About the researcher

Rose Johnson is a PhD student at Falmouth University with a research focus on online witches, occult identity, and heavy metal fan cultures. She received her Master’s and Bachelor’s degree, both in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, from the University at Albany. Her persistent garbage habit shows signs of payoff. 

Key research interests

  • Subcultural studies
  • Feminist studies
  • Fanfiction studies
  • Online subcultures
  • Occult studies 

Research outputs

Forthcoming: Fictional Practices of Spirituality, Volume 1 

Rose Johnson headshot
Rose Johnson

PhD abstract

Thesis title

Tis the Night of the Witch: Supporting Difference within Dark Fan Communities


This research focuses on those who identify as witches and on the fan community around the metal band Ghost. Both subcultures are populated heavily by women, and this paper argues that they provide arenas within which to dabble with darkness and occult identity.  

Ghost’s music is danceable whilst heavy, and the band’s anonymised characterisation as a troupe of “Nameless Ghouls” grants access to a “danger” that feels safe and open to interpretation: many Ghost fans write extensive fanfiction surrounding the story and world of Ghost, actively writing themselves into an extensive Satanic clergy. It is the nature and uses of this “safe” space (through fanfiction and occult identity) that the thesis will explore. 

The rising interest in and wider accessibility of “the occult” appears to grant women another avenue to explore transgression. How does identifying as a witch or a Ghost fan allow women a space to experiment with darkness, creatively making the occult their own? Is it possible that tarot and witch identity provide their own sort of fanfiction – another chance to write oneself into a story? 

Playing with darkness helps empower women through “safe” access to the taboo. Through feminist studies of power, empowerment, and identity, as well as subcultural studies of women’s participation in transgressive fanfiction and heavy metal, this thesis investigates the similarities and connections between two “occult” fandoms on Tumblr – heavy metal fanfiction and online witchcraft. 

Drawing on and adding to feminist literature on identity, an interdisciplinary body of scholarship, and the feminist history of autobiography, this paper explores and questions the ways women have utilised transgressive fantasy to carve out refuges in otherwise unsafe spaces.