There is a lot of mystery around being skyclad in Pagan space. It’s this thing we hear of, but it’s not often talked about. How do you handle being naked and afraid in ritual space? Is it really that important to do our rituals skyclad? What do we do when being naked is triggering?
When I was a wee-baby-witch I had some pretty intense body image issues. I know this isn’t uncommon, especially for young women. Being naked wasn’t something I was totally comfortable with in any circumstances (read into that what you will). To be clear, my body issues weren’t (aren’t) anything special. I held myself to the standards of beauty and attractiveness that the mainstream culture told me I needed to have. And like most of us, I found myself falling very short of expectations. The thought of baring myself, of being naked in front of other people, only confirmed how I wasn’t up to “those” standards. Yeah, logically I’ve always known that the body is sacred and all of the shapes and sizes are beautiful. I could easily see the beauty in others, but believing that of myself, well that’s a whole other thing.
But I recently read a study that stated people who are naked with others more often have more happiness in their lives and this really got me thinking. Is that true? https://www.civilized.life/articles/getting-naked-makes-you-happy-claims-new-study-that-surprises-no-one/
Back when the internet was just being born and I had not yet found community, most of my rituals came from books. Being a book witch gave me the power and freedom to use the pieces I wanted to include, to leave out the things I didn’t understand, or omit practices that felt too scary. (More on this in coming blogs.) Reading those early books on traditional witchcraft lead me to believe that most Pagan groups, traditions, covens, etc. all did their rituals skyclad. The fear and insecurity I felt around this kept me from seeking out community for a long time. I didn’t want to be naked with myself. I certainly didn’t want to be naked with everyone else. Through my initial years in the Craft, I was never really in a situation where nudity was required because I was the witch stepping into leadership and forming the coven, and I never required it.
My first experience with nudity in sacred space came many years later at a weekend workshop that I was facilitating. One piece of magic I brought forward was a self blessing and, although not instructed to disrobe, folks just started peeling off their clothes. Since I was in a position of leadership and the participants were taking off their clothes, it felt important for me to follow suit. If that’s where the flow was going, I needed to follow it. And so I disrobed too. No one pointed and laughed. No one stared at my bits and pieces. No one cared that I had taken off my clothes, because we all stood there together, naked.Several years later I attended a women’s self blessing ritual at a large Pagan gathering. All the ritualists took off their clothes and, one by one, we stood in front of a mirror and sung a blessing to ourselves , supported by the voices of the rest of the group. I was scared going into this ritual. I knew it was going to push all my buttons. All my fears, all my stuff was up, but it felt important for me to push this edge. My boundary needed to be adjusted. I wanted to feel more comfortable in my own skin. And so I disrobed. I sang the blessings to myself. I was witnessed and I survived.
Since those first two blessing rituals, there have been lots and lots of times where I found myself at a rite where nudity encouraged. Even when skyclad was not a requirement, nudity in one form or another came up over and over again. Admittedly, for a long time my first reaction was “woah naked!”, but it got easier and easier, and less of a ‘thing’. With each ritual, at each gathering, I allowed myself to participate to my level of comfort (and maybe a little discomfort). Pushing my edges further every time it got a little better, a little easier, and I felt a little more comfortable and confident. At some point, and I don’t really know when, I stopped having a reaction to the nudity and was just able to be present.
This past year I initiated into a very traditional coven where skyclad is how ritual is done. Everyone is naked. I knew this going into it and it did bring up my baggage. Will the others judge me? Will I be comfortable being naked for an entire ritual? Will I be judgmental of the others? Am I going to freak out? Can I really do this? A coven is a different beast than a festival or a Witchcamp or large gathering. There is a level of intimacy in a coven that isn’t found in many other places. And that is crux of this issue.
Nudity necessitates a level of vulnerability that’s not always simple to achieve. Just like emotional vulnerability is easy for some people and not for others. There is nowhere to hide when you are naked. There is no way to cover up the things that I don’t want to see. Being naked is being seen in your physical totality; being seen fully, just as you are. Being skyclad makes us all equals in the circle. Coming to ritual knowing that we’re all going to be naked, means that I need to trust my coven. What I’ve discovered is that being naked also means I have to trust myself. I have to be vulnerable and hold each other person’s vulnerability.
Going back to that study on nudity and happiness and looking at my own life I can see that being skyclad on a regular basis with other people may not have brought more happiness into my life, but it has helped me to feel better in my body. I feel more comfortable in my skin, more at peace with the flesh suit I wear. So maybe there is something powerful to it after all.