First off can I wish everyone a blessed Halloween / Hallowtide / Samhain / Harvests End and so on. Readers in the Northern hemisphere are probably feeling that nip in the air whilst the Southern hemisphere is feeling the blush of summer for the first time. It’s blanket making season as far as I am concerned so I’m spending as much time as possible curled up under my WIP, when I’m not out Trick or Treating with the kids.
So however you mark it, whatever you do, have a joyous celebration.
How Do Witches Dress?
Such a simple question, so many directions to take it. Do we want to talk about ritual attire or focus more on the ‘lifestyle’ stereo types? Both are relevant to this section of the Defining My Craft series so I will be aiming for a quick skip through the possibilities and make a note to come back to the subject at a later date.
Do Come in Ritual-Wear
What constitutes ritual wear differs from tradition to tradition, group to group and even between individuals. The only places that hard and fast rules exist on this subject are to be found within closed traditions or where a working group or coven agree particular ‘dress codes’ amongst themselves. Solitary practitioners can pretty much wear whatever they want at the end of the day, it becomes a matter between themselves and the Powers they are working with. My own solitary practice is dependent on a number of factors such as; what am I do? Where and at what time am I doing it? If I’m going to be outside in the middle of winter do I really want to be sky clad or even processing around in the dress I tend to wear to open rituals? My every day duds may be more appropriate than anything more stereotypically Witchy so I am as often led by common sense than everything else but I am ever aware of setting and the group I may be working with.
So what are the options available to the budding Witch when it comes to clothing?
Robes and Capes
Robes, both fitted and voluminous, are popular amongst many Witches regardless of tradition. The appearance of Witches in cowled black robes which obscure not only the body but the face is so stereotypical it is almost stagnating as many are unable to look beyond it. Outside of Paganism the image is a negative one as it is assumed that the colour black is both negative and that the intention is to hide ones identity in order to commit unspeakable acts.
Whilst there is some truth to this; robes are a great leveler often obscuring age, gender, health ect and uniformity means that your clothing does not become an emblem of personal wealth. Don’t get me wrong, some people spend a lot of money on their robes and those working outside of traditions can wear whatever they like but robes can serve the same purpose as School Uniforms. There are people who will kit their kids out in brand new uniform every term and those who make use of hand – me downs and the seconds avalible from school but the difference in quantity and wear and tear is minimal compared to the uniformity of appearance. Robes are also chosen for more practical reasons such as keeping warm and the fact that they are easily removed ahead of ritual, bringing us neatly onto the subject of whether we need wear cloths at all.
A lot of people choke on the thought of practicing Witchcraft naked, so caught up in modern morality and the sexualisation of the human body. Hang in there with me because if we are touching on the issue of clothing I want to at least nod in the direction of no cloths.
This practice is limited to a few traditions with the term ‘skyclad’ literally meaning ‘to wear the sky’. The shedding of cloths represents a shedding of a materialistic identity and appearing before ones God’s in the state that we are each born and without anything to hide our true selves with; a pact of transparency between God/Power and Devotee/Practitioner/Initiate etc. There are probably many other reasons that sky clad is a prefered ‘dress’ code amongst individual traditions I am sure but it is by no means a requirement for all Witches. Living in a country where winter involves temperatures below zero and in a house that is somewhat overlooked by blocks of flats and other properties front and back going Skyclad is not my default practice but I do see the appeal. As a wise person once told me we are all naked under our clothing and this is where we come back to robes, which can be very warm if needed and can still preserve that common truth.
The topic of head coverings is a trigger issue within society today. Although many associate the practice solely with Islam the covering of the head appears in all three major Abrahamic religions depending on denomination, location within the world and professed vocation. The covering of one’s head is often associated with the expression of modesty and humility but in religious contexts particularly it is also an expression of respect towards the deity/power being worked with. Such coverings, veils in particlar, can become a powerful tools within their own right; representing the veil between world’s in both a symbolic and physical manner. Useful in meditation and oracular work head coverings are increasingly being incorporated into ritual wear.
If the covering of the head is mentioned the opposite state of an uncovered head with unbound hair should also be looked at. Whilst this is more common within Pagan circles, being associated with an expression of identity, freedom and personal expression, it is by no meansa requirement. One thing I particularly like about the practice is the symbolism of being ‘without ties’ to the mundane world. I have read references to the sympathetic act of untying all knows in clothing and around the house and the loosening of hair during childbirth in relation to women in ancient Greece as well as medieval Europe. This form of Women’s Magic is very relevant to today’s expression of modern paganism, which often places feminine aspects in a primary role and it makes sense that it appears in modern practice. This should be seen as an entirely female preserve either, with long flowing hair being considered by some a marker of supremacy as a hunter and or Warrior. For myself I don’t have a strong opinion about the wearing of the hair or even the covering of one’s head in ritual. I see the benifit of head coverings and can see the positive expressions associated with the act. I also see the same things in the way hair is either worn or left down but again I am led by what s safe and practical. I don’t want to accidentally set my hair on fire, especially considering how long it take me to grow it, so I am more likely to wear it up and out of my way.
