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Article ID: 2823
Age Group: Adult
Posted: June 9th. 2000
Nudity at Festivals
Why You Can't Always Bare All
The Third Wave of Modern Paganism is upon us and with it comes a splendid form of event; one that balances our need for community with a respect for personal boundaries, and celebrates freedom while insisting on courtesy. Such gatherings create, if only for a short while, a Pagan (1) Village where all are welcome.
I work as a volunteer with a non-profit group that organizes events for the Earth Wise Community. Some of these events, such as our Beach Bacchanal, are for adults only, but others are designed to include families (2) with children. One such example would be our 3-day Pagan camp-out called MUSE Camp. MUSE Camp was created to be a fun gathering where all ages and traditions are welcome. When promoting MUSE Camp, we make it clear that this particular event is not clothing optional. Well my friends, you should hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth that comes from certain quarters when we make that announcement. "I have a right to be naked anytime I want" they cry. "You're repressive, and oppressive and no fun!" they say. When faced with these complaints, it's my job to explain why we set these these boundaries at certain events. Sometimes our rules are due to the presence of children, but there are other reasons, as well. Like it or not, nudity is a highly charged issue in the dominant culture. Furthermore, nudity and human sexuality are frequently linked in the teachings we receive when we are young. As much as we try to free ourselves from these impressions, they still linger in our collective consciousness and need to be addressed. For those of you who are interested, here are...
Our Top 13 Reasons Why You Can't Always Bare All:
Because Pagan parents have a right to say when, where and how their children experience the nudity of strangers, especially adult strangers: Since not all of them agree on this point, we feel it is best for lessons about nudity and/or sexuality to be taught in the home or among those trusted few the parents approve (3). This does not mean that we can't enjoy some events Skyclad. One of my favorite Circles recently celebrated a weekend of ritual at a nudist beach here in California. Wildflowers blossomed all around our campsite, their perfume mingling with the smoke from our altars as we burned lavender, mugwort and sage. Sea birds flew around the cliff sides, calling to their mates and we joined our calls with theirs. When night came our fire leapt high to greet the stars, our drums echoed to the beat of our hearts and the river sang in joy as it rushed forward to meet the sea. The Wild Hunt was a thing of beauty, celebrated among adults with humor, honor, trust and love. It is at these times that I feel truly blessed to part of a spiritual practice that celebrates the cosmic dance of life.
Because we don't care to be sued or arrested: If we allow anyone under the age of 18 to attend events naked or if we allow minors to be in the presence of naked adults, we could easily land in a whole world of trouble. It's called "Contributing to the delinquency of a Minor".
Because we don't want to be the reason a Pagan parent loses custody of their kids: Your average Family Court Judge is not charmed by the thought of adult Witches prancing around naked in front of young children. Family Court Judges are funny that way (4).
Because nudity isn't for everyone: Remember the sexual revolution? In the 1950's, girls were taught that they always had to say "No". In the 1970's, both men and women were shamed if they didn't always say "Yes" Neither case represents real freedom. But we can do better than that. Let it be known hereafter that our people can wear clothes at a gathering and still be considered "real Pagans".
Because wearing clothes does not mean someone is "repressed" sexually or otherwise: Any nudist will tell you that being nude and being sexual are not the same thing. Case in point: A nudist beach is usually a place where people go to camp out, sit in the sun, visit with friends and read a good book. We just happen to like doing those things naked. On the other hand, if you want to enjoy a bawdy and very sensual good time, then I refer you to a place noted for it's passion for, nay, it's obsession with clothing: your local Renaissance Faire.
Because we cherish our freedom: With freedom comes the responsibility to respect the needs of others. Finding a fair and equitable balance among seemingly conflicting needs is one of the great challenges we face as Pagans. In larger terms, this is one of the great issues of Democracy. We, as reasonable people, might disagree, but we can do so with respect and consider all points of view. That's how a civil society works. (5)
Because many of us have fled the dysfunctional religions of our childhood and with good reason: Let us be careful then, not to replace one kind of self-righteous shaming with another. Sexuality has as many faces as the Goddess and each of us will enjoy this great gift in our own way. While it is true that some Pagans choose to have more than one bed partner, others among us are monogamous... by choice. Some of us walk on the wild side of the sexual landscape and some choose the middle path. Remember too, that we will make different choices at different times in our lives. That quiet Pagan who stands as Guardian at the fire once may once had led the dance. Sexual display (which may or may not include nudity) is also a matter of personal choice. Don't assume that you know what is best for another human heart -- that way lies madness. (6)
Because some of our people are in recovery from sexual & physical abuse: Healing takes different forms for different people. Some Pagans find it very liberating to be nude and they like to celebrate their bodies. But that's not true for everyone. A survivor of abuse or a recovering sex addict may be working on his or her boundaries. As a result, they might not wish to go skyclad or be around people who are.
Because retreat spaces are hard to find and not all of them allow for nudity: It took us 6 months to find a site for MUSE Camp. After much searching, we booked a gorgeous mountain retreat where we can Circle in safety. The Owners respect and welcome us, but they do not offer their sanctuary as a nudist camp and they aren't about to start. Lots of other Pagan groups face these same sorts of problems (7). Pagan Event Staff work hundreds of hours, often for free, so that we can gather together in peace and have a good time. Please give these folks your understanding, cooperation and support.
