of “sopping up”, that is, scooping up food, with cornbread.
But of course, no one was happy that marginalized peoples made an effort to stay alive. This brings us to the next issue that Alexis has brought to light: the fact that foraging laws are designed to prevent people of color and other typically financially disadvantaged groups from feeding themselves.
“Food Law Gone Wild: The Law of Foraging“ is a paper published in the Fordham Urban Law Journal that explores the racist origins of current laws prohibiting foraging. It turns out that American case law had previously upheld foraging as a practice, even in disputes with landowners, but as we move past the 1800s, anti-foraging laws were being put into place through the support of Southern slave owners who sought to impede the foraging activities of newly freed enslaved peoples in order to force them to keep working in a plantation. It’s harder to be independent from your oppressors, after all, if you have no means to independently provide for yourself.
Today, the question of when foraging becomes theft and trespassing isn’t worth the risk of getting sued. Federal, state, and local laws tend to conflict or be unclear on their standards for foraging.
Alexis’ solution? Talk to people. While a ‘yes’ is never guaranteed, Alexis Nikole shared that she just goes up to homeowner’s porches and introduces herself. She’d then explain that they have an invasive weed in their backyard and if they’d like, she can take it off of their hands.
A win-win. Alexis’ infectious smile and bubbly personality make it pretty hard to say no.
Living the Goblincore Lifestyle (Safely)
Foraging may be the quintessential Goblincore activity but running around picking up strange mushrooms that you can’t identify is Dumb Ways to Die material. Though Alexis admits it’s possible to develop a ‘shorthand’ for recognizing mushrooms on sight, it still takes a lot of practice, knowledge, and experience. Minimize your risk of ending up in the E.R after eating a suspicious mushroom by picking up some of these books.
Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook
Written by Dina Falconi, this gorgeously illustrated book includes detailed drawings marked with identification tips for each entry. It provides a fairly simple and easy-to-follow checklist for verifying whether your intended dinner might poison you or not. After you ensure that the wild berries you found are safe to eat, you can pop over to its second half, a list of recipes that include substitution suggestions for when certain plants aren’t in season.
Wild Remedies: How to Forage Healing Foods and Craft Your Own Herbal Medicine
Moving out of the kitchen and into herbal healing traditions, this book is a handy guide to the wonderful world of herbal medicine. The book carefully lays out its instructions for preparing herbal remedies alongside photographs and illustrations that can help you identify the plants you need.
If by any chance you don’t want to keep taking the risk of foraging, the book also gives you an idea of how to grow your confirmed safe wild plants in your backyard.
100 Edible Mushrooms
Of course, we can’t forget the Goblincore favorite that is fungi. Not the athlete’s foot kind, the food kind. Mushrooms are a staple of the Goblincore lifestyle and this book has all the basics you need to know about mushrooms.
Michael Kuo’s book lists a hundred of the most common edible mushrooms and provides a peek at their poisonous doppelgangers. Amusingly enough, the book has edibility ratings which just makes me think of Kuo going, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it this mushroom will kill you?”
To each their own, I guess.
If you’re more of a “picking strawberries” than foraging kind of nature lover, take a peek at Cottagecore: Beauty, Tranquility, and A Timeless Perspective on Labor.