What to wear? Ritual Clothing…

10 (800x590)What to wear in ritual? Whether you’re a Druid, a Witch, a Wiccan, a Heathen or from any other path this question often comes up. The simplest answer is: wear what you like. However, let’s go into more detail, for the sake of this blog post!

I come from a Druid/Witch/Wiccan background. When I first began on my Pagan path, I performed my solitary rituals either in the nude or in robes that I had made. It all depended upon the season, the intention of the ritual, and practicality of it all. Some indoor magical workings and rituals I would do without a stitch on, as I felt that was most appropriate. As well, having just come out of a ritual bath, it was easy! I have also done some solitary outdoor rituals in the nude, such as honouring the solstice while dancing outside in the warm rain, away from prying eyes. The feeling of the warm, humid air and the rain on my body were wonderful, and is an experience that I will always remember and treasure. However, that ritual was performed during a Canadian summer, where the temperature soars to a very humid 32 degrees, and wearing anything or even moving causes one to break out in a sweat. It was also raining, which meant the bugs were in hiding, and the mosquitoes and blackflies which would otherwise eat me alive were not present.

In a British summer, things can be very different, and four seasons in one day is not uncommon. As well, there are less wild places to be in Britain away from prying eyes, as there are just so many more people on this tiny island than there is spread out across the vastness of Canada. Working in the nude can be extremely liberating, and many of modern Paganism’s leading people such as Wicca’s Gerald Gardner and Druidry’s Ross Nichols were firm believers in naturism: that being unclothed in nature had great benefits to one’s physical and spiritual health. However, in my opinion it can also be cold, uncomfortable and inappropriate.

It is entirely your choice as to how you wish to dress, or undress for ritual. If you are performing it in a public place, then you must remember that in most countries, it is illegal to be nude in public. The laws and the sensitivities of others must be taken into consideration. Some would argue this, such as those who at large Pagan festivals prefer to walk around naked, but I feel that this is inappropriate for many. We do not know everyone’s story, and so to be confronted by a naked person can be very upsetting for some people. There may have been past sexual abuse, or ongoing abuse in their lives. We have to think of the repercussions of our own actions and behaviour, how they will affect others. We are still able to express ourselves in freedom, without upsetting other people.

White Spring 1 (6)The last time I was as the White Spring in Glastonbury, it was open to the public and three women went in the main pool (not the bathing pool, I might add) and performed a ritual there in front of everyone with two of the three ladies completely starkers. While that may have been appropriate for a private ritual, when the public are also walking around it is, in my view, highly inappropriate to do so. Imagine a nun from France visiting, or a young schoolgirl who is asked by her teacher “What did you do this weekend?” and she replies “Daddy and I went to the White Spring and watched naked ladies in the water”. I have performed private ritual at the White Spring in the nude with friends, and it was absolutely lovely to immerse ourselves in the sacred and very, VERY cold water (we had to use the main pool, as the bathing pool wasn’t in existence then).

Here in Britain, it is highly unlikely that I will perform any ritual naked out of doors. Even my backyard is overlooked by neighbours either side, and so I keep my clothes on. As well, it’s usually too cold to go out romping in my birthday suit. I completely understand why some people feel the need to do ritual naked, but I don’t see the point when it is illegal, uncomfortable or inappropriate.

Making your own robes can be a richly rewarding practice. There are many simple robe designs that you can find online easily, and all you need to do is have some fabric and a little skill with a needle and thread. I would suggest using fabrics that are natural and that don’t have any man-made material in them if you plan to wear it in ritual, and they are lying next to the skin. Rayon for instance has a tendency to melt onto the skin if caught in a candle’s flame. Also robe designs with big bell sleeves are a no-go for anyone working with fire. No one wants a human torch as part of the ritual!

Many people like the old-fashioned appeal of robes for ritual, feeling that this harkens back to a time that seems more magical than today’s modern age. However, plain comfortable modern clothing can also be appropriate for ritual, if you have no desire or skill to make your own robes. We don’t know if our ancestors, whether they be witches, druids, heathens or whatever dressed in different clothing for every magical working or religious rite. They may very well have worn whatever they were wearing that day, that week, that month (depending on how often they changed their clothing).

1902780_825582470792076_380046463_nWhen I am trudging out onto the heath for ritual, I wear good boots as I live in adder country. I usually also wear trousers such as jeans that have a heavy material which the gorse cannot penetrate, or at least knee-high boots that can ward off most of the pricks and thorns. I like the dress in natural colours, mostly greens lately as I find this personally pleasing. Green is also a colour associated with the faeries and the Otherworld, and in my current work is very appropriate.

In group ritual, sometimes those organising ask people to come along and dress in specific colours that honour the festival or season. Midsummer might be in fiery hues, for example. Some may wear modern clothing in the appropriate colours, others go for full-on gowns or robes. Either way, this is a nice way to get people together with a certain theme in mind and create a sense of community and harmony, whether you are in modern clothing or ritual robes; at least you’re somewhat matching. Much like making your own robes, doing this can also put you in a ritual frame of mind long before you have left the house. You are already thinking about the ritual as you are choosing or making your clothing. The ritual, indeed, has already begun.

Some people like to wear clothing that is true to ancient times according to their tradition. This can be wonderful way to connect to the ancestors. It is also a lot of fun! Many people who are involved in re-enactment organisations and who are also Pagan like to use this as a theme for their ritual garb. Reconstructionist paths do much the same.

