Druids and Their Robes

Druids and Their Robes October 2, 2012

At the recent OBOD East Coast Gathering, someone said “our robes are an outward manifestation of our inward spirituality.” None of us can remember who said it, but we’re sure they were right. We’ve been discussing what we wear and why on a private forum and the conversation has been excellent.

Like magical tools, magical clothing isn’t necessary, but it helps put us in the right frame of mind for ritual and magic. It also helps us express who we are and what we’re striving to become.

In the 1st century CE, the Roman Pliny the Elder wrote that Druids wore white robes. That is one of the few historical reports of the ancient Druids we have, and Druids since the Revival of the 18th century have worn white. Modern Druids are as individualistic as the rest of Western society, so while we tend to start with the basic white robe, there are at least as many variants on Druid robes as there are Druids.

Each of us has put a good amount of thought into our ritual garb, whether we made it ourselves, commissioned it from a sewing professional, or bought it off the rack. Those thoughts range from the spiritual to the artistic to the practical.

One word of wisdom: never let the lack of magical clothing keep you from attending a Druid or similar event, or from participating as fully as you can. Robes are nice but they aren’t necessary. Mix a white, green or black shirt with khakis or jeans and you’ll do just fine.

Now, here are some Druids and the stories of their robes, in their own words. Click on the photos to see the full-size versions.

Danaan, an OBOD Ovate from Florida

I made my first robe out of original 1940s-era green and purple shot silk, without a pattern. It was light and easy to pack for a pilgrimage to Ireland. The photo is at Tara Hill for Summer Solstice 2004.

My second robe is a more traditional off-white raw silk robe I made in 2005 after modifying a commercial pattern. I prefer natural, breathing fabrics for a number of reasons. When it’s hot I turn the sleeves to the inside and wear a robe as a cloak.

I only put on my robes for initiations or public rituals, which means as a now remote solitary practitioner a few times a year at most. I’ve never worried about the colors of my robes, those worn by others, or colors for ranks or grades – nor did my family or the Druids I was first introduced to as an adult. When I do don ritual apparel I tend to prefer the seeming neutrality of the off-white robe; for me it seems to allow more of the spirit of the ritual or energy to come forward. I’ve had some guidance to use a robe with grey in it, but it’s not quite time to go with a grey robe yet; though it would – ahem – match my hair more now.

In group ritual, special attire can be creatively used for symbolic portrayals or to help unify participation. But while robes can help put you in a ritual or sacred mindset, there are times when they may not be appropriate, like during solitary offerings or prayers in public places. This discussion topic made me realize that after years of solitary ritual and workings I now feel as if I am taking on the mantle of a robe regardless of what I am wearing during my ritual practice. And I still get to enjoy events where we all “robe-up”!

Kimberly Kirner, an OBOD Ovate from Star and Stone Druid Fellowship in California

For me, robes are a combination of aesthetic impact (representations of my spirituality in an artistic, symbolic way) and functionality (can I move, light candles, walk in a forest, be by the campfire).

The white robe is my Druid ritual wear, though more frequently in solitary work I wear my black robe. The black robe is just more practical, and frankly, also more flattering. It snaps up the front so it can go on over anything with minimal fuss, washes in the regular cycle, never stains since it is black, and has two large pockets. It is warm for outdoor work and is easily donned over skyclad or jeans and still looks great. White is not the best color for outdoor ritual in the woods or fields.

But for Druid events, in order to maintain the Druid earthy-and-white feel, I use the Druid robes. Mine are probably selected a bit more for functionality than other people’s. I had ones that weren’t so functional and they distracted me from the actual ritual work. So my newest ones are really chosen for function first and prettiness second. I was, however, attentive to not swimming in my garments. The Anglican choir robe thing isn’t tailored much for thin women, and I dislike the feeling that I am frumpy.

The robe is organic “breezecloth” cotton. It was sewn by a family company in the US (Deva Lifewear, around $50). I feel ritual wear should be attentive to issues of social justice and sustainability, so I am picky about my manufacturer. The robe is produced as a lounger (so it is very comfortable) and it has pockets (so handy!). It is very light, naturally wrinkled, and machine washable… all functional qualities for a Southern California environment. I can wear a slip under it for summer events or long johns for winter events. Its 3/4 length sleeve means I don’t drag my sleeves through fire. Even so, it comes too long to be optimally functional so soon I will be hemming it to mid-calf length. After hemming it, I have plans to add embellishments that attach to the robe but aren’t permanent (so it remains machine washable): a neckline of fur and abalone shell. These materials give me a more shamanic feel to my robes, which I like.