Natural Fibers and Materials
The general consensus on the materials that ritual clothing is made from natural fibers are best. Plant and animal fibers such as cotton and wool are the most common materials used however some will choose silk depending on their feelings on the ethics of silk production. Leather and animal fur/feathers are other animal products that are incorporated into ritual items and clothing that hold ethical considerations. The use of these fibers and materials is linked to their origin in nature and the beliefs that man made clothing, in a ritual context, is both profane and disruptive of magical forces. By extension natural fibers are therefore the best cloths to be wearing and more consistent with reconstruction of older societies, who didn’t have nylon and polyester. Personally I find some of this reasoning flawed. I can see the reconstructive value of natural materials and there is nothing nicer than pure cotton and well made woolen products but I don’t think that the materials of the cloths I wear makes me more or less effective as a Witch; that ability comes both from within and practice, everything else is salad dressing.
Finally in this ritual section is the continuing conflict between homemade ritual wear and shop bought items. With robes and ritual clothing the hesitation in making your own is understandable, particularly as skills such as sewing and dress making are becoming less common and a little more niech. Buying mass produced clothing is always an option and Etsy is the home of many talented people selling robes, cloaks, Capes and other rituals clothing items.
Servants of the Light have three very simple to follow patterns which can suit most every Witchy need.
Some of the Stereotypes
Now its time to get a little silly and maybe step on a few toes as we look at some of things people assume when they think of Witches.
Paint It Black
I love the ‘color’ black. Black bags, black cloths, black shoes whatever. I like way colours pop against black and it’s my go to contrast colour when crafting. If nothing else it hides the coffee stain which I just slopped down myself lol. Many of the people in my life use black in a similar way, or generally prefer dark, subdued colours and I have a number of friends who, on special occasions, do the whole monochromatic Gothic thing. It’s the Goth subculture that many non Pagans associate with Witchcraft at large, particularly the full emo-makeup of white powder and black everything else. Whilst it’s true there is a cross over between those who wear ‘Gothic’ attire part or even all of the time and those who practices witchcraft it is not a universal certainty.
Even the assumption that black is best for trundling around in the dark backwaters as we sommon demons is flawed, black can stick out like a sore thumb and deep wode blues and, depending on venue, forest greens and browns will mask your movements better. There’s a reason that the SAS palette contains the colours it does.
Crushed Velvet Wonders
Whoop crushed velvet! My go to tops for pagan and MBS events are of crushed velvet and drapy selve style. They are a complete fire hazard in a ritual context but great all the same. The association of Witches in crushed velvet almost goes hand in hand with the Goth stereotype in the minds eye of those not in the know and really if you can stand it all waters work it people. I wear it in a bit of a tongue in cheek kind of way but also because its a nice way to dress up.
Pointy Hats and Black Cats and Other Costumes
I occasionally come across people who get very upset at the old classic image of Witches wearing black dresses and pointy hats a’la the Wicked Witch of the West style, particularly around Halloween. The refrain of ‘how dare you profane our holiday’ grates on me just as much when it comes from Pagans as it does from Christians. Commercialism is never great but there is no harm in enjoying a little dress up now and again, and Halloween is the perfect opportunity to shove two fingers up and turn a potentially negative image positive, or at least ridicule it a bit.
One particilar stereotype that is repeated time and time again, in art in movies and in real life, is the Sexy Witch. Scanty clad Witches of both genders appear before our eyes, as much an expression of societies concept of beauty and fashion as a recognition of the human form in revival. There are arguments and counter arguments for and against this style of dress and art, some of which relate to individual traditions, feminism and a desire to engage with counter culture. Some find reveling in their sexuality liberating and enpowering, whilst others are uncomfortable with such displays or find power within modesty and neither position is wrong within the context of Witchcraft.
There are other Stereotypes I could cover but I think that’s enough for now.
Dress As Thou Wilt
I personally believe that the manner in which one dresses is one of personal choice. Even in religions which have strictures regarding how one must dress I feel that so long as the individual is making the choice of their own free will to participate in said religion who am I to judge? What one person finds oppressive another finds a liberating and visa versa.
I wear what I feel comfortable in and hope that other people feel the same about themselves and what they wear. Witchcraft is a path through which many take in order to achieve a sense of freedom of expression after enforced conformity and I am always uncomfortable with the idea that the craft should be universally represented by a single dress code. So if you love your robes or dressing up fit for a LARP event, or you prefer your everyday duds it’s all good because Witchcraft isn’t something you wear, it’s something you do.