By common consent, the Coven dresses in black. Not because of any sinister or Gothic bent but purely and simply because this is the most practical way of dressing when working out of doors. On cold, wet November nights it is not a good idea to go trailing through the woods, or over the quarry, dressed like rejects from the Hellfire Club. Instead we wear black trousers and sweaters that enable us to blend into the shadows and move quickly should any strangers approach. Our full-length, black hooded cloaks are carried in rucksacks and not worn unless it’s bitterly cold or raining. And let me tell you, Pris and I each have a consecrated set of thermal underwear for winter working!
Sky-clad working isn’t for us. This is not because we’re prudish or unduly sensitive but because the weather in this climate is rarely conducive to romping around in the nude. There is nothing more off-putting than a shivering witchlet, covered in goose-bumps, desperately trying to get close enough to the fire without incinerating their pubes – while their backside turns blue. True, once the Circle is cast the cold recedes but it’s not worth the risk of hypothermia for the tired witch or in those whose magical abilities aren’t up to scratch.
There are those who claim that going ‘sky-clad’ means that there are no barriers between you and the natural energies with which you intend to work. I’m afraid we would respond that if clothing presents such an obstacle to magical energies, then something isn’t right somewhere along the line. As with all Old Craft covens, there are times when ritual nudity is de rigueur – that is, require by etiquette or custom, and so there are rituals when we will perform à la Aradia: ‘and as the sign that ye are truly free, ye shall be naked in your rites …’
Until we agreed on what Rupert refers to as ‘going ninja’, we all wore our own personal, but discreet, choice of robe and this is where Helena came into her own. One night she sported a
billowing white chimeraic creation somewhat between a confirmation dress, a bridal gown and a nun’s habit. We blamed it on the Spiritualist Church but it was bloody disconcerting to see a white nun looming up on the other side of the needfire, I can tell you! Not to mention the several near misses with the candles and her offering of a bottle of Blue Nun!
Even the more traditional Craft robes have their drawbacks. I well remember the night when Pris conducted the Autumn Equinox ritual with a bramble caught in the crack of her bum and a squashed slug decorating the back view of her robe in a tasteful surrealist design. Not to mention my own mishap in being forced to borrow a robe from Gwen. We’d all been invited over to Roger’s for a goodwill Lammas ritual (in the pre-Vanessa days) and having left my case open, discovered just as we were robing, that their cat had peed on mine. There was a hasty scuffling about and a spare robe
smelling of something only marginally better than cat’s pee was produced. Unfortunately the garment was designed for a six foot giant and I’m only marginally over five feet – and there was no
I trailed into the coven-room looking like Dopey out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Pris went cross-eyed trying not to laugh, while everyone else ignored the spectacle. Moving around was preceded by a ballet-like sweep of the foot and all went well until we began the Spiral. Moving around the Circle I steadily climbed up the inside of the robe until my foot appeared out of the neck-hole. At this point, Pris collapsed in hysterics and the Circle ground to a halt; even normally taciturn Rupert excused himself to go to the bathroom.
Our turn came when Adam got stuck in the lining of his robe with his earring caught up in the stitching. It was an outdoor ritual and Pris had made some rather stunning, fully lined robes for him and herself. She appeared from behind the tree looking quite magnificent in the firelight – but where was Adam? We waited as scuffling noises came from the shadows. Finally, there was Psst! Pssst! Pris disappeared to find Adam firmly wedged up the lining, trying to force his head through the sleeve. In attempting to extract himself, an earring had caught up in the fabric and he was flailing around like a ferret in a sack. That was the end of individuality and the onset of convenience.
If our own antics weren’t enough to convince us that some form of standard ritual clothing was essential, then visiting another group clinched it. Having been asked if we’d any objection to working sky-clad, Joan decided to pay homage at the altar by kneeling and bowing her head to the earth. I was standing with Pris in the South at the time, having dodged around to avoid the smoke from the fire. All I can say is that I shall never be able to look upon the Qabalistic sign for the Sun ʘ in quite the same way again.