Dress Me Up….

Clothing. Damn, we all wear the stuff. In various forms of flattery or to hide things (like my enlarging mid-section). I never thought that it would wind up being one of the most constant questions that I get from non-Pagans though.

To some degree, I grok what’s being asked. When people find out I am a Druid, they expect me to dress like the pictures they have seen of Druids at Stonehenge. You know the look. All white robes, some with colorful edging, all dragging the ground from the length. And to be perfectly honest, I know more than one Druid here in America that has some set of ritual accouterments that match that description to a degree. So I can see where non-Druid folks can get the idea that the white robes are some kind of mandatory uniform of sorts for Druids everywhere.

But it has gotten me to wonder what the fascination is with the “dress-up” function associated with all of this. Some of it seems to be steeped in some kind of non-spoken tradition. I don’t mind standing on tradition, particularly on its neck. After all, I have always looked at getting dressed for ritual as a concept of form over function. Dress in what is comfortable, which for me is typically a concert t-shirt (Motorhead, if I have a serviceable one – which I do not at the moment), jeans (usually faded and with holes in them) and tennis shoes or boots. I have been known to show up weddings and funerals in this style of dress as well (seriously). Its what I feel comfortable in. And I cannot describe the number of times I have felt like Jaime Lannister over the looks I have gotten: “There it is. There’s the look. I’ve seen it for seventeen years on face after face.”

I will tell you a little “secret” about me. I hate dress-codes. For my junior and senior years in high school, I had to dress exactly like all the other students at the school. In the warmer months, we wore blue polo shirts with gray slacks. In the colder months, we wore the same gray slacks, along with a button-down shirt (conservative colors only), along with a dark blue blazer and a tie. The tie was our only recourse towards individualization, and, Gods, we all had some HORRIBLE ties. The overall outfit wasn’t bad. The blazer was a touch uncomfortable to wear all the time. But it was mandating that everyone look the same that really got under my skin. I railed against military uniforms for much the same reasoning. I prefer to dress myself, and to use the rule of thumb of what I deem “appropriate” to wear. If folks don’t like it or agree – they don’t have to dress like I do. Simple as that, in my mind.

So, when I hear folks make commentary, such as the one that I received in a private Direct Message on Twitter – ” I believe you Druids need to get a uniform like the Catholic Priests have.” – I bristle against the suggestion that we should all look the same. Furthermore, is the implication that Druidry should follow the example of a group of folks from another system of belief. Essentially, it smacks of saying that people of belief should have some form of holy uniform that they wear. I guess, its so that folks are a bit more distinctive when seen through a sniper’s rifle scope. ::shrug:: Or so that small children can find you, run up and tug at your robes – hoping a quid or two magically falls from your robes. And for the record, I am not against the idea of handing over a few quid so some kid can chase down the ice-cream truck. But aside from that goofy imagery, do we really need a uniform of sorts?

Well, possibly. I would surmise that it all depends on the God you have chosen to follow. I have a pair of Trickster Gods that are primary in my daily life. The idea of not finding some aspect of a uniform look to lampoon is just so foreign. But aside from my own flippant commentary, I do recognize that certain Gods and Goddesses would have requirements of their followers in terms of dress or look. The folks that follow those particular Gods have chosen to take on those requirements. More power to them. When they start saying that I have to do the same, simply because I am a Pagan or that I am a Polytheist or that I am a Druid…. Yeah… But on their own? I think its really awesome that they chosen to have that kind of discipline in their life and in their aspect of worship. Its not for me, but I’m not going to take a shit on it because of that. Only if they decide that I have to do the same.

Now, the t-shirt and jeans look? Its been suggested that this is my “uniform”…and I suppose that could be true. But to keep my rebellious mind in check, I continue to lean to the concept that I dress this way because its comfortable for me, not because I like the look. So please, say that kind of thing about a uniform quietly around me. That way I don’t rebel and start wearing brightly colored spandex. Because, NO ONE wants to see me dressed like that. Trust me….

Who I Am Versus What I Am – Perceptions Versus Honesty

Over the course of the last day and a half, I have had a single statement rolling around in my mind. “I define who I am. Despite my best efforts, others will define what I am.” Its a really difficult statement for me to spend time looking over. I have fought very hard to learn the roles that I currently occupy in my life. Even when I want to shake that role off completely – such as my difficulty dealing with the conceptual aspects of being a Priest. I have spent an awful lot of intellectual – and spiritual – capital in accepting and (eventually) embracing who I am now, and who I am to become in my future.

I fought for the understanding of those roles, and damnit, that’s where I am going! I am not going to let a minor bump in the road dislodge me from who I am and who I will be. And that works for me. I understand all of that/ I even understand when things get a little overwhelming, and I need to take a break for a short while. Every bit of that has been difficult, including the parts where I have had to learn to adult when I didn’t want to. I have argued with myself, disagreed with others, and even had my moments of crisis, where I doubt everything I have done that has provided me with the steps on this Path in Life. But nothing prepared me for the shock of realizing that much of who I am to the outside world comes not from me, but from the perception of others. The outward depiction of me comes from how other perceive me. They get to define me in that manner.

