During the two weeks before one of our High Day rites, I usually get several e-mails and phone calls from new folks who only just found out that we exist and that we do public pagan rites. Sometimes the folks who call know more or less what Druids do, and sometimes not. But the phone call I got a few days ago included a question which was, um, not what I usually get.
The caller (I won’t share her name, partly for confidentiality but mainly because she didn’t tell me >8) asked what happens at a ritual. I gave her the usual “we make sacred space, invite the gods, make offerings, ask blessings, and sing and dance a bit” answer that I give when people ask me for a short explanation. Well, no, she said she wanted a more detailed description than that. Well, it’s hard to come up with a balance between giving a more detailed explanation than my usual and boring the pants off of someone, especially when I’m driving while talking on my cell phone and I really hate doing that, but I gave it a go. And then I got to the point where I said, “And for this holiday, we’ll be jumping over a fire, since it’s traditional for this time of year as an act of purification and blessing.”
The voice on the other end of the phone said faintly, “Ah, and that’s when we take our clothes off.”
I paused. I can’t have heard that correctly, can I? “No, we don’t build the fire high enough that it would light anyone’s clothing, and if you’re asking whether we do any part of the ritual naked, we don’t.”
“No, the site we use doesn’t allow it, and even if we did, that’s not something our Grove would do at a ritual. Skyclad ritual is more a Wiccan tradition than a Druid one, though most Wiccan groups don’t do it either.”
“Oh.” Pause. “Do you know any Wiccan groups in the area who do?”
After explaining that I did not know of any area groups that do skyclad stuff, either I lost the signal on my cell phone or she hung up on me. I frankly admit my puzzlement over the whole conversation, and I genuinely hope she does attend our rite next weekend so I can find out just exactly what she’s looking for in a pagan group. But if nothing else, she did give me the idea for this week’s blog entry, mainly why we don’t do naked ritual in SLG.
The first one to mention is the one I mentioned above: the sites we use don’t let us. Don Botsford, the owner of the nature preserve where we hold our summer rites, doesn’t allow it on his property. Nor do the ICC Ed Center or the Friends Meeting. And per ADF policy, we obey the rules of the sites we use. Good neighbors make good, um, neighbors? Or was that fences? Something like that.
The second reason: Why bother? As I noted years ago in my Wiccan days, if the magical energy I’m working with can’t penetrate one or two layers of cloth, how can I expect it to do anything even moderately powerful? “Go forth, Cone of Power, and get me a better job!” “I’ll try, but I can’t seem to get past your socks…” (Okay, maybe my socks are more powerful than magical energy, but still.) One can make the argument that wearing special ritual garb can make it easier to focus, of course. And one can try to stretch that to include nudity as a form of special ritual garb, but personally I don’t buy it. We get naked for plenty of other things in life that aren’t religious ritual, unless your bathing and/or showering are holy experiences. And if you’re in a group ritual, and nudity is your ritual garb, does that mean everyone has to get naked? Even the ones who don’t want to?
Which leads to the final reason I’ll mention here: SLG and ADF are all about doing public High Day rituals. Public, as in, we want to promote an inviting atmosphere where anyone can attend and take part in a meaningful spiritual experience. If some of us are wandering around naked, can we really have that atmosphere? We’re not all comfortable being nude, and we’re certainly not all comfortable having our children attend clothing-optional events. Nothing against the naturists out there, of course. I do know a few of them and they’re great people. And they know that not everyone is a naturist, and that not everything in life should be clothing optional.
So if you’ll be attending any part of our Beltaine celebrations this weekend, there’s no dress code. (In fact, this is the one High Day where I don’t wear robes.) Dress in anything you like. But please, wear something!
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF