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 naked form

Beltane is fast approaching – the house martins are back, the bluebells are coming out, the earth underfoot is soft and the air is turning warmer. Many thoughts are turning to the coming summer, the long days, the short nights, the summer clothes, or lack thereof. I’ve heard it said that Beltane arrives when it is warm enough to make love outside without freezing your bits off, alongside the usual ‘when the hawthorn blooms’. But I do wonder, with a smile – is it ever the season in Britain to have your clothes off?

Don’t get me wrong – I love being naked. Without the restriction of clothing, the body moving freely, feeling the air upon your skin, swimming naked; all these are pure bliss. What’s not so lovely about being naked outdoors is sunburn, or bug bites, sitting on thistles or treading around nettles, etc. We humans (sadly, in my opinion) have evolved without all that much fur to protect us from the elements.

On the rare days that it is warm enough here in Britain to get outside naked, you’re more than likely to get sunburn, especially if you’re fair like I am. I’m not a big fan of slathering sunscreen all over my body (I don’t like the feeling of the lotion). I’d rather wear some lightweight clothing to protect my bits from the sun, wearing sunscreen on any exposed bits. That way, it also doesn’t interfere with any insect repellent that I might be wearing – I love lavender, as well as citronella, as they are brilliant at keeping away the mozzies and the midges. However, they can react with your sunscreen, making it less effective, so I try not to combine the two on my skin. So, if you’re not being burned or bitten, it’s probably cold and wet and rainy, which is nice, for a while being outside and naked in, but for a sustained length of time leaving you shivering and probably not terribly healthy in the end.

There are also other considerations to bear in mind when being outdoors and naked – will others see you? It’s still illegal in this country, unless you’re in a designated naturist resort or camp. I’ve spent many summer days at nudist beaches and hot springs, revelling in the lovely feeling of freedom of being naked (bugs are less of an issue on the beach and around the hotsprings, though sunscreen is a constant pain). These are places where people know that they will be seeing other naked people – it’s not a surprise or a shock when they come across the naked human form. We have to consider other people’s issues as well as our own when we are exploring nudity – we can’t just think of ourselves in this regard. How would I feel if my nudity made someone feel uncomfortable? While it’s good to challenge people’s perceptions every now and then, pushing them into uncomfortable situations isn’t all that respectful. Think of the young girl who has been sexually abused by her stepfather, and confronted suddenly with a naked male stranger during ritual or at a pagan camp – that’s not a situation that is taking into consideration her story, her feelings on the matter. Working with compassion means we have to try to understand everyone’s story, even as we are telling our own, and realising that others’ stories matter, even if we haven’t heard them. If we are in a designated area where we know there will be nudity, and where everyone is in the same mindset, then we can be more respectful to the thoughts and feelings of others, whatever their situation.

It’s a great and liberating thing to do, to explore nudity outdoors, getting in touch with your body, spending some time around other naked bodies without a sexual agenda. However, I would say that there is a time and place for this, in order to respect other people’s feelings (and the law). My last trip to Avebury in March saw a couple just on the other side of the bank pleasuring each other in a field – a beautiful affirmation of their feelings, yes, but not entirely appropriate perhaps when walking around with a three-year old. And speaking of sexual agendas, making love in the forest, while perhaps being illegal (indecent exposure) can be a beautiful expression of our souls connecting not only with each other, but the earth itself (though do be prepared for possible bug bites in embarrassing places – or massage each other first with a lavender massage oil!). It all comes down to respect – will you be disturbing anyone? If so, I’m sure that there are other equally fine alternatives.

It all comes down to respect – respect for yourself, for others and for the land. May you find blessed freedom and comfort in your own body!