Ritual garments have been worn in almost all traditions from the beginning of time. We’ve read about this in books, we’ve seen this in movies, and we’ve pictured it when we think about magicians cloaked in blue velvet. The question that I pose is, “What purpose do these ‘magickal’ clothes have?” There are a variety of perspectives to look at the purpose in this common tradition, and from these perspectives we can gain an insight into how we can alter and improve upon our current magickal clothing.
Thinking about it from a psychological viewpoint, it is clear that these ritual garments are like any other ritual tool in that they bring about a shift in perception of the world. When you don your magickal cloak, you are the magician, the witch, the walker between the realms; you are not the accountant that shows up to work every day to do tedious mathematics at a job you hate, you are not the father or mother that has to worry about three children, you do not have bills to pay, you do not have any worries. As far as this perspective is concerned, the more ‘magickal’ the clothing’s appearance, the better it is at altering the mind state to that of a magickal nature. This shift in perspectives is key to any magickal working, and if for no other reason, is a valid reason for ritual garb.
Though the previous reasoning seems sufficient, let us delve a little deeper. Let us again take the ritual garments as yet another tool to the magician, and ask ourselves a few questions about tools in general. Does a tool you bought yesterday work the same as the tool that you’ve had for 20 years? Why is it different? How does it feel when you pick up your trusty athame or wand that you’ve worked with for years and years? It feels as though it is a part of you, doesn’t it? That’s because it is. Think about energy as being similar to electricity. When you turn off your television, the screen goes black, but is all of the electricity gone from it? No, there is still residual electricity in the wires and capacitors. Once something holds energy, it is very difficult to completely rid it of residual energy, and in our case, that energy is our personal energy. That athame that you’ve had for 20 years is holding residual energy from that entire time, and it resonates with you because of that. It is not simply a tool that you use, you are a part of it, and it is a part of you because you have drawn energy from it. For this reason, it is greatly advantageous to use the same tools (including ritual clothes) in all relevant rituals rather than change for new ones on a regular basis. For this reason, a single set of clothes should be set aside for ritual use only, hence the need for ritual wear.
When looking from these perspectives, I see very little reason to use clothing other than as just another tool, as the purpose behind using ritual clothes is no different than that of any other tool. Well, let’s delve even deeper. What do clothes do? They warm the body. They protect the body. And they hide the body. In essence, they are the body’s defense against the world. So how does this translate into magickal operation? They are the shield, the light against the demons of the dark, and the protector of our souls. How do we make these flimsy cotton and velvet layers into an adequate armor against those that would do us harm? The same way we would protect our house or turn our athame into more than a pretty steak knife. Adorn them with runes and glyphs of protective nature, spend time and energy crafting complex (not simple candle magick) spells of protection, but most of all, put your desire, no, put your need for protection and shielding into them. Remember, they are not separate from yourself in energetic terms. They are more than simple cotton and velvet layers, they are another extension of yourself, of your soul, in a way that nothing else truly can.
Now let us think about yet another angle on this inadequately discussed topic. Clothing is not only for the individual, it is a society’s means of identifying individuals. All people wear different clothes; the clothes represent a person’s personality, their values, and their status. In the same instance, many people wear uniforms to display that they are a part of something else. Their personal identity is lost when they wear the uniform; they are simply a piece of the company or business that they work for. It is almost always in occupations that value company loyalty and hard work over individuality and creativity that a uniform is imposed on the employee. It is strange in my mind that there is no true representation of this in the magickal community. In magick, as in everyday life, the design and type of clothing is important mainly for the purpose of a creative outlet for the individual. The only true exception would be in the community example that simply does not exist currently.
The last piece of this puzzle is centered on the effect other magicians’ and witches’ clothing has on you. In order to understand this, we must take the previously described perspectives and thoughts and apply them to you, a fellow practitioner, and see what the results are. What happens when you see other people in cloaks, skyclad, or in that really cool ‘magickal’ tie-dyed t-shirt? When working in a group atmosphere, it is important, if not necessary for your clothing to have a positive effect on your group. Do your ritual garments help them to shift into an altered state? Is your cloak adding energy or taking away energy from the group? Is it helping to shield you so that the guardian of your group does not have to focus so heavily on protecting you? Does it help you to share your energy with the group, or does it hinder this? And most of all, do your ritual garments help to achieve the required group goal?
