“Use those to pad out the boxes,” SJ said to me. We were packing to move from Nottingham to London, and SJ was pointing at my ritual cloak and shawl.
We proceded to have an argument about using ritual clothing to line packing boxes, in which I said (yelled, probably), “Would you line boxes with yarmulkes?!”
This is a yarmulke (or a kippah in Hebrew):
It’s a piece of Jewish ritual clothing, a head-covering that many Jewish men wear, especially to pray, but sometimes outside of ritual too.
Somewhat predictably, my atheist wife’s answer was that there was no problem with that. (As in, SJ didn’t have a problem with that. I rather suspect most observant Jews would.)
Ritual clothing is a funny thing. Many religions have it, and it has drifted into extra-ritual wear in several religions. Here in Europe we’re having arguments over Islamic dress, as part of our secularization drive that has positive aspects and more disturbing ones. SJ wrote a dissertation for law school about the way the European Court deals with the ‘right’ to wear ritual clothing. On the whole, and with exceptions, it doesn’t support it.
Pagans aren’t exempt from the ritual clothing debates. I know several Pagan women, from various traditions, who choose to cover their head, either just in ritual, or outside it too. I cover my head in prayer, especially to Brigid. I did as a sort-of Celtic Christian, and it made sense to continue. Then there’s robes, especially for Wiccans and some Druids, and presumably other Pagans too. I know of solitary practitioners who wear ritual clothing they’ve created or chosen and consecrated themselves. There’s no real tradition of ritual clothing left in Gaelic polytheism, at least not that I’m aware of, but I know GPs who cover their head, wear specfic ritual cloaks or other dress, and so on. Ultimately this involves borrowing from other religions, whether that’s Hellenic polytheism or Abrahamic religions – but I think many Pagans do that more than we realise.
And that’s before we get to jewellery. I was at a Heathen moot last night where several of the attendees wore Thor’s Hammers. I have a triskele that I wear to signify certain things (mostly to myself), a Brigid’s cross that means something else (I often wear it in inter-faith settings), and a couple of amulets with specific purposes. These cross the boundary from ritual clothing to magical tools.
I’m not particularly big on ritual clothing, myself. I do a lot of rituals in my pyjamas, because I live in those a lot – especially at the moment, when care and support is a bit hard to come by, thanks to our glorious and benevolent leaders (may they have to live on benefits for a year, and may their genetalia fall off. But I digress). When basic care is very hard work, and ‘just having a quick ritual bath and putting on ritual clothes’ is a two-hour long, painful struggle, and your energy needs serious rationing, you tend to prioritise the actual Work, not the preparation. My gods don’t seem to mind.
But I do have a wool cloak that I bought in a charity shop (my Hobbit Cloak), and a gorgeous ritual shawl that a friend knitted for me. For me, they mark out a shift to ritual space and mindset, just like darkening the room, lighting candles and setting up incense does. But that’s not the only thing that ritual clothing achieves. I know that Pagan head-covering has some very specific aims, and I’ve no doubt that other clothing or implements worn on the person have various different aims, too. What does your ritual clothing signify?
A number of sociologists have written about the importance of clothing to modern religious identity (Ammerman 2003, Peek 2005). Clothing marks out the ‘age of the new tribes’ that we live in – we signify whether we’re goth or geek, Pagan or Christian, by the clothes we wear, and ritual clothing is a part of that. But it’s about more than that, too. Ritual clothing is sacred, in the sense of being ‘set apart’ for something different – something santified, holy. From Islamic hijab to Wiccan robes, I respect the symbols even if I don’t entirely understand their purposes. No yarmulkes lining boxes, for me!
Ammerman, N. (2003) ‘Religious Identities and Religious Institutions’. In: Handbook of the Sociology of Religion.
Peek, L. (2005) ‘Becoming Muslim: The Development of a Religious Identity’. Sociology of Religion, 66:3.