Witch Not to Wear
How many of us remember having to wear stiff dress clothes in church, especially on Easter? As children, we couldn’t wait to get home and out of them. We hear people use the terms “Sunday best” and “goin’ to meetin’ clothes”. Often there is an expected wardrobe for the clergy as well. Even outside of church, Christian clergy often wear special clothes or business attire (suits). Similarly, Buddhist monks and Muslim clerics wear distinctive clothes. We have choices in both our daily and ritual garb, but also face stereotypes and misconceptions.
The most common misconceptions are that witches wear black all the time and we are always naked during rituals. Both have an element of truth, but are not the whole truth. (1)
Gerald Gardner believed in ritual nudity, commonly known as skyclad, and it became a common practice of Gardernian groups to this day. Many other groups and individuals, especially in the 60s and 70s practiced skyclad and it is common to find photos of this in publications from those decades. Even books published later when it was declining in popularity, such as ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present by Doreen Valiente (2), Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft and Witch by Fiona Horne have photos of skyclad witches. Since Gardner was a nudist it is possible that he simply incorporated this into his practices and there are those who call him a “dirty old man”. But, there are spiritual reasons for nudity as well. Since Wicca is a nature/fertility religion, nudity is viewed as a natural state for the practice of such beliefs. Also, since being naked removes the evidence of socio-economic status often displayed by clothes, it is a way of making everyone equal, since we should disregard class distinctions in the circle. We tend to be less “hung up” over nudity than most religions and it is certainly a way to challenge taboos. It has been said that clothes hinder the transmission of magickal energy, but that raises the question of how does it pass through walls and space to function? Claims have been made that covens in centuries past met in the nude, but given the climate of Europe most of the year, especially hundreds of years ago, this is unlikely. There is art from this period which depicts nude witches, such as Albrecht Duerer’s “Four Witches,” but these are artists fantasies. (3) Many, if not most, people are uncomfortable with the idea of being naked in front of others, which is not conducive to a pleasant experience and there are places, such as a public park, in which it is unadvised. Please note that nudity does not equal sex and just because a group is skyclad does not necessarily mean that it involves sex magick.
Witches wear black in the popular imagination, but only a little more often in real life than the average person. While most witches I have met, including myself, wear black often, it is not the only color in our wardrobe. Besides, Catholic priests, Lutheran ministers and Episcopalian/Anglican vicars often wear black and nobody says that makes them evil or sinister. Black cloth absorbs all colors so some witches feel it better attracts energy. (4) Also, if you are outside at night, it does make you harder to see, so one theory was that it was easier for witches practicing in secret at night to remain hidden. However, wearing all black in public tends to draw more attention and questions as to whether you are Goth or Emo.
Recently, the TLC show What Not to Wear featured a Witch from Salem, MA who usually wore black and witchy/goth clothes. This is how show host Stacy London described Leann’s attitude toward her clothes, “It was on her shop-day two when she started to talk a lot about the idea of using actual witch clothing as a defense mechanism and that it was like her wall and it was her protection; it was her armor against people, and we talked to her about the idea that it wasn’t necessary for her to do that in order to be a powerful practicing witch.” (5) I watched this episode and felt that it was respectful toward her and our beliefs and I could also understand that Witches in Salem, especially those who work at metaphysical shops are expected by the tourists to dress the part.
A common attire during ritual is a robe. From photos I have seen and my limited experience, this is the most common choice for coven/group rituals. Wearing a robe lends a mystical air to the workings and can serve as a uniform for a group. Some witches prefer different colors depending on the purpose, such as green for healing, black for banishing, green and red for Yule, etc. Robes are simple to make for those who can sew or can be purchased in cotton, poly or velvet. During the only group ritual in which I participated, the priestesses were in similarly styled robes in different colors, while the participants were in regular clothes. A robe can be worn over regular clothes, so it can be carried to a ritual or festival to be worn only during the event.
A choice that has become more common in recent years is alternative clothes. More Pagans are choosing to wear renfaire, steampunk, Nordic, Celtic or fairy attire. This often reflects their interests or beliefs but can also stem from them attending festivals with these themes that have little or nothing to do with Paganism. All of these except fairy could to a certain extent be adapted for daily wear.
It is of course possible to simply wear your regular clothes both day to day and during ritual. If you walked up to me, the only clue as to my religion would be a pentagram and a triquetra on chains and my “Harm None” and “Blessed Be” tattoos. For both rituals and simple acts of magick, I have worn whatever clothes I already had on, except for two times I chose to go skyclad by myself. In my early years, this was usually my Post Office uniform, which fits well with my craft name, Postalpagan. To me, being a witch is simply part of what I am, not a separate part of my life and identity, so I have never felt the need to have different clothes for the purpose, but I have admired robes on others and in catalogs. One thing that I insist upon from myself during ritual is that I am barefoot unless is it definitely too cold. To me it is a representation of being connected to the earth and free. But it also reflects that I wear shoes as little as possible.
A non clothing item commonly worn by Pagans is religious themed jewelry. When I see another person wearing a pentacle, I strike up a conversation if possible. This is the most common means I have of knowing that another shares my beliefs, although sometimes it turns out that they wear it for shock value or because it is “cool”. There are other symbols, although they are seen less often, such as an ankh, triquetra, triple moon, Thor’s hammer, goddesses or horned gods. It is your choice to wear something like this under your top or out in the open, depending on the situation and whether you are out of the broom closet. Legally, you have the same right to wear Pagan jewelry to work or school as a Christian has to wear a cross, which has been upheld in numerous court cases unless all religious symbols are banned. (6)
As you can see, the choice of attire for us in both ritual and day to day wear is varied and should reflect our tastes, interests, comfort level, views and needs. Make your choices with an understanding of why you wear or don’t wear certain things.
(1) Common Questions about Wicca, the Old Religion.
Q: “Do Witches really dance around naked or wear long, black robes?”
(2) ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present, Doreen Valiente http://www.amazon.com/ABC-Witchcraft-Past-Present/dp/0919345778/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1268965211&sr=1-1
(3) Web Gallery of Art, Albrech Duerer. The Four Witches http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/d/durer/2/13/1/019.html
(4) The Basic FAQ of Witchcraft, Why Do All Witches/Wiccans Wear Black?
(5) What Not to Wear Blog TLC, Shopping List: Stacy London on the Witch who Became a Chic Enchantress http://blogs.discovery.com/tlc-what-not-to-wear/page/2/
(6) Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, Religious Clothing and Jewelry in School http://www.religioustolerance.org/sch_clot5.htm
(7) About.com Rights of Pagans and Wiccans in the Workplace http://paganwiccan.about.com/od/yourlegalrights/a/Work_Rights.htm
Why do all Wit wear black?