Sunday, March 14, 2010

Freebird – Nudity and the Craft

Pagans are known to be open and honest about themselves. You can see this in their music, their dance, rituals and in their behaviors. If you’ve ever been to a pagan festival, you might have come across a little “nekkididity” in your travels. Sometimes this “nekkididity” happens through ecstatic dancing, in a ritual, or just because someone forgot their swimsuit! But before we sit in judgment, we should first understand the importance of being skyclad.

What is being Skyclad all about?

Skyclad is a term in paganism which means literally “being clad by the sky”, i.e., with nothing/air. Once you understand the reasons why pagans choose to be skyclad, it’s a lot easier to get over the shock of seeing your first naked pagan – it’s really not a big deal! Contrary to what non-pagans might think, being naked is not about sex. Being naked in paganism is about more important concepts: being vulnerable and showing trust towards the community; being free from societal rules and conformities; being in the “now moment” with nothing between you and nature; feeling free enough to be yourself.

As a pagan, you shouldn’t be afraid of skyclad events, but you should be prepared for them if you choose to attend. You do not ever have to participate in skyclad event, nor should you ever allow yourself to be bullied into participating. This is a personal decision, and is based on your experiences and personal boundaries / comfort level. Some pagans are more selective where and when they are skyclad, choosing only to be so around select initiates or with those they trust implicitly.

As a responsible pagan, you should always know of the dress (or non-dress) code of whatever pagan event you’re attending. Most public festivals and gatherings will be very clear if their event is skyclad or “clothing-optional”. This also goes for the words “adult content”. If you see any of those words in the brochure or announcement, be prepared to see some twigs, berries and melons of the human kind. If you attend, know that even if you choose to wear clothes, others may not – and you can’t expect them to change their rules just because you might get creeped out by seeing someone’s hoo-hah. If you have a problem with seeing “nekkididity”, you might want to choose another festival to attend.

If you’re going to a private ritual or Circle, make sure you know beforehand if the ritual will be skyclad. Some traditions celebrate rituals in this way – but if they’re ethical and understanding, they will make sure that every guest knows this well in advance and given the opportunity not to participate if they are uncomfortable.

I remember my first skyclad person at a pagan festival. It was a bit disconcerting at first, but with a little open-mindedness and understanding it became a non-issue. The following guidelines might be of some help.

clip_image001 Having an opportunity to be skyclad does not equal an opportunity to show off a hot bod or how well endowed you think you are. The pagan community is not a captive audience for people to play out exhibitionist tendencies. If that’s the reason why you’re shedding your clothes, you might want to re-examine the reasons for being skyclad in the first place.

clip_image001[1] Always carry a sarong or other similar clothing for quick cover ups. You never know when Ranger Bob and his buddies might want to perform a spot check on the grounds.

clip_image001[2] It is human nature to stare at what is least familiar to us. We will blush and our bodies will exhibit odd behavior until our minds figure out that this is not a big deal. Don’t sweat it! It’s not always a sexual thing - it’s just our poor brains trying to adapt to something we’re not used to seeing. Remember to look into a person’s eyes when you’re talking to them – the “John Thomas” has nothing important to say.

clip_image001[3] If you’re in someone’s private circle and they’re all skyclad, you should be too. If that is a problem for you, ask to be excused.

clip_image001[4] If you are skyclad at a festival or other outdoor pagan event, be aware that you will have private bits which have rarely been this exposed to the world. Give yourself an extra slathering of sunscreen and be generous with bug repellant; be super careful around bonfires and candles (ashes and embers leave marks) and be aware of dancers who get a bit too exuberant!

clip_image001[5] Being skyclad is not an invitation to get frisky, nor should it ever have sexual overtones. Being skyclad is no invitation to sexual harassment. Be aware of the people around you, their actions, and always remember safety first.