My cloak is alpaca wool. It is green, and I am an Ovate, but I would have chosen green anyway as it fits me. It is warm and light and fits more like a poncho, which is highly functional as I don’t trip over it when out in the woods or fields. Floor length robes are pretty but not so functional for me as they drag over uneven terrain. I plan to add a removable line of pelican feathers along the bottom and potentially a brown tree appliqué on the back for flair, but really I picked the cloak for its function in cold weather. I wanted something nice for snowy or winter weather that wasn’t a parka.

I have two sets of footwear: brown leather sandals for summer and green/brown waterproof wool-lined boots for winter. When necessary, I ditch them for plain hiking boots.

I bought my copper belt at an antique store –it keeps the robe from being a giant shapeless thing (though I wear it that way if the temperature is above 90, just for air circulation!). I have a pouch I made from a rabbit skin from Crazy Horse where my grandfather’s ashes were scattered. This will eventually hold my Ogham set.

I often braid four sections of my hair as symbols for a wide range of my beliefs, as most of them are in a 3+4 system, and I often add feathers and paint a triple spiral on one side of my face. My tattoos, even though they are under my clothes, are ultimately the ritual clothing I never remove and are representative of the parts of my spiritual experience most precious to me. They are there even when I am skyclad. I usually wear some jewelry for ritual: a piece of antler (an animal guide for me is the stag) carved in spirals, a bronze double-spiral necklace, and a black heart of onyx on a chain; minimally I wear a ring of Labradorite as well. Other stones join these pieces if they wish. My stones kind of tell me when they want to be in ritual.

Krista Carter, an OBOD Ovate from Maryland

Like many, I have struggled a bit to find ritual garb that speaks to me and yet doesn’t feel “over the top.” I love the image of a flowing, deeply hooded robe, and if I were better with a sewing machine I may have come up with one like that by now. On the other hand, I’m also very conscious of trying to establish Druid practices that don’t compromise on the path, but that might be more easily accepted by the non-Druid masses. Druidry has so much to offer in the way of solutions to today’s problems that I hate to see it dismissed as eccentric or nerdish. So I’ve tried to capture the concept of what I love in the old robe images and do my best to translate them into something more contemporary and less scary.

Since I’m currently at the Ovate grade I have a couple of forest green dresses, or underlays, and have knitted a long natural colored tabard or overlay (pictured here). It could just as easily have been done in white.

Though not complete, I’m able to wear it at this point while still finishing it – it will eventually have a deep hood and self-ties. I wore it for the first time at the East Coast Gathering and it felt completely right during ceremony, so I think I’m headed in the right direction for me.

Sara Corry, an OBOD Druid from New Mexico

This is me in a photo taken at our seed group’s Alban Elfed ritual. This is my very first robe that I sewed at the beginning of the Bardic course. There was no “official” design, so I had to go looking for a robe pattern. The only thing I could find was a pattern in the Halloween section of the pattern book for a “Grim Reaper” robe. I changed it slightly – but it’s always made me laugh that my robe is patterned after the Grim Reaper.

I do find that putting on a robe helps me to move into a ritual space and shift energy.

Wanda, an OBOD Ovate from Texas

This picture shows the full length of my Ovate cloak that I wore there in the tie-dye green/blue/yellow. I purchased it from a Psychic Awakenings event in Minnesota a few years ago from two lovely ladies who had named it Lady of Avalon.

It is soft to the touch, doesn’t wrinkle, keeps me warm but not stifling and looked like lil fairies sprinkled throughout the green of the forest with sunshine peeking thru to warm the blue of the stream… a good cloak to transition from Bard to Ovate. I was drawn to it as well as the blue one they had made and could not walk away without them.

I made one for my daughter that came out nice, but not all that well and didn’t get to finish putting in the liner I wanted for it to make it reversible. I also purchased the one she wore from Pyramid Collection as I fell in love with it on sight for myself as a Bard.

Why the robe/cloak? For me, I feel the magic of the forest as it surrounds me and the caress of the wind as it billows it all around me too. It is special as I only wear it during rituals. I feel more connected to the intent and it draws my focus to what is before me and I feel shielded and protected, as if enrobed with the essence of the God and Goddess.

