The Bad Witch Gets Nekid

Well, no she doesn’t.

Some folks like to get naked outdoors. Some folks don’t. Some folks have very private, very particular fears and inhibitions that make nudity and ritual-work incompatible. I, for one, do not go “Skyclad.” This is not due to any fear or inhibition, it does not stem from any sort of prudery or body-shame. Although all of those things – modesty, negative body image, apprehension – are valid reasons for keeping one’s pants on in public. My reasons are a tad more philosophical.

This is not to say that I have never danced naked in the moonlight – just that I don’t as a general rule. There was this group when I lived in Chicago – the only thing between us and the moonlight was a healthy smearing of body paint. (Or not healthy. I seem to recall it was lightly laced with nightshade.) It was ritualistically applied for only the highest ceremonies – first the lower-level women would apply it to themselves then they would attend to the higher level women.[1] And because it was Chicago proper, it’s not like we could just run the city streets like that. Plus it was fricking freezing. I know that in the old days, “Witches” used animal fat to insulate their bodies. I think I recall that this was coconut oil and beeswax. And Belladonna.

I have a reproduction of Moore’s Silver in my boudoir. I have Midsummer around too.

The tradition in which I was “reared” doesn’t forbid ritual nudity, but its tenets sure do impede it. Firstly, there is a level of ceremonial dress which is contrary to nudity. This is not to say that we donned heavy cloaks and wore layers of turtlenecks and ankle-length denim skirts. The dancers wore very provocative garb[2] while the ministering members wore, um, equally alluring – just – different garments, like Albert Moore’s languorous figures. Fire crew wore jeans. Maybe it’s my aesthetic bias showing here, but there seems to be something far more bewitching about a body clad in sheer fabric or fabric that “plays” with visibility than a starkly naked body. But at any rate, ritual was not the place for lasciviousness. Tantalizing, sure – but only such as produced the energy required for the task at hand.

Plus, I think part of it goes back to climate. This is a Germanic tradition (infused with distinctly American traditions, of course) and its origins tend toward arctic temperatures. I’m told that this is why we use oil with our asperger rather than water. (I always thought it more closely related to blood – what would have been in a Norse asperger-bowl, but, alas – it’s just ‘cuz water freezes.) Besides, the emphasis of ritual seems to be on the spirit not the body. Sure, the body facilitates the ritual itself, but it’s not the body that relates to the divine, it’s the essence. If the logic runs that nothing should stand between you and your god, then clothes are far less of an encumbrance than the flesh and bone ensemble we all wear.

The biggest reason that in our neck of the woods we kept our clothes on is because Bertie spent a bit of time in Haiti in the 70s. There she came to associate “nakedness” with indignity and submission. For a people stripped of clothing and identity by slave-traders who wanted to also strip them of human dignity, ritual nudity would be an affront to their gods and guardians. This makes sense. To be naked in these traditions is to be defenseless. Not cool when you are invoking Petra. Not sure a warrior would want to wear an exposed host. Kenaz Filan agrees and recommends not only that ritual never be performed “naked” but that because of the conditions of slavery and The Middle Passage, offerings of food and cloth be made to “the ancestors who faced the horrors of slavery.”[3] While my gods are not those of Vodoun or Santaria, the American rootwork incorporated into our practices mandates at least a little nod in their direction. If we can pay those obsequies by not evoking The Middle Passage? I think that’s respectable.

The opposite seems to be so for Aradian-based Witches, like the Gardnerian Wicca. In Charles Leland’s composite fictionalization[4] of Italian folklores, Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches, he writes:

When I shall have departed from this world,
Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
My mother, great Diana. She who fain
Would learn all sorcery yet has not won
Its deepest secrets, them my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown.
And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything;
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead.

And so, for some, the act of dishabille is an act of defiance, a revolutionary declaration of freedom. When it is used as such, I think it’s heroic. But I’ve only ever seen it used as such once – but, then again, it was an all-female group and there was body-paint. With Belladonna.

As with many gospels, I end up butting my head against Aradia’s speech much like I do the Book of Judges, where gang rape, murder, and quartering a corpse are acts of righteousness rather than violation. I have reservations about a lot of Aradia’s instructions about vengeance and ruination. Are we (“we” being those who see this as gospel, not fiction) just supposed to ignore that part like the distasteful parts of the Old Testament? Do we pick and choose which portions to keep and which to disregard? Then I start wondering about *why* ritual nudity is favorable but despoiling your neighbor’s property is unfavorable. I mean, I agree with the latter. I just wonder about the former. Is it because we believe that the oppressors are still around and that the system still needs bucking? (Like I said, I like the idea of nudity as act of revolt, I just don’t see it happening on a regular basis.) Or has the rationale and, therefore, use of ritual nudity changed? I know that the customs and philosophies surrounding sex-magic have changed a lot – a lot, a lot. I wonder how much the changes I think I see in the rationale surrounding ritual nudity reflect those changes. Or vice-versa.

This is all part of the bigger research project I am tooling with. I may have an entirely different understanding of the subject before I am through. I hope to have a better understanding at the very least. Give me a hand in understanding different viewpoints on this subject? Lemme know what your experiences have been like and what your philosophy is. Y’all always give me the coolest ideas to pursue. If you have a critical book or essay I should have on my pile, let me know?

Blessings, Quarks, 93, and pants,

The Bad Witch

[1] This was a particularly hierarchical coven.

[2] These are my favorite and I hope to replicate one someday. Bertie sent me detailed photos of the construction last week so I can try my hand at it soon. They are just so complicated! When the wearer is stationary, the garment looks “solid,” when she moves, as in dance, the fabrics separate and display the skin beneath. Vaguely like the skirt found on The Egtvet Girl – only a full dress.

[3] Protocols for Riding With the Loa. Rochester, Vermont; Destiny Books, 2007.

[4] Of course, some people believe it’s non-fiction. Critical scholarship is my game and Leland’s claims of an “informant” remain dubious at best. Therefore, it’s fiction with a rich and influential history. This is a religious text – or it is now, anyway. If it’s your faith, it’s your faith. Just like I tell my Christian students, “You can’t use scripture as ‘proof.’ If it’s proof, then it is, by definition, not faith.”


This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).