clip_image001[6] If you choose to go skyclad, be aware of where you’re at. Is it ok to be skyclad in this area of the grounds/home? Make sure if you’re in an area that is “clothing mandatory”, that your bits are covered – no one wants to worry about children witnessing an adult act or nudity that would best have remained private.

clip_image001[7] Be aware of any children who are wandering around. If no parent is present, simply cover up and leave the area, whether it’s clothing optional or not. If the child’s parents are there and they’re ok with their children being around skyclad adults, you should be ok.

clip_image001[8] Sometimes large festivals will allow “clothing optional” areas to cover the entirety of the grounds or sometimes they will have special areas designated for such attire or adult activities. This is especially if they want to assure that children are kept safe. Oftentimes festivals will have very specific rules or areas set aside for these activities. Some names they might use for these specific areas are “Aphrodite’s Grove” or “Pan’s Playground”. Know what the areas are for before you barge in – you’ll be happy you were prepared.

Only you know what your personal boundaries are. You can be clear about your boundaries and still be respectful of the boundaries of your pagan kin. Many pagans like myself choose to not go skyclad in public, but we also don’t begrudge others to do so if it is their choice and isn’t harming anyone. You are no less of a pagan if you choose to remain clothed at an event, and don’t let someone bully you into thinking otherwise. Being skyclad is a sacred and beautiful thing, and it is up to you with whom you share that level of vulnerability and trust.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Your Magickal Documentation: Book of Shadows and Grimoires

Many pagans believe that it’s important to keep a written record of successes, not-so-successes and things they want to remember down the road. You’ll often find that pagans and Wiccans/Witches have books detailing their magickal practice for their own personal reference – you’ve probably heard the terms before: “Book of Shadows” (often referred to as the BoS) and “Grimoire”. Like so much in Paganism, there are multiple definitions for the same item. Depending on your own personal definition, and/or the definition you were taught, your Book of Shadows is different than your Grimoire; and your personal definition will dictate which one is your private documentation and which one can be shared with others.

A Book of Shadows and a Grimoire share the same purpose – they are both compilations of information & knowledge. The difference in what you call each one depends on how you use them. Your personal definitions of a Grimoire and a BoS are linked with the group you practice with, your own personal understanding of each type of book, and your personal comfort level. You can substitute the word “Grimoire” for “Book of Shadows” as many pagans do, but the bottom line is that one book is private and one book is public, which means that the terms are not necessarily interchangeable. I was taught to define and use my own Grimoires and BoS by my own teachers; please understand that mine is just one way of approaching my magickal documentation and not necessarily the only or right way. My training might be very different from what you’ve read or were trained yourself. Remember, the definition that works best for you is the right one!

What are these books?

Grimoire – my Grimoire is a public book. I like to refer to my Grimoire as my “recipe book”. It contains information that I refer to frequently and share with my pagan friends, lists, classes and for research. Many of my public and private classes have benefitted from information I’ve collected in my Grimoire over the years. My Grimoire contains public ritual liturgies, recipes (oils, herbs, soaps, beauty items, foods, etc.), activities, information about other cultures, how other pagans practice their beliefs, chants, music, and other magickal systems. In my Grimoire you will find historical information, articles I found particularly useful, resource information, God & Goddess information from outside my own personal pantheon, and a LOT of pagan humor.

Book of Shadows – my BoS is an intensely private book. Like many other Traditionalist Witches, it is passed down from teacher to student and must initially be copied by hand. Currently my BoS is a plain journal with over 110 typed pages (much to my students’ chagrin!). The Coven BoS contains information on our practice (much of which is Oathbound), spells and outcomes of said spells, our Initiatory Lineage tree, important rituals, and the Lore which is particular to my Tradition and Coven. Needless to say, this book is definitely not for public consumption. Not only does it have items that I carefully guard, but it contains rituals such as Initiations that we do not perform frequently and might forget if they weren’t written down. In the past, BoS’s were required to be memorized in case they had to be destroyed quickly and needed to be recreated from memory. This is a hearkening to the time when Witchcraft was illegal, and Witches had to dispose of any evidence of their religion.