In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to take the individual garment choices and analyze their effect on the group. The most commonly referenced ritual garments are in fact none at all. Being skyclad is the only regularly referenced magickal uniform, but does this truly make sense or was it simply instated due to Gerald Gardner’s perverted desires? The reasoning given in most circles is so that there are no barriers between the members of the coven, but is it truly beneficial to throw away what appears to be a very helpful tool? Obviously, this does not matter to the individual. For solitary practitioners, there are no other coven members to reveal yourself to, as well as no other individuals to share energy with, so let us simply say that it is more advantageous to use some sort of ritual clothing when working alone because there’s no good reason not to. In a group atmosphere, the first problem with being skyclad is its effect on the mind; the initial fear and uncomfortable feelings that come from being nude around others tend to make it difficult to alter the mental state to that of the magician. While this can be overcome by exposure, it adds a barrier from the very beginning. The other problem is that when you work all rituals skyclad, it makes it difficult to shift to an altered state while wearing clothing. We should be working to remove the barriers between our everyday lives and our magickal lives, and this provides yet another one. Being skyclad also means that you do not have a protective layer between yourself and those energies that are called during ritual. It could be reasoned that this also means that there is no filter between yourself and your coven-mates, but that seems to point to a lack of creativity and dedication. It would not be all that difficult to set up a binding among the ritual clothes themselves to allow them to share energy direction amongst themselves. This would take some out of the box thinking, but would not be an impossible notion. Remember again, these garments are not simple cloth, and must be treated as magickal entities in their own right.
The last issue that I have with being skyclad is the individuality that it provides. In a group ritual, there should be a lack of individuality and a focus on group mentality. When working as a part of a magickal group, the mental shift should not be the same as when working as a magickal individual. Being skyclad instantly makes you aware of the differences in the individuals. You know High Priestess RandomColorAndAnimal and every flaw; you can see if she is faltering. The High Priestess is a physical piece of the group entity known as a coven. She is not High Priestess, she is Random Coven; you are not a 2nd Degree witch with experiences in the OTO, you are Random Coven; everyone in attendance is the same being, they do not make up the coven, they simply are Random Coven. It is this loss of self that is necessary for optimal group magick, and it is in this respect that being skyclad seems to be the most inferior ritual garment choice.
It should be noted that being skyclad has its uses. It is the optimal choice for magickal practice. Being skyclad is a way to strip away even the most basic of tools for the magician or witch, and this is a key part of practice. Athletes train with as many difficulties as possible so that they are as prepared as possible, and it should be the same with magick. If you only practice with your trusty athame, you will be at a loss should that athame be taken, lost, or Goddess forbid, destroyed. This should always be remembered, tools should be used to put you at your best, but tools should never become a crutch. The magick is in the magician, not the tool.
Because skyclad is the most commonly referenced choice for ritual wear, I described it and its problems in greatest detail. This is not the only choice though, so let us take the next most common (or at least most commonly marketed) choice—the cloak. The cloak adequately protects the magician, it can be charged with energy, and it can hide the individual if needed (as long as it is a hooded cloak). It seems as though this would be the optimal choice, but there are subtle problems with it. The cloak is still an expression of individuality as stated earlier, and though this can be disregarded for the individual practitioner, it should be remembered for group rituals. This problem could easily be removed by having a standard cloak for the group, but then again, the energetic bonding would not occur as well with having a separate cloak for group rituals. This could be dealt with by using the group cloak for personal rituals as well as group rituals.
Because there are so many types of cloaks available, it is important to discuss the various types. First and foremost, if you are going to be using the cloak in a group setting, it would be very useful for it to have a hood so that your identity could be hidden for the reasons stated previously. It should be warm enough for you to not need any other clothing even on cold winter nights. It should also be light enough so that you do not feel the weight of it. The decoration of the cloak should optimally be your own, with your personal glyphs and symbols covering it. It should be a general use cloak so that your energetic bond is stronger. Also, the type of cloth’s magickal attributes should be considered. All of these variables play into the versatility and effectiveness of the cloak.
There are other types of ritual wear that are available to the witch, but they are too numerous to consider individually. There are considerations to take into account for these as well. Most of them correspond to the previous considerations for choosing a cloak. Warmth, weight, decoration, and general usability are all very important. It is also important to remember that the clothing type should help you, as well as your coven-mates, to enter a magickal state, so it might be best if you didn’t choose your Lynard Skynard t-shirt as your magickal garb (unless you are part of a coven based on Lynard Skynard’s magickal theories of course). It is also important to remember that you should have clothing that will stand the test of time. Remember, you don’t want to throw these clothes away next year; you want them to stay with you for the next 20-30 years or more. So don’t get that super skin-tight outfit just because you’re 19 and haven’t had children yet. People put on weight, they have children, and their bodies mature. Also, the more pieces of clothing that you have, the more pieces that you will need to bond with, so less is more in this case.
Though ritual garments are often not discussed when talking about ritual tools, they are a very important piece of the magickal toolbox and should not be disregarded. They are the primary visual focus for your fellow witches as well as the only tool that covers the entire body. It is imperative that your ritual wear be given as much attention as an athame or wand would be given, so make your choices wisely.