Much like when anything comes about that is a major shock, even if just momentarily, I had my doubts. Uh-uh. No way. I manage the who of me. Those roles are handled by me. But the outward perception is not controlled by me – though I can provide some indirect effect. But let’s not head that far just yet. People get a perception of who I am by the way I interact with them, by the way I appear to them, by the manner in which we communicate with one another. And a large part of this comes down to the manner in which I dress.

See, I’m a jeans and t-shirt kind of person. This is the most comfortable attire for me, and it places me in some sense of being “casual”. But that is not the most professional way to look; hence, the reason that I cannot dress like this at work. And when it comes to ritual, it is not the most credible way to dress. Yeah, whether I like it or not, wearing a cloak with a Ren-faire style shirt with black jeans tends to be a more appropriate manner to dress for public ritual than my “happier” attire of a “Dancing Terrapins” t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. that is not my expectation, but one that seems to be more appropriate in the eyes of others at public gatherings.

People are going to define what I am, by my outward appearance, and by the way I comport myself at public gatherings (and some private ones). There is a certain air of seriousness that one approaches ritual, as well as serious discussion. Even when you have two Trickster Gods around you, as well as one of the flirtiest Goddesses waving at you from the edge of the tree-line. Coyote, Crow, and even Fliodhas can make ordinary moments….well, “interesting” and difficult for keeping a straight face. And that can be rather testy when you are wanting others to take you seriously as a Priest, a Polytheist, and a Pagan.

But that’s what I mean – others will get the opportunity to define what I am by how they perceive me. And I can agonize over this as much as I want to – and I would like to think that I don’t – but the matter isn’t how I perceive myself. Its how they perceive me. Like I said…I would like to think that it does not matter that much to me. But it does, just not as much as I thought it might.

Which is why its a moment that really brought a touch of shock to me. I have always steeled myself against the opinions of others, by noting that what I define myself as was all that really mattered. The perspective of others didn’t matter. But when this thought popped into my mind, and I started to turn it over and over – I realized that I was shielding myself from an aspect of the truth. It may not be a big factor in how I perceive myself, but it is there. And honestly, its far better to be truthful with myself over something like this, than it would be to continue with my self-narrative.


ECG Leftovers …But What Should I Wear? Further Thoughts on Ritual…

I am not your typical Pagan. I would say that is a fairly safe bet to make at any time, any place. My approach to a concept such as ritual is one area that is most noticeable to any individual. Most of my rituals are done impromptu, and solo. Location, time of day, time of year – all mean little to nothing to me. More important is intent and frame of mind. For me, it is literally about the nature of connecting with my environment. Finding my place, being my place in that panorama. Not apart from everything, but becoming a pare of everything. For me, ritual is a song of being, not just belonging. In a brutish way of speaking, its a party of sorts…but what should I wear?

If you asked me a few weeks ago about my ritual clothing – I would have ran my hand from my shoulder to my ankles to emphasize whatever I was wearing at that moment. For me, that is typically a t-shirt of some sort, jeans, and a pari of tennis shoes. I come from a point of view that one is able to achieve a state of connectedness when one is comfortable. T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes are comfortable attire for me – so it makes sense. However, that has changed to some degree for me, particularly after the Alban Elfed ritual at East Coast Gathering.

Me at the 2015 ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat (photo by John Beckett)
Me at the 2015 ADF Texas Imbolc Retreat (photo by John Beckett)

I was approached for a conversation about my idea of ritual clothing shortly after I had returned to the camp — and quite some time after the ritual. (I am not going to out this individual by name, but if they want to come out of those shadows – they certainly will if they choose to do so). The question was raised if I had ever thought of having a ritual robe or cloak made for myself. I confessed that I had not — although the idea of a robe made me a little uncomfortable. I had seen what several folks had been wearing, and none of it looked very comfortable to my eyes. But a cloak was certainly an appealing thought. After talking a bit more, I had to confess that I had brought something I had thought of using as ritual clothing – a white hooded, long-sleeved shirt. I had bought this shirt a long time previous – along with a purple one – for the idea of implementing this as ritual clothing. In the end, I had opted to not wear it to the ritual – and instead utilized it as my shirt for going home on the plane. In retrospect, I wish I had worn it to the ritual instead.

Our conversation soon turned to the “why” of keeping ritual clothing. I understood the aspect of having something that was worn specifically for ritual – bringing the act of ritual to a level above the everyday. The clothing helps to heighten one’s awareness of the particular act of ritual – elevating it slightly from the everyday toil of life. And while the everyday toil of life is a ritual in its own respect, providing actions that are tied in with our beliefs – making the moment of living just as sacred as any moment in ritual – the act of ritual is a celebratory moment, where we connect with our environment, with our Gods and Goddesses, and rejoice in the moment…

So, I have once again set my hooded white shirt to the side – only to be worn for rituals. Granted, I will still be wearing jeans and tennis shoes, but the shirt will have a different significance – a different purpose. Yeah, I will still look a lot different than the people wearing white robes — but my clothing will have a similar purpose and intent. There’s that intent word again…there’s meaning behind that too….