Stardanya, an ADF member from Cedar Light Grove in Maryland

This photo is one that Ashley took of me a couple years ago during a high rite. She caught me in a moment of reflection. I still have this robe although lately, I tend to wear more blue than purple, to honor my patron Manannan.

When I put on my robe, I am stepping into the Mists. The robe is a connection to a time long past but one in which I can be a part through my connection to the Ancestors, the Shining Ones and the Sidhe. The robe is a reminder to me of what I once was in another lifetime and what I am being called to be in this one. It is also a place for me to withdraw into myself in order to be one on one with the Kindreds and my prayers. It helps me let go of the concern of others watching me as I pray, reflect or if it should happen, go into trance.

The robe is also an expression of myself, my inner creative self. The cloak I wore to the East Coast Gathering is one I made myself and I am most proud of it. It is my high ritual cloak and normally I only wear it at Samhain and sometimes Yule. The blue tunic robe I wore was influenced by Caryn who was with us. She told me how to make it. Under that was my white robe that I had just finished for the East Coast Gathering. I made that by hand. I was an ambassador at the gathering, in my mind, for CLG and ADF, and therefore I wished to present myself in official wear.

My staff is special to me. It honors Manannan, my patron. I have placed many different crystals upon it to aid me during rituals. It helps me to connect to the center.

John Michael Greer, Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America

The robe and tabard were made for me by the folks at Rogue Regalia, who are AODA members. The robe is a standard white robe, the tabard a slight personalization of the green tabard that’s worn by the Chief Druid of any AODA grove or study group.

As for the nemyss, it’s a slightly different design from the sort used by Egyptian/Kemetic Pagans or Golden Dawn initiates. The pattern, which I worked out from examining old photos of Druids in white robes and nemysses, is given in my book The Druid Magic Handbook.

Why a nemyss? It’s traditional, it looks good, and it’s one of the most practical pieces of headgear you can wear for outdoor rituals. If the weather is warm, you push the ends back behind the shoulders and it channels every cool breeze to the back of your neck; if the weather is cold, you pull the ends in front of your shoulders and you have a nice warm pocket of air around the back of your neck.

John Beckett, an OBOD Druid from Texas and host of this blog

When I began to do public ritual I wore regular clothes – all white when I was doing Druid ritual and all black for everything else. But after a few times I wanted something special – something just for ritual. I hadn’t joined OBOD yet but I already considered myself a Druid, so I knew I wanted a white robe. I commissioned Cheryl Monroe to make it for me – Cheryl was one of the founding members of Denton CUUPS and very good with a sewing machine. We settled on a basic hooded robe pattern and unbleached cotton muslin material. While I knew there was no such thing as an “authentic” ancient Druid robe, I wanted something that looked like it might have come out of pre-Roman Britain.

The robe is comfortable, durable, washable, and versatile. It fit fine when I was still running and it still fits fine now that I’m much bigger. Since it breathes well, it’s not too heavy for warm weather (important here in Texas!), and I can wear as many layers as I like under it in cold weather. The sleeves are loose enough to allow air to circulate but not so loose I have to worry about catching them in a candle flame.

For the first few years I wore it plain, with just one or two pieces of jewelry. Later I started adding colored sashes to emphasize the season or other occasion: green for the planting and growing seasons, brown for the harvest, black for Samhain and introspection. I bought the red sash in the picture above for Summer Solstice, but I’ve never worn it then – I wore it at the East Coast Gathering to honor Morrigan. I have a few custom-sewn belts; sometimes I use sashes as belts.

I almost always wear my Cernunnos pendant and my Awen pendant. I added the boots (from SodHoppers in Oregon) a couple years ago – I wanted something that matched the Druid theme and provided some warmth in cold weather. In really hot weather, or if my feet are hurting, I wear Rockport sandals.

With the exception of the boots, none of this was expensive. The material was cheap, the pattern was simple so it didn’t take Cheryl long to make it, and I picked up the sashes at places like World Market for $10 or so (though I ordered the red one through eBay and I think it was a little more).

I have other ritual garb: a black tabard I wear over regular clothes, a white tunic for Egyptian rituals, and a brown and green robe Michi Harper (another member of Denton CUUPS) made for me to embody Earth at the Moonlady Winter SolstiCelebration a few years ago. But it’s the white Druid robe I wear most often – of all the magical clothing I have, it best reflects who and what I am.

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