Because safety considerations sometimes come first: The Pagan community has many Urban folk and Cyber-Pagans within our ranks (8). The closest some of us have come to wilderness is the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland. Having said this, I would like to point out that Tricksters (who live in wild areas) like to play jokes on unsuspecting humans. Believe me when I say this: there are some parts of the human body where poison oak shouldn't happen.
Because every Pagan event doesn't have to be "clothing optional": There are already lots of skyclad gatherings in the Pagan world. I know, because I'm usually the first one there. Check The Witches Voice for events listed in your area. If you still can't find a clothing optional event and you feel you need one, step up to the plate and organize one yourself. The great thing about Paganism is that each of us has the power to make things happen.
Because being Skyclad, while it can be act of healing and celebration, isn't a "right": Event Organizers take your rights seriously. They have, on average, 300 other people's rights to think of, as well. At Full Circle we try very hard to make as few restrictions as possible and we choose only those rules that best serve the needs of the group as a whole. Then we lie awake at night worrying about all the things that could go wrong. That's how leadership in a democracy works. I, for one, would prefer a benign form of dictatorship but my Council has vetoed that option. (9)
Because we don't always need to be naked in order to commune with nature: Have you ever walked alone through a snow-covered forest at Yule? Was it a magikal experience? I'll bet it was. Did you do that naked? I thought not.
Blessed Be to you and yours in all your Rites and Mysteries.
(1) For the sake of this article the term "Pagan" is used in its broadest sense and includes Witches, Druids, Goddess Celebrants, Shamans and all those who practiced Earth Based Spirituality.
(2) By "family" we mean any group of people who provide nurture, support and care for one another. This definition includes nuclear families and blended families as well as single parent, gay, lesbian and polyamorous families.
(3) Young children can't set physical and emotional boundaries for themselves. They trust the grownups to do that for them.
(4) Legal battles often have mixed results. You could easily spend all of your group's money on legal fees alone and there where would you be? The ACLU might step in to help you, but only if they think the case is both worthy and winnable. Furthermore, the ACLU has less influence in Family Court, which operates by a different set of rules then those found in Civil or Criminal Courts. Because of the way Family Court is constituted, this particular branch of the judiciary has more power to interject their moral and religious beliefs into their rulings.
(5) Civil discourse is even harder to achieve in the Mundane world. Just once, I'd like to see someone at a protest rally carrying a sign that says: "Reasonable, Informed Discussion Of The Issues As Soon As Feasible!"
(6) As a witty woman once remarked to me, "I cast off the shackles of righteousness only to be confronted by someone with a new set of shackles, a whip and a long list of 'Shoulds'". This lady felt judged in both cases because someone else tried to dictate what was right for her. Enough already!
(7) Retreat space can be hard to find for any group, but especially so for Pagans. During our search we found out that Conservative religious groups own most of the private campgrounds in our area. They won't play with us. One camp, which would have rented space to our group, is owned by the Boy Scouts of America. Our Gay members quite understandably did not feel we should give our money to an organization that won't allow them to serve as Scout Masters. Thank the Goddess, then, for a place called Pema Osel Ling. The Owners (who are Buddhists) are loving, open and accepting of our Community. They have their own form of magikal practice, they love to drum, dance and create and they believe that the human body and physical love are beautiful things. We will have 104 acres of redwood forests, mountain trails and open space all to ourselves and we will be safe from those who would disturb our rites. For more information about MUSE Camp, go to the Full Circle website at http://www.fullcircleevents.org.
(8) Cyber-Pagans: We worship the Holy Mother Board.
(9) Pagan Councils are notoriously fair-minded. They will listen to every one of their members and after hours of torturous discussion... excuse me, reasoned deliberation; they will finally make a decision. If you don't like one group's rules, then feel free to volunteer your time, take a place on their Governing Council and change 'em.
Council Leader: Full Circle Events (http://www.FullCircleEvents.org)
Sia recently completed a two year term on the Board of Directors of the Wildlife Rescue Effort. Overall, she has worked with a total of 5 different non-profit groups on a variety of social & educational issues. She has over 15 years of experience working behind the scenes at a variety of conventions and gatherings; mostly in the Neo-Pagan, Science Fiction and Feminist communities. Her academic background is in English Literature, with an emphasis on Women's Studies and Art History.
She practices in a Green Tradition and is active in several Ritual Circles in Silicon Valley and in Santa Cruz. For the last 6 years she has presented lectures and led workshops on such topics as wildlife preservation, conflict resolution and Neo-Paganism.
Sia is the Owner of Snapdragon Gifts (http://www.snapdragongifts.com). She lives with her husband and 4 cats in Santa Clara, California. In her spare time, she gardens and works as a volunteer Rehabilitator for various wildlife and cat rescue groups. She is currently writing a book on the use of humor in Ritual.
Author's Note: If you have enjoyed reading this piece, I would ask the you help support the Witches Voice in their efforts to celebrate and support the Pagan community by becoming a Witchvox Sponsor. They rely on our support to keep this non-profit website up and running, so please, do your part to help our community and send them a donation. With thanks, Sia
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