A89A4891 (1024x683)The most important thing is that you like what you are wearing. Even if it is a simple piece of ritual jewellery that you can hide underneath your shirt, if that pleases you then wear it wherever and whenever you do ritual. Being comfortable is also a big factor, as being hot and uncomfortable, sweaty or cold is not really all that conducive to productive ritual. Let what you wear (or don’t wear) reflect your true self, in accordance with the law and propriety. And most of all, let it be fun and enchant you, and be a contributing part of the ritual if you so wish.

 

 

 

The Experiment

So, unbeknownst to anyone, even my husband, I’ve been conducting a little experiment on myself.  For the last three months, I have avoided all media that might make me think pessimistically about my body image. It’s been quite a revelatory experience.

This experiment was to see just how much the media played a role in my own self-image. I really didn’t think it did, thinking that I was fairly self-aware and also conscious of marketing and advertising schemes, campaigns, gimmicks, etc. What I found out was that no one is immune.  Least of all myself.

I don’t buy fashion magazines, but I did buy Shape, a women’s fitness magazine for a while, and stopped for this experiment.  At offices I avoided flipping through any magazines in order to maintain the integrity of the experiment.  I have not watched television adverts – I’ve been sticking to BBC mostly, and all my television is recorded anyway, for the two or three programs that we do watch, so any adverts can be fast-forwarded.  I don’t watch television shows that have actors “made up”. It’s a good thing I don’t watch much television anyway – my shows have pretty much been Escape to the Country and The Hairy Bikers cooking shows.  I haven’t gone to the movies, and have avoided adverts there as well. I haven’t been in big cities with billboards. I avoid looking at the right hand side of social media sites. I know there are probably hundreds of other ways that advertising may have snuck in, but I think I’ve been pretty vigilant.

I’ve never really had a poor self-image, especially when it came to my own body, but I’m not as confident as I was when I was younger.  With the years a couple of pounds have come on, a few wrinkles have appeared.  It’s inevitable.  But what made me lose that confidence?  People still tell me I’m attractive – but I didn’t believe them. I thought a) they were just being nice, or b) they just wanted to get in my pants, nevermind the mind/soul that came with it, or c) they were my husband, who would tell me that I’m beautiful if I was dragged through a hedge backwards wearing a potato sack and not having washed for weeks on end.

Well, dear readers, this has all changed.

I don’t know if it is because I know that I haven’t been exposed to the media, or whether it is a direct result of not being exposed, but at any rate I feel more beautiful and confident in my appearance than I have for many, many years.  I noticed a month ago that I was starting to dress differently – wearing things that reflected my own inner self (whatever the heck that is, if there is even an inner self).  Take today, for instance.  I work in an office environment a couple days a week for a music company, and so “office attire” is never all that strict.  Today, I am wearing ¾ length purple Aladdin trousers, knee length boots, and a crochet top, with leaf earrings and necklace in honour of autumn.  I’m wearing jewellery again, I am accessorising, I am thinking about what expresses my mood as a whole, which is something that I haven’t done for years.  You would have thought that being exposed to magazines would make you want to accessorise more, but no.  I was stuck in a rut.  The way I am presenting myself lately is different.  I feel prettier, therefore I am dressing prettier. Or at least in a way that I think is pretty!

When people pay me a compliment, I thank them, sincerely, instead of thanking them and not believing it.  When my husband tells me I’m sexy, I know it. When people tell me they love my clothes, I know they do, and I tell them which charity shops or fair trade places they came from.  I’m walking a little taller. I’m wearing my hair differently, trying out new things.  It’s been quite an eye opener.  I even got a compliment on my purple Aladdin pants.

So, why has this all happened?  I think it must have to do with people not telling me how I should look, dress or feel about myself.  As a teenager I didn’t have the financial means to buy the magazines, so I didn’t care and dressed how I wanted to dress.  I turned down a modelling agency who, at the time, wanted me to sign on with them if I lost weight (I was just over 5ft 8, and weighed 120 lbs).  I didn’t watch much television, preferring to hang out and talk with friends, or hike in the words.  I stuck up two fingers to anyone who tried to tell me what to wear, what to think about myself and revelled in exploring these things for myself. I’ve come full circle.

A friend of mine has a great story about one of the most beautiful people I know, on what she was wearing when they first met.  She says that E was wearing a tutu on a night out – no reason, she just wanted to wear a tutu. Not for a hen night, not for any other reason than wanting to wear a tutu.  Like young children in supermarkets, wearing fairy wings or Spiderman outfits, she was going to wear what she wanted to wear.  Her free spirit is infectious, and inspiring, and she is a joy to be around. She is completely guileless, unashamed and free.

More and more I am feeling that way too.  I would encourage you all to take up the challenge.  Avoid all media adverts, particularly those that have anything to do with how you look.  Take a long look at yourself, and at how you express yourself physically.  Go through your wardrobe – does your clothing reflect your joy in the world, your true self?  If you want to wear a tutu, what is stopping you? You might be amazed at how insidious the beauty and fashion industry is.

Set your self free.  I’m not waiting until I am old to wear purple.

Warning

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens

And learn to spit.

 

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickle for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

 

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.”

~ Jenny Joseph ~