Each book should be treated as a magickal tool – for that is what they are. They should be consecrated in sacred space – the easiest way to do this is to smudge them with sage incense or to place a drop of protection oil on the inside cover. If you consecrate your sacred jewelry or other ritual tools, use the same format for your book of shadows. Many people have inscriptions, sigils, and other protective devices in their Book of Shadows and/or Grimoires. Some people even dedicate their books to deities such as Athena, Ogma, or Thoth to as for the Gods’ protection and inspiration. Either way, these books are not to be tossed about willy-nilly as you would last week’s magazine. These are sacred books which hold your magickal secrets and knowledge.

There are tons of e-BoS’s and e-Grimoires on the Internet, both for sale and for free. Some of these are very elaborate, using fancy software tools and containing animation, graphics and sound. Some are simply PDF files of typewritten page scans. A favorite place for me to visit is which has great information! Be careful if you come across a coven’s private Book of Shadows or Grimoire (whichever is their “private” book). That’s like finding someone’s diary – make sure that coven/group is ok with handing out their private documentation. There are unscrupulous people out there looking to make a buck off of others – it’s not unheard of for a disgruntled student to seek revenge against their erstwhile coven by posting that coven’s Book of Shadows on the Internet or selling it for a profit.

But what about electronic versions?

In our modern age of technology and computers, it is becoming more common to see all kinds of Pagans keeping their Grimoires and BoS’s in electronic form. Certainly I do this, and there are ways to make sure you safeguard your information while keeping your documentation completely portable and user-friendly. My personal Grimoire is electronic, which is perfectly fine since it is designed to be shared with others. Practicality is the reason why I keep my Grimoire on my computer - I currently have over 30,000 files in it and add more every day via pagan lists, emailed information I get from friends and tidbits I come across on the Internet. I’d have to dedicate a room in my home to store all those printed documents – and think of the trees! Not to mention, trying to find a single file would be impossible if I had to manually flip through every page. The e-Grimoire is useful because I can easily share it with my pagan friends. I am often asked for information, and it’s really nice to be able to cut & paste the appropriate information in an email. It’s another way for me to remain active with my community.

Now, the electronic Book of Shadows is a whole other beastie. Choosing to make this electronic or not is a personal decision which should be based on how guarded you want this documentation to be and how well you understand what it takes to protect it. Some Books of Shadows, like Lady Sheba’s in the early/mid 1970’s, are published and open to be read. The majority, however, are kept privately and never shared outside the Tradition or Coven. I would humbly suggest that you refrain from digitalizing your private Book of Shadows unless you’re familiar with how to safeguard it. Furthermore, you should never email or post your BoS on the internet. It’s amazingly easy for an opportunist to pick up information in transit across the internet. Just think about all the people who frequent the internet – we know they’re not all benign and kind. There are actual programs that do nothing but connect to the internet and sift out information to be used for selfish purposes.

Here’s what I do to protect my own e-BoS. I’m a little bit of a technical geek, so my training in computer security is pretty comprehensive. My BoS is not only encrypted using a highly sophisticated algorithm, but has a mechanism that will corrupt and destroy the file if the wrong password is chosen 3 times. Unless you are comfortable with this level of technology, you might want to rethink whether your private magickal information is appropriate in this form. After all, this is your magickal record; you want to be able to safeguard it as much as possible.

However you choose to definite your Grimoire or your Book of Shadows is up to you. But it’s nice to have them nearby, whether you want to replicate that money spell that worked so well 3 years ago, or to look up the words to a Mill Wheel chant you want to incorporate in your next ritual. Your magickal documentation is your own private history on what you’ve done, what you’ve learned and how you’ve used it to evolve spiritually. These books are an invaluable tool which will serve your practice for many years to come!