So few of us actually practice skyclad (That is to say, “clad only by the sky” to quote one Raymond Buckland.), but if the books are to believed there was once a time when practicing witchcraft and paganism in the nude was standard practice. Plus this doesn’t even take into consideration the current age of questionable ethics surrounding nudity around children. (This article from Psychology Today sort of sums up my feelings about it, personally!) However, July 14th is National Nudity Day! So I thought this would be a fun opportunity to explore the symbolism behind being skyclad both in myth and magick.
Nudity in Art
Nudity is depicted frequently in art (particularly Greco-Roman sculpture) and mythology. Historians are usually quick to point out that in art, individuals were rarely nude all the time. That was, to say the least, quite impractical. When artists chose to depict their subjects in the buff, it was typically symbolic. For warriors it was used to show their physical strength and prowess. You can’t very well show rippling muscles through armor. For other subjects it was often intended to convey vulnerability. Laborers or slaves were shown naked to show how their muscles worked through hard exertion. Gods and Goddesses were often nude to show their place in society, as though the act of being nude (which was different compared to the typical human) showed their otherness or, perhaps more accurately, their “better”ness.
Nudity in Myth
The most commonly know myth surrounding nudity is that of Adam and Eve from Christianity. You more than likely already know it, but in the myth, Adam and Eve’s nudity is associated with perfection and innocence. Only after Eve commits the sinful act of eating from the Tree of Knowledge do they realize their nakedness and feel the need to cover up. Being clothed, by extension, can be viewed as symbolic of our flawed nature. (Although some scholars suggest the opposite, I’m going to stick to my guns on this one. Call me biased!)
Mythologists and scholars often interpret this myth and story to be representative of what we in the spiritual, Pagan community refer to as “shadow” work. Inanna must shed the masks and “garments” she uses to make herself presentable and “safe” to the outside world to boil herself down to her most essential parts, meets her shadow aspect (her sister, the Queen of the Dead), and dies to be reborn as a whole, integrated being. So, in this way we can infer that nudity represents, again, vulnerability but also the soul or essence as well; like peeling away the layers of an onion to reveal the root.
So much of what we do in religion, spirituality, witchcraft, and magick comes from the lessons and symbolism gleaned from myth and storytelling of the ancient past. How do these works of art and myth inform modern magick?
Nudity in Religion & Magick
Witches are hardly the only group to place spiritual significance and virtue to the state of nudity. In India, there are religious sects of Hinduism that use nudity as a means to convey a lack of emotional and spiritual attachment to the flesh. There are also those practicing Jainism in India that also practice in the nude. There are even Christian sects that puport to gather and worship in the nude as a way to honor God. (After all, if they were created and born in God’s image nude — it is the closest way to be like God!)
But why do witches do it specifically? In the Charge of the Goddess (written by Doreen Valiente in the 1950s; a text which has since become as close to a “religious text” as most witches can ask for) one of the clauses states:
“You shall be free from slavery, and as a sign that you be free you shall be naked in your rites.”
Why is slavery important? If you read my blog last week you might recall that it was in the 1950’s when the Witchcraft Laws were repealed in the UK. I believe it is meant as a way to encourage us to celebrate our legal freedoms to practice without fear of retribution from the law. Just like in art and the myths of old, nudity is a way to convey our power, equality, strength, and essential self.
When we meet in a magickal circle either as a solitary practitioner or as a group, we are creating a meeting place between ourselves and the gods. It is the closest we can get to Them while still embodying a physical body. Occult teachings tell us that we ARE gods and goddesses; each a holographic piece of a puzzle that creates the Universal Consciousness. By coming to the circle nude, and exposed we come as our purest, most divine selves; as close to the Gods as we can get both literally and figuratively. (What’s the different between them in this context, really, anyway?)
That said, practicing skyclad — like everything in witchcraft and magick — is a CHOICE. If skyclad doesn’t resonate with you or makes your uncomfortable, you should never feel pressured into it. While to some nudity may feel like a gateway to be closer to God/dess — if you’re spending the whole time stressing about back fat or some dimpled thighs, you will not be able to focus on the ritual or spell at hand and that’s not productive either. Do what is comfortable and you will be at your most powerful.
Do you ever practice skyclad? What has your experience been with how spells and rituals work when you are clothed vs. nude? Tell me about it